Vientiane, Laos

Yes, it’s possible to visit North Korea. No, you shouldn’t do it.

As the horrifying case of Otto Warmbier unfolds, it’s clear that North Korea is interested in taking American hostages. Warmbier has been sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster in his hotel room.

It’s unclear whether Warmbier will ever serve that sentence, but if he does, he will not be alone in the labor camps. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are there already, in the conditions that upset us so much when we consider an American being sent there, and often for reasons as stupid and paltry.

Visits to North Korea are not really visits to North Korea. They’re visits to a performance of North Korea, staged by the government. Your money for your visit goes to the government. It sustains the same government that is destroying Otto Warmbier’s life without remorse as part of its power games. The same government that holds out the promise of family reunions, only to withdraw at the last moment, toying with the hearts of its own citizens. The same government that has kidnapped teenagers from Japanese beaches. The same government that the UN found has committed human rights abuses “without parallel in the contemporary world.”

If you have a real reason to go to North Korea, like the volunteers at Choson Exchange, then go. Otherwise, don’t.

I realize that by posting this, I am disqualifying myself from going to North Korea. I shouldn’t go. You shouldn’t either. It’s not safe, and it’s not right to support the regime. We are only pawns in their game.