File this under: This is why we can’t have nice things. The US State Department announced recently that it will ban Americans from traveling to North Korea. This will essentially make US passports invalid when traveling through the country. US nationals are being encouraged to leave the country immediately. And when the ban is in place, only those who have obtained a passport with “special validation” will be permitted to travel to the country.
Why did this happen?
The news comes in the wake of the Otto Warmbier fiasco. Student Warmbier went on a tour to the country in 2016, and he was caught trying to steal a propaganda sign. The crazy fucks over in North Korea then sentenced him to 15 years in prison for said offense. Is that logical? Absolutely not. Is it fair? Of course not. But unfortunately, it’s law.
The situation went from bad to worse when Warmbier was released to the US after 18 months in captivity with severe brain damage. He passed away less than a week after his return.
Citing this incident, the State Department’s travel ban will be put in place “due to mounting concerns over the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.”
Let me call bullshit on this
I know the leadership over in North Korea is batshit crazy. In fact, just this week, they vowed “thousands-fold revenge” on the US because of new nuclear sanctions. Who even talks like that other than movie villains?
And though they might be a huge threat to Americans if they ever launch the nuke they keep promising, they’re not a huge threat to Americans visiting their country. There have been 15 US citizens arrested in North Korea going back to the 90s, some of which were arrested for entering the country illegally. That’s less than .1% of the 4,000 to 6,000 Western tourists that visit North Korea each year. So this isn’t an epidemic of arrests. It’s not a mounting concern. It’s something that happens every so often when an American who is ignorant of the rules and consequences of their actions does something that gets them in an insurmountable amount of trouble.
I’m not trying to justify Otto Warmbier’s punishment or eventual death. But consider this, if an Indian man is caught raping his wife in the US, he would be tried and charged according to US law, even though it’s not considered illegal to do that in India.
Sure, to us, rape is a far more despicable and criminal act than stealing a propaganda sign. Right? But here’s the thing, Western opinion doesn’t actually matter when you travel to other countries. Law is law. It might be stupid. It might be ridiculously unfair. It might be downright inhumane. But when you enjoy the privilege of traveling to another country, you have to respect and abide by their laws, whether you like them or not.
Did Otto Warmbier deserve the fate that befell him? Absolutely not.
But do the rest of us who might never do anything wrong or ever see the inside of a North Korean jail be banned from visiting “for our own protection”? Absolutely not.
Travel at your own risk
There are a ton of places where you might do the wrong thing and face grievous, maybe even deadly consequences. When you travel, you take that risk. But it shouldn’t be your government’s job to determine what is or is not too much travel risk. That’s up to you to decide.
And it’s up to you to be informed about what is and isn’t okay in a foreign country. In North Korea, it’s your responsibility to listen to every. single. thing. your tour guide tells you and stay with the group and to not do anything stupid. Because the world doesn’t revolve around us and our laws. And unfortunately, that means you could pay with your life for something completely trivial.