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Escape from Camp 14

June 10, 2012

A few months ago, I read Escape from Camp 14, the story of Shin Dong-hyuk that was written by Blaine Harden. Shin claims he was born and raised in a North Korean labor camp and later escaped from it.

Harden notes that not all of Shin’s story can be verified (naturally). All of the parts about Shin’s life in North Korea depend on his truthfulness. But the story jibes with news I’ve read about North Korea in recent years and so I took it at face value. It’s a damned ugly face.

To me, the most amazing thing about this book is that places like Camp 14 still exist and are still guarded by sadists. Where do all these monsters come from? Is sadism a trait that any of us will learn, when we’re in those circumstances?

If so, the obvious implications are (a) Choose your political system wisely and as a corollary (b) Avoid Communism at all costs.

But the worst of the sadism is what places like Camp 14 do to the children born in them, as Shin was. Part of the book describes Shin’s emotional maturation after he arrives in the U.S. and starts to learn that his first duties are not to The State, they’re to his family and his friends.

I find these thoughts fairly depressing. The barbarism just goes on and on, century after century.


Update July 21st. ’12: I came across an interesting piece of speculative fiction in Gardner Dozois’ 29th annual collection of science fiction stories. It’s a short story called "A Militant Peace", written by David Klecha and Tobias S. Buckell. You can read the entire thing here. (It won’t take long.)

The story describes the non-violent liberation of North Korea by UN troops, funded by a consortium of businesses. Curious, eh? It has a couple of interesting premises to support the plot.

I doubt they’d ever be feasible but it is a speculation, after all. Nonetheless, I liked the story and especially the idea of freeing North Korea.


I also ran across a post at Richard Fernandez’ Belmont Club blog titled The Story of Oh.

The BBC tells the melancholy story of Oh Kil-nam, a South Korean man who, convinced by his Marxist education that North Korea was a worker’s paradise, decided to defect there with his wife and two children in 1986. Oh, who had just completed his PhD in Germany in Marxist economics and who “had been active in left-wing groups” had no reason to doubt the beckoning invitation of North Korean officials who promised him free health care and a government job, like certain other people you may know.

He chose poorly.

Aged and broken, Oh now concludes that his “life was ruined by his decision to defect to North Korea. Seventy years old, he still does not know the fate of his wife and daughters – either dead or imprisoned in a labour camp.” His wife, who lacked the benefit of a European education, suspected something was amiss from the first. She was aghast when he told her of his plan to defect.


Update January 28th. ’13:

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