Monday, April 28, 2014

A Primer On Trusting North Korea's Word


Got all that? Should I repeat it, just to make sure it sinks in?

People, you ought to know by now that North Korea regularly, pathologically engages in dispensing huge, heaping helpings of propaganda. You know that. I know you know that. You know you know that. It's one of the major things anyone knows about the country. And yet every time they say something, every time they make any kind of claim whatsoever about any topic in the whole wide world, I see people take it at face value. Face freaking value. They'll take a Westerner, make a completely BS claim about what caused the person to fall into their hands, and there are people who buy the claim without one single second of 'wait a minute, how do we know that's true?' and launch immediately into snarking on how stupid the Westerner is.

The current situation is no different. What is being claimed by North Korea is that an American, Matthew Todd Miller, tore up his visa a couple weeks ago while arriving for a tourist trip there and wanted to remain in North Korea, claiming asylum.

Here is what we actually know:

1. North Korea has detained Michael Todd Miller.

That's it. That is literally it. Everything else is questionable and taking anything past that at face value is reckless at best. If you want to read into propaganda, and what North Korea's words actually mean- a far more sensible game- you might also infer one additional thing:

2. North Korea has no inclination to release Michael Todd Miller anytime soon, if at all, and wants everyone to know it.

Now, is it possible that Miller really did opt to go live in North Korea? Incredibly, yes it is. There is the odd case across the years of Americans defecting to North Korea. But they are few and far between, and most of those cases happened at the close of the Korean War. Only five people- maybe six, depending on who you believe- have done so in the years following that, and four of them happened in the first few years after, one of which was an active-duty soldier deserting to avoid potentially having to fight in Vietnam. (Shockingly, that turned out to be a bad idea. He did eventually get back out, but the US refused to take him back and dishonorably discharged him. He now lives in Japan.) The last documented case of this happening was Joseph White in 1982, who lasted two whole years in North Korea before dying of, well, "drowning", at least according to the letter North Korea sent his family, who never received his body.

1982 was 32 years ago. The much more likely case is that while under Kim Jong Il, North Korea showed a willingness to release their American captives, Kim Jong Un is far more willing to just keep them forever, and is simply presenting a story that allows North Korea to do so.

More likely. That means not certain. Don't go jumping to conclusions.

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