Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Escape From Camp 14
A cruel and unforgiving read. Beneath the surface of almost everything, you'll find the perhaps unglamourous reality. The naked muscle on the end of the fork. The willing blindness of many is unsurprising. As Barbara Bush said, ""Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"
In this way, Escape From Camp 14, is essential reading for anyone with an interest or curiousity in the workings of the modern world. With a picture of a dystopian present that could easily be taken from the pages of a futurist author of several decades ago, it shows us a world that frankly is almost beyond imagination.
Only one person has escaped from this world. The bizarre, and frankly incoherently cruel reality of a North Korean workers camp. Here, children are born into slavery and prison. Captured for their lives to atone for the alleged sins of their parents. As a psychological device, it portrays the world as is, with nurture over-riding almost all other factors. If you don't know of something, all you know if that you know. Could you imagine something as glorious as sky if you had never seen it, or even heard it? Would you dare to hope for a cheeseburger, if your only experience of food was rice, water, and lettuce?
The trials of Shin, told without compunction or flair, are shocking in their ceaselessly mundane cruelty. Of parents shot in front of their children for no crime apart from being suspected of knowing of an escape plan. Of not even knowing for years that their parents are next to them. Of not even knowing of the existence of cities. Or television. Of only ever knowing of one other counmtry in the world - America - that wants to destroy North Korea at all costs, as if it were nothing but a single-purposed, unstoppable, political Mothra. Of being kept from this fate (in all probability, somewhat glorious, given that the quality of life in KimJongIlland is so undoubtedly grim), solely by the actions of a heroic, despotic, egocentric but unquestionable, utterly rampant dictator. Oh, it's easy to mock from the comforts of a heated living room, but this is the stuff of dystopian science-fiction and George Orwell. Imagine weeping at the thought of being able to read a newspaper. This is the world of Camp 14.
Written bleakly and without flair, the factual account of this ordeal that is, at this second, subject to millions of humans, is nothing but a punishing experience. Books like this aren't meant to be enjoyed, but endured, and perhaps, Camp 14 is a work that any serious scholar, or curious bystander, of politics needs to undergo to see how easily ideals can become idols and idiots crushing the flowers beneath their feet.