Americans have a general feeling of jadedness when it comes to tours and missionary work in well-known risk areas. The blue passport gives most American citizens a ticket into any country, with it there is an invisible shield exerted by U.S. power. Now, with threats like ISIS, kidnappings for ransom, and North Korean detainees, American journalists, tourists, and missionaries are actually taking risks when visiting some countries.
North Korea was no exception to this rule, until the past few years. In general, Caucasian Americans were free to visit North Korea without worrying they would be detained. Most Americans detained by North Korea had at least some Asian ethnicity. But this year there has been a fundamental change in who North Korea has detained. Of the 5 detained Americans in the past two years, three of them have been white. Whether this could be tied to the actions of the tourists or if it was because North Korea thought the United States would be more willing to negotiate if it had white detainees is unclear.
In most cases, such as the recent beheadings by ISIL, westerners who are kidnapped by governments or extremist organizations are used as bargaining chips for government affairs (policies, actions?) In the case of ISIS, Westerners are held and publicly executed to stop U.S. intervention and air strikes. For North Korea, the hearings, charges of hard labor, and interviews with journalists are to bring the U.S. back for talks to strengthen US-North Korean relations, or at least get a special envoy to visit.
On Monday, September 1, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki called for the release of all three detained citizens. Additionally, Patrick Ventrell, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council assured that, “Securing the release of US citizens is a top priority and we have followed these cases closely in the White House. We continue to do all we can to secure their earliest possible release.”
Currently, “all we can do” means staying in close contact with the Swedish embassy in North Korea, which acts as the U.S. protecting power for issues involving U.S. citizens in North Korea. In the past, to gain the release of detainees special envoys consisting of Representatives/Ambassadors (Bill Richardson), former American presidents ( Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter) and Robert King have made the trip. These trips, not formally sponsored by the U.S. government but out of the private humanitarian concerns of these officials, have allegedly been accompanied by an apology to the North Korean government for the acts of the U.S. citizens.
Is there more the United States should be doing to secure the safety of its citizens in countries they specifically state Americans should not visit, such as North Korea? At what point do American citizens assume responsibility of their safety through their own actions, and when should we turn to the government for aid while abroad?
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