Before we start, I want to let the audience know that my goal is to simply make the world a better place for all of us. I appreciate the opportunity I am being given to communicate with, and connect with people who I have regretfully upset – as it was never my intent to do so. Thank you. – Mike Bassett
Mike’s article Casey and Yeon-mi ‘Puppet’ Show was published on Monday. Click here to read the article. The following questions were asked by people who read his previous article.
Question 1. Have you bothered to actually watch/attend/listen to any of Park Yeon-mi’s speeches? If so, how many and for how long?
Answer 1: I’ve listened to her very carefully over the course of the past year. Hearing a defector publicly state what many analysts already recognized – that the rise of black markets and information inflow were reducing dependency on the regime, causing independent thinking, and empowering them to achieve their goals of attaining individual freedoms and material goods – has been absolutely fascinating.
That said, I am raising criticism because like so many other analysts have noticed, there was an irrefutable change in her narrative and behavior, which seems to have pivoted around the time that Casey Lartigue began to pave her path to celebrity status.
Her speech from a LiNK event above shows her happy, peppy, and speaking in her natural voice. Her speech about the markets sounded very organic, natural, apolitical, and unscripted.
Her speech from last week at the One Young World Summit had a clear political agenda, and was highly dramatic, and highly sensationalized.
It focused on the “horrors and brutality of the regime” and made three recommendations 1. Raise awareness of this narrative, 2. Donate to financially support refugees, and 3. Pressure `China to stop repatriation. The audience was left with a very skewed impression that has more to do with politics than her original narratives.
I fully agree with her recommendations, but feel that had she been “beating her own drum,” the speech would’ve focused more on how to actually help improve the lives of the 24 million North Koreans still being oppressed by the regime – and advocated recommendations to incite the Korean Spring such as; empowering markets, getting information in, and fostering people-to-people exchanges.
Question 2. Do you have any evidence whatsoever to back up that Yeon-mi is a puppet and to back up that Casey is a puppet master who is pulling her strings?
Answer: I think the burden of proof lies on Casey and Yeon-mi. Instead of earnestly addressing their critics’ concerns, they’ve responded with hostility and name-calling. I am merely asking questions based on observable phenomenon. If there was a legitimate explanation for these observations, I believe they would have calmly provided it at least a month ago.
My blog’s focus is to monitor and foster discourse about international narratives and the negative impact they have on resolving the Korean conflict. I understand that it will upset a great many people but it is a selfless and worthwhile endeavor in my opinion. I think this is what EAHRNK and LiNK have been talking about when they discuss the importance of “changing the narrative.” I believe the truth will set people free.
Additionally, I feel it necessary to point out that it is not my agenda to “get famous by humiliating Yeon-mi,” rather I am trying to shed light on a much larger machine that they are merely cogs in the wheel of – because their current advocacy is counterproductive to progress on human rights in North Korea front.
Question 3. Why are you such a commie?
Answer: Questions like this represent how emotional and controversial an issue this is. Here I am a U.S. Army veteran who was severely injured in the line of duty, who still works in DC, who still puts my life in danger to initiate projects designed to liberate North Korea, yet am labeled a “commie.” It really defies logic. It is hurtful, and borders libel and slander. I get it though.
People feel personally threatened when their own views are called into question. So I again want to iterate that I think Yeon-mi – like many defectors and refugees – is a victim (or cogs in the wheel) of a larger machine that is part agenda, part resultant of human nature, and totally destroys chances of progress in global human relations. Stories don’t sell unless they’re sensationalized and cause a stir of emotions. That addiction to the sensational is really politically counterproductive.
Question 4. You are a pro-North Korean apologizer? Don’t you think the U.S. is worse than North Korea?
Answer: I am a humanitarian that believes in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it applies universally. Sadly, most have a pedagogically flawed understanding of North Korea and apparently care little about human rights in the universal sense.
Sensationalized rhetoric is easy to get away with because North Korea has a long history of lying & propaganda; and severely lacks freedom of the press. These factors undermine general knowledge of progress actually taking place in the country, and allows for external actors to get away with saying anything they want about the situation.
There are atrocities going on everywhere in the world, but because North Korea is so isolated we focus on what little information we can get on about the country. The most popular rhetoric revolves around nukes and human rights abuses, while generally ignoring other developments or reforms actually taking place – or just have a skewed perspective of them. That does not make me an apologist or mean that I don’t recognize how bad it is there. “Analytically objective and detached” would describe me much more appropriately if I must be “placed in a box.”
North Korea, while systematically brutal and disturbingly inhumane, is to some extent a product of its environment, like an abused dog in a cage, but far from the only “brutal beast” on the planet. North Korea has for centuries and even millennia been a “speedbump” in historical regional conflicts. Their brutal survivalist mentality is very much attributable to that historical development. That path has very much led to their image as the “boogeyman of Asia”.
The conflict needs be humanized, and the world needs to decide whether to reform (respectfully engage) the dog or put it to sleep (combat offensive). Keeping it in a cage and beating it (sanctions, demonization, & isolation) is not productive. It only makes the dog grow meaner over time (and 60 years is long enough to grow pretty mean).
As a final and lighter more anecdotal defense, I would refer you to the rap video I made in the country where we “busted rhymes on the Palace of the Sun” – something that obviously offended them deeply. If I were an apologist I would’ve made something that glorified them, which I did not.
Question 5. Can you clarify and provide evidence of the statement: “Since her rise to fame Yeon-mi’s messages have changed”?
Answer: When Yeon-mi hit the scene she spoke about how she played Mario Brothers, watched foreign romance and actions films, travelled the country, went swimming and hiking etc. She was a Pyongyang elite and lived like one. She’s shared photos of herself as a child wearing t-shirts that said “princess” on them and group photos of her family who were in the Korean Workers’ Party and Korean People’s Army.
I understand that her life was vastly different after her father’s arrest but that does not validate her sensational rhetoric. In her recent interviews she claimed that there’s a holocaust going on, that she saw bodies piled up everywhere, and that she had to eat insects and grass to survive.
These are obvious untruths and should not be accepted simply because “they could have happened” – according to one journalist who defended her rhetoric about Kim Jong-un machine-gunning 80 in a stadium. [On that note, a Seoul-based EFE correspondent threatened me saying that “If I am man enough, I should come to Seoul and have a face-to-face with him” before I think of further pursuing this issue. If I cannot expect integrity from journalists, how can I expect it from anybody else?]
There’s an obvious difference between when she tells the truth and when she doesn’t. It can be seen in her speech where she appears giving crocodile tears reminiscent (why was she crying?) of those North Koreans gave when Kim Jong-il died. Her tears suddenly stopped when she made her political recommendations. Her political recommendations seemed a lot less sincere than when she spoke about the jangmadangs and getting information into the country. You can see the difference in facial expression and hear it in her tone.
One reason I believe that she wore the hanbok to her summit speech is because it signals to audiences subliminally (or directly for Koreans) an image of purity, innocence, tradition, and honor. Her moniker “I followed the stars to freedom” – in the same sense gives her the appearance of being small, vulnerable, in a hopeless dark void, cold, alone, frail, helpless, innocent, and with just specks of light at the end of her tunnel. Her public appearances, in my view, were much more sincere and genuine before she met Casey and adopted a seemingly political agenda-based narrative.
Question 6. Is there any evidence to suggest that Freedom Factory’s agenda “appears to have the political intent of halting current reforms in North Korea?
Answer: Casey Lartigue has served as a fellow at both the Cato Institute, and now the Atlas Network. Both of them have a reputation of manipulating foreign policy in favor of their agendas by pushing public sentiment in the direction of favoring their agenda. Freedom Factory and Atlas network seemingly have the agenda of promoting “libertarian freedom,” which is very different from “freedom freedom.”
Libertarianism in Asia could likely result in greater social disparity and inequity than equity and prosperity. Also, isolating North Korea from any economic measures is highly ill-advised, it seems their agenda. Again, I don’t know for certain but I know that if Casey had nothing to hide, he would have publicly provided an articulate response to critics by now.
While I do not have concrete evidence that he is complicity trying to isolate North Korea, it is clear to me that he would be aware of the effect demonization and nation branding has on foreign policy. It is suspicious that the speech at One Young World aimed to achieve that end, instead of speaking sincerely about using markets and information to liberate North Korea by inducing a Korean Spring.
Again, it would be wonderful to have Casey comment on the agenda of Freedom Factory, and the Atlas Network in Asia, and especially regarding North Korea, but to my knowledge, he has combatively rejected answering those questions.
Question 7. Is there is any evidence that Freedom Factory “seeks not only to profiteer off of refugees, but also off of the maintaining of an oppressed status quo in North Korea.”?
Answer: Previous responses have expressed my points that people feed off of sensational stories, and that this is such an emotional issue that people call me an “apologist” or a “commie” even though I am obviously not. As U.S. combat veteran I find it ironic that I would be criticized as a commie for questioning the rhetoric of a North Korean former member of a Korean Workers Party family…
I am a humanitarian; my goal is to advocate the liberation of all 24 million North Koreans in the country. If I was giving a speech at the One Young World Summit and I wanted to improve human rights in the country, then it would make sense to advocate measures that induce a Korean Spring, instead of only helping refugees and demonizing the country (which will influence containment policies).
In this sense and without any explanation from him, it seems like he’s just in it for profit. I hope to be proven wrong and eagerly invite him to do so.
Question 8. Do you have a mental disorder?
Answer: I’ve seen and survived more traumas in my life than most, even refugees. I won’t talk about my childhood much but I will say that I envy the fact that Yeon-mi had a father she loved, unlike me who was beaten violently by mine on a regular basis. Unlike Yeon-mi, I have actually spent months on end waking up to bodies piled up all around me. I have actually seen regular executions. I have seen and contributed to entire villages bombed and burnt to the ground. Sadly, I have also seen more of my brothers kill themselves after their service than died on deployment because war is hauntingly so hard to live with.
Sharing with the world these lessons I’ve learned about what contributes to conflicts and human suffering is not any easier than trying to teach people how best to peacefully resolve these issues. Peaceful conflict resolution starts with collaboration and communication, (not demonizing people like me who want to work together toward the same goal as everyone else). I would discourage people from letting their emotions get the best of them.
Question 9. Are there any similarities between her speeches? Or are their tones completely different like you falsely claimed in your article?
Answer: I answered this question earlier, but in the course of this interview took a break to watch her latest speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum, which was starkly different from her speech at the One Young World Summit. She still sounded far from genuine, but it also seemed to me like she was undergoing a lot of stress regarding how she should present herself and how her words should come across. None of it sounded very natural or organic. Regardless, I was happy to hear her focusing more on the jangmadang’s again, even though she still peppered it with bits of sensationalism.
Again, my focus is on the big picture. The issue I have taken with Casey and Yeon-mi is relevant because it is contemporary, but they are far from the first to use human rights to manipulate public sentiment counterproductive to improving human rights. My goal is to raise awareness on the larger aspect of the issue, more than to expose them for something.
Politicians will not vote to support engagement (even if they believed it the smartest thing to do) when it is publicly disliked (because of sentiment generated by sensationalized narratives) because they care about winning their next election more than anything else. It is up to us, the people, to work together to learn from each other how to make the world a better place for the future generations to live in.
Question 10. What were you trying to achieve by writing the opinion piece? You would be hated even more and might even face a libel action.
Answer: Liberating the North Korean people and helping refugees have better opportunities is very important to me. I see a future where refugees and defectors play a central and critical role in the cultural, political, and social healing that will take place when the conflict begins to mend.
This special group of continually oppressed people should be sponsored for free housing, medical, educational, and living expenses to prepare them for this role; instead of being used to sensationalize media, influence foreign policy, and treated like exhibits at a zoo to study, write books and documentaries about. They represent the whole peninsula, and will surely become the peninsula’s future leaders.
Statement to Casey, Yeon-mi, and their supporters
There are many questions which Casey has combatively avoided providing genuine responses to, leaving analysts like me to speculate and investigate the many nuances of his campaigns and agendas – if any. I would very much like to hear why he has not focused his campaign on Yeon-mi’s more natural-sounding perspectives regarding the power of information and jangmadangs – especially at the One Young World Summit – and instead solely restricted it to helping refugees and demonizing the regime when it is apparent that “a change is gonna come.” I mean, if Casey has nothing to hide, then why doesn’t he just stop stonewalling and provide non-combative, candid responses to his critics like I am doing here?
“The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.” – Orwell, 1984