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  • I've been a journalist for 32 years,

  • and I'm going to tell you about the saddest story that I've ever heard.

  • Inside Camp 14, 13-year-old inmate named Shin Dong-hyuk

  • betrayed his family.

  • It was late at night, he was supposed to be asleep

  • but he heard his mother and brother

  • talking about a plan to escape from the camp.

  • The rules of Camp 14 are clear.

  • If you try to escape, you'll be shot.

  • If you hear someone talking about escape

  • and you fail to report it, you'll be shot.

  • Shin got out of bed, told his mother he had to pee

  • walked outside and found a guard.

  • While he was snitching, he asked for more food

  • and easier work.

  • About seven months later --

  • about seven months later,

  • he was taken to the execution grounds in the camp.

  • A place that he'd gone to twice a year

  • ever since he was five years old.

  • There, the entire camp was assembled.

  • There were about 20,000 people in Camp 14 at the time.

  • He was taken to the front, and he witnessed

  • the shooting death of his brother, and the hanging of his mother.

  • Before his mother died, she tried to catch his eye.

  • He refused to look at her.

  • For the next 10 years, he felt no guilt

  • for his role in the death of his brother and mother.

  • In concentration camps survivor stories,

  • there is a conventional narrative arc.

  • The protagonist is taken away by security forces

  • from a comfortable home and a loving family.

  • The most famous of these stories, I'm sure most of you've read

  • is by Elie Wiesel, it's called "Night."

  • In the book, he writes that, after his entire family perished

  • in the Nazi death camps, he was alone.

  • Terribly alone. In a world without man,

  • without God, without love, without mercy.

  • Shin's story is even darker.

  • Words like love, mercy, family --

  • for him had no meaning at all.

  • God did not disappear or die. Shin had never heard of him.

  • In "Night," Wiesel writes

  • that an adolescent's knowledge of evil should come from reading books.

  • In Camp 14,

  • Shin saw only one book, a Korean grammar

  • in the hands of his teacher. A man who wore a uniform,

  • had a gun on his hip, and who beat one of Shin's classmates

  • to death with a chalkboard pointer.

  • Shin did not abandon

  • civilization and descend into hell.

  • Uniquely among all the concentration camp survivors

  • we know, he was born there. He accepted its rules.

  • He regarded it as home.

  • In a very real way, Shin was a creation

  • of the guards in Camp 14. They were quite literally his breeders.

  • They chose his parents, who were young adults in the camp

  • and they ordered them to have sex.

  • He was raised mostly by the guards. He had a very bad relationship with his mother.

  • But he was raised by the guards,

  • to snitch on his parents, and to snitch on his friends.

  • It was a long playing behavioral experiment

  • run by the security apparatus of North Korea.

  • And, it continues to this day. The rules are very simple.

  • The more you snitched, the more you ate.

  • Let me ask you, how many of you knew

  • before I started talking, that there are concentration camps in North Korea?

  • That's good.

  • Well, there are about six of them. Between four and six.

  • 135,000 to 200,000 people are in them right now.

  • Half of them are the relatives

  • of perceived political enemies of the state.

  • The relatives.

  • The way justice works in North Korea, there's collective punishment.

  • If I were to say that the leaders were stupid and corrupt

  • my kids and my parents would go with me to a camp

  • like Camp 14, and eating a diet of corn, cabbage and salt, we would all be worked to death.

  • These camps have existed for half a century.

  • They're clearly visible on Google Earth, you can see them on your Smartphone.

  • North Korea continues to deny,

  • officially deny that they exist.

  • North Korea didn't invent these camps.

  • They were invented in this form by Stalin.

  • But, when Stalin died in the former Soviet Union,

  • the camps died out too.

  • In North Korea however, the camps have survived the death of founding dictator,

  • they've survived the death of his son,

  • and they're thriving now with the third generation

  • of totalitarian leadership, Kim Jong Un.

  • Who's about 28, 29 years old. Coincidentally, he happens to be

  • about the same age as Shin.

  • But you can see from this slide the camps have existed

  • twice as long as the camps in the Soviet Union,

  • about 12 times as long as the camps in Hitler's Germany.

  • And the reason North Korea seems to have lost none of its appetite

  • for being cruel to its own people.

  • They're just as cruel now as they were 50 years ago.

  • The camps are operated in almost exactly the same way.

  • Shin's story is the case study in that cruelty.

  • He's the only person,

  • the only person so far, born and raised in those camps

  • to get out and tell the story.

  • But, his story is more than just a tale of state-sponsored sadism.

  • It is an escape adventure, and it's a story about the resilience

  • of the human spirit.

  • The guards in Camp 14 spent 23 years trying to turn Shin

  • into a blinkard, malleable slave and they failed.

  • They failed because he was very lucky when he was 23.

  • A newcomer came to the camp, and this was an individual who had been raised in Pyongyang.

  • A member of the elite. He'd been educated in the former Soviet Union.

  • Shin's job, was to teach Park, that was the guy's name,

  • how to fix sewing machines in the uniform factory.

  • Shin was also supposed to snitch on Park, to find out what he thought

  • about the leadership, and then report to his superior.

  • For the first time in his life, though, instead of snitching

  • Shin listened to what Park had to say.

  • Park told him -- broke the news to him

  • that the world was round, which was news to Shin.

  • He told him that the United States,

  • South Korea and China existed.

  • But, he also said, and this is what got Shin's interest --

  • He said, "If you get out of here, if you get out of this camp,

  • and went to China, you could eat grilled meat".

  • That's what interested Shin. (Laughter)

  • He started dreaming about grilled meat.

  • Within a few weeks he asked Shin --

  • Shin asked Park to escape together.

  • Park agreed.

  • On January 2nd, 2005

  • they went for the fence. The electric fence.

  • The electrified fence that surrounds the camp.

  • Shin was supposed to be the Mr Inside Guy in this escape attempt.

  • He was supposed to get to the fence first, then Park having more knowledge

  • of the outside world, would lead them to China.

  • Unfortunately, as they ran towards the fence, on a snowy cold evening up in the mountains,

  • Shin slipped and fell on his face

  • and Park got to the fence first.

  • He was electrocuted on the fence. Shin did not hesitate, though.

  • He crawled over Park's smoldering body and ran off.

  • The Mr. Outside Guy on that escape attempt

  • unfortunately was dead on the fence.

  • But Shin still, through a combination of luck,

  • keeping his mouth shut, and being shrewd, he found his way out of North Corea in 30 days.

  • In a year-and-a-half he'd found his way across China

  • and found his way to South Korea.

  • Two years later he was living in Southern California.

  • Eating at In-and-Out Burger, which he still says it's the best burger in the US.

  • (Laughter)

  • And he was working for LiNK, 'Liberty in North Korea'

  • as a Human Rights volunteer.

  • But, he's not been a very happy person outside the camp.

  • He's struggling to understand what it means to be free.

  • He says that he's physically outside, but not psychologically outside barbed wire.

  • One of the things he told me is

  • that he's evolving from being an animal into trying to be a human being.

  • But it's going very, very slowly.

  • Very slowly. He still has dreams

  • about his mother's death.

  • What's terrifying though is that Shin's story is not an isolated tale of horror.

  • The two other big adjustment problems that are going on, or that will soon go on.

  • There are 24,000 North Koreans now living in South Korea.

  • Almost all of them have come there in the past 12 years.

  • Almost all of them have been examined by government psychiatrists and psychologists

  • in South Korea who say that, virtually all of them are clinically paranoid,

  • a useful adjustment for life in North Korea, a place that crawls with security agents

  • but they have a very difficult time adapting to modern life.

  • They have a hard time distinguishing between criticism and betrayal.

  • And, there are 24 million people in North Korea who, if that state ever collapses

  • will have to go through the same adjustment problems.

  • And no one is thinking that North Korea is on the verge of collapse,

  • but totalitarian systems don't last forever.

  • And, someday, all of those people will have to go through a version

  • of what Shin has gone through.

  • Now, the reason Shin told me his awful story

  • was because he wants you to know

  • that these camps are still in operation.

  • They're still breeding children. They're still teaching them to betray their parents.

  • He doesn't believe that knowing about this is going to overthrow North Korea.

  • But, he went through the humiliation of telling me his story

  • and he's traveling the world talking about it,

  • because he believes that knowledge is better than ignorance.

  • Thank you very much.

  • (Applause)

I've been a journalist for 32 years,

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【TEDx】Escape from camp 14 -- Shin Dong-hyuk's odyssey: Blaine Harden at TEDxRainier

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    Lim Chun Aun posted on 2014/07/13
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