Although it was a wonderful bit of news to hear that North Korea had released two American detainees on Sunday, it is hard to muster up any bit of sympathy for these two individuals, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller. Bae had spent the last two years in prison in North Korea and Miller the last seven months before they arrived back stateside in Seattle Saturday night.
Kenneth Bae, a foreign tourist operator, was serving a 15-year sentence for apparent anti-government activities that sought to overthrow the government. According to sources, he had taken unsuitable pictures that showed starving children and public executions of dissenters. Unsurprisingly, he was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years hard labor.
Miller, on the other hand, asked for a prison sentence. Apparently, he ripped up his tourist visa and asked for asylum in the Pyongyang airport back in April. According to North Korean reports he intended to infiltrate its prison system to examine the human rights situation.
Bae’s conviction might have been a case of North Korea’s heavy oversight and fear, as some reports also indicate that Bae is a devout Christian and he might have been arrested for fear of him spreading his ideas. But, everyone who goes into North Korea knows that pictures are highly controlled and censored. What comes in and goes out from North Korea is highly regulated and monitored. Officials are highly sensitive to what an individual is allowed to see. So, Bae’s first instinct may have been to photograph these atrocities that he saw in front of him but you have to know the rules as a foreigner. In Singapore, you are fined $500 for spitting gum on the street. A rule is a rule.
Miller, too, doesn’t elicit any sympathy. Official documentation of any kind (passport, driver’s license…etc.) is very important and valuable, so for him to tear up a tourist visa in front of officials is absurd and not surprisingly an act of aggression. And why would he, as an American, expect to be given asylum by North Korea? Lastly, even if he did witness and experience the human rights atrocities in their labor camps, he wouldn’t live to tell the world about it.
So, once again a U.S. president had to devote resources and personnel to saving some detainees. Fortunately, only the director of national intelligence James Clapper had to fly to Pyongyang this time, not a former U.S. president. But why is it always Americans who find themselves detained in North Korea? Sure, North Korea has a strong hatred for the U.S. and is wary of its citizens visiting their country. There’s also the possibility that they detain U.S. citizens in order to use them as bargaining chips in getting financial aid from the U.S. But all of these detainees always seem to have the same intention: unmasking the Hermit Nation.
Americans don’t like to be told that they can’t visit a country (technically, Americans are allowed to visit North Korea but only during special times of the year) and they don’t like a dictator starving its citizens to death. No citizen of the world likes this. But, what is with this American sentiment of trying to overthrow North Korea or spreading Christianity throughout this communist state? Why do some U.S. citizens want to be some sort of Margaret Bourke-White photographing the Buchenwald concentration camp for the first time? Or some radical whistleblower that toppled a regime? This Matthew Miller must have been on some ego trip thinking he could infiltrate and document North Korean gulags.
North Korea will collapse. But it won’t be because of some revolutionary American.
There are a lot of political games that are played between nations because of North Korea, but the fact is no American citizen can single handily dethrone Kim Jong-un. Sorry.
But the last two years have been incredibly hard for the country, according to many reports. This decision to release these detainees right now could indicate that North Korea needs help and wants resources from the rest of the world. However, the best way to topple this regime is to support an all out boycott of North Korea. A global embargo by all nations (except China of course) could greatly unsettle things in the Hermit Kingdom. But going solo into North Korea won’t merit anything except a diplomatic headache for the White House, and quite frankly is idiotic if you are an American. Just ask Jeffrey Fowle of Ohio, released last month from North Korea, who was imprisoned for 6 months for leaving a Bible in a nightclub hoping it would reach the underground Christian community. Such foolish thinking.