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  • Horror of North Korea's Prison Camps Revealed by Escapee

    Shin Dong-hyuk, a North Korean defector, speaks during a press conference in Seoul, in October 2007. Shin who was born and spent 22 years in a North Korean prison camp

    Deep inside the darkness of North Korea—a totalitarian state from which little news escapes—as many as 200,000 citizens are suffering in the regime’s forced labor camps, living each day with no hope and no expectation of a better life ahead. One man, however, has escaped to tell his life story, helping to shed some light on this horrifying abyss of death.

    His name is Shin Dong-hyuk. Born and raised in North Korea’s labor camps, he successfully fled the oppression after 23 years and lived to tell the world about it. In a compelling new book, Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, journalist Blaine Harden helps Shin share his story and paint the disturbing picture of the breathtaking atrocities the North Korean government is perpetrating on its people.

    Harden reports that according to the South Korean government, 154,000 prisoners reside in these camps, though the U.S. State Department pegs the number at closer to 200,000. The biggest of them is reportedly 31 miles long and 25 miles wide—bigger than Los Angeles—and electrified barbed-wire fences surround the perimeter. To date, the camps have lasted twice as long as the Soviet Gulag and 12 times longer than Nazi concentration camps. Yet little is known of them in the outside world.

    Shin’s life began in a total vacuum of hope and humanity. All he had to look forward to was hard labor, a near-starvation diet, beatings, and an early death. For Shin, this was the only life he knew; he possessed little knowledge of his own country, let alone the wider world. Tragically, as Harden reveals, Shin didn’t even understand the concept of love—not even from his own mother, whom he viewed as competitor for food, whom he betrayed to the authorities when he learned of her plans to escape, and whose execution he witnessed firsthand. Harden writes of the stark existence:

    Love and mercy and family were words without meaning. God did not disappear or die. Shin had never heard of him. . . In Camp 14, Shin did not know literature existed. He saw only one book in the camp, a Korean grammar, in the hands of a teacher who wore a guard’s uniform, carried a revolver on his hip, and beat one of his primary school classmates to death with a chalkboard pointer.

    Unlike those who have survived a concentration camp, Shin had not been torn away from civilized existence and forced to descend into hell. He was born and raised there. He accepted its values. He called it home.

    And for Shin, it was his home, and he gave no thought to a life different from his own. But that was until he encountered two other prisoners who were newcomers to the camp—outsiders who brought news of a better life. With one of those prisoners, Shin plotted an escape, leading to his nearly aimless flight into China, South Korea, and ultimately the United States.

    Today, Shin has devoted his life to educating the world about the prison camps. In a recent interview, he described how he decided to risk his life for a chance at escape. “My feeling at that time, even if I were to get shot and die, was that I would want to experience even just for one day of that freedom.”

    Read more about North Korea today in Uncertainties over North Korea’s Leadership Transition: Broader Contingency Planning Is Essential for Regional Stability, a paper by Heritage’s Bruce Klingner.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    11 Responses to Horror of North Korea's Prison Camps Revealed by Escapee

    1. douglasernstylp says:

      Great post, Mr. Brownfield.

    2. mr K says:

      to live and die in L.A.

    3. Elliott says:

      I know a lot of soldiers looking for a new fight… Can't think of a more worthwhile cause than freedom for north Koreans. Evil prevails when good men do nothing.

    4. Bobbie says:

      It's about time the American President face the realization of why people come to America! It isn't to live under the oppression, communism, socialism, fascism of their previous leaderships they escape from and it isn't to lose the freedom America has, to "change" into a government from which they escaped. They come here for the American peoples' constitution, declaration of independence and the pursuit of ones drive to happiness, called FREEDOM!

      • Slick says:

        Yet it is sad but true, Bobbie, that the very people whose ancestors came here for that precious FREEDOM are the same ones who are trying to destroy our way of life and return us to the kind of life their ancestors risked everything to escape from!!! I have a really difficult time understanding the mentality which these folks seem to have. Why would ANYONE give up a life of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness to live in a dictatorship?????

    5. walter says:

      The driving force in the American system of mass behavior modification has been the public school system. Any kind of lifestyle is accepted and to argue the opposite is to be labeled "intolerant" , which has now become the worst thing you can say about another .PC is king!! Ethics and a moral compass are of little value and are generally looked upon as antique personal values.There needs to be real change here and soon.

    6. Rick Baugh says:

      I think this speaks of what our founders saw and knew so well ; of our inalienable rights given by God of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Korean state had never taught or "given" Shin such rights, yet at the mere whisper from another that they existed, he was wiling to die for the chance to obtain them. He instantly knew which existence was wrong, and which was right.

      To all those liberal "progressives" who believe that the human soul is but malleable clay that they can mold as they wish; read this and shudder. Fear this.

    7. Lloyd Scallan says:

      Of course other nations commit "atrociitiest and horrors" against their people. That's simply the way of the world. We must accept the fact that we can do nothing to change it. Has history not taught us we cannot impose our values on other nations, no matter how much blood and treasure is wasted, or how may bombs are droped.

      • Greg Dubbe' says:

        Our "values" are not at issue here — what the North Korean government is perpetrating and allowing to happen to these people is WRONG!! Using the above logic, the Nazi concentration camps should have been allowed to continue, since they didn't coincide with our "values." Nevermind that they were driven by evil and exterminated thousands; they just didn't match our "values." Just because an evil act is accepted (in this case, by the North Koreans) does not make it right. What is right is to act against that evil when it makes itself known and do what one can to correct it. To end it. The onus falls to those who can fight against the power that propagates such evil, for those who can't fight for themselves.

    8. JohnChristopher says:

      " Has history not taught us we cannot impose our values on other nations…." Wait, what? Of course nations can.
      The U.S. "imposed" upon, or at least transformed, Japan; there's the Brits and India (among many others); Russia imposed upon, well, lots of people. And then there's the Romans, most of the Muslim world…. History is pretty much the story of nations, one way of another, imposing successfully. How else would English be the dominate language, and constitutional goverment and free(-ish) markets be the norm (given neither was true 100 years ago)?

    9. Andy says:

      I have not yet read the book about his life and escape (Escape from Camp 14) however, I'd really like to read it. By what I've heard, it's a real eye opener as far as what goes on in these camps is concerned.

      My heart goes out to all the people who have the misfortune of being in one of these camps. I wouldn't wish that my worst enemy be sent there.

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