Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


His first memory is an execution.
March 17, 2012 5:56 AM   Subscribe

Extracts from Escape From Camp 14 - How one man escaped from a North Korean prison camp. There was torture, starvation, betrayals and executions, but to Shin In Geun, Camp 14 – a prison for the political enemies of North Korea – was home. Then one day came the chance to flee…
posted by fearfulsymmetry (25 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am the furthest thing from a war hawk but if ever a situation called out for liberators, North Korea needs it badly. The whole country is a concentration camp.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:18 AM on March 17, 2012 [12 favorites]


Related
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 6:33 AM on March 17, 2012


brutal
posted by euphorb at 6:38 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amazing. Thank you for posting.
posted by josher71 at 7:08 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


sevenyearlurk, unfortunately we spent that political capital in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we might have to borrow some more for Iran by the time this is all done. Also, North Korea has nuclear weapons, which rather raises the stakes should we get involved militarily.
posted by JHarris at 7:09 AM on March 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thank you for sharing this. I can't begin to picture what life is like when you're first free as 23 year old on the run. And how you live with yourself when you realise you killed your mother and brother for no reason. This is as horrendous as it comes.

It came up in MeTa the other day, and people were talking about Dee Xtrovert's memories of the siege of Sarajevo, so I read through some of those. From her telling, there, people looked after each other as best they could, and the people under siege struggled on through with whatever they had.

The true diabolicalness of totalitarian systems everywhere, and this is not a new thought, and I am privileged enough that the Stanford Prison Experiment is the most likely scenario where I'd experience this on a gross scale, so excuse the triteness, but: The true diabolicalness of totalitarian systems everywhere isn't just that they deprive their subjects of the stuff of life that they need, it's that they deprive people of their ability to help and look after and care for and trust each other.

I can't think of a good reason to read this article if all you're going to say is "isn't it terrible". Surely if someone's interested enough in North Korea to read 2000 words on it, they know that.

It's crucial then that you look at it and think "what does this tell me about how I should treat people, what I should be grateful for", and then, when you've thought about that, you need to think "how do I stop my society falling even slightly down that slope, how do I make sure everything that I do reinforces people's trust in each other, how can I make sure everyone knows and feels love in their lives, how can I make sure everyone has a family who they will sacrifice themselves for rather than a family they will sacrifice for ideologies which don't put love and dignity at the top".

Because at the end of the day, we aren't going to need reminding that it's inhuman to have people born into captivity and brought up in starvation conditions. We need to be reminded that so many of our activities might lead us to become complacent about more minor cases of brutalisation due to deprivation and failed society.

As Kurt Vonnegut, who knew that ordinary people could easily find themselves perpetuating this kind of evil, said:

"There's only one rule that I know of, babies - 'God damn it, you've got to be kind'"
posted by ambrosen at 7:29 AM on March 17, 2012 [17 favorites]


That was one of the most horrifying things I have ever read.

Click here to donate to LiNK, the Human Rights group Shin Dong-hyuk is now an ambassador for.
posted by flippant at 7:32 AM on March 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I read that earlier. Complete craziness. Especially the fact that the only reason he was able to escape is because he stumbled, and his co-conspirator ended up getting to the fence first, was electrocuted, and he was able to escape because his friends body ended up causing an opening in the gate. That detail is just insane It's not even something someone would put in a movie, because it's so horrible.

I think it's interesting when people say that the world of 1984 or whatever, would never happen. Clearly, that world already exists in some places, and have existed for a while (replacing horrible, but less modern examples of brutality in the feudal era)

It's such an interesting contrast to the video we do see coming out of NK, always shot by people who are closely controlled and handled while they are in the country. We see the somewhat fascist outer shell and find it disturbing, creepy, uncanny, but not horrifying, like this.
I am the furthest thing from a war hawk but if ever a situation called out for liberators, North Korea needs it badly. The whole country is a concentration camp.
Well, you don't want to be controlled so easily by horror stories like this. Horror stories like this played into the iraq invasion as well I remember a quote from someone saying "How can you hear stories like this, and not want to liberate Iraq?" Well, the war created a million more tragedies.

Invading North Korea would mean lots of families torn apart, killed etc. They also have nuclear weapons. There is also the fact that, while South Korea obviously wants reunification at some point, it would be a huge problem for them economically if the two countries were reunified right away. If you look at Germany, it took them years to recover and the differences between east and west were nowhere near as stark as they are between the Koreas. I mean, what happens to SK politics once you let North Koreans, still indoctrinated into the "dear leader" religion start voting? How does the economy work when you integrate millions of people who's only work experience is manual labor? The Korean peninsula post liberation is a very complex problem, and not one that SK really wants to worry about at the moment.
Related
Too bad the main link in that FPP now goes to a "Win a free iPad" page.
posted by delmoi at 8:32 AM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


A person would need quite the wrongful education to make others go through this type of treatment, and yet I have no difficulty believing how this could have actually happened.
posted by Meatafoecure at 9:52 AM on March 17, 2012


I didn't read the extract because I already plan to read the book, an audiobook version will be available too. This will be my 3rd NK book, the other two were Orphan Master's Son, and Nothing to Envy. If nothing else, NK is a catalyst for awesome stories. Orphan Master was about this.
posted by stbalbach at 11:16 AM on March 17, 2012


Also if growing up, your school friends laugh sardonically as they are playing Pooyan, think twice and be very very wary.
posted by Meatafoecure at 2:45 PM on March 17, 2012


That is the most awful thing I have ever read.
posted by wuwei at 4:08 PM on March 17, 2012


sevenyearlurk, unfortunately we spent that political capital in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we might have to borrow some more for Iran by the time this is all done. Also, North Korea has nuclear weapons, which rather raises the stakes should we get involved militarily.

Don't forget Iraq had nuclear and chemical weapons too
posted by mattoxic at 5:26 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also don't forget war causes horrible violence and destruction on both sides and if it ever makes things better, it's at a terrible cost and many many years later.

I mean yay liberators support our troops don't drone me bro!
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:31 PM on March 17, 2012


Also don't forget China and Russia also commit horrible human rights abuses? Why do we never hear about liberating them?

BECAUSE WE WOULD GET OUR ASSES KICKED.

I don't really see a foreign policy as moral when it basically says "we won't stand for these awful things (in countries we could beat easily)."
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:33 PM on March 17, 2012


Though on the plus side, all the white people who were so sad when M*A*S*H went off might finally get a new show.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:36 PM on March 17, 2012



Also don't forget China and Russia also commit horrible human rights abuses?...BECAUSE WE WOULD GET OUR ASSES KICKED...I don't really see a foreign policy as moral when it basically says "we won't stand for these awful things (in countries we could beat easily)."


There are at least three things I disagree with, here. First, Russian and Chinese (or American) human rights abuses are dwarfed by what goes on in North Korea. North Korea essentially employs slave labor on a massive scale, and treats said slaves worse than say in the antebellum American South or the Roman Empire at its worst. Even the "free" people of North Korea (outside Pyongyang) live under an incredibly oppressive regime that seems as terrible as those countries at their worst.

Second, attacking North Korea wouldn't necessarily be much easier than attacking either of those other countries. Forget about nuclear weapons; North Korean artillery in the DMZ could level Seoul long before we could take it out. OK, it would be easier than Russia or China, but it wouldn't be anything close to a cakewalk, which is a big reason why we didn't try it even before they had nukes.

Third, if that really was our actual policy, I don't see it as being terribly hypocritical. After all, if you can't beat an oppressive nation's military, then there is no point invading. It would only make things worse for the people you were trying to liberate. An argument can be made against the general idea of "humanitarian" wars, but that would be moot since that has never truly represented American policy. I recall how little was said about the Congo during the last fifteen years or so as large numbers of people were exterminated in the midst of truly horrific violence. Our policymakers have never really aspired towards any kind of moral military intervention, despite a long history of lip service.
posted by Edgewise at 10:37 PM on March 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't really see a foreign policy as moral when it basically says "we won't stand for these awful things (in countries we could beat easily)."--drjimmy11

Really? I'm curious what you would consider moral. "We won't stand for these awful things, therefore we are going to attack even though we won't succeed and may end up in a world war with China, with millions of lives lost."

I don't consider that moral. I'm not impressed with a morality that doesn't consider real consequences.

That being said, this is the most horrible thing I have ever read. We should definitely do anything and everything that has a chance of helping get rid of these monsterous concentration camps.
posted by eye of newt at 7:12 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


You don't beat a North Korea by invading, you beat it by causing dissent between the families that control North Korea, by denying one or more of them, but not all, easy access to something they desire. Maybe it's luxury goods, maybe it's reliable electricity to their villa. You apply the forces you can and hope that you can do so at a resonant frequency, through subtle but periodic pressure you unbalance a relationship between powerful parties.
posted by zippy at 10:23 AM on March 18, 2012


Shin In Geun is one of the refugees interviewed in Kimgonilia, a recent documentary about North Korea refugees.
He talked about the story of the his friend getting trapping in the fence, without emotions. I think that was more horrifying than the other lady who was crying tears of rage.
It's not a very cheerful film, and has an arbitrary modern dance sequence, but there are interviews from North Korean refugees from various backgrounds which gives a more rounded view.
posted by slyrabbit at 10:55 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not that it wouldn't be bad, but North Korea does not have a viable nuke... more of a dirty bomb. Just wanted to nit that pick.
posted by basicchannel at 5:20 PM on March 18, 2012


Omg, feeling utterly drained after reading that compelling nightmare. It's hard to imagine there is anything left human in a person so relentlessly abused.

Just as the harrowing absurdity of what he suffered seemed to numb my mind, there was the brutal emotional awakening of the kindness of the old man in prison, who nursed Shin back to life after being tortured, who taught Shin to literally hunger for life again.

That was the hardest for me, realizing Shin's frozen heart would have to experience the agony of thawing with the warmth of loving kindness but then endure going out into the hell realm of the prison camp, navigate that survivalist hell realm.

Ended up making me so profoundly grateful for all the comforts and freedoms I have and have experienced. Then I felt a rush of fury at the malicious political machinations that have been going down in the USA in the last couple of decades that have culminated in the Patriot Act, the shredding of the US Constitution.

Wishing Shin an infinitely more happy life. I wish him delicious meals, peace of mind, loving, feeling loved, success and energy in his fight to help free the others still enduring the horrors in North Korea.
posted by nickyskye at 9:26 PM on March 18, 2012


After reading the article I can't deny that my first response is, "Why aren't we doing more to stop these atrocities?" It's not as though I was unaware of the oppression in North Korea, but when confronted with stories of starvation, torture, and six-year old girls dying from beatings I should hope it's only natural to be outraged, to demand action.

At the same time, I do have to consider that it is not necessarily moral for the U.S. to initiate military intervention into a sovereign nation. At the very least I have to think of how utterly powerless the U.S. (and other nations) have been in trying to restore stability to Iraq. Honestly our track record for intervention is not that stellar in my view. Moreover, in addition to condemning human rights abuses in China, Russia, Myanmar, any place, shouldn't we turn the lens on ourselves? What about U.S. military detention camps, the sprawling prison system, eroding labor rights, and so on?

I guess my point is that it's not an isolated problem. This story is absolutely appalling, but exploitation and cruelty need to be fought everywhere.
posted by lastminuteartist at 10:27 AM on March 19, 2012


Don't forget Iraq had nuclear and chemical weapons too
The claim was they had a nuclear program, wanted yellowcake from Niger, not that they'd developed nuclear weapons. North Korea has already tested a nuke.
Not that it wouldn't be bad, but North Korea does not have a viable nuke... more of a dirty bomb. Just wanted to nit that pick.
You know this from the classified briefings you've been getting?
posted by delmoi at 1:49 PM on March 19, 2012


The South Korean government estimates there are about 154,000 prisoners in North Korea's labour camps, while the US state department puts the number as high as 200,000

200,000 prisoners out of North Korean population of 24.3 million = .8 percent of population.

2.27 million prisoners out of American population of 300 million = .76 percent of population.

Makes you think.
posted by zipadee at 4:29 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older So just how do you translate the death metal growl...  |  "The Detroit metropolitan area... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments