- Posted August 12, 2009 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
U.S. journalists freed
CAPTURED KOREAN-AMERICAN JOURNALISTS – IRRESPONSIBLE?
Last week, the news headlines were dominated by the unfolding drama and release of two Korean-American woman journalists who had strayed into North Korean forces and had been captured by the authorities there. Video clips of former US President Bill Clinton traveling to North Korea and sitting wooden-faced beside a beaming North Korean supreme Kim il Jong were played over and over again.
The US government tried to downplay the Clinton visit as a humanitarian gesture by a private American President, but the significance was not lost on anyone. Here was a dictatorial leader who has time and again displayed utter contempt for all the values Americans hold dear – human rights, freedom of speech and democracy – smiling and exchanging pleasantries with an ex-President of the United States, in full glare of the international media. Whichever way one looked at it, it was a massive propaganda coup for Kim. America was demonstrably made to eat humble pie.
American and international sympathy was, quite naturally, in favour of the released journalists – and television channels milked it for all its worth. Tearful family reunions, the released captives bravely and modestly downplaying their ordeal, US officials issuing half-hearted statements that America does not reward dictators (who were they kidding?): it was reality soap opera at its finest. The drama tried to obscure the reality that a ruthless dictator cracked his whip and the world’s most powerful nation came promptly to heel.
Was the whole sorry episode avoidable? Absolutely. The two American journalists were not dim-witted tourists who did not know better. They knew the stakes involved. In fact, they had been warned that the area they were going round in was very close to the North Korean border; and that the border was not clearly demarcated. They went anyway; and they crossed the line – literally – and the North Koreans gratefully accepted them. Kim never intended to keep them in prison, but they made splendid bargaining chips – and he played it up as large as he could.
This is not the first time ordinary citizens have put their governments in embarrassing situations with their rashness and immaturity. It seems to happen with increasing regularity. And inevitably, they are bailed out; and not just that. The victims become heroic figures, lionized by the media and transformed into instant celebrities. This is a deterrent? It is comforting and feel-good that the two Americans are back home safe, but do they have to be rewarded? Think of what they cost the American tax-payer, not only in terms of lost prestige, but in cold hard cash. Total it up: a chartered jet for Korean round trip, lost man-hours by important people who could have been doing something far more productive. Perhaps a little accounting would be in order. People have to be made to realize that if they do something foolish, a government safety net is not their birthright.