Back in the 1980s, Oh Kil-nam must have decided that he did not want a full belly or the right to live a life with choices. Oh is one of the rare people who left South Korea for North Korea. Unfortunately, he took his wife and two daughters. Arriving in North Korea, he quickly learned that it was not the worker’s paradise that he was promised. In addition, the promises of health care for his wife’s hepatitis did not materialize as Oh expected.
That is when Oh made an even bigger mistake. He defected from North Korea and went back to South Korea. This time he left without his wife and children. He has not seen them for 25 years. It is rumored that they were sent to one of the political concentration camps where death is the only liberation.
Oh still wants to see his family. If they are still alive, the only reason they have to see him is as an excuse to get out of North Korea.
It is bad enough to make the decision to go to North Korea in the first place. It is incomprehensible that any self-respecting father and husband would leave his family behind to suffer while he lives a free life.
Yes, Oh feels guilty. That he can live with his guilt means only that he is not feeling guilty enough. Rather than bolting for his own freedom, Oh should have found a way to slip his family across the border and take the brunt of punishment himself from the North Koreans. Even though it is a near impossibility to slip a family across the border in security-conscious North Korea, how can anyone surrender his kids’ future by letting them be punished for his own poor judgment?