Defectors NK Military

Dramatic video shows North Korean soldier’s defection; doctor says he will survive

The U.N. Command, which stands face-to-face with the Korean People’s Army (NKPA) at the Korean DMZ, has released footage of the defection last week of an NKPA soldier right through the so-called-but-not-really-that-at-all Joint Security Area, or JSA:

The video shows the soldier, who may have been the driver for an NKPA general, hauling ass toward the JSA in what looks like a UAZ-469 (update: or, maybe not). The soldier slows as he approaches a North Korean checkpoint, then runs it as other soldiers briefly chase him on foot.

Even more dramatic sequences show him trying to drive across the Military Demarcation Line, getting stuck, and bailing and making a run for it with four NKPA soldiers just a few feet behind him, guns blazing. You can see one of the NKPA soldiers cross the MDL, realize his predicament, and turn back. I can’t read lips, but I’m pretty sure those lips were saying, “Ai, shippal!” Finally, after a too-long delay, possibly to await instructions, two very courageous ROK soldiers are seen crawling out and dragging him to safety.

I’d planned to do some embedded time-stops of the video until I saw this must-read post by David Choi, who giffed each sequence so well that I’ll just send you to his post and use what time I have left to make some other points. Not surprisingly, the UNC calls this an Armistice violation.

[If only we had a peace treaty for them to violate.]

Clearly, the NKPA keeps a decent arsenal of AKs in the JSA, despite the fact they aren’t supposed to have them there. A Very Angry Letter is certain to follow. You will recall that the release of the video was delayed at least once, leading some right-of-center newspapers to claim that the Moon administration either didn’t want to embarrass the North Koreans, didn’t want to be forced to send a Very Angry Letter, or didn’t want to fuel criticism of the ROK response to the incident.

I don’t blame the ROKs for holding their fire under these circumstances. The NKPA soldier’s crossing was clearly a mistake made in the heat of the moment and not worth the risk of escalation. I’m more critical of the time it took for the command to authorize the ROK soldiers to rescue the wounded soldier. Thank God the poor kid didn’t bleed to death as he lay there for more than 20 minutes with all those holes in him. The NKPA was clearly better prepared to shoot him than the good guys were to save him.

By the way, is it just me or do those NKPA soldiers look really worried about what’s going to happen to them after the incident? Watch their body language in the video.

The North Korean soldier — the Korean papers have reported that he was a Staff Sergeant, and his surname may been Oh — seems to be on the mend, despite his infestation with intestinal parasites (probably a result of His Porcine Majesty’s on-the-spot guidance to fertilize crops with human shit, because fertilizer costs money he needs for other priorities).

I sure hope that’s true. I want this young man to live — not just survive, but live. The Chosun Ilbo reports that he’s talking and breathing on his own, and Reuters has the most encouraging words — from his doctor.

“He is fine,” lead surgeon Lee Cook-Jong said at a press conference in Suwon. “He is not going to die.” [….]

Doctors conducted a series of surgeries on the critically wounded soldier, and now say they believe he will recover, despite continued risks of infection.

“Patient requires intensive care, detailed tests and observation as there is a chance his condition may worsen due to infections of his bullet wounds,” the hospital said in a statement.

The soldier show signs of depression and possible trauma, in addition to a serious case of parasites that has complicated his treatment, the hospital said. [Reuters]

But he’s going to have to live without a gall bladder and a piece of his lung. Incidentally, if you aren’t following the excellent “Noon in Korea” Twitter timeline, you really should be.

The young man is understandably traumatized by what he’s been through.

But there is also an inspiring part of our story.

“The soldier has regained consciousness and he requested to watch television,” the government official said on condition of anonymity. “For the soldier’s psychological comfort, we’ve shown the patient South Korean movies and he has recovered enough to watch television.”


“The defector is able to express his thoughts to medical staff,” the official said. “At this moment, we think that the patient has overcome a serious condition.”

To help stabilize the soldier’s psychological condition, medical staff have apparently hung the South Korean national flag in his hospital room, according to the official.

“The defector is suffering from fear and heavy stress from the gunshots that wounded him,” the official said. “To give psychological comfort that he is in South Korea, the medical staff apparently placed the South Korean flag in the patient’s room and are also treating him through psychotherapy.” [Yonhap]

Remember a few weeks ago when KCNA had a histrionic fit over a small, little-noticed North Korean human rights film festival in Seoul? I don’t think KCNA expends perfectly good adjectives ranting about things that don’t represent a threat to the completion of its plans, or to the stability of its political system. Pyongyang takes culture and propaganda so seriously because these things are structurally essential pillars that hold this regime up.

The fact that Staff Sergeant Oh’s first requests were for TV and (according to some sources I’ve seen) k-pop tell you plenty about the power of culture. So does the fact that Pyongyang has raised the penalties for possession of South Korean media. Soft power is power. We ought to be using that power to talk to the NKPA soldiers about who is denying them their right to happiness. We should be harnessing the power of culture to promote peace, starting with the men whose fingers are on the triggers.

In conclusion, this is an isolated incident that says nothing about the stability of this regime whatsoever. It is totally isolated, except for the defection of the soldier who was training to be a palace guard, or those two other line-crossers from June, or all of these other incidents. Things like this happen all the time in perfectly stable regimes, because if history has taught us anything, regimes that look stable, are.

Yes, I know: inexplicably, a few isolated ingrates don’t adore their leaders. They don’t appreciate their generous handfuls of dry corn kernels, the beatings by their officers, the constant risk of contracting (untreated) TB or intestinal parasites, or their enforced celibacy (unless they’re being raped, which they’d appreciate even less). Today, cross-DMZ defections, which were a rarity until recently, now happen at the rate of about once every six weeks. But if I know anything, I know this doesn’t mean anything.


  1. I watch a lot of Arirang news, it surprises me that the comment section here is not lit up. That comment section often has little to none, now it has many.
    This defector Staff Sarg named Oh. It is not going to be fun. Like police accounts talk about Bullet Wounds, are never patched up 100%
    He sure got the Guards to expose where they store their weapons and how fast they can get them. I really think they did not expect a defection by vehicle.
    I still beleive the China/North Korean border and their crackdown is really a more important, though less dramatic story.
    I sure learned more about ringworm thanks to this defector, and the stories written about him. 1Billionof the 7 Billion on Earth, are believed to have them. If you read veternarian accounts, you hear about them.
    I really think RimJinGang, is a great source of intelligence.


  2. I remember watching Otto Warmbier’s pictures with his travel mates. Banchan are the Korean side dishes, so many Americans do not adapt to. Otto and his travel maters where not earing theirs.c With this ringworm Sgt Oh had, I can not help but wonder now, if so many vegetables, even the elite may eat have it.



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