President Trump has done what would have seemed impossible just several months ago. Not only has he gotten North Korea, the most rogue of rogue regimes, to stop missile and nuclear weapons testing—thanks to a maximum pressure campaign that could end up bankrupting the regime—but three American hostages were just released, creating the conditions for a summit between the president and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.
Considering how last winter it seemed possible that nuclear war was about to be unleashed, potentially putting at risk millions of lives around the world, Trump deserves the highest of praise—and indeed the Noble Prize.
In fact, with every new breakthrough, the pages of history are being written and rewritten when it comes to relations in Northeast Asia, with the implicit hope that the Korean War will finally come to an end and that Pyongyang will have the wisdom to truly seek better ties with Washington and the entire world.
But though North Korea seems to be committed to some sort of denuclearization, I simply can't shake this pit in my stomach. For I know the history of Pyongyang's promises—more like breaking every pledge they have ever made.
I also know the chances of Kim giving up his nuclear weapons are still slim to none. His demands for giving up those nuclear weapons could be a price we could never meet—like hundreds of billions of dollars and the complete removal of U.S. military forces.
History cries out for us to be skeptical, to listen to Kim's own people, who were promised a communist paradise, but who were treated worse than slaves. In interviewing several North Korean defectors while researching a book project, I saw the mental and physical scars they will never heal from.
What one defector told me in 2014 seems even more relevant now than ever: "The Kim family not only killed my entire family but they broke my soul into pieces that I will never be able to put back together. You don't talk to monsters like that—you fear them. You run from them. And you never trust them. Ever."
The nature of this vile regime, that lies, cheats and steals whatever it wants to survive, along with a human rights rap sheet filled with millions of innocent dead men, women and children serves as the ultimate warning to trust nothing that comes out of Kim's mouth.
Several examples only go to show the lengths North Korea will go to when it wants to silence internal dissent or hush up anyone internally who cries out for anything resembling freedom.
First, if you dare speak out in anyway, or are suspected of speaking out, you—along with multiple generations of your family—will be hauled away, most likely to be never heard from ever again. Your friends and co-workers will wonder what happened to you, but none will ever voice their worries publicly, knowing that if they do, their families could end up with the same fate.
Next, you may or may not have a trial—but the verdict is guaranteed. You will be sentenced to serve in a prison camp that more resembles the worst horrors of Hitler or Stalin's most terrible reigns of terror. You will be starved, you will be worked to the bone, and your capturers will hope you die from your labor.
From there, it gets far worse. As the days pass, desperation will set in. You will be willing to eat anything—insects, grass, leaves, bark, mice and perhaps undigested corn from the waste of cows—all to survive.
If you are a woman in these camps, you face even more horrific treatment. You are routinely raped in the most violent of ways, sometimes by multiple assailants, for days on end. If you become pregnant by your rapist, you will be forced to undergo an abortion, many times with no pain killers whatsoever.
And if you try to hide your pregnancy, in an attempt to save the life of your unborn child, you will be killed in the most horrific of ways, but only after you watch your baby murdered beforehand.
Such descriptions are grotesque, but must be retold—again and again—to serve a constant reminder of the nature of the regime that we are now trying to negotiate with. All the photo-ops and slick media campaigns to rehabilitate the Kim family's image can't wash away the blood this regime has on its hands.
While I am hopeful that Kim Jong Un may have had his come to Jesus moment and truly wants to give up his nuclear weapons and potentially open his nation economically and politically, history cries out for us to be wary. The Kim family's victims—including America's own Otto Warmbier and millions more—demand from us such skepticism.
Commentary by Harry J. Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest. He also serves as executive editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He previously served as part of the foreign policy team for the 2016 presidential campaign of Senator Ted Cruz. Follow him on Twitter @Grecianformula.
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