SCOTT SIMON, host:
I was privileged to meet Roxana Saberi when she came through NPR this week. She said she was grateful for the support of so many listeners and believes the attention helped lead to her release.
Roxana said that during her 100 days in prison she was inspired by the courage of many women political prisoners who are not as well known, and that she tried to keep the courage of Mahatma Gandhi in mind.
When I heard that, I went to my office and took a portrait of Gandhi down from my wall to give to her. I got the portrait from friends when I was a reporter in India. They knew how much the Mahatma's teachings had meant to me. It seemed right to give the portrait to someone who had called on his example for strength.
Gandhi's greatness is undeniable. But as George Orwell once famously wrote, he was also lucky that his adversary was the British Empire. Britain's imperialism could be brutal. But it was also a democracy, with a free press, and a conscience.
North Korea presents a more vexing problem. Even if the world is able to convince, beg, or coerce North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons, the great weapon of mass destruction is the cruelty Kim Jong-Il wages against his own people. Les Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations calls it the most isolated and bizarre regime on the globe.
Amnesty International bluntly says that every human freedom is crushed in North Korea: freedom of assembly, belief, democratic choice, faith, speech — even freedom from hunger.
Aid agencies say that 13 million people in North Korea — more than half the population — are malnourished. Two million people have starved to death, and several million more, especially children, are sentenced to the slow, raw death of malnutrition.
Opposition is illegal, and even impossible, because news is censored, private life is monitored, and there is no political process. There are thousands of public executions. Any North Korean who tried to exemplify Mahatma Gandhi would be locked up and hanged. No one would hear of the sacrifice. Millions have fled and thousands have died trying to escape North Korea. Has even one person tried to immigrate there?
I am not as comfortable as many experts in dismissing North Korea's nuclear capabilities. The device the regime set off this week is reportedly as large as the bomb the United States dropped on Nagasaki during World War II. I wonder if a regime that's been so willing to mistreat its own people will be deterred by knowing they would be annihilated for using nuclear weapons.
And what will the world achieve if it permits North Korea to quit developing nuclear weapons — but allows Kim Jong-Il to continue to inflict mass misery on his own people?