Mike Chinoy on Merrill Newman



We thought more than enough has been said about the recent detainees and their release; our posts on them are linked below. But Mike Chinoy has written a long piece on Merrill Newman called “The Last P.O.W” (available as a Kindle Single for 99 cents) that adds some interesting detail on his arrest, detention and release. Chinoy is the author of Meltdown, one of the few truly indispensable books on the second (and ongoing) nuclear crisis.

Newman fell afoul of North Korean authorities not simply for his Korean War service in 1953 with a unit running partisans from the island of Chodo into the Mt. Kuwol area. The crime was to have spoken about an interest in re-connecting with partisans and their descendants and sharing an email exchange Newman had with a South Korean veteran. One of the more chilling findings of Chinoy’s account is that the two North Korean guides who served Newman and his traveling companion Bob Hamrdla, contracted through Juche Tours, were monitoring their conversations and reported them to authorities. The State Department explicitly saw its upgraded travel advisory not only as a “caveat emptor,” but as an effort to deter careless adventurers who could soak up State Department bandwidth.

Chinoy details the central role played by Evans Revere, an Asia hand of substance, in working the multiple channels required to secure Newman’s release, or at least not screw it up. The cast of characters who played bit parts--even if only as contacts--ranged from Dennis Roadman to Bill Richardson to the so-called “New York channel.”  Merrill’s confinement in the Yanggakdo Hotel was notable mainly for the uncertainty and long stretches when Newman was left to his own devices; his captors even religiously took his blood pressure. We will not spoil Chinoy’s ending, except to note that it centered on financial arrangements. The story is a good read, emphasizing how a desire to revisit the past, carelessness and naiveté collided with North Korean paranoia over imagined foreign plots.

Previous Posts on the Detainees

  • Detainees and Envoys (April 2013; on the possible North Korean motive of securing visits by high level envoys)

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