Until the regime allows its people and guests total freedom of travel, the bans should remain
In 2013 I was a graduate student at American University’s elite School of International Service, where we are charged with a mission to be Peace Wager’s.
SIS had (temporarily) turned a hardened warrior into a peace activist. I sold my gun collection and raised tons of money to carryout a long list of Public Diplomacy projects that I designed; and I coined myself a Citizen Diplomat.
SIS taught me that the last three feet of the bridge [where enemies meet] is where the handshakes and hugs are given. Indeed, I even stupidly allowed myself to be photographed hugging a Korean People’s Army soldier.
My hypothesis was that through People-to-People exchanges, “average” North Koreans and average American’s could participate in “genuine” on-the-ground exchanges that would tear divisions down and allow long time enemies to see the humanity in each other, eventually eroding warring stances over time.
For example, I let the KPA taekwondo fighter knock me out just to see if he would cheer or help me up afterwords. I thought it would give me a true bead on their changeability. Turns out he helped me up, BUT even that was not an accurate method to determine their changeability.
I presumed that if I inspired enough foreigners to visit North Korea and try various types of exchanges then we could change North Korea to come out of the cold and abide by international norms.
Boy was I wrong!
Before you attack me you should know that I already received so many death threats the FBI had to get involved in my personal safety. And I was bullied so badly for being wrong that I was suicidal and eventually everything in my life got ruined.
But even worse than that, I was detained and interrogated in North Korea. I thought I would never make it home again. After an hour in an interrogation room with State Security Department officials sneering and frothing at the mouths, accusing me of trying to undermine the regime, I was kicked out and banned.
Fast forward to present day: President Trump rightly initiated a travel ban for Americans, but unfortunately other countries did not follow suit. Some of the regime’s biggest defenders were imprisoned in North Korea or by their communist ally, China.
Why would the regime detain its “useful idiots,” you may ask? Well, in my opinion, it is because “engagers” (“citizen diplomats” who think like I used to) are viewed by the regime as a threat to their existence. Also, because the regime doesn’t want anyone violating any of their draconian, pre-programmed Potemkin shows.
Until the day North Korea allows its citizens and guests complete freedom of travel without minders and pre-approvals for every little thing, there is no logical justification for taking the regime off the travel ban list.
Please think twice before traveling to North Korea, or even thinking that this is a regime that’s capable of changing. Every engager I know has deeply regretted it and been changed for the worse.