Walking Out

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The mother of an American serviceman who sprinted across the border to North Korea last month recently said her 23-year-old son, Travis King, would never seek refuge in the totalitarian country known as the Hermit Kingdom, reported the Army Times.

North Korean officials, meanwhile, wrote the Guardian, said King defected to their country because he was “disillusioned” with the West due to his “inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination” in the US military.

King is one of a handful of foreigners who have allegedly fled to North Korea over the years, explained Channel News Asia. Unsurprisingly, migration flows in the opposite direction are the norm. Almost 34,000 North Koreans have fled their oppressive government and settled in South Korea, a developed democracy and close US ally.

North Koreans have many reasons to flee. Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, the third in his family line to rule the country since its establishment in 1948, forbids freedom of speech, assembly, and countless other human rights.

But the biggest cause of dissatisfaction among the North Korean populace is hunger. In June, amid record food prices and difficulties growing crops, North Koreans told the BBC that food was so scarce that some of their neighbors were starving. The situation recalled the late 1990s when as many as three million North Koreans perished in a famine.

Kim has identified scapegoats for hunger, too. Touring rice paddies destroyed in recent flooding, Kim recently blasted officials he called “irresponsible” for their lack of planning and preparation, Reuters added. They serve at his pleasure, of course.

The supreme leader maintains impressive domestic intelligence and propaganda organizations to counter this discontent.

His sister, for instance, coordinates North Korean protests against American efforts to forge alliances in the region – as the recent summit at Camp David between American, Japanese, and South Korean leaders showed – as well as indignation over American military maneuvers nearby, the Economist wrote.

Those moves included North Korea conducting missile tests during recent drills between the South Korean and US navies, reported Foreign Policy. An attempt soon after to send a spy satellite into space fizzled, however, noted Al Jazeera, turning an anticipated victory into an embarrassing defeat.

During the launch, Kim was at a tractor factory urging the workers to toil harder to make sure the country had enough tractors to produce the food their fellow countrymen desperately need.

Some wondered why he was there.

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