Monday, March 28, 2016

Paying the Price for Stealing a Propaganda Poster

Recently, University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor and imprisonment for stealing a propaganda poster from a hotel while on a trip to North Korea. 

Warmbier has been held in the Asian country since January, and his detainment was only made public in late February. He has admitted to taking the poster to give as a "trophy" to someone from his hometown church in exchange for a car. 

Courtesy of KCNA/REUTERS
“I have made the worst mistake of my life.” --Otto Warmbier

Press Secretary Josh Earnest has stated that the North Korean government is using Warmbier and other U.S. citizens as "pawns to pursue a political agenda." Human rights groups are obviously angry, calling the action "outrageous and shocking."

However, Marie Myung-Ok Lee of the New York Times has a different opinion. In this piece, Lee tells of her experience traveling to North Korea, which is not an experience many people have.

"Once your Russian-made Air Koryo jet lands and you are in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, you lose control. You hand over your passport “for security reasons.” You are taken where the government wants you to go, you eat what’s given, you are not allowed to seek out unscripted encounters," Lee says. She was not shocked at the sentence Warmbier received.

Lee also mentions that we don't take North Korea seriously enough. The country has certainly been the butt of the world's jokes for its people's steadfast loyalty to their culture and leaders; North Korea seems to be a separate world of its own in essentially every respect. Is "not taking North Korea seriously" the root of the problem here?

Other questions: What was your reaction to Warmbier's trial? Was his sentence justified? What could the motives be to imprison him? What does this situation say about the nature of North Korea as a whole?



Louis Villa said...

While its extremely sad that Warmbier has been put in this situation, I am going to have to agree with Lee. Warmbier should have taken his visit to North Korea more seriously. While taking a poster doesnt seem like that big of a deal, the government in North Korea acts completely different than any western country. Visiting is a privilege and anyone who is in the country should be extremely careful not to test the boundaries of the governments hospitality and make sure that they can get home safely

Jonathan Liu said...

I do think that the problem lies in the fact that we don't take North Korea seriously. With their dictator's funny hair and their existence as a completely different and seemingly illogical government, they have not only become the butt of jokes but also treated as though they are from a different world altogether. We forget that they are on our planet and that they can, and will, hurt us or punish us if we don't take them seriously. It's unfortunate that Warmbier was sentenced to this, but we have to realize that this is an everyday thing for people in that country -- can we really treat them as a joke?

Anonymous said...

I also agree that the world does not take North Korea serious enough. Here in the United States, we are used to having rights in criminal trials. For example, the eighth amendment states that the government cannot impose "cruel and unusual punishment" on its citizens. Obviously in North Korea, this is not the case.
Although Warmbier's sentence is cruel and unfortunate, I think it stands as a good wake up call for the rest of the world, showing us that North Korea is indeed ruled by a dictator who will use people as pawns in a game that has potentially disastrous endings. Combined with the fact that North Korea has recently run its fourth nuclear test, I think the United States needs to continue to keep a close eye on North Korea for potential events that may threaten individual Americans, such as the case with Warmbier, or more drastic events that may change the course of the future altogether. Whether this be by limiting the number of American citizens entering North Korea or by pushing for more and tougher sanctions, the United States needs to let North Korea know that their actions will have consequences.

Anonymous said...

Taking a poster does not warrant 15 years of hard labor and prison time but understanding that it is North Korea, Warmbier should have taken things more seriously. Obviously he did not think that taking a poster would have such a huge punishment but I think that foreigners should treat their time in North Korea as unpredictable and follow the rules because it is safe to say that they do not have a reasonable government.

Jared Mayerson said...

I actually disagree, taking the North Korean government seriously would give it the acknowledgement and credibility it is trying to demand. However, that does not mean that I do not think that we should take actions like this seriously. As unfortunate as it is, Otto Warmbier sentence of 15 years of hard labor is legitimate and will have to be served. The North Korean government is an awfully oppressive one that routinely carries out disgusting actions like the one Annika discussed. I think that, if possible, we should stop it. Is it really going against the North Korean citizens' wishes if they are brainwashed and forced to think that their government is the best in the world? Do we get to decide? I think that Warmbier's sentence is unfair and that the U.S. government should try to negotiate with North Korea to decrease his sentence or pardon him but giving them recognition as a legitimate government will just allow them to be the fear they wish to be.