Holidays in hell- Is it wrong to visit totalitarian states?

Lately I’ve been having a bit of a conversation with some people about the merits of visiting North Korea.  The people I’ve been discussing this with talk about wanting to see what its really like for themselves or want to go and explore places few people have gone to.  I’ve been responding that it is wrong to go for moral reasons, namely that by going they would be giving a regime hard currency that is desperate for hard currency, and that by being shown looking in awe of giant statues of Kim Il Sung they are helping perpetuate the myths the country is built on.  This conversation didn’t really go anywhere that interesting, mostly I was accused of being a hypocrite for doing things like buying clothes made in a sweat shop or having a bank account while the banks are going out doing horrible things, but someone asked about Cuba.

Reader, what do you think?  If it is immoral to visit North Korea, is it immoral to visit other less than democratic states?  I think Cuba is different because it isn’t as closed off from the rest of the world, and it doesn’t need hard cash the way that NK needs hard cash, nor is, at least to my knowledge, tourism totally controlled by the state.  What about other states, I’m not sure that any meet the criteria that North Korea does, but if I accept that it is immoral to visit North Korea, what criteria would one use for other states?  Anyways, I think a lot of the interest in visiting North Korea is from the articles and videos in VICE, such as this one.

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/north-korea-fun-fair-mangyongdae-hoban-death

I find the articles interesting as well, but still no desire to visit.  Now would be a bad time to visit as well.

http://freekorea.us/2013/12/12/kcna-jang-song-thaek-executed-for-plotting-coup-against-kim-jong-un/

If any of you do go, please be sure not to dream any different dreams while you are there.

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About Leon Whyte

I'm a recent graduate of the Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy. My interests include Pacific Asia and Security. I am looking for related opportunities.
This entry was posted in Korea, Pacific Asia and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Holidays in hell- Is it wrong to visit totalitarian states?

  1. Sean says:

    I’ve been fascinated by the macabre spectacle of North Korea for many years, and I too was tempted to visit. But I’ve come to the decision that it is indeed the wrong thing to do, for the reasons you list. The “sweatshop” rebuttal isn’t valid because it evades the issue by means of an unrelated counter-attack. We are all embedded in political and economic systems that contain a good deal of injustice, but saying we have no right to protest the extreme tyranny we see in North Korea because we are not perfect is so much humbug. Bringing in the moral question when choosing where to travel can be vexed and complicated, but I feel we should make the effort. In my case, as a gay man, I’ve decided I won’t do any casual tourism in any of the 76 countries where being gay could land you in jail, or worse.

  2. Leon Whyte says:

    Sean- thanks for the first comment on the blog. Yeah, it’s hard when you have to be perfect to have any standards about anything. I’ve been to a number of countries that have lots of policies that I disagree with, but then again I disagree with lots of American policies as well. For me in the case of North Korea I think the key thing is that I know the money is going directly to the regime, and how managed the tours are. I think part of the question is, as you said, about what particular values are most important to each person as an individual. North Korea is just a more extreme of example of places you shouldn’t visit.

    • Sean says:

      You’re welcome, and I agree. Setting the bar too high means you can’t go anywhere, but there’s no question that the North Korean regime is horrible. And to be honest, I know that’s part of the appeal. Traveling there would give you the creepy and kinky thrill of visiting a sinister place, capped off by the delicious sensation of flying off to relative freedom back home.

  3. Pingback: Another Tourist trapped in North Korea | Small Crowded World

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