This defector’s plight is a window onto North Korean life. For all the regime’s spending on sophisticated weapons, monuments to the Kim family and bribes for elites in Pyongyang, even trusted soldiers suffer terrible malnourishment. A vast majority of other North Koreans endure still worse. Such is the cruelty of North Korea’s regime — and such is the responsibility of those foreign governments that enable it.
Every one of North Korea’s 23 million people is subject to the brutal state-imposed caste system known as songbun. The word “songbun” should be notorious around the world. From birth, every North Korean is marked by the government as a member of a loyal “core” caste, a “wavering” middle caste or a “hostile” caste, and this designation determines access to food, housing, education, jobs — everything. During the famine of the 1990s, when more than two million North Koreans perished, the songbun system often determined who ate and who starved.