Need to Know

Have you heard of this guy?

I hadn’t. I’m troubled that I hadn’t, because Shin Dong-hyuk has a story worth knowing. I have a friend who is teaching in South Korea who brought his story to my attention because she feels as though people should know. I think she’s right. Here are two great accounts of what he has experienced, one that ran in the Washington Post, and one that ran in the New York Times. The Post’s version will be troubling to you if you have a weak stomach, but you need to read them. Shin Dong-hyuk is the only person known to have escaped alive from a prison camp in a “total control zone” in North Korea. The fact that North Korea enslaves its people is no secret, and they’ve certainly been in the news of late with their sabre-rattling. Let me assure you, though, that you’ve never remotely imagined what might be going on there, that human beings could be deprived of the rights of thought of identity in the cruelest and most inhuman manner, until you read this guy’s history.

For these two papers to run such major pieces on him is indicative that his story appears to have some validity. I avoid politics here, and this post is no exception. When I read about this man, it was rather a spiritual experience for me. I looked out of my window between articles yesterday evening and thought about a country watching an athletic contest, and it seemed so amazingly trivial. I thought about how thankful I am that I have never been subjected to deprivation or torture. I also thought about a statement that Dong-hyuk makes in the Post’s article about his experience of freedom in a capitalist country after escaping from communist enslavement. He wonders about how South Korea largely doesn’t have or want knowledge of the horrors going on in their neighboring country because their prosperity makes them forget. It’s as though (my words) they don’t want to risk the inconvenience that might result to their lifestyles if they held that knowledge. Very similar, I think, is our reaction in the U.S.

Yet, for all he has suffered, he doesn’t advocate violence in return, because he recognizes that such a response would make the retaliator no better than the dictator.

He isn’t even known enough in the U.S. that an English version of his book is planned. Perhaps because we don’t want to inconvenience ourselves with that knowledge, either. Especially since our responses to these things always seem to be warfare, we need to hear his perspective on his life and the events of that part of the world.

Sorry to start your week on a downer. But, seriously…aren’t you glad you know?

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