What inspired you to start you work on matters involving N. Korea?
A: When I was covering Northeast Asia for the Washington Post between 2007-10, I was asked by my boss to focus on North Korea — and find something fresh. In the course of my work, I met and interviewed Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a North Korean labor camp and escaped. Later, I asked Shin to work with me on a book about his life. The book was, to my surprise, an international bestseller. Since then, I have written a second book about North Korea, The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot (2015). It focuses on the founding of the country — and the dark legacy of Great Leader Kim Il Sung. Now, I am working on a third Korea-related book that examines American behavior in the Korean War and beyond.
What were your original intentions in writing Escape from Camp 14, as well as The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot?
A: To explain for a mass audience how North Korea treats its people and why. I have tried to find accessible, exciting stories that grab the imagination of a general reader. The idea is to tell a tale that is so interesting that a reader doesn’t realize he or she is learning history, political science, and current affairs.
How did your books effect the international movement for N. Korean human rights?
A: Escape from Camp 14 was a significant factor in pushing the U.N. to investigate North Korea for crimes against humanity. The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in 2014 to refer the Kim government to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. That vote was non-binding. A binding vote must be approved by the UN Security Council and it has not yet occurred. China and Russia have threatened to veto any such referral.
We are a non-profit organization run by students around the world, do you have any advice or message for the young people in the world who want to get involved in N. Korea?
A: First, read some of the many great books that have appeared in recent years about North Korea. They include: Nothing to Envy, The Aquariums of Pyongyang, A Kim Jong Il Production, The Two Koreas, The Girl With Seven Names, and Under the Same Sky. Then join forces or raise money for other organizations that help refugees and raise awareness. They include LiNK, Liberty in North Korea; and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).