North Korean Defector Yeonmi Park’s Escape From ‘Evil’ — and America’s Political Left

The things Columbia University professors are telling their students are ‘almost identical to things that North Korean teachers taught us in North Korean classrooms.’

The New York Sun
North Korean defector Yeonmi Park. The New York Sun

To the protesters on college campuses who have been chanting “Death to America” and “We are Hamas,” a North Korean defector and alumna of Columbia University, Yeonmi Park, has a message: “you don’t need to even destroy America. You can just go to North Korea or go to Palestine, whatever the paradise they describe is,” she tells the Sun. “If you genuinely believe America is that evil, you would do whatever it takes to escape from America.”

Few others understand what it means to escape evil like Ms. Park, who became a household name for her 2015 bestselling memoir, “In Order to Live,” which details her life under the Communist dictatorship of North Korea. She fled in 2007 at the age of 13 to Communist China, where she was trafficked as a sex slave, and then journeyed to Mongolia, South Korea, and ultimately America.

Amassing millions of fans online, Ms. Park has now turned her attention to America, warning that its identity politics, cancel culture, and strains of authoritarianism eerily resemble the regime of her home country. That’s the subject of her latest book, “While Time Remains.”

“In my journey escaping from North Korea, I really have seen the worst of humanity and the best of humanity,” Ms. Park says in conversation with this reporter at the Sun’s offices at New York City. “But I couldn’t really fathom what I was seeing when I got to Columbia University … the things that professors were saying to the students were almost identical to things that North Korean teachers taught us in North Korean classrooms.” 

Ms. Park says that at Columbia, from where she graduated in 2020, people blamed global crises on “greedy capitalism,” endorsed the destruction of Western civilization, and relied more on their feelings than the objective truth. “This is being taught at Columbia University by the most privileged professors and to the most privileged students,” she says. 

North Korea, propped up by China, works to control its people by shutting them off from outside information. Ms. Park says she never learned the word “revolution” and didn’t know there were seven continents before she escaped the country. Yet in America, she has found, “you can be completely brainwashed even when you live in the age of information and internet.”

Critics have accused Ms. Park, now an American citizen, of telling lies about North Korea to bolster conservative causes. To that, she responds, “I was actually in the arms of liberals for a long time.” She was interviewed by the New York Times in 2018 on her opposition to President Trump’s engagement with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Yet after meeting with the likes of Jeff Bezos, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi, Ms. Park says she found that “all they’re after is their personal success, and they are not genuine about finding evil at all.” The left’s response to the crisis in the Middle East is the latest example of what she sees as complicity in the face of tyranny. “I didn’t change,” Ms. Parks says, “I think the world has changed.”


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