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Monday, April 30, 2012

A Noble People Ignobly Held

I have been watching the author and journalist, Blaine Harden, talk about Escape from Camp 14,  one man's odyssey from North Korea to the West on  C-SPAN. This is one of the most horrifying, yet fascinating interviews I have ever heard. The book is about the escape of a 23 year old North Korean, named Shin, from the prison camp where he was born. The details of his life in that camp were chilling. He barely knew his parents, who were rewarded with being allowed to be together as prisoners in the camp and so he was born. The book is the story of his life in the camp and his eventual escape, which was quite horrifying and 'lucky' at the same time. Until a few months before his attempt, he learned about the outside world and what induced him to escape was hearing that in the world outside, in China, people could eat all the food that they wanted.

At the age of 13 he was viciously tortured by guards after had obeyed the rules and told them of the plans he had overheard his mother and brother make to escape. Later he was taken to watch them both executed. Execution was the only time people in the camp gathered in crowds, there were thousands of them. The camp was/is surrounded by barbed wire and electric voltage that is meant to kill you if you so much as touch it. He met a man, Park, who he was supposed to be spying on, who had seen the world and given him the word that there was another world and another way to live. Shin had no idea that the world was even round or that there was even a South Korea or a United States. But he was smart and he was cunning.

Two months after hearing about plentiful food on the outside he convinced his 'teacher' to try to escape with him. They ran to the fence and when the Park was trying to get through the wire  he inadvertently touched it and was killed. He fell on the wire and Shin crawled over his body to the outside world and freedom, managing to burn his legs badly as he went. He still had 300 miles before he could get to the Chinese borders, but that was the 'easy' part of the story.

It took the author many months before he was able to convince Shin, who by that time was in South Korea, to agree to tell the story. This is the first time that anyone is known to have successfully escaped from this prison camp and there were many groups that thought it was important that his story be told. Part of the agreement for telling his story is that he will receive 50% of the money the book makes. Shin, who is 29, the same age as my youngest son, has been taken in by another Korean family and is now living in the United States. He has learned not to be so wary of people as he was, but still has language limitations and is also working through emotional problems as a result of observing 'normal' family life in his new world. I plan to buy a copy of the book.

My dear daughter-in-law is South Korean. Her father escaped from the north and made a completely new life for himself in the South. She told me that when her father escaped he left behind a wife and several children. He would never know what happened to them or their children. But it is known that it was normal punishment for families of escapees to end up in this prison camp. It all makes me feel incredibly sad for this dark hole in the world and the people trapped inside.

25 comments:

  1. It really is sad. Sometime I think about why, why we have so much and others have little or nothing. It doesn't make any sense.

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    1. What hit me so hard about this story was that this man, and there are many others like him in this camp, had no idea there was a world that existed outside the camp -- the camp was 'the world'!

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  2. There are many exapmles of pure evil in this world.

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    1. Yes, there are -- and not only in North Korea, either...

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  3. My niece's husband is South Korean, his last name is Shin. For me,someone who grew up in the DP camps of Europe and knew nothing about freedom until we arrived in Australia, my heart breaks for this young man. Hopefully in America he will find the peace he desires and the freedom that should be everyone's right. Astrid.

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  4. Perhaps evil, like thorns on roses, serve to highlight the good in the world.

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    1. The North Korean government is certainly 'prickly' enough to be compared to a rose thorn -- and the result is often a nasty infection, that's for sure...

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  5. There are a lot of ugly stories in the world about what people with "unfortunate" ideas and ideals do to other people. This is one of those. So very sadly.

    I do not know how a person who has been through that kind of experience ever recovers fully.

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    1. What you say is true. Apparently, this young man, now 29, is only realizing now that he betrayed his mother and brother and is having to deal with the new found understanding of love and morality. He had no idea these existed.

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  6. What a heartbreaking story. I hope this young man is able to heal over time and have a good life -- and that many more people like him, living in desperate situations all over the world, will also find hope and freedom. There are so many horrifying regimes in a number of countries, but North Korea is especially chilling.

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    1. For some reason this story really resonated with me -- it is so overwhelmingly Dark, with a capital 'D'.

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  7. There are many more people living in conditions similar to Shin's than in the conditions we are used to. It makes you wonder when you realise how much lower most first world citizens would have to go on the living conditions scale just to get to 'average'.

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    1. And of course there is the question -- what is 'average'?

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  8. Thank you for the review. You've just sold a book, which I have ordered online. Everyone should read about the shocking experiences many folk endure, in order to appreciate how fortunate we are. Oh dear, I think I can feel a cold coming on.

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  9. Hello Katherine:
    Stories such as this one do need to be told for they highlight the appalling and very shocking, let alone inhumane, conditions in which people are forced to live by the most brutal of regimes. They make for terrible reading.

    Here, in the former Soviet bloc, we come across similar tales of the most frightening experiences which formed part of the daily lives of so many.

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    1. You would think it would make those of us who have been blessed to have been born in the 'West' appreciate our fortunate lives and to have more sympathy and understanding for the desperation of peoples who try to escape to our shores. Yes, it causes problems, but I will always believe but 'where there is a will there is a way' and anyway, it's an obligation to find that way.

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  10. Thanks for posting and highlighting the brutalities both physical and emotional of the NK regime.

    We are so fortunate to have been born on the other side and our 'troubles' with Government policies are nothing when compared to what is happening in other placces in the world.

    At least we can protest. We also have to remember that there are still many out there who need our help and support, both within their countries and as refugees.

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    1. It is so difficult to know what best to do. There is our moral obligations and political reality. So far in he history of the world it seems that political reality reigns...

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  11. My daughters' mother-in-law was a German slave farm laborer. On a forced march her grandmother was left to die. There is so much evil in this big world, and it seems not to go away.

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    1. Brutality is certainly not just a third world problem -- and we would be wise to remember it and to be vigilant against it.

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  12. There are so many horror stories of oppression and cruelty that sometimes it's hard to take them all in. But one young one man's experience of a prison within a prison somehow serves to highlight the rest and should make us profoundly grateful for the real freedoms we so often take for granted. Thank you for posting this, Broad.

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    1. We should indeed be grateful for our freedoms and not taken for granted because the future is not guaranteed.

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Receiving comments is a joy and I thank you all for taking the trouble and showing your interest. Makes me feel all gooey and stuff!