I recently read this in a book by Barbara Demick called “Nothing to Envy,” on the North Korean famine.

“Yet another gratuitous cruelty: the killer targets the most innocent, the people who would never steal food, lie, cheat, break the law, or betray a friend. It was a phenomenon that the Italian writer Primo Levi identified after emerging from Auschwitz, when he wrote that he and his fellow survivors never wanted to see one another again after the war because they had all done something of which they were ashamed.

“As Mrs. Song would observe a decade later, when she thought back on all the people she knew who died during those years in Chongjin, it was the “simple and kindhearted people who did what they were told – they were the first to die.”

It reminds me the feeling I got when I after I read a recent book by Aminatta Forna on her father – how in post-colonial Africa, good people were often killed by those hungry for power, and often with the backing of Western Governments. If there is anything that shows the depravity of modern society, it is this. We allow good to die, to suffer, and let evil succeed. We promote consumerism over caring, and recognize celebrity over compassion. How many celebrities do you know? Compare to that to how many people helping humanity you know.

We believe that economic growth precedes human rights, that development must take place first before dignity. Yet, in that process of “development” it is when we lose the best of humanity. Who were the 300,000 people who died when Idi Amin was in power in Uganda – the ones who stood up against injustice, or the ones who went along with his repression? Who are the ones in North Korean gulags today? Why is it the brave journalists who report the truth being killed in Russia, while the party-line promoters are getting promotions?

In China, the Dalai Lama, the most genuinely happy person that I’ve ever had the presence to see speak, is demonized and his followers, persecuted. Tibetans who follow the party line, and turn-in suspects to the Government, are rewarded with positions and power. The cultivation – and promotion – of evil, while good people are throw in jail, tortured, and forced into re-education camps just for their beliefs.

Where does good come from? I believe that the ability to be good lies in every person’s heart, but nothing cultivates that good more than being around caring, loving people. A strong, family, something that I’ve been blessed with, is essential to I am. I’ve also seen how people with abusive parents, or bad role models, have to struggle to find themselves. There are amazing exception, but too often, if you’re not surrounded by good, you don’t cultivate it within yourself.

If society demonizes and destroys good, if famines, war, conflict, and strife take the genuine people first, and leave only the selfish people, what sort of society are we building? If we keep destroying the small base of good that exists, then perhaps there is some truth to the right-wing argument that humanity is becoming immoral.

Another book I’m reading is “Carry Me Home,” by Diane McWhorter. Its a poignant, meticulously researched and detailed history written by the daughter of one of Birmingham’s white aristocracy, whose family was part of the machine of repression in the south’s most segregated city. Her ability to write something with such clarity about your own family’s place in a dark, terrible history is incredibly moving,

So there is hope – but only if we are really willing to tackle the darkest depths of our common history, as Ms. McWhorter is bravely doing. After graduation, I plan to do the same.

Understand Asia


Nithin Coca's free bi-weekly round-ups & in-depth analysis of undercovered news, events and trends changing Asia.




You've signed up! Please check your email to confirm.