Shin Dong-hyuk was bred like a farm animal, in a North Korean prison camp. Guards ordered his prisoner-parents to copulate. He was raised as a slave, to be minimally fed, beaten regularly, and worked to death. A finger was cut off for dropping a tool. He watched a 6-year-old beaten to death for stealing five corn grains.
At age 14, his mother and brother plotted escape, and in fear he ratted on them. Still he was torturted, including roasting over a coal fire and a hook through his belly; plus witnessing their execution.
At 23 he escaped. Somehow he managed to make his way across North Korea (really one big prison camp). It took four years. He suffered more horrible burns crossing an electrified fence. Finally, he made it out to China; and eventually, America.
Shin is the only known person born in North Korea’s gulag to escape to freedom.
North Korea is a nation of about 25 million. The prison camp population is estimated to be 200,000. Not only are people sent there for the slightest infraction, or suspicion of less than slavish loyalty, but whole families join the one-way trip. (Release is unknown; and there is no trial; you just disappear.) But life outside the camps is not greatly better. Severe hunger and malnutrition have been endemic for decades. It is estimated that since 1995, up to 3.5 million have starved to death.
This is not just another dictatorship, nor even a “mere” totalitarian state. This is different. This is Hell.
Neither South Korea, China, nor the U.S. wants to see North Korea implode, landing millions of starving people on their doorsteps. Thus we avert our eyes from the horror; why hasn’t the regime, the whole lot of them, even been indicted for crimes against humanity by the relevant international tribunal? Meantime we give food aid, China supplies electric power and other support, and the Kim regime endures.
The only truly humane policy would instead be to seal off North Korea and let it collapse once and for all. The immediate repercussions would be frightful, but at least it would draw a line under the agony, instead of prolonging it, and creating generation after generation of Shin Don-hyuks. (I have made this argument before.)
Shin himself now realizes that he grew up as something less than human. Seeing that 6-year-old beaten to death, he felt nothing; nor did he at the killing of his mother and brother. Shin says he escaped physically but not psychologically, and he is trying to remake himself. “Now that I am out,” he says, “I am learning to be emotional. I have learned to cry. I feel like I am becoming human.”