Dealing with the Kumgang Resort

One of the worries that I had about the shooting at the Kumgang Resort last Friday was that the governments involved might want to sweep the incident under the rug and handle it like an unfortunate accident. The South Korean government calling the incident an "accident" in a press briefing didn't help assuage my fears. So when I heard from SBS News that the South Korean government wants a thorough investigation, it helped lift a little of my worries.

Unfortunately, it sounds like the incident may have more to it than just a woman straying into a restricted area and being killed by a hair-trigger North Korean soldier. This is very bad all by itself, but there are signs that the whole thing is much worse. One little bad sign is that the North Koreans and the resort management indeed screwed up in that they did not fence off the restricted area completely and neglected to put up any warning signs.

Much worse is that the official explanation of what happened provided by the North Koreans looks fishy. If they are to be believed, then the victim must have traversed 3.3 kilometers, or 2 miles, in 20 minutes. While it's possible a 53-year old housewife could have jogged the distance in the claimed amount of time, it doesn't sound realistic, especially when she was just "going out for a walk". I just hope it's a misunderstanding or at most a misguided attempt to coverup a minor screwup by the North Koreans, instead of something much more major. The incident as it's publicly known is already bad enough.

Killing a tourist

To remind us that North Korea is an oppressive totalitarian regime, they shot a tourist dead near the Mount Kumgang resort today. A 53-year old South Korean housewife went out for a walk alone, and somehow ended up in a restricted military area. After running away in panic when she was warned to stop, probably being terrified at the big guns being aimed at her, she was shot and killed.

It's not known how this happened, but if the North Koreans did their job properly and made sure that no one could wander outside the tourist area without warning, then she showed very poor judgement. This wouldn't be too surprising, since in any tourist group large enough there is bound to be those who have a poor sense of safety. And it's hardly an obscure fact that North Korea is an extremely oppressive nation to its own citizens, and their treatment of foreigners is not so hot, either. Of course, it's also entirely possible that the North Koreans screwed up and neglected to fence off certain portions of the tourist resort.

However, regardless of whose fault it was, there should not have been any deaths! Why couldn't they have just warned her back to the tourist resort? At worst, they should have just detained her. I don't see any justification for a shooting. It's not like a 53-year old housewife would have been armed to the teeth, leaving the North Korean guards no alternative. Even if she ignored their warnings and ran away, it wouldn't have killed the guards to run after her or get some vehicle to chase her.

Are North Korean soldiers so used to shooting any of their own citizens who show any sign of defiance? Have they forgotten how to detain harmless people intact, or have they never known such skills in the first place? The political oppression and rampant disregard for human life in North Korea has always been at intolerable levels, and there is no sign of any improvement. North Korea is politically and economically isolated for a reason, and that reason lies with themselves, no matter how much they would like to blame someone else.

This shooting incident will also bring nothing but harm to North Korea's own interests. It could derail economic aid from South Korea and the United States, plans by the United States to remove North Korea from its list of terrorist nations, and the six-party talks concerning its nuclear program. Without a significant show of goodwill, be it in the form of reforms or a meaningful apology with matching levels of action, North Korea stands to lose a lot from this incident. Or at least I hope the rest of the world treats the way this incident deserves to be treated and not sweep the entire affair under the rug. For now, all tourism to the Kumgang resort has been suspended.

Iron lungs

Hearing about the death of a woman due to the failure of her iron lung inspires both sadness and respect. Being forced to live within an iron lung from almost when she was born because of polio, it is awe-inspiring that she still managed to live a fulfilling life despite her almost claustrophobic environment. It is sad that such a woman had to die because of the simultaneous failure of the normal power grid and the emergency generator.

Continue reading "Iron lungs"