American Hopes to Return to Prison Camp in North Korea

Since the Korean War, no American has spent longer in confinement in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea than Kenneth Bae. Yet Bae, released in 2014, wants to go back to see the guards who kept an eye on him in prison. As he told Seattle radio station KUOW on the 19th of this month, “I consider some of them as friends.” 

So is this a particularly bad case of Stockholm Syndrome? 

It’s not. Bae, a missionary, is out to educate the North Korean people, starting with those who kept him under lock and key in particularly harsh conditions.

During his confinement, Bae, a Southern Baptist minister, learned just how isolated North Korea has remained. Jesus Christ? One of his guards had never heard of him before. “Where does Jesus live?” his captor asked. “In China or North Korea?”

So how about a living figure of global renown, say, Ban Ki-moon? “Some people I asked, ‘Do you know that the secretary-general of the U.N. is actually South Korean?’ ” Bae told the Washington Times, “and the response that I got was, ‘No way, that is not possible.’”

Also not possible to North Koreans was that ordinary Americans lived in their own houses and drove their own cars. “They said, ‘No way. No way most common people can live like that,’” adding, “they were told that 1 percent of people in the United States have everything, and the rest of them are living in poverty. And this is what they were told throughout their lifetime.”

Also a revelation to his captors was that the South Korean economy is about 40 times larger than theirs. Said Bae, “They had no idea.”

In confinement, barriers broke down between Bae, born in South Korea in a family that had fled the North, and his guards. “People opened up quite a bit and one by one they’re coming to me and saying, ‘Pastor, can I talk to you?’” the missionary said to KUOW. “And then they’re talking about their marriage problems and parenting issues. So I ended up doing quite a bit of counseling and sitting down and talking and chatting.”

There is nothing so subversive to the Kim regime as information, which is why South Korean activists fly balloons carrying flash drives and DVDs over the Demilitarized Zone—and why Pyongyang is enraged by this activity.

Kim Il Sung, the charismatic World War II-era guerilla leader who grabbed power and built the North Korean state, walled off his new creation. After doing so, he was able to tell the populace whatever he wanted them to believe. He invented some whoppers, like those about his supernatural powers, but the North Korean people believed him.

Yet other untruths are especially dangerous to the regime because they can now be proven false, and Kenneth Bae, during conversations with prison guards, was able to expose some of them as such, bringing truth to a very dark land.

Bae says he wants to return to North Korea to see his captors, now friends. Yet in light of what he has just said, the last thing Kim Jong Un, the current ruler, is going to do is let him back in to expose one regime myth after another.

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