Bellicose & Belligerent: North Korea Demands Food & Attention
Escape from Camp 14
Cheery news today that North Korea will continue to test rockets that can deliver a nuclear payload to the US. Our comedians and entertainment industry joke about the over-the-top language of Kim Jong-Il/Un/Whatever—and that feels right and proper. But the predictable North Korean blustering and pattern of extorting food from the West have a new soberness for me after reading Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Hardin. Hardin tells the story of Shin Donghyuk, who escaped after being born and raised (for 23 years) in a North Korean prison camp. The only person known to have done so.
It doesn’t take many pages into Shin’s experience as a second-generation prisoner (that’s right, his mother was jailed—part of their “Imprison three generations” policy) to see how desperate the entire nation is. The camps are living horror stories where breeding and forced labor are routinely carried out on a diet of cabbage and salt (but all the rats and bugs you can catch). Long days of field work followed by evenings of forced self-examination followed by sleep on a concrete floor. Death by beating or malnutrition is common. We’ve all seen movies like this so it sounds like fiction—but such camps and conditions have existed in North Korea “as long as Stalin’s soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps,” at least according to the book blurb.
And it is not just the conditions of the political prisoners (and when do we start talking about “crimes against humanity” with this country?), it is an entire nation scrounging for food and held hostage by central economic planning that failed years ago, with thieves at the top. Escape from Camp 14 gives a bit of detail about the Kim Jong legacy of stripping the entire nation for personal gain–enough to turn one’s stomach.
It sounds like fiction. But I’m afraid this story is not getting any better for millions of North Koreans.
Check out North Korean Economy Watch for maps chronicling the ongoing North Korean tailspin.