Detainee Fatigue: Joo Won-moon



Honestly, we are feeling a little passive-aggressive with respect to some of the naives, idealists and misfits who have ended up detained in North Korea; thus our torpid response to the case of South Korean national—American permanent resident--Won-moon Joo (in announcing his arrest, KCNA provided an exact Tenafly New Jersey address; Chuck Schumer felt obliged to weigh in). But as these individuals force the Korean and US diplomatic machinery to expend energy on their release, we will continue our tradition of keeping track of their cases (all detainee posts are linked below; see in particular our “Not So Innocents Abroad post from several years back; CNN thrives on these cases, and manages to get good access too; they managed to get an interview with Joo).

Even by detainee standards, Joo’s case is a little unusual. An NYU student, Joo’s California road trip extended to Dandong where—according to his account to CNN-- he “crossed two barbed wire fences…walked through farmland until he reached a large river [which] he followed until soldiers arrested him.” KCNA claims he crossed the river, but the account raises the interesting question of whether he was detained on the Chinese side and hauled over.

The brief CNN clip reveals a slightly impish college kid whom we almost liked, as if crossing into North Korea were a prank. But then the thought processes prove more than a little jumbled: "I hope that I will be able to tell the world how an ordinary college student entered the DPRK illegally but however with the generous treatment of the DPRK that I will be able to return home safely….I thought that as an American permanent resident and South Korean citizen that my entrance could have some good effect."

How exactly? News of Joo has fallen off the radar. Arrested on April 22, KCNA announced the case on May 2 with the CNN interview published on the 7th. He is probably going to be there for a while. Much more serious are the cases of Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil, who were probably working with refugees and whose cases sparked an extraordinary North Korean statement of its deepest border anxieties. (CNN interviewed them as well). They have had to admit to spying, which makes their cases much more worrisome.

Previous Posts on the Detainees


More From

More on This Topic

Related Topics