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Bellicose & Belligerent: North Korea Demands Food & Attention

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Escape from Camp 14

Cheery news today that North Korea will continue to test rockets that can deliver a nuclear payload to the US. Our comedians and entertainment industry joke about the over-the-top language of Kim Jong-Il/Un/Whatever—and that feels right and proper. But the predictable North Korean blustering and pattern of extorting food from the West have a new soberness for me after reading Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Hardin. Hardin tells the story of Shin Donghyuk, who escaped after being born and raised (for 23 years) in a North Korean prison camp. The only person known to have done so.

Camp 16

Camp 16

It doesn’t take many pages into Shin’s experience as a second-generation prisoner (that’s right, his mother was jailed—part of their “Imprison three generations” policy) to see how desperate the entire nation is. The camps are living horror stories where breeding and forced labor are routinely carried out on a diet of cabbage and salt (but all the rats and bugs you can catch). Long days of field work followed by evenings of forced self-examination followed by sleep on a concrete floor. Death by beating or malnutrition is common. We’ve all seen movies like this so it sounds like fiction—but such camps and conditions have existed in North Korea “as long as Stalin’s soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps,” at least according to the book blurb.


in his father’s house were many mansions

And it is not just the conditions of the political prisoners (and when do we start talking about “crimes against humanity” with this country?), it is an entire nation scrounging for food and held hostage by central economic planning that failed years ago, with thieves at the top. Escape from Camp 14 gives a bit of detail about the Kim Jong legacy of stripping the entire nation for personal gain–enough to turn one’s stomach.

It sounds like fiction. But I’m afraid this story is not getting any better for millions of North Koreans.

Check out North Korean Economy Watch for maps chronicling the ongoing North Korean tailspin.


Image credit: huffington post, dailymail, the

Written by kirkistan

January 24, 2013 at 9:26 am

Posted in curiosities

Tagged with ,

5 Responses

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  1. I Highly recommend this book. It’s not an airbrushed picture of the protagonist, but what a story. Some estimates place the number of prisoners in NK’s prison camp system north of 200,000. Imagine St. Paul proper as a concentration camp where forced labor, starvation, and random executions made up daily life in 2013. Many inhabitants probably have no idea why they are even there because they were either born into the camp or because three generations of a family group were rounded up when one comrade is suspected of not toeing the line. It’s a very complex political situation, but this shouldn’t be allowed to continue.

    Jon M.

    January 24, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    • Thanks for the comment. The book reads like fiction in the sense that life is so very hard. The idea behind “born into a prison camp” is very unsettling.


      January 25, 2013 at 6:33 am

      • Thanks for this review Kirk. Does the book talk at all about people’s faith or do the people cope with other mechanisms and means?


        January 30, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      • Good question. I’m actually not finished with it yet. He’s said some things, but let me get back to you. And thanks for reading.


        January 30, 2013 at 5:25 pm

  2. […] thinking the entire nation is a prison camp—and absolutely corrupt—focused on supporting the lifestyle and many mansions Kim Jong Il/Un/Whatever (and a few party elites. Very […]

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