North Korea’s dehumanizing treatment of its citizens is hiding in plain sight

By Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post, March 25, 2012 –
With President Obama in Korea this week, we will hear a lot about the dangers of North Korea’s nuclear aspirations.

We’re unlikely to be hear about a young man named Shin Dong-hyuk, who was bred, like a farm animal, inside a North Korean prison camp after guards ordered his prisoner-parents to mate. But Shin arguably has as much to teach about Korea’s past and future as about the cycle of negotiation, bluster and broken promises over the nuclear issue.

“Shin was born a slave and raised behind a high-voltage barbed-wire fence.”

So writes Blaine Harden, a former East Asia correspondent for The Post, in a soon-to-be-published account of Shin’s life, “Escape from Camp 14.”

Harden describes a closed world of unimaginable bleakness. We often speak of someone so unfortunate as to grow up “not knowing love.” Shin grew up literally not understanding concepts such as love, trust or kindness. His life consisted of beatings, hunger and labor. His only ethos was to obey guards, snitch on fellow inmates and steal food when he could. At age 14, he watched his mother and older brother executed, a display that elicited in him no pity or regret. He was raised to work until he died, probably around age 40. He knew no contemporaries who had experienced life outside Camp 14.

At 23, Shin escaped and managed, over the course of four years, to make his way through a hungry North Korea — a larger, more chaotic version of Camp 14 — into China and, eventually, the United States. He is, as far as is known, the only person born in the North Korean gulag to escape to freedom.

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