Updates: A great post with a picture that nearly had me in tears at GI Korea, and another picture here.
First, there was Han Man-Taek, a South Korean POW from the Korean War who escaped from North Korea after 50 years in captivity. He had been held by North Korea for all this time, in violation of the 1953 Armistice. Han nearly made it to freedom, when Chinese police caught Han and sent him back to almost certain death in North Korea. Although China’s action was also a violation of the armistice that it, too, signed, South Korea barely raised a peep. Han was never seen again.
Next, there was Chang Moo-Hwan, another South Korean POW who escaped half a century of North Korean captivity, only to have a snotty young South Korean embassy secretary say, “No, I can’t help you,” and hang up on him. Chang did manage to force himself on the homeland that turned its back on him, but Chang’s identity was exposed when he arrived home, and he continues to agonize over the fate of the family he left behind in North Korea.
The latest of these reverse-Private Ryan scenarios, in which a government goes to extraordinary lengths to betray and abandon its own, is the case of Choi Uk-Il, whom the North Koreans kidnapped off his fishing boat 31 years ago. Choi, too, managed to escape North Korea, only to get the same treatment as Sergeant Chang:
Choi Uk-il, 67, fled to China in late December after being kidnapped to the North in 1975 and was tearfully reunited with his wife, Yang Jeong-ja, in the northeastern Chinese city of Yenji late last month.
Video footage and other media reports in Seoul showed that a phone call for help by the escapee to an official at the South Korean consulate in Shenyang, Chna, was “rudely” turned down. The wife flew back to Seoul to bring the case to the attention of the central government. On Friday, she visited the Foreign Ministry to protest.
“My husband needs immediate treatment as he was recently injured in an (automobile) accident, but he is unable to get any medicine,” Yang told reporters after a meeting with Lee Hyuk, director-general of the ministry’s Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau. “I hope my husband is allowed to return to South Korea at the earliest date possible,” she said, wiping tears from her wrinkled face.
Notwithstanding Choi’s birth in a faithless nation, his choice of a faithful wife saved his life. If you married as well as Mr. Choi, count your blessings. Meanwhile, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, now busted yet again, is apologizing for the incident and promising to look into the matter. No doubt it will get as far as the last such inquiry. By now, the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that two different people posted in the same geographical area were acting on the same orders.
There are thousands more South Korean citizens, perhaps several dozen Japanese (pdf), and citizens of an unknown number of countries held against their will in North Korea. Japan has taken a tough and principled stand, and has secured the release of a few of its people as a result. The story of one Japanese abductee is now the subject of a beautifully filmed, award-winning documentary feature. South Korea, on the other hand, has given Kim Jong Il aid without conditions, hoping to reduce tensions (so, how’s that working out?) and exploit North Korean slave labor for profit. That means that the best the aggrieved families of the hostages can hope for are cruelly brief and closely monitored spectacles like this one.
Why give your loyalty to a nation that won’t return it? Maybe that’s the whole idea.
“If the indifference and inhospitality shown to those soldiers who were killed or wounded protecting the nation continue, what soldier will lay down his life in the battlefield?”