In one form or another, the State Department has been cautioning Americans about travel to North Korea for years, but statistically, half of the U.S. population is of below average intelligence, and it often shows. That fact presents some complications for a government that feels a sense of duty to protect the safety of its citizens.
Today, as Kenneth Bae’s health continues to decline in his North Korean prison cell, comes word that the North has taken another miguk hostage. Although all first reports are at least half wrong, it does not appear that this latest hostage is the same man that North Korea claims to have arrested as a spy a few days ago (Item 1). That man turns out to be “50-year-old missionary named Kim Jeong-wook,” at least according to the Donga Ilbo. This latest hostage incident probably explains why State again renewed its advisory yesterday.
For some people, visiting North Korea is like dating Madonna — plodding a tired, well-worn, loveless, and morally ambiguous path that gives some people an inexplicable feeling that they’ve entered an unexplored place. Except that Dennis Rodman and countless others already did.
A minder-guided tour of North Korea is nothing like a virgin, and people really ought to acquire enough common sense to stay the fuck out of North Korea. Ko Samui, Ha Long Bay, the Maldives, and Hong Kong are all really lovely this time of year. One can even make a reasonable argument for tourism to Rangoon, which looks like a lovely city. But common sense may be too much to ask of inquisitive idiots, who are often demonstrably vapid enough to argue that their visits are setting back (rather than helping to pay for) North Korea’s nuclear program.
Until today, had you asked me whether we should impose a travel ban on North Korea like the one we imposed on Cuba, I’d have said that the whining from those possessed of this different kind of Madonna Complex would outweigh the benefit. This story causes me to rethink that view.
Functionally, there’s nothing the U.S. government can do to protect U.S. citizens imprisoned in North Korea except keep them out of there in the first place. Whatever else it can do almost certainly comes at a high price to our greater national security interests. As with the Cuba travel ban, the usual exceptions (humanitarian, journalistic, diplomatic) exceptions should apply. For safety’s sake, and to build leverage for the prompt release of both of these U.S. citizens, it’s time to ban tourist travel to North Korea.