Why anyone would want to go to North Korea is beyond me. If you visit, you must be extremely careful about what you say and do – all the time. You can’t let your guard down. If you have business there, I suppose that’s a good reason, but frankly, I would get in and get out as soon as possible, if I even needed to be there at all.
It can’t be anyone’s idea of an idyllic vacation; the scenery, from what I’ve seen in photos and videos, looks every bit as bleak and forbidding as Dante’s sign at the entrance to Hell: Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here. And although I know North Korea is in a temperate latitude, it always looks cold there. The economy is completely shot, and you can see the effect of decades of a communist dictatorship’s brutal and oppressive rule simply by looking at a nighttime view of the two Koreas from space:
Whereas it’s evident South Korea has a thriving economy, North Korea looks almost completely dark and shut down. Even in a major city like Pyongyang, there isn’t nearly as much light as Seoul and the surrounding area.
But some people still go to North Korea, and I suppose they have their reasons. It’s just that some of them forget to be careful and wind up getting themselves arrested. Take Jeffrey Fowle, a 56 year old from Moraine, Ohio, who went to North Korea as a tourist, but made the crucial mistake of leaving a Bible in a nightclub in Chongjin. Fowle is still awaiting a trial date. His Russian wife appealed to Vladimir Putin to intervene, and the Russian government has said that it is watching the situation.
And then there’s Matthew Miller, a 24 year old from Bakersfield, California. As soon as he cleared customs in Pyongyang on April 10th, he promptly tore up his entry visa and demanded political asylum. He was then detained and charged with entering the country illegally and committing hostile acts.
What makes Miller’s situation difficult to understand is that he admitted in an interview with CNN that he not only “committed his crimes” against the DPRK, but that he knew he would be arrested. In fact, it seems he intentionally got himself arrested, and according to at least one report from Fox News, he intended to experience prison life so he could investigate the human rights situation.
Nothing adds up here when you consider that now Miller is making an appeal to the Obama administration for help. Was he coached by the North Koreans on what to say and how to sound? Possibly. Was he sincere in his appeal for help? That’s also possible, but I have some doubt about it because when told he had a few minutes left in the interview and could say something else, he refused the opportunity to say more. Even more strangely, he certainly didn’t sound very convincing at any time.
There’s a couple of possibilities here: he wanted to get arrested, and once he’s seen what’s in store for him, especially the brutal treatment the North Koreans are famous for, he’s changed his mind. Or it’s possible he really wants to stay in the DPRK, even if it means prison, and is only saying what the Koreans have told him to say. That could explain why he wasn’t making a more heartfelt appeal; indeed, he sounds almost robotic and unemotional in his comments and answers. And he did, of course, say he wanted to be sent to prison. To investigate the human rights situation. Right.
I noticed he seemed to be speaking with an accent that’s definitely not Californian. Curiously, it sounds to me like he’s trying to affect a Korean accent. Even some of his former neighbors have commented that he didn’t previously sound like that.
Whatever angle this kid’s working, if it is an angle, isn’t at all convincing. What Miller’s done – and the situation he’s placed himself in – is foolish. If Miller’s idea is to do his time, then get out and hopefully write a best-selling book about his experiences, he’s a bigger fool than I already suspect. Few make it out of North Korea’s prison system alive, and none make it out unscathed. It won’t take more than a minor offense while there to get time added to his sentence, and a lot of it. Along with whatever ugly punishments the guards can dream up. My guess is that unless the U. S. government intervenes on his behalf, he’s going to be there for a long, long time.