Shin Dong-hyuk drew worldwide attention to the harsh realities of the North Korean regime with the 2012 book, Escape from Camp 14. The book details the young North Korean’s life in one of the country’s notorious labor camps as well as his subsequent escape to the South.
Since the publication of Escape from Camp 14, Shin has been an outspoken critic of North Korea’s human rights record. He even testified before a United Nations Commission of Inquiry about his ordeal in order to bolster a UN resolution on North Korea’s crimes against humanity. A member of the commission called Shin the “single strongest voice” on North Korean human rights.
However, in January 2015, Shin responded to attacks on his credibility by North Korean officials and other defectors, and admitted there were inaccuracies in his original account. Shin revealed that he had changed crucial details of his story, including the circumstances leading up to the execution of his mother and brother and the age at which he was tortured. He also admitted that while he had initially testified that he had spent his entire North Korean life in Camp 14, a particularly notorious labor camp, he had in fact spent years living in Camp 18, which had a less draconian reputation.
The tale told by this young man about his tortures there, and how he was tricked into condemning his mother and brother to execution by how he was “educated.”
Now he is being criticized for the “inaccuracies” in his account, such as how his age given for when he was tortured being 13 instead of the actual age of 20, etc.
His “reasons” for these inaccuracies are vague, but to me, understandable. I am sorry that those people who are criticizing him for them don’t understand the long term effects of abuse.
Years ago I worked with some people in California who had the tattoos on their arms from the Nazi concentration camps. I didn’t know them well, but just the knowledge that they had endured such tortures gave me an interest in the effects of such horrors and I have read many many books written by survivors of prisoner of war camps. One of my mother’s friends was a man who survived the Death March, and he related stories to her that would “curl your hair.” I have also read several books on the Batan Death March as well.
Children who have been abused in their homes also suffer long term effects of this abuse. Victims of rape and assaults, car wrecks, plane crashes, war, and other traumas also suffer long term effects of these violent events.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is frequently a result of violent events, whether they are long term abuse or shorter term violence, they leave a mark upon our minds, brains, hearts and souls. That isn’t to say that those traumatic memories can not be quieted, if not silenced, or that we can’t recover from those traumas.
I can only imagine how this young man must be suffering the long term effects of his early life experiences, but he has turned it to a good cause in his efforts as a public critic of the psychopathic regime of North Korea’s dictator.
My heart goes out to this young man, and to the shame he feels, whether that shame is justified or not. I also realize why he may have been inaccurate to some extent in his book. There are things about my life that I also felt shame about, where that shame was not justified, and should have belonged to someone else.
When I was beaten and raped at age 19 by my biological father, when the detective asked me if he raped me, I lied and said “No” because I WAS ASHAMED.
I can look back at the 19 year old girl that I was and have compassion for her and for the lies she told because of her shame, which was doubled when she did tell and was not believed. I look at a former friend of mine who is an abused wife, and I know the lies she tells, and can imagine the shame she feels, staying with her abuser and trying to appear “normal” and “okay” after 40+ years of abuse.
Abuse does have a long term effect, and can even result in Stockholm Syndrome in which the victim comes to idolize the abuser and justify what is done to them. The young North Korean man I have no doubt was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome when he attested to his mother and brother’s guilt for murder…to say nothing of the fact he could not read what was written on the paper.
It amazes me that he has managed to escape and is willing to tell ANY of his story to others, and work for the liberty of those he left behind. The world is filled with cruel dictators and cruel groups like ISIS who do unconscionable things to their fellow men, just as the Japanese and the Nazis did in the name of “national pride.”
Even large groups of evil doers can be changed, but the cost to do so may also be extremely high, as you count the dead from WWI and II and Viet Nam and the Korean war, and now as you look at the returning war wounded in this country after over a decade in the Middle East. These men and women need and deserve our compassion and our prayers. Violence does have long term consequences.