Shin Dong-Hyuk is the only person born in a North Korean political prison camp to escape to the West. His memoir, Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, ostensibly reads as the story of liberation from oppression. It’s really a book about food. The starving Shin tells of dining on barbequed rat, tree bark, and the undigested corn kernels in cow mess. For Shin, freedom is a hamburger.
So hearing that Dennis Rodman, a man he had never heard of until his trip to Shin’s native land in February, enjoyed fine food and fine wine with the leader of his country naturally made the former political prisoner cringe.
Shin wrote a powerful public letter to Rodman, posted at the Washington Post. It reads in part:
Mr. Rodman, I cannot presume to tell you to cancel your trip to North Korea. It is your right as an American to travel wherever you wish and to say whatever you want. It is your right to drink fancy wines and enjoy yourself in luxurious parties, as you reportedly did in your previous trips to Pyongyang. But as you have a fun time with the dictator, please try to think about what he and his family have done and continue to do. Just last week, Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of his uncle. Recent satellite pictures show that some of the North’s labor camps, including Camp 14, may be expanding. The U.N. World Food Programme says four out of five North Koreans are hungry. Severe malnutrition has stunted and cognitively impaired hundreds of thousands of children. Young North Korean women fleeing the country in search of food are often sold into human-trafficking rings in China and beyond.
I am writing to you, Mr. Rodman, because, more than anything else, I want Kim Jong Un to hear the cries of his people.