The victim complex and Kim's killer con

by Debito Arudou

It’s fascinating whenever someone cons people out of pots of money — doubly so when someone cons a whole government. Take, for example, Japan’s biggest news story two weeks ago: Kim Hyon Hui’s four-day visit to Japan.

You might recall that in 1987 this North Korean spy, traveling on a fake Japanese passport, blew up a South Korean commercial airliner, killing 115 passengers.

Last July 20, however, this agent of international terrorism was allowed into Japan for a reception worthy of a state guest. Bypassing standard immigration procedures, Kim had her entry visa personally approved by our justice minister, boarded a chartered flight that cost Japan’s taxpayers ¥10 million, and was whisked by helicopter to former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s private dacha to eat with political elites.

Then, flanked by a phalanx of 100 cops (who made sure nobody raised any uncomfortable questions), Kim got to meet the parents of Megumi Yokota, the cause celebre of North Korean kidnappings of innocent Japanese citizens decades ago. Next, at her request, Kim boarded another helicopter (at around ¥800,000 an hour) for an aerial tour of Mount Fuji. As a parting gift, she got an undisclosed amount of “additional remuneration.” Sweet.

And what did Japan get? Kim said she had information for the Yokotas about their missing daughter and other Japanese abductees who trained her to be a multilingual spy — even though, way back when, she said she had never met Megumi. So suddenly Kim has a quarter-century-old brain fart and gets the red carpet?

The Megumi Yokota tragedy has for the past decade been a political football in Japanese politics, a means for Japan as a whole to claim victimhood status. That is to say, by portraying itself as a victim of North Korea, Japan gets brownie points at the geopolitical bargaining table and audiences with American presidents. It also creates a villain to mobilize and scare the Japanese public, justifying bunker-mentality policing powers. (Not to mention outright xenophobia. Remember some of the arguments against suffrage for non-Japanese permanent residents (JBC, Feb. 2)? “How dare we give the vote to potential North Korean agents!” We’ll get no national law protecting universal human rights in Japan while the current regime is in place in Pyongyang.)

Yet ironies abound. After decades of virtually ignoring the abductions issue, the government has now firmly entrenched it as one of those “international sympathy” chestnuts, along with “Japan is the only country ever bombed by nuclear weapons,” “Our nation as a whole was a victim of a rapacious military junta during World War II,” and just about any claim of “Japan-bashing” rolled out whenever somebody needs to win a domestic or international argument.

Never mind the hypocrisies, such as Japan’s own wartime atrocities and public complicity, the officially sponsored bashing of non-Japanese residents, and the kidnappings (both international and domestic) of children under Japan’s insane laws covering divorce, child custody and visitation. Portraying Japan as the perpetual “victim of circumstance or historical conspiracy” keeps our past unexamined, the status quo unchallenged, and our society blissfully inculpable.

But as I said earlier, the Kim visit showed how victimhood can be used — even against the pros — for fun and profit.

Think about it. Kim should be the poster child for all that’s bad about North Korea. Masquerading as a Japanese in her attempt to kill as many innocent people as possible, she was a fundamental part of the system that abducted innocent Japanese, and a beneficiary of their captive services. Yet she so effectively converted herself into a “victim of the North” that South Korea commuted her death sentence, and her memoir even became a best seller.

So last month, by joining hands with Japan against a putative common enemy, Kim played our government like a shamisen. She essentially got the trip to Disneyland that fellow North Korean elite Kim Jong Nam (son of the Dear Leader) tried to get when he smuggled himself into Japan on a false passport in 2001. He should have pretended to be a victim, not a Dominican.

In sum, Kim Hyon Hui pulled off an awesome con. But consider the damage done.

What was had for this Kim visit? We taxpayers were. “Little information to help solve the long-standing abduction issue was obtained,” according to the Asahi Shimbun. Yet this rot has become even more bureaucratically entrenched: The fiscal 2010 budget allots ¥1.2 billion for “abduction-related activities,” double that of 2009. More money into the sinkhole while other programs are facing cuts?

Worse still is the political precedent that has been set. Taking office last year from the corrupt Liberal Democratic Party on the promise of reform, the Democratic Party of Japan has now squandered political capital and goodwill.

This columnist has supported the DPJ mostly because we need a viable alternative to the LDP — an opposition party that can force Japanese politics out of its crapulence and decrepitude. Yet here the DPJ has shown itself unwilling to break the mold of Japan’s elite potentates. Not only are they just as susceptible to the same con that double-agents such as Kim specialize in; they are also just as willing to bend the rules to suit the will of a privileged few.

We saw this happen before spectacularly in the Alberto Fujimori case (JBC, May 5, 2009): An international criminal suspect wanted by Interpol could resign his Peruvian presidency, flee to Japan and get treated as a celebrity. He could even enjoy a safe haven from, yes, being “victimized” under Peru’s allegedly unfair judiciary. “Give us your huddled victims yearning to get rich . . .”

So I guess the moral is that the new boss is turning out the same as the old boss. Who cares about the rule of law, or cutting deals with international terrorists? We’re hosting a smashing party for our victims, and we don’t want you bounders and oiks to spoil it! Oh, and the bureaucrats want to justify their budgets too, so let’s make like we’re doing something about the abductions. Thus the con is not Kim’s alone.

But spare a final thought for the ultimate victims in this case: the abductees’ families, such as the Yokotas. Lured by false hopes of any news of their loved ones, they got entangled in this political stunt and lost enormous public sympathy for their cause. In the end, they were suckers for a self-proclaimed victim who is in fact a spy, a con artist and a mass murderer.

Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to