Thursday, April 19, 2007

Getting the North Korea out of a defector

Despite training as South Koreans-to-be, [the young North Korean defectors that I interviewed] were clearly torn, still loyal, even unconsciously patriotic, to the country they had fled -- at the very least, forever shaped by it.

This became apparent when I was first introduced to the group as an American, which inspired a rustle of intrigue and perhaps evoked a cast of unsavory characters from the North Korean propaganda films of their childhood. Kang asked aggressively, ''Do you really think the U.S. Army is better than the North Korean Army?'' Another asked, ''Where's your gun?''

And [one] said, ''You don't really look American.'' When I asked what an American looked like, he said, ''I don't know -- more mean.''

They boasted that the North Koreans are superior fighters to the Americans, and then they fell into little skirmishes with one another, doing battle. ''North Koreans are really good killers,'' Yum said, smiling. They talked about violence and the tools of violence the way Americans talk about sports teams -- with a touch of unknowing knowingness. When the subject turned to killing, I asked how many had seen an actual human being killed. More than half of them raised their hands, and those who didn't stared down at the floor.

In cloistered North Korea, little of the outside world penetrates or, if so, often comes as a distortion. The most world-savvy of the group asked, ''Is it true that every home in America has a robot?'' One boy said he had heard that there were extremely wealthy Americans who made $35,000 a year, every year. And if these fluttering swallows had heard rumors of places beyond their country where life was better -- China, Japan, America, South Korea -- there was no hard evidence to support the claim.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Paterniti, GQ magazine]

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