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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Human Beings Treated Like Animals by a Sadistic Regime, April 10, 2012
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This review is from: Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West (Hardcover)
Imagine a government so deranged it locks up entire families in brutal slave labor camps, some larger than the greater Los Angeles area in terms of land area, and for 3 generations of family members who had nothing to do with the original POLITICAL offense--all at the say of the regime's tyrant leader. Something out of Orwell? No, the reality of life in North Korea and its infamous and brutal Camp 14, which sadly is only one of many dozens of such political concentration camps throughout North Korea.

Shin is the only person born into one of North Korea's slave labor camps to escape and to live to tell the horrifying tale to the free world. The stultifying brutality Shin describes in the camps becomes almost too much to read, but Blaine Harden, the author, very deftly tells just enough to avoid making the book too burdensome to read, yet giving just enough so we understand the sheer terror being doled out by the parasitic Kim dynasty.

From a school girl beaten to death by a "teacher" merely for having a few kernels of corn, to Shin being permanently maimed by having been held over a fire by sadist guards, to men and women, and the babies, being beaten to death for merely choosing to have children (breeding could only happen by special permission and in arranged relationships,) humans are treated in ways in Camp 14 that we would never tolerate animals being treated in the US.

Harden does a good job of moving swiftly through material that's difficult to read and draws a fast paced tale that will keep you in its grip. It is unbelievable to think Shin never knew a better world existed beyond the depravation, slavery, sadism, betrayal and murder of the camp into which he was born. To him, this was normal life. It is heartbreaking to hear Shin never knew the concept of love, never even used the word or had it expressed to him, until he was past childhood and was cared for by a kind man in the dungeon prison he was consigned to (an actual prison within a prison if you can believe that) after his mother attempted to escape. And he was damned to this savage world all because an uncle he never knew chose to live in South Korea back in the 50s. Surreal.

A little less than half the book is devoted to Shin's post escape life which I found just as intriguing as his camp experience. You really feel for Shin as he deals with survivor's guilt, especially the shame of having betrayed his mother and brother when they planned to escape.

In this way the book poses an interesting moral and ethical conundrum---when it is a camp rule that any overheard escape plan must be reported to the guards at risk of death for remaining silent, do you keep quiet and risk being killed too along with the would-be escapees who have little or no chance of carrying off an escape? Or do you betray them to save yourself and the rest of your family? That's a hard one to answer. I don't know what I would do in such a situation. With only 2 equally horrorifying paths to take in such an awful dillema, one must not condemn Shin's choice. It was triggered by a survival response beat into him by psychotic camp personnel who engaged in a coordinated effort to turn humans into little better than insects, insects who live or die at their whim.

And like other books I've read on North Koreans who made it to South, it is saddening to read of the difficult transition many experience in fitting into South Korea's unforgiving and gentrified culture, though credit must be given the South Korean government for doing much to bring such refugees to the South and spending generously to help them assimilate. Shin certainly benefitted from this munificence.

Despite this, it was disheartening to learn in the book of South Korean's apathy towards the suffering of their northern brethren, being too caught up in materialism and the drive to succeed over one's neighbor. I was frankly shocked by this. Even worse was their unwillingness to see the South Korean government take tough measures against its evil and murderous neighbor, even after dozens of provocations which have killed 100s of South Koreans over the decades. A society that values its freedom, and that of others, so lightly will not remain free for long--especially when it is motivated by selfishness and greed.

"Escape from Camp 14" takes its place along side "The Aquariums of Pyongyang" in effectiveness in laying bare this monstrous regime. My conclusion after reading so much about the demons that run North Korea is that US policy must be one of regime change there. Not by force, but by a complete Western embargo of the regime including food aid. Yes, many will die when famine takes hold again. A tough choice. But I believe the short term pain such a policy would lead to will save many more lives in the long run. When the Satanic regime can no longer even feed its military, as happened in the 1990s famine, it will quickly collapse. This book makes the case for why this must happen and soon to prevent more of the kind of Kim family barbarism we learn of in this book.

This is why the recent deal announced by the Obama administration for North Korea to suspend its nuclear program is a major sham. We've been down this road 2 other times and been played as fools both times by a reptilian regime which has no compunction about torturing its own people, therefore why would they have any conscience about cheating on a deal made with Americans they despise? When the regime's pantries are again full, they will do what they did the last two times---go right back to their nuclear ambitions. Why else would they be preparing to test a ballistic missile if they're sincere about ending their nuclear programs? Once again, naiveté has gotten the better of Mr. Obama's judgment on national security issues.

This is a book you won't soon forget. Shin is a haunted soul who cries out to an oblivous world to end the modern day Holocaust occurring in North Korea. At one point, Shin makes a statement to an audience in Seattle that the Kim regime is worse than Hitler. He may have a point. North Korea clearly has not killed more than Hitler's regime did, but I would chalk that up only to a lack of opportunity outside its own borders and years of the West effectively containing the brutish regime. But containment is no longer enough as 1 to 2 million of North Korea's long suffering people die from the regime's blood thirsty and incompetent policies. Awareness brought on by a book like Shin's, and the courage it took for him to allow it to be told, will help hasten the day this vile regime is consigned to the trash heap of history.
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