EDITORIAL: North Korea trip becomes permanent
University of Virginia student sentenced to 15 years of labor
While there are no guarantees you’re going to survive the day — you can look both ways before crossing and still get hit by a car — it’s certain that some actions can either enhance or diminish your chances of returning home safely or living life contently. General things to avoid are smoking, eating food high in cholesterol, climbing Mount Everest and going to North Korea.
But like daredevils looking for a thrill or highly inquisitive people who can’t be satisfied by just reading about a topic or issue, University of Virginia student Otto F. Warmbier decided to go on a group tour of North Korea and by that, he implicitly accepted the risks of his travel plans. And in a grave incident, Warmbier’s trip unfolded into the worst-case scenario when the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korean (DPRK) detained the 21-year-old at the airport as he was finishing up his trip. He was going to board a plane that returns to the United States when he was detained by officials of the North Korean government due to claims of a “hostile act” against DPRK with the goal of bringing down the “foundations of its single-minded unity.” It turns out that Warmbier stole a propaganda banner from his hotel room, and he has to pay 15 years of hard labor for it.
He must’ve known what he was getting into — the repressive nature of the DPRK’s regime has become common knowledge, as made evident by its history of detaining other U.S. citizens, use concentration camps, etc. — but it’s difficult to say that he deserved it. He doesn’t. Nonetheless, what Warmbier is guilty of is ignoring prevalent warning signs about risky travel, which shouldn’t be underestimated. Unless there’s something in North Korea that you can’t live your life without, and you’re willing to put everything on the line for it, you shouldn’t try to enter the repressive regime’s territory. The DPRK’s own citizens are dying to escape the country as they travel to bordering nations, so people, like Warmbier, luckily born out of the country should stay out of it.
The government, and presumably his family and friends, provided incessant warnings about the task Warmbier was going to undertake and if they were taken seriously, he wouldn’t be there in the first place. The U.S. Department of State issues travel warnings for dangerous countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Burundi, Bangladesh and of course, DPRK. When researching for visa applications or information regarding consulates, the Department of State repeats and bolds statements, seeking to emphasize DPRK’s heavy-handed regime that severely punishes even “seemingly minor transgressions.” Many times on the website it says, “The Department of State strongly recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea.”
But what happened, happened and harping on his past actions won’t change his situation. Warmbier could be any college student in Rutgers — young people make mistakes, including tragic ones like this, and although his future is clouded in mystery, there’s a glimmer of hope due to the possibility that the U.S. government can successfully come to his aid. Warmbier’s situation reflects the value of a U.S. citizenship and the privilege of being American. In the past, presidents like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea to secure the release of Americans, and while it’s unclear whether President Barack Obama will fly over to North Korea, government officials are still working on Warmbier’s release. The very stature of the United States in the global platform can’t guarantee his release, but the U.S. has resources to its disposal to effectively lobby for on his behalf.
Safety is never guaranteed no matter where you are — but clearly if the Department of State warns against traveling to a country, you should take heed.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 148th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.