Some stories are so grim that they depress the spirit, make one angry, and stick in the mind for days afterward. Such is the powerful and important tale of Shin In Geun, one of the few successful escapees from a North Korean gulag. He was unfortunate enough to be born inside one of that country’s prisons, called Camp 14, as the child of an arranged liason between two inmates. His father was imprisoned solely because the father’s brothers had fled to South Korea.
Life in the camp, according to my former Washington Post colleague Blaine Harden’s detailed and harrowing account, featured persistent hunger, regular torture, and forced attendance at brutal executions — some involving children. After his mother and brother spoke of escape, he followed camp rules and turned them in, then was taken to watch them be killed. His partner in the successful escape was electrocuted on the prison fence.
Somehow, Shin made his way to the United States and now works for an American human rights group based in California. Harden wrote a book about Shin’s astonishingly hard life that has just been released, called “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West.” An excerpt from the book appeared recently in the Guardian.
Another article highlighting the insular characteristics and distorted priorities of the North Korean regime was published on April 1 by Yonhap, the publicly-funded South Korean news agency. It reported that a North Korean rocket launch now in the final stages of preparation will cost the strapped government there as much as $400 million, a sum large enough to feed a sizable chunk of its starving population for a year. The North’s ambition is evidently to prove it can match or best its neighbor to the South, which has been trying to launch a satellite into space for the past three years (so far without success). Of course, any rocket that can loft a satellite can also lift a nuclear warhead, if the warhead is small enough and designed to withstand the stress.
South Korea’s satellite-launching efforts — which have been supported by Russia over quiet U.S. objections — have attracted only slight public criticism from a few Western experts in ballistic missile proliferation, while the North’s have collected almost universal condemnation.
On another subject entirely, we cannot forgo the chance to recommend a look at the fine article David Axe wrote for us about the Obama administration’s plan to build a new strategic bomber. He took a much closer look at the origins, design, cost, and roles of the bomber than anyone else has, so far.
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