‘Propaganda Against North Korea and the Travel Ban Go Hand in Hand’ – CounterSpin interview with Amanda Yee and Hyun Lee on Korea

“It’s called the forgotten war, but I think the US would rather us forget it, because its involvement in that war was just genocide.”

The post ‘Propaganda Against North Korea and the Travel Ban Go Hand in Hand’ appeared first on FAIR.


The September 8, 2023, episode of CounterSpin included a new interview with Liberation News‘ Amanda Yee on the Korean travel ban and an archival interview with Women Cross DMZ’s Hyun Lee on forgotten Korean history.  This is a lightly edited transcript.



Janine Jackson: The White House has announced it’s extending the ban on people using US passports to go to North Korea. Corporate media seem to find it of little interest; who wants to go to North Korea? That fairly reflects media’s disinterest in the tens of thousands of Korean Americans who want to visit family in North Korea, along with media’s overarching, active disinterest in telling the story of the Korean Peninsula in anything other than static, cartoonish terms—North Korea is a murderous dictatorship; South Korea is a client state, lucky for our support—terms that conveniently sidestep the US’s historic and ongoing role in the crisis.

Amanda Yee is a writer and organizer, and an editor of Liberation News. We’ll talk with her about the role the travel ban plays in a bigger picture.

And we reference hidden history in that conversation. CounterSpin got some deeper understanding on that a couple years back from Hyun Lee, US national organizer for Women Cross DMZ, part of the coalition Korea Peace Now!. We’ll hear just a little bit from that conversation today as well.




AP: State Department renews ban on use of US passports for travel to North Korea

AP (8/22/23)

JJ: “The Biden administration is extending for another year a ban on the use of US passports for travel to North Korea.” AP reported the decision as coming “as tensions with North Korea are rising over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” and concern about what’s happened to US servicemember Travis King, who entered the country in July, though there’s no indication that King made use of a passport when he suddenly ran across the border while on a civilian tour of a village.

North Korea is, for US news media, so much more an object lesson than a real place with real people that reports like AP’s make no mention of the effects of the ban on Korean Americans with family there—families that, incidentally, candidate Joe Biden promised to reunite.

Our next guest wrote recently about what many press accounts are leaving out. Amanda Yee is a writer and organizer, and an editor of Liberation News. She joins us now by phone from Brooklyn. Welcome to CounterSpin, Amanda Yee.

Amanda Yee: Thanks, Janine, for having me. It’s a pleasure.

JJ: As a quick point of information, given its official enemy status, people may feel that travel has been frozen between North Korea and the US forever, but this ban started with Donald Trump, right?

AY: Yes. This is a relatively recent travel ban that was set in place by Trump in 2017, and has been renewed annually ever since. Before 2017, people could actually travel to North Korea, and, actually, a lot of Korean organizations in the States would organize delegations to go there.

But the travel ban was set in place by Trump, and has been renewed every year since then. And, as you said, despite his own campaign promise in 2020 to reunite Korean Americans in Korea who’ve been separated for decades, Biden has renewed the ban every year he’s in office.

So the travel ban is extremely strict. While there are travel restrictions in place for places like Cuba for US passport holders, you can still go to Cuba as long as you meet certain requirements under a certain set of conditions.

In contrast, no US passport holder can go to North Korea. You have to apply for a special validation passport, and those are handed out by the State Department in very rare, exceptional circumstances, and they usually only go to professional journalists or people who work for the Red Cross.

So this ban separates as many as 100,000 Koreans in the US from visiting their families in North Korea. In late July of this year, a number of Korean peace organizations held a rally in Washington, DC, on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the armistice agreement, demanding that the US sign a peace treaty to officially end the Korean War.

These organizations delivered a thousand postcards, as well as an open letter calling for the lifting of the travel ban, to the State Department. So despite widespread opposition from Americans year after year, the administration in place still renews this travel ban every August.

Liberation: Korean War continues with Biden’s renewal of travel ban to North Korea

Liberation (9/3/23)

JJ: In your piece, you talk about one woman, but it’s representative or illustrative of what’s happening to a lot of families. And I wonder if you could just take a moment to talk about what this means.

This is about people not being able to see their grandmother; a one-year extension—well, people are aging, so that might mean losing that chance forever. There’s a human aspect that I feel like media are not talking about.

AY: Yeah, so the generation of Korean War survivors are aging well into their 80s now, and so lifting the travel ban is really a matter of urgency, so that they’re able to see their families in North Korea for what may be the last time.

I did a couple of interviews for the article; I talked to one activist with the women’s peace organization Korea Peace Now!. She was born in Korea, and she moved to the US at the age of 15. And before 2017, she was able to visit North Korea and visit her family members. After the travel ban went into place, she can no longer visit her cousins or close relatives there. She can no longer see family there.

And it’s not just her; as many as 100,000 Korean Americans in the US are barred from seeing their families.

And it’s not just Korean Americans who can’t travel there. Any US passport-holder is barred from visiting the country. So that effectively prohibits any kind of cultural exchange between Americans and North Koreans. And that kind of cultural exchange is really vital in challenging this huge disinformation propaganda campaign around North Korea, right?

FAIR.org: North Korea Law of Journalism Strikes Again as Envoy Rises From Dead

FAIR.org (6/10/19)

A lot of the stories about North Korea in corporate media that we see rely on these total caricatures of Kim Jong-un, as well as the depiction of North Koreans as brainwashed. And you can literally say anything about North Korea, the most absurd thing you could imagine, and people would believe it.

And a lot of these stories come from unverified sources, or they come from Radio Free Asia, which is a US-funded propaganda arm of the US government.

And a lot of the stories also come from North Korean defectors, who are incentivized and pressured to grossly exaggerate and even lie, because there is an industry in the US that pays for stories about the human rights abuses in North Korea, because the US government can use these to justify its inhumane sanctions against the country. So you have this industry of defectors who are incentivized to make up the most absurd stories to get an interview.

And that’s how you get people like Yeonmi Park, the most famous defector, who goes on Joe Rogan claiming that North Koreans have no food to eat, so they’re forced to eat rats, or that the trains never work in North Korea, so people have to manually push them in order to get to their destinations, or that North Koreans don’t have a word for “love.”

But this propaganda campaign against North Korea and the travel ban go hand in hand. They complement one another. The US government uses the propaganda to justify the travel ban, but the travel ban not only prevents Koreans from visiting their families, it bans travel of any kind, of any American, to North Korea to see the country for themselves.

And every person I talked to who has visited North Korea before 2017, before the travel ban, they would say that what they saw was totally unlike what they read about in corporate media. So if Americans were allowed to visit, they would see that North Koreans are just like you and me, and the entire corporate media narrative would just fall apart.

JJ: I want to say, AP, for instance, did say that activists were protesting the ban, but they said that the protest was from humanitarian groups who say that the ban will make it hard to get aid to North Korea, which is “one of the world’s neediest countries.”

So even that is painting things a certain way: North Korea is a scary basket case, and how can we help them while most importantly containing them?

And you’ve given a great summation of the basic US media presentation of North Korea. But I would also say that readers of US media would have less than zero understanding, if I can say it like that, of the history of the Korean Peninsula and US actions there. The very fact that you use the term “Korea”… because if you’re just a media consumer, there is no Korea. There’s North Korea and South Korea.

The idea of the history and the US actions there, there’s a reason that the Korean War is called the forgotten war. And media are playing a big role, and it’s a big question, but the role of media in erasing Korean history and setting us up for the present conflict is huge.

Amanda Yee

Amanda Yee: “It’s called the forgotten war, but I think the US would rather us forget it, because its involvement in that war was just genocide.”

AY: Yeah, the Korean War is known as the forgotten war, but I think that’s a real outrage and a real tragedy. It’s not forgotten in Korea, and it’s not forgotten among the many Koreans in the US who have remained separated from their families in the North.

I think a lot of people are under the impression that the Korean War ended, but the signing of the armistice agreement in 1953, it brought an end to the fighting, but it did not end the war. An armistice is not a peace agreement, it’s only a ceasefire.

So the US, along with the South, they remain frozen in a state of war with the North. And to this day, the US still refuses to sign a peace treaty.

And it’s called the forgotten war, but I think the US would rather us forget it, because its involvement in that war was just genocide. There’s no way around it. The US dropped over 600,000 tons of bombs over the Korean Peninsula in just three years of that war. And so they completely leveled the North. They destroyed 90% of its cities and villages, and they killed 20% of its population. And the fact that North Korea was even able to rebuild after that is a miracle in and of itself.

And in three years of fighting, the US just committed atrocity after atrocity on the Korean Peninsula. They massacred civilians, they massacred refugees who were trying to flee. And even after the armistice was signed, the South remained, and it still remains, occupied by the US.

So every year, South Korea hosts joint military exercises with the US military where they simulate invasion of the North, and it’s basically practice for regime change in North Korea. And so it’s the US that constantly ratchets up tensions between North and South.

So this travel ban, it may seem like a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s really another weapon of war. It’s part of this broader strategy that’s meant to further isolate the North and turn Koreans against each other, and inflame tensions on both sides of the Korean Peninsula.

Reuters: Blinken says U.S. weighs pressure, diplomacy on North Korea over denuclearisation and rights abuses

Reuters (3/17/21)

JJ: When I spoke with Hyun Lee from Women Cross DMZ a couple of years ago, she said something that I found very compelling, which is that US policy, and consequently US media coverage, is shaped around this question of, how do we get North Korea to give up weapons, and specifically nuclear weapons.

The assumption is that North Korea’s weapons are the problem, and if “we” could get rid of them by squeezing the country, as Tony Blinken says, well then, problem solved. And what Hyun Lee said was, “How about if we ask the question, ‘How do we get to peace?’” And that sets up an entirely different conversation that involves acknowledging and addressing the US role in preventing peace, and that also brings different people to the table and into the conversation.

If we could think about a positive vision of what media coverage and a media conversation that was interested in peace in Korea would look like, what would that involve?

AY: A lot of the corporate media coverage in the US around North Korea, it’s framed a lot around its possession of nuclear weapons. And I would love a world without nuclear weapons, but in order for there to be a world without nuclear weapons, the US has to get rid of its nuclear weapons first, because it’s the US that presents the main challenge to world peace today.

And if you talk to North Koreans, they will tell you that they really believe if North Korea got rid of its nuclear weapons, they would’ve gone the way of Iraq. They would’ve been invaded by the US and totally destroyed.

JJ: The idea of the US setting aside its exceptionalism is not something that’s going to happen in news media, in terms of their overarching framing. But if we could hear from different people, then maybe folks could have a different understanding, or at least a recognition that there are human beings involved in what’s going on here. So media coverage could change in a way that would be helpful.

AY: Absolutely. As I said before, everyone I talked to who were lucky enough to travel to North Korea before 2017, they all said Koreans in the North are just like you and me. Just having the opportunity for Americans to see them as similar to themselves, that’s really the first step in countering this insane US propaganda that tries so hard to dehumanize these people in the service of its imperialist project.

Because the weapon of war against North Korea, or one of them, is sanctions. And these sanctions are really brutal, right? They cause malnutrition. They prevent medical supplies from coming in. And it’s a way of strangling the country and killing people without the spectacle of bombs.

Sanctions are a weapon of war, but that use of it is justified and held in place by the propaganda campaign, and also the travel ban. So the travel ban is just a really critical weapon of war in this Korean War that the US refuses to end.

JJ: I know I’ve kept you over time. I’m going to ask you one final question, which is just, speaking of hiding history and excavating history, your article can be found at LiberationNews.org, Globetrotter, PeoplesDispatch.org, CounterPunch.org, Eurasia Review, something called Scoop in New Zealand that I don’t know about, RadioFree.org. It just really speaks to the importance and the necessity of alternative information sources, particularly when US news media are so carrying the water for whatever US policy is. For folks to be able to get just alternative voices on that seems critical.

AY: I think we are heading straight into a major power conflict with China, and part of this broader strategy that includes the travel ban and ratcheting tensions between both halves of the Korean Peninsula, it’s part of this US strategy to corral South Korea into an alliance with the US against China.

And I think people in the US are just really, really tired of war, and they are really starting to question the US media narrative, which is constantly pushing for war, constantly supporting US imperialism, and they’re seeking out independent news outlets to maybe read a different opinion, something that challenges the predominant corporate media narrative.

So I think now, when we are really accelerating toward a war with China, it’s more urgent than ever to seek these alternative viewpoints.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Amanda Yee. You can find her piece, “The Korean War Continues With Biden’s Renewal of Travel Ban to North Korea,” at Liberation News and elsewhere, as I’ve indicated. Thank you so much, Amanda Yee, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

AY: Thank you, Janine.


Janine Jackson: When CounterSpin spoke with Hyun Lee in February 2021, US news media were offering headlines like “North Korea Using Cyber Attacks to Update Nukes,” while the coalition that she works with, Korea Peace Now!, was issuing a report called “Path to Peace.”

We asked Hyun Lee, US national organizer for Women Cross DMZ, what makes what many US citizens have been given to understand as a perhaps unpleasant stalemate between North and South Korea, an actual crisis.




Hyun Lee: Your audience may know that when the Korean War ended in 1953, it ended with an armistice, which is a temporary ceasefire that recommended, within 90 days of signing the agreement, there should be a political conference held to discuss the permanent settlement of the Korean War.

Well, to this day, 70 years later, that has not happened. And so the war is unresolved, which means that tens of thousands of troops on both sides have been in a constant state of readiness for war. And that’s been going on every day for almost 70 years. The US still has 28,000 troops there.

This is not a normal situation, is what we’re trying to say through the report. All sides have been pouring billions of dollars into a perpetual arms race that is about the destruction of the other side, and people live in constant fear of war. Now it’s potentially nuclear war.

So what we’re saying through this report is, let’s end this abnormal, outdated armistice situation. Let’s end the unresolved Korean War, which is the longest US overseas conflict. And replacing the armistice with a peace agreement is the best way to do that.

Truthout: US Must Commit to Arms Reduction If It Wants North Korea to Do So

Truthout (12/28/20)

JJ: In a piece that you wrote for Truthout in December, you say how US policymakers have spent decades asking—and, I would add, media have spent those decades echoing—”How do we get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons?” You know, that’s the question.

HL: Yeah.

JJ: And that what we’re hoping for, and we perhaps have an opening with a new administration, is to shift that to “How do we get to peace?”

HL: Yes.

JJ: How do we get to peace with North Korea? The current story is very much about fear and sanction and containment. And this report reflects a different vision of what’s possible. So tell us about the “peace first” approach that this report is talking about.

HL: Sure. So as you say, I do believe that for far too long, Washington has been asking the wrong question on how to resolve the conflict with North Korea. And that question has been, “How do we get rid of North Korea’s nuclear weapons?” Well, that assumes that the problem actually began with North Korea’s nuclear weapons, so the solution, naturally, is to get rid of them. This has been the approach for the last 25 years, and we have come up empty-handed.

Hyun Lee

Hyun Lee: “For far too long, Washington has been asking the wrong question on how to resolve the conflict with North Korea.”

What we’re saying with the report is, let’s step back and ask a different question: How do we actually get to peace, and prevent the risk of a nuclear war? And our solution is to get to the root of the problem, and that is the unresolved Korean War.

So I just want to stress the urgency of this issue. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has recently said that the US should “squeeze North Korea,” and cut off its access to resources, to get North Korea to the negotiating table. On the other hand, at North Korea’s Workers’ Party Congress last month, Kim Jong-un said they will continue to develop nuclear weapons unless there is a fundamental change in US policy.

So I believe that unless something shifts, the stage is actually set for another nuclear standoff. And I believe it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. But, as we know, we are currently grappling with multiple crises—the pandemic, climate change. We cannot afford another nuclear crisis, like what we saw in 2017.

So what we’re trying to say is, President Biden’s theme is to “build back better.” The best thing that he can do to reduce the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, and build back better on the Korean Peninsula: End the Korean War with a peace agreement.

JJ: I think for many people, the story is one about potential future conflict. And I think what this report, one of the things that it underscores, is that this is a crisis now, that the militarization, the literal separation of families, the absence of peace in the region, is a crisis now—although it could, of course, become a more encompassing, devastating beyond belief conflict. It already is a problem. I think that’s something missing from the US conversation about Korea.

HL: That’s right. And what our report also raises is a fundamental question about what makes us truly secure. We are spending close to a trillion dollars every year on military and defense. And we have to ask ourselves, has it made us safer? The multiple crises we face today cannot be resolved militarily.

So we’re also trying to say that we need to shift our priorities now, from war to human needs. And in the case of Korea, a peace agreement would actually allow all parties to do that, so that all sides can start to reduce their arms.

JJ: The coalition’s full name is Korea Peace Now! Women Mobilizing to End the War. It’s a global coalition of women’s peace organizations. And part of the message of the report is that women have to be part of the peace process. I take it, first of all, that that hasn’t been happening. Why is that so key?

HL: Yeah, because we believe that the human cost of the unresolved war has a gendered impact. And we talk about this in our report. There is a chapter dedicated to this issue– for example, the long history of state-sanctioned violence against women who work around US military bases in Korea. Also, the detrimental impact of sanctions on women in North Korea, that was the subject of another report we published two years ago.

And our feminist vision of peace raises a fundamental question about what actually makes women more secure. And war and militarization, we believe, are at the bottom of that list.


JJ: That was organizer Hyun Lee speaking with CounterSpin in 2021.

The post ‘Propaganda Against North Korea and the Travel Ban Go Hand in Hand’ appeared first on FAIR.

This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Janine Jackson.

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Janine Jackson | Radio Free (2023-09-26T06:00:48+00:00) » ‘Propaganda Against North Korea and the Travel Ban Go Hand in Hand’ – CounterSpin interview with Amanda Yee and Hyun Lee on Korea. Retrieved from https://www.radiofree.org/2023/09/18/propaganda-against-north-korea-and-the-travel-ban-go-hand-in-hand-counterspin-interview-with-amanda-yee-and-hyun-lee-on-korea/.
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Janine Jackson | Radio Free - » ‘Propaganda Against North Korea and the Travel Ban Go Hand in Hand’ – CounterSpin interview with Amanda Yee and Hyun Lee on Korea. [Internet]. [Accessed 2023-09-26T06:00:48+00:00]. Available from: https://www.radiofree.org/2023/09/18/propaganda-against-north-korea-and-the-travel-ban-go-hand-in-hand-counterspin-interview-with-amanda-yee-and-hyun-lee-on-korea/
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