They vanished
September 18, 2002 9:47 AM   Subscribe

They vanished in a variety of circumstances. A 52-year-old security man disappeared from an inn; a 22-year-old bar hostess went missing after dropping off her children at a day-care center; two college students on summer vacation went missing near a beach; an engaged couple disappeared after apparently stopping at a seaside lookout. They lived and died with their kidnappers.
posted by i blame your mother (24 comments total)
That is creepy on so many levels.
posted by mecran01 at 9:56 AM on September 18, 2002

I am really stuck on this. The way these people were literally plucked out of their daily lives, caught strolling on the beach and quite terrifyingly spirited away.
posted by i blame your mother at 10:01 AM on September 18, 2002

It may be creepy, but is it surprising? Not everyone forgives and forgets.
posted by tommasz at 10:02 AM on September 18, 2002

Surprising? Absolutely. This wasn't political retaliation for Japanese war crimes. These kidnappings weren't publicized, they were covert operations. Thus they were inneffectual, indeed non-existent, as retribution or punishment. These were brutal and psychotic acts from an aggressively militarized dictatorship.
posted by i blame your mother at 10:10 AM on September 18, 2002

These were brutal and psychotic acts from an aggressively militarized dictatorship. This is my idea of unsurprising.
posted by tommasz at 10:15 AM on September 18, 2002

Unsurprised or desensitized. Take your pick.

I see your point, but there is something qualitatively different here. This was not a missile. Not an act of mass terrorism. These kidnappings were somehow very, very personal in nature. Individual lives, removed one by one over decades, and never admitted to.

A terrorist, or a country attempting to create fear "normally" claims responsibility for terrifying acts. Even N.Korea does so usually (missile tests, etc.) These were denied.
posted by i blame your mother at 10:19 AM on September 18, 2002

What I find creepy is that it happened, not that someone is bringing it up. And that it could presumably happen anywhere.
posted by mecran01 at 10:30 AM on September 18, 2002

The more I hear about North Korea, the more it develops this kind of Wes-Craven-Funhouse feel to it.

I can certainly understand the outrage of the Japanese. Especially given that this admission leads to financial support from Japan, a country having economic problems of it's own. What I loved especially was North Korea saying it would allow those still living to return to visit Japan, not move back. Nice touch.
posted by Salmonberry at 10:31 AM on September 18, 2002

exactly, salmonberry. this is like what would happen if pinhead became defense secretary in north korea (an almost unimaginable situation since he is currently serving that post elsewhere)
posted by i blame your mother at 10:36 AM on September 18, 2002

As much as I dislike the NewsFilterization of MeFi, I must confess that I wouldn't have read this article without your provocative post, i_blame. The whole thing is very unsettling.

(Constructive criticism: stop responding to each and every comment; you are kinda smothering your own post, IMHO.)
posted by Shadowkeeper at 10:56 AM on September 18, 2002

Holy crap.
posted by Soliloquy at 11:13 AM on September 18, 2002

posted by Quixoticlife at 11:24 AM on September 18, 2002

These were brutal and psychotic acts from an aggressively militarized dictatorship.

Sure, but brutality wasn't the point. Killing, torturing, sadistic acts of violence - those weren't the point. The kidnappings, however horrific they might have been, were a means to a practical end - teaching Japanese language and culture to N. Korean operatives. Some of the victims even managed to move on to semi-normal lives, despite their captivity.

I find this situation much easier to comprehend than the abduction and murder of Carole Sund, Juli Sund and Silvina Pelosso.

Choice: abduction from the beach to a foreign, oppressive country for 20 years, or rape and brutal death in the woods at Yosemite. I'll roll the dice on a trip to North Korea, thank you very much.
posted by junkbox at 11:29 AM on September 18, 2002

I heard an interview with the Korean-American author of a book (I wish I could remember her name or the name of the book) written about the repatriation to South Korea of one of her uncles who was kept in North Korea since childhood.

The "Wes-Craven-Funhouse"-ness of North Korea was evidenced by the stories that her uncle told her of regular life in North Korea. They are so brainwashed there- kept away from global media, etc. so they don't understand that N. Korea is one of the poorest and famine-ridden countries in the world.

One of the vignettes that I remember the uncle talking about was how it was a big deal when he received shoes with rubber soles. Before that they were made of some natural fiber.

N. Korea is a very scary place.
posted by gen at 11:48 AM on September 18, 2002

Seems to me that if they wanted people to teach Japanese language and culture to North Korean operatives a thirteen-year-old abducted girl would be a poor choice. Young adults would be better. Hiring people instead of abducting them would be better still. But then there's so many layers of fucked-up-ness involved in such operations I hardly know where to start peeling.
posted by orange swan at 11:49 AM on September 18, 2002

This is truly creepy. I wonder if the abductees fell into Stockholm Syndrome? Perhaps after 25+ years they don't want to go home, but only visit? Brainwashing seems to work when performed effectively. Patty Hurst is a passing example of the human mind's malleability. What creeps me out, then, is that these people's identities were stolen, both in paperwork and in spirit.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:22 PM on September 18, 2002

Come on, it's only North Korea, not Louisiana (ducks)
posted by mecran01 at 12:36 PM on September 18, 2002

Somewhat off topic, on the plight of North Korean refugees trying to flee to China: Iraq isn't the only country making a mockery of the U.N.
posted by homunculus at 1:31 PM on September 18, 2002

Two great links from homunculus and i blame your mother. Very disturbing. Stories like these need to be heard.
posted by mathis23 at 3:03 PM on September 18, 2002

N Korea is going through a very schizophrenic period. Just this year they had a pointless gun battle with the S Korean navy, after a period of apparent reconciliation had stalled. But the place is still starving -- most of the refugees who make it out say their main motivation is pretty much hunger -- despite massive food aid from the West. But "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il is increasingly amenable to overtures from the outside. The latest scheme that seems to be working is pressure from both S Korea and Japan on the one side and Russia (and to a lesser extent China) on the other build a modern rail link from S Korea to the Trans-Siberian Railway -- providing a land route to Europe for trade goods, and leasing fees and tariffs to N Korea.

The most bizarre kidnapping of all was of a S Korean actress and her director husband; they were forced to make movies in N Korea to the style preferred by Kim's father, Kim Il Sung.

It's hard to be certain, but it looks as though Koizumi may be only the second Western leader to meet with Kim. (He has met with Putin and Jiang.) The paranoia may be breaking, but they need a couple more years of not using naval gun battles as attention-getting devices before we can be sure they're not still living in the movies.
posted by dhartung at 3:04 PM on September 18, 2002

After reading that, kinda makes this show look a bit out of date, but will it disappear without a trace by October?
posted by ZachsMind at 3:15 PM on September 18, 2002

It's hard to be certain, but it looks as though Koizumi may be only the second Western leader to meet with Kim.


I bet Koizumi would be surprised to hear he was a Western leader. First World leader, to be sure, but. . . .

It is would seem obvious why KJ-il would meet first with the countries that have been instrumental in Korean history. There is no question he would also be willing to meet America's own Dear Leader. It would be sad if the continuation of ideologically driven hostilities is deemed by ideologues to be more important than the termination of actual hostilities between Koreans.

Given the peculiar historic relationship between North Korea and Japan, for which "love-hate relationship" hardly scratches the surface, it is beyond remarkable for Koizumi to apologize to North Korea for the undeniable atrocities visited on Koreans by the Japanese under Hirohito. I am sure the extreme rightists in Japan are excoriating his name for doing so.

It is high time for the United States to support Kim Dae-jung--and Koizumi-- in the quest for the unification of Korea. Is it rationally possible to disagree with the proposition that the entire world would be better off if North Korea was not a Wes Craven Funhouse of a country?
posted by rdone at 4:05 PM on September 18, 2002

Koreas begin demining border
posted by homunculus at 11:45 PM on September 18, 2002

rdone, I'm using the modern conception of the West, i.e. the modern industrialized democracies, as opposed to pre-20th-century East/West dichotomy. As it was a founding member of the G8, I think excluding Japan is the dicier approach. In any case, while there's certainly room for comparing Japan against "the West" in cultural senses, labeling Japan as "Western" is not a formulation I just made up.

As for your other comments, I think North Korea's repression of its people is rather more than just a difference between "ideologues", and I fully back the Bush administration's view that a summit between Kim and the American President is far in the future and requires substantial -- substantive -- change before it will be considered. For now, he's just emerging from the category of "nutjob". There's nothing in it for us to give him the prestige of a summit. The United States' official policy does support S Korea's pro-detente policy [see State briefing], and probably holds out unification as an emergency measure in the event of a real N Korean collapse. It isn't our fault it became a funhouse, and it's far beyond our capability to end it.

Remember, unification in Germany didn't happen because the US suddenly decided to be nice guys, and East Germany responded by saying "Hey! We're nice guys, too, but we disguise it under a layer of hostility, dictatorial government, and police-state repression! But now that you've given us props, we're nothing if not eager to dissolve our government and way of life!" It happened because that government and way of life were no longer sustainable and had collapsed over roughly a fortnight (after a period of months of instability). While unification is certainly the aim sought by many parties, it isn't by any means a certain outcome, especially if the Kim regime retains strong control going into a period of reform.

As it happens, Lessons of Germany's Re-unification have been studied with an eye to the Korean situation. But that document is already nearly ten years old, and the amount of change in that period has been minimal.
posted by dhartung at 12:08 AM on September 19, 2002

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