Less than a month after returning from his third trip to the totalitarian country of North Korea, Kristof was the keynote speaker at The Cleveland Association of Phi Beta Kappa’s 70th anniversary celebration at the Union Club Oct. 12. “It’s always nice to be back in the U.S. when you’ve just been in North Korea,” said Kristof, who was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society while attending Harvard University. While his speech argued “the greatest moral challenge of the 21st century, akin to fighting slavery in the 19th century or totalitarianism in the 20th century, is gender inequality,” it was his dispatches from North Korea that left the crowd uneasy. Here are some highlights from his speech.
On life in North Korea: “This is the most totalitarian country in the world. Homes have a speaker in them that wakes you up in the morning with propaganda. You don’t have radios with a dial. It’s incredibly controlled. They have searches for DVD players periodically. What they do is they turn off the electricity in the apartment building, and if they do that the DVD gets stuck in the player, and then they go house to house and check your DVD player and what’s inside it, and if it’s a South Korean soap opera or something, then off your family goes to a concentration camp.”
On how this visit to North Korea felt different than his previous two: “I’ve been to North Korea before, and this time there was much more military mobilization. There were posters and billboards all around the capital, Pyongyang, showing missiles striking the U.S. Capitol. There was a lot of talk about missiles and the nuclear program. There was a lot of talk about how war is coming. … Everybody has heard President Trump’s speech at the United Nations where he talked about totally destroying North Korea. This is something that the North Korean government wants people to know about.”
On his own safety in North Korea: “I was hosted by the foreign ministry. In the past I’ve been able to stay in hotels in the capitol. This time I was put in a guarded foreign ministry compound in the rice paddies outside of town. At first, I thought this was to protect North Koreans from my tough questioning. I gradually realized, no, this is to protect me from the military and security agencies in North Korea who might not be on-board with this outreach to Americans. That was very sobering.”
On war with North Korea: “Basically, I fear that there is some real chance that there will be a war between the U.S. and North Korea in the next two to three years, and such a war would immediately escalate to a nuclear exchange, and this would not be like Iraq or Afghanistan. If it happens, this would be more like World War II in terms of death. In my column, I cited a study that said on the first day 1 million people would die. This would be about as bad as anything that I can imagine happening in the next two years.”
4:30 PM EST
October 16, 2017