Not The Best Time To Be In Korea

My wife is in Korea right now visiting her family. It’s not the best time to be in Korea, and I’ll be happy when she gets back, next Tuesday.

She says that the media are full of reports on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, and how to escape if Seoul is invaded. It’s all adding to the fear level, which is already high. Many foreign residents have left.

I’ve written several times in my novels about North Korea, rated by Open Doors in its World Watch List as the country where Christians endure the worst persecution.

Here is an excerpt from my novel Military Orders:

Sunhee witnessed her first public execution when she was nine years old. It was an exhilarating experience, like watching a movie in real life, and she recalled it often, especially when it came time for her own execution.

In a country where the primary entertainment was the cinema, mainly featuring movies about North Korea’s triumph over the imperialist United States, the Great Leader had added public executions as another means to keep his population docile. These provided drama while engendering fear.

Sunhee recalled that, a few days before the event, posters went up around town to announce that the condemned man had been convicted of stealing state property and had been sentenced to death. On the day itself kids skipped school, and Sunhee even spotted some of her teachers in the crowd. The location was a disused strip of rocky land between the railway station and the seafront.

First the man was paraded through the main thoroughfare of Kyongsong, the only paved street in the town. The excited crowd followed, growing larger as the time of the execution drew near. Sunhee recalled that at one time during the procession she was close enough to the man to look into his face. He was quite old. And in his eyes she saw not fear but indifference.

At the site a hole in the ground had been readied, and soldiers pushed a thick pole into this. The man was made to don a specially designed padded execution suit, intended to absorb his blood.

Then the soldiers tied the condemned man to the post in three places, at his eyes, chest and legs, and placed a large open body bag at his feet. Sunhee was near the front, with the other kids, hoping that after the soldiers had fired their rounds they might retrieve the spent shells as souvenirs.

Now the drama began. Three soldiers raised their rifles and aimed. Their commanding officer gave the order. They fired first at the eyes. The rope snapped and the man’s head collapsed, as if he were bowing to the crowd. At the same time his head exploded with a burst of steam and his brains cascaded into the body bag. A second volley at the chest sent him crashing head-first – or what remained of the head – towards the body bag. A final volley at the legs snapped the ropes there, and the entire body fell into the bag. A couple of young soldiers then swiftly dumped the bag onto the back of a truck, for later disposal in the mountains.

As intended, it was all quite theatrical. Sunhee’s two brothers later told her that this quick execution was reserved for relatively minor crimes. Those convicted of significant offenses against the state received a public hanging, which in North Korea meant a rope around the neck, then being hauled slowly upwards into the air and left to die a lingering, kicking, screaming death.

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