Why is Kenneth Bae treated more harshly than John Short? I can think of four possibilities:
- The missionaries are simply convenient pawns and Bae, an American, is a more valuable prize than the Hong Kong-based Australian Short.
- Bae is of Korean descent and is perceived to pose a greater threat to the North Korean regime.
- Their behavior in captivity has affected their fates.
- Bae’s alleged crimes are more serious than those for which Short was accused.
I have no way to assess these alternatives, but an extraordinary interview that Short has given to an Adelaide newspaper might shed some light on the third hypothesis. The interview with Craig Cook is well worth reading.
Short’s account of his entry into North Korea sets the tone. Referring to his initial encounter with a young immigration officer:
“I could tell he was thinking, ‘Oh, we’ve got a right whacko here’,” Short says in his clipped but resonant, distinctly Australian voice.
“He told me I couldn’t take my Bible in and I told him I’m not coming in without it.”
Such assertiveness caused considerable consternation. After deferring to an array of higher officials the officer returned. “He said I must promise I wouldn’t give the Bible to anyone else,” Short says leaning forward as he does when he wants to impress a point.
“I told him, ‘why would I want to do that? It’s my Bible! I read it everyday — and you will not divorce me from the word of God’.”
Once in the country, Short is caught distributing Christian leaflets and arrested. His interrogation appears to have been the ultimate clash of mutually uncomprehending world views: according to Short, he simply told the North Koreans the truth and they found it implausible. Convinced that he was a spy, their agents even broke into his Hong Kong residence searching for evidence to contradict his story. Oddly, through all of this, the North Koreans permitted him to retain the Bible which had caused such an uproar in the first place.
On the fourth day of his detainment, Short began fasting and his hunger strike seems to have off-footed his captors. By day 10 they were pleading with him to eat, apparently fearful he might die on their watch, then abruptly released him, though not before charging him in hard currency for his room and board, Visa not accepted.
Perhaps most astonishing of all, when asked if he would return to North Korea if not blacklisted Short responded with “a resounding ‘yes’.”
For its part, according to Daily NK the North Korean website Uriminzzokiri has provided its own response of sorts, observing that “Chosun [North Korea] is a human paradise where the Lord would have nothing to do even if he came.”