You probably recall hearing about the 24-year-old North Korean border guard who put down his weapon and sprinted across No Man’s Land in a desperate attempt to reach freedom and security in South Korea. His former comrades opened fire on him and he went down. He was pulled to safety by South Korean border guards, who called for a helicopter to evacuate him to a hospital. As they loaded him onto the Black Hawk, the South Korean guards doubted the poor man would survive the 25-minute flight. But he did.
By the time the Black Hawk was coming for its landing on the hospital helipad, Surgeon Lee Cook-jung was already there waiting for him. In an excellent interview/news story written by CNN reporters Paula Newton and Taehoon Lee, Dr. Lee described the wounded man’s condition when he first saw him: “He was like a broken jar. We couldn’t put enough blood into him.”
The defector, Oh Chong Song, was lucky; he had been airlifted to the trauma unit at Ajou University Hospital, one of the finest in South Korea. Oh suffered from five serious wounds: he was struck in the right knee joint, the triceps, his back, his abdomen, and his chest — the bullet that struck him in the chest went straight through him and came out at the shoulder. His wounds were life-threatening, but the surgical team didn’t recoil until they opened up his abdomen. In Oh’s intestines was a mass of parasites — white, worm-like creatures, a couple of which were ten inches long. By now, no news story that comes out of North Korea should shock us, but the parasites in the stomach of what should have been a perfectly healthy young man — it says an enormous amount about what a vile place on every level is Kim’s prison-state.
Since his surgery, Oh has been suffering from terrible nightmares in which he imagines that he is still in North Korea. Dr. Lee, to remind him that he escaped, that he is safe, has hung a South Korean flag in Oh’s hospital room.
As complicated as Oh’s physical and psychological recovery will be, there are two other issues Dr. Lee has had confront. First, explaining to South Korean government and military officials that they cannot interview Oh about his experiences in the North Korean army until he is mentally stronger. And second, there must be heavy security around Oh at all times. It would not be beyond Kim to send a killer to murder Oh in his hospital room. Remember, Kim is the man who sent assassins to murder his half-brother.
Oh is recovering. He can eat solid food, and sit up in bed. He can even climb out of his bed and walk the few steps to use the bathroom without having to call for assistance.
As for Dr. Lee, he has become a celebrity in South Korea where some have interpreted his care of Oh as an act of patriotism. He told the CNN reporters that is a false impression. “It’s totally wrong,” he said, “as you can see here. We are doing this job every single day.”
I have often wondered why totalitarian regimes wall their citizens inside their hellish nations. So I put the question to my friend, Professor Paul Kengor, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism.
“We have a saying in America,” Paul said, “‘Love it, or leave it.’ In communist countries, they won’t even let you leave…. Bill Bennett likes to talk about ‘the gates test,’ namely: when a nation opens its gates (or borders), in which direction do the people flow? For America, they flow in. For communist countries, they flow out. Look at Cuba: they won’t even let people visit their beaches without surveillance because they fear they’ll jump in the water to start attempting a 100-mile swim to Florida for freedom.
So, why won’t they let their own people leave?
“I really believe the answer is less rational than it is ideological or psychological or even, frankly, spiritual,” Paul said. “These are evil regimes, committed to an evil ideology, period. Thus, they behave in pernicious ways. That’s the best explanation, I believe.”
It’s the best explanation I’ve heard. Get well soon, Mr. Oh!
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of Stealing Lincoln’s Body.
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