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A man called Yoo Tae Jun:

The best of humanity often emerges amidst the very worst

Michael Wells writes in with a fascinating story from Korea.

They have their own Arc de Triomphe, which is just like the one in Paris, only taller. They have a brewery that they bought in Britain and meticulously reassembled. A dead man is their eternal president. The EU sends them footballs. And every February, under threat of imprisonment, they celebrate the birthday of a small pudgy man in a jumpsuit. Natural wonders inevitably follow.

North Korea‘s psychedelic Stalinism has proved extremely durable, surviving even mass starvation and the country’s well-deserved status as planetary pariah. But there are signs that the regime may finally be losing its grip.

President Bush’s recent visit has overshadowed an amazing story. A man called Yoo Tae Jun escaped from North Korea in 1998 with his 3-year-old son. In 2000 he went back in for his wife! He was captured and imprisoned, but escaped again, turning up in South Korea on February 9. The Korea Times reported that he rode on top of trains and disguised himself as a soldier in order to escape. Think of it. Consider what it would take to escape from a place like North Korea, then imagine going back in and doing it all over again. Now contrast this amazing level of courage and resourcefulness with Robert Fisk’s thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another response to barbarism. Fisk would take his few morsels of food and thank the Dear Leader for his mercy. Yoo Tae Jun is the Anti-Fisk.

But Yoo Tae Jun is by no means the only defector. According to a recent AP story, defections from North Korea have nearly doubled every year since 1998, and there may be thousands more defectors in China. 74 defectors have arrived in the south so far this year. Pyongyang has increased the military presence along the northern border, but trying to feed them will be a major strain. The situation is beginning to look like Eastern Europe in 1989, when a trickle of defectors quickly became a flood. If China isn’t stopping them, North Korea could crumble pretty quickly.

The residue from that regime will be a sickening mess, but if there are more people like Yoo Tae Jun north of the DMZ, they’ll come through it.

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