North Korea

Otto Warmbier's Deadly Ordeal Is No Reason to Restrict Travel to North Korea

The difference between adventure and stupid prank is often just the outcome-and that outcome is never a sure thing.


It would have been a good story to tell if Otto Warmbier had successfully made off with that North Korean propaganda poster. It could have been the sort of low-reward, high-risk tale that defines many a good yarn years after the fact. Getting caught and killed by the thuggish regime he was trying to tweak thoroughly ruined the story, but gambling against that danger is what would have made it worth telling.

And now the Trump administration is considering heading off any future such misadventures by banning Americans from traveling to North Korea. For our own good, it claims.

But the difference between adventure and stupid prank is often just the outcome—and that outcome is never a sure thing.

When Spanish spy Ali Bey el Abbassi and, later, British explorer Richard Burton posed as Muslim pilgrims to visit Mecca, they risked their lives to satisfy their curiosity about a place they were forbidden to enter. Had they been caught, their efforts might have made them the forgotten stars of the 19th-century equivalent of beheading videos rather than celebrated authors and adventurers.

Then there was Ewart S. Grogan, a college student who took a break from his studies to walk, with his friend, Arthur H. Sharp, from South Africa to Egypt—largely so Grogan could impress a girl. Along the way they risked disease and cannibals, hunted lions (and sometimes brutally abused the locals in the unthinking way of Victorian-era British aristocrats).

"The amusement of the whole thing is that a youth from Cambridge during his vacation should have succeeded in doing that which the ponderous explorers of the world have failed to accomplish," Cecil Rhodes wrote in a letter published as an introduction to the inevitable resulting book.

Let's just say that, at any step of the way, the epic traverse of Africa could have ended in any number of sticky ways—or just on the point of a very sharp stick.

We could also consider Theodore Roosevelt's impressive post-presidential Amazonian exploration, chronicled in Candice Millard's River of Doubt. The company was plagued by starvation, poor planning, dangerous wildlife, medical emergencies, and faced the possibility of massacre by an Indian tribe that had to be persuaded of benign intentions.

Arguably, the whole scheme was rooted in a disappointed politician's elaborate suicide attempt—one that ultimately spared him, but cost the lives of others. It also substantially expanded knowledge of the region.

Or how about the nine-day flight around the world of Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager on a single tank of fuel? That adventure earned everybody involved trophies, fame, and the display of their aircraft, Voyager, at the Smithsonian Institution. But it could have ended with extensive searches and a greasy patch drifting on the surface of the ocean, or a trail of debris down the side of a hill somewhere.

Is any given activity a stupid conceit or a grand adventure? It's all in whether it ends up as a thrilling tale or a wince-inducing cautionary one. Surviving a journey with a manuscript in hand usually yields a different assessment than returning from it in a box.

Was the risk worth the reward? That's really going to depend on whose yardstick we use. Adrenaline junkies and people driven by burning curiosity are likely to offer very different answers than those who see every sharp corner as a peril in need of a good cushion. Trekking through wilderness, climbing into experimental aircraft, violating taboos, and taunting tyrants all offer upsides and downsides that lend themselves only to subjective assessment.

Which is to say, there's no objective answer to such questions and, therefore, there can't possibly be a one-size-fits-all policy that makes any sense beyond stuffing one set of values down the throats of dissenters.

"Travel propaganda lures far too many people to North Korea," insists House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA). "This is a regime that regularly kidnaps foreign citizens and keeps 120,000 North Koreans in barbaric gulags. The United States should ban tourist travel to North Korea."

Not quite. From the undeniable fact that the North Korean regime is brutal and barbaric, it's a stretch to conclude that Americans would only travel there because they've been lured by "travel propaganda." They may, instead, be curious and risk-tolerant—willing to run the gauntlet in order to see the situation for themselves. It's presumptuous as hell for risk-averse types like Royce to substitute their own instincts for the contrary preferences of adventurers who see the situation differently. (It's presumptuous as hell for governments to tell people where they can or can't travel for any reason, but that's another column.)

Not that risk-averse Americans should then be forced to shoulder extra costs when adventures go south. If experience-seekers want to satisfy their curiosity and adrenaline cravings in the many dangerous spots of the world, they should do so of their own accord, without expectation that the Marines (or some equivalent) will come to their rescue when the natives prove restless, the wildlife hungry, the weather uncooperative, or circumstances otherwise go to hell. Taking the tiger by the tail and then figuring out how to let go is and should be part of the overall adventure experience.

A strict caveat emptor policy toward people's tolerance of peril and taste for dangerous journeys is the only way to make the world a fit place for both risk-takers and the risk-averse. And leaving the door open for potential disasters is the only way to maintain the opportunity for adventure, since they go hand in hand.

We should all regret Otto Warmbier's untimely death—and that his gamble didn't pay off and he didn't gain a great story to tell. And we should leave the way clear for others so inclined to take similar chances in the future.

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  1. YACGX — Yet Another Coercive Government eXample. Stick to principles and most problems evaporate, as does this one. Fats Waller had it right.

  2. The problem with such daring adventures is that they often result in tragedy. Richard Burton’s trek to Mecca was a walk in the park compared to your Warmbier’s trip into North Korea; Mr. Burton could at least claim to have converted to Islam. Everyone seems to have forgotten that North Korea is technically still at war with the world. Any outside visitors would be automatically regarded with deep suspicion. While there may be a certain thrill factor in visiting such a country, one must never let your guard down. It’s their country. The U.S. Constitution does not apply. The slightest violation can result in major penalties as young Warmbier discovered when he attempted to filch a propaganda poster. A piece of property worth pennies cost him his life. He apparently didn’t have a clue.

    So, in the fine tradition of government maternalism, it is entirely proper that the U.S. government restrict travel to North Korea as it appears that many travelers have no clue just what danger they placing themselves in.

    1. Let all people go — libertarians everywhere.

    2. I assume you have some evidence that Otto Warmbier stole a propaganda poster, aside from the word of the North Korean state that is.

      1. But that blurry as hell surveillance footage! /sarc

        1. First, his confession is preposterous. Moreover, the pastor from the other church, the Z society, and Warmer’s parents have each denied certain elements of it. Finally, how did he know that the banner he is claimed to have removed was even propaganda, instead of saying, “employees must always wash their hands after using the restroom?” Maybe I need to invoke Poe’s law.

      2. This. A thousand times this.

        To write this article without ever noting that there is no reasonable way of establishing the veracity of the official North Korean version of events, or note that it is quite likely that the guy they obviously so viciously abused was coerced into a confession borders on the dishonest.

        To tacitly give credence to the North Korean version of events, as the author does in his opening sentence is vulgar in the extreme.

        Fuck you Tuccille.

        1. Excellent point. I think we should send a reputable, impartial journalist to NK who can thoroughly investigate the allegations and produce the definitive documentary proving that NK is indeed as safe as the Young Pioneers say it is.

          Michael Moore springs to mind.

    3. it is entirely proper that the U.S. government restrict travel to North Korea as it appears that many travelers have no clue just what danger they placing themselves in.

      Yes, the U.S. government knows what’s best.

      1. Yes, it’s not like Americans ever get killed by the American government.

      2. The logical basis for restricting travel to NK is the simple reason that it is a huge headache to get our people out once there is a problem. Plus NK is incentivized to arrest Americans to begin with. As we make good bargaining chips.

        1. Then just say “Go to NK if you want, but you are on your own once you are there and will not be rescued, ransomed or bailed out if shit goes bad.”

      3. Agreed, people should still be free to make their own (bad) choices.

        But maybe if we were a little more honest in noting that it is entirely possible that Warmbier did nothing wrong, and was merely the grossly exploited pawn of a North Korean despot desperate to get US and world attention.

        And, if you choose to go there, then there is nothing stopping them from doing it to you as well.

        1. Yes, it is entirely possible that he did nothing wrong. And it is a certainty that he did nothing warranting his execution (because that’s what it was). But with all that said, he chose to go to NK, and that’s entirely on his own head. The US government has no obligation to do anything more than lodge diplomatic protests to secure his release, and it should do nothing more than that. And that policy should be made explicit, both as a deterrent to future such stupidity and to minimize any benefits to NK for kidnapping our citizens.

          I’m not saying that he deserved what he got; he did not. But he chose to do something extremely stupid, and he paid the price. Anyone else who makes that same choice should be prepared to pay the same price, without being bailed out the the US.

          1. Agreed, my point was more so that we do everyone a disservice when we fail to mention the possibility that the charges were bullshit and the confession coerced.

            I find it to be a lie by omission.

  3. “”””Otto Warmbier’s Deadly Ordeal Is No Reason to Restrict Travel to North Korea”””‘

    But it is a good reason for me not to care about anyone dumb enough to go to North Korea.

    And its not prejudice of Mr Warmbier, I have the same lack of care about someone who smears chicken blood on their body and then swims with Great White Sharks

    1. Yep. I do not want to ban BASE jumping, but I also don’t want to foot the bill for scraping your mortal remains off the side of El Capitan.

  4. Self-correcting error. I’m am left to wonder, however, if the Darwin Awards committee has been advised of his candidacy…

  5. It would have been a good story to tell if Otto Warmbier had successfully made off with that North Korean propaganda poster.

    Again, there is still ZERO evidence he had any plan to take anything.

    Yes, Reason, I’m sure north Korea is TOTES honest this time.

    Fuck, this constant “Well, he shouldn’t have done it” is just assuming he DID it. You trust the North Korean government MORE than you trust the US? Why? What have the Kim family done to justify Reason’s benefit of the doubt offered them? I trust our police infinitely more than I trust the North Korean government and I wouldn’t buy the police’s story in this situation in a million years.

    US police? Don’t trust them. North Korean government? Why, when have they ever iied before?

    Perhaps banning travel to a country that, upon landing, seizes your passport is a solid plan. Perhaps a country with a history of kidnapping foreign nationals who weren’t even in North Korea and keeping them for years shouldn’t be trusted.

    1. I make no determination whether or not he stole the poster. The self-correcting error was voluntarily going to that rathole in the first place, precisely *because* of the factors you name. That being said, if people want to take the stupid risk to travel there, then by all means, have at it. Don’t expect me to finance a rescue mission, however.

      1. “Don’t expect me to finance a rescue mission, however.”

        Here we have the crux of the matter.
        WIH does every administration feel compelled to rescue the obviously self-destructive from themselves? Is this a big voting block we’re missing?
        Next time someone ends up in the Nork’s claws, send the rest of their effects over to them. That way, maybe there’ll be no temptation to return here if the Norks ever let ’em out of jail.

        1. Unfortunately, it’s a huge voting block. There are millions of people out there who expect others to rescue them from the circumstances that their poor life choices have left them in. The problem is that, unlike being an American and placing yourself voluntarily into the hands of Kim regime, the results of their poor choices are not necessarily immediately fatal.

        2. Please see the Yes, Prime Minister episode “One of Us” where the B plot involves a dog wandering into a minefield.

        3. the obviously self-destructive from themselves? Is this a big voting block we’re missing?

          They self-identify with Che T-shirts and vagina hats, among other things. And, yes, it is a large voting block.

    2. The confession that put forth a pre-meditated plan is risible and has been falsified on several grounds. I would go a step further and say there is no reason to believe that he took a banner at all.

    3. Calling for the government to ban its citizens from traveling to certain countries doesn’t strike me as very “libertarian.” I could see the State Dept. advising US citizens to stay away from N Korea (which they already do), but an outright ban? No.

  6. After one night of waaaay too much alcohol in S Korea, I was persuaded to shimmy up one of the 30-foot flag poles surrounding a huge war memorial plaza, and steal one of the flags. As I was removing the flag from the lanyard at the top of the pole, I heard our pre-arranged signal that the guards were close, and looked down just in time to see two armed guards crossing each other almost directly beneath me.

    They moved on, and I slid down the pole and basically sprinted back to post. I’ve enjoyed telling the story a great many times, especially the part where the flag began to fall out the bottom of my pants leg while showing IDs to get back on my Korean air force base.

    I was an incredibly stupid drunk 21-year-old soldier in S Korea, and that was enough adventure for me. If you try to steal propaganda from the N Koreans while on their soil…well, maybe the story to tell ain’t worth that much risk.

    1. One can buy NK propaganda posters in a department store. A Danish woman on the same tour indicated that she and Warmbier did so. That’s one more implausibility in this whole story, but who’s counting?

  7. Are you arguing that an Anerixan who gies to Nirth Korea is abandoned to whatever fate they find there? Warmbier’s parents asked the US government to intercede diplomatically to have him released. Going into a country like North Korea is like walking into a bear’s den. It might make a good story to bait the bear and get away with it, but thst story has more likely bad end.

  8. The very premise of this article is faulty: there is no credible evidence that he took anything. The video is blurry and could have been anyone. The confession contains multiple improbabilities that have all been denied by people in a position to verify the points in question. There are additional difficulties. How would Warbier have obtained access to a staff-only area? How would he have been able to read the banner? Mr. Warmbier was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The real story is why everyone is not more enraged that an American citizen was held without real grounds. IMO once you arrest someone, you have the responsibility to see that no harm is done to him, and the NK government apparently failed at this.

    1. Which is an argument for restricting, or at least disavowing any American who travels there on other than government business. There is no justice to be found there and putting yourself within that regime’s grasp is the danger.

      1. It’s not the government’s job to protect people from themselves. That same justification underlies the War on Drugs, among other concepts.

      2. This sounds about right to me. Don’t prohibit travel there, but if you’re stupid enough to do it anyway, you’re on your own.

  9. With all the publicity that Warbier’s death (as a result of his “white privelege” /sarc) has gotten, I think everyone knows at this point what risks traveling to a despotic authoritarian hell hole with a tendency to execute people over petty offenses poses.

    Besides, just as restricting travel to Cuba meant that Americans weren’t able to see for themselves the crushing poverty that Communism tends to result in, maybe restricting Americans from traveling to a shit hole like N Korea and seeing for themselves what a true authoritarian dictatorship looks like is also not a good idea. At the very least I’d think that people who visit places like Cuba and N Korea might realize, upon their return to the US, that while they might not like our government or whoever the president is at any given time, at least we’re not that bad (yet).

  10. Yes, this would be one travel destination that adventure-seekers or trainwreck rubberneckers should be made known that the government of the United States of America will make no special effort to retrieve. You are free – on this west side of the equation, anyway – to visit there but at your own risk. You will be next to worthless as a bargaining chip if the Norks attempt to utilize you as such.

  11. >>>But the difference between adventure and stupid prank is often just the outcome

    murder by despots should not be the outcome of adventures *or* stupid pranks

  12. Until the day Warmbier died, Young Pioneer Tours’ online FAQs described North Korea as “Extremely safe!” and assured potential travelers, “Despite what you may hear, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit.”

    The dad is saying his son had no idea how dangerous it was.

    1. My read: Dad is just about as dumb as his son was.

      1. It will interesting to see if the dad scores a fat settlement from the “Young Pioneers”.

    2. Thanks for the link. I have to say I find all of the hostility directed at a young man who just died a horrible death kinda baffling. And while this article is interesting, it continues the “spoiled, rich white boy” narrative and accepts without question the North Korean version of events. This kid didn’t wander across the border in search of a trophy to impress his frat buddies. He went as part of an organized tour. As Rhywun’s link verifies, participants were assured that they would be completely safe:

      Until the day Warmbier died, Young Pioneer Tours’ online FAQs described North Korea as “Extremely safe!” and assured potential travelers, “Despite what you may hear, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit.”

      This young man endured a slow motion execution by the North Korean government. Seems to me his family deserves our sympathy, not our judgement.

  13. It’s all well and good to say now in the face of a travel ban to North Korea that people who decide to do monumentally stupid things like Otto Warmbier did shouldn’t expect the government to come to their rescue but where were these articles seventeen months ago when he was first arrested and the US government was trying to do just that? The reality is that even if the author thought that at the time, he knew that the United States government would still try to rescue fools like this and no matter how much we might all like to say “assumption of the risk,” we all know it as well. Stopping these idiots from endangering themselves in the first place is probably less awful alternative.

  14. On the other hand, there are splendid arguments for invading North Korea and shooting everyone over the rank of dog-catcher. Most of which boil down to “we step on cocroaches, don’t we?”

    1. I assume this means you’re volunteering for the front line?

  15. Maybe it’s worth adding that the Constitution does not give Congress the power to prohibit foreign travel.

    1. When has that ever stopped Congress before?

      1. Something, something… interstate commerce.

  16. It’s disappointing but not unexpected that the MSM has fallen for the story of a totalitarian regime to the point that almost no investigation of it was done. It’s revolting to learn that our government evidently did no investigation of this issue, as Warmbier’s roommate in NK has reported that NO official has contacted him to see what he knew of it. Especially since now, after he’s been murdered, what checking has been done, again evidently only by a few reporters, makes it appear likely that the story is an outright fabrication. But it’s really disheartening to see a lot of self-proclaimed libertarians fall for thinking that anything like this reported by a soul-crushing dictatorship like NK has any credibility at all. The same people who wouldn’t believe this story if our own government told it seems to believe NK was really the aggrieved party they claim. Give me a break.

    1. I don’t think anyone seriously believes that North Korea is the “aggrieved party.” I’m perfectly willing to accept a scenario where this fellow went to North Korea and didn’t try to steal a propaganda poster but was unjustly arrested because he was an American, tried in a kangaroo court and then tortured to the point of brain damage and death. In fact, I assume that the regime running North Korea would do this to anyone stupid enough to put themselves in their hands if they thought that they could get away with it. Which is why I can’t get upset about a proposal to make it illegal for Americans to travel there.

    2. Whether or not the accusations are true won’t really change my assessment of it in any way.

      You are right, it’s pretty good odds that the Norks are making it up. It’s also likely enough that he did try to take a poster. In either case, the punishment was ridiculously cruel and disproportionate.

  17. let people jump into snake pits on the condition the U.S. will expend no energy in getting you out of your own mess

    1. I’ve traveled abroad a fair amount, and there’s some level of risk to traveling in most of the world, including third world locations (like Chicago). But this is one of the useful purposes of a government, to assist citizens with issues when they travel abroad. That’s one of the reasons we have consulates and embassies, and third party representatives when we don’t have that.

      The government should be able to do this without taking away rights, otherwise it’s just the TSA security theater garbage all over again. Short of us being in a shooting war with someone, or because a civil war is going on so that embassies have been evacuated, an American should be able to travel freely abroad using current treaty and travel rules.

      There are about 100,000 things government “does for me” against my will and unconstitutionally, but this is one of the actual valid responsibilities it’s supposed to uphold. So piss on them, this is one area where government energy SHOULD be expended.

      1. I travel quite a bit throughout SE Asia, and I’m aware that there are risks. However, the fact that the US does NOT have an embassy in North Korea is, for me, a clear sign that, should I decide to travel to NK, I will have zero help from my government.

        Our company (Chinese) has a fair number of business prospects in Iran and Iraq. I won’t be joining them if they go there even if we make a big sale. At some point, it’s on my shoulders to get reasonably accurate information, understand the risks, and accept that–if I choose to take them–it’s quite likely that there’s no help.

        It used to be known as “personal responsibility”

  18. Otto Warmbier’s Deadly Ordeal Is No Reason to Restrict Travel to North Korea

    Of course not. Instead, his ordeal and fate should be a precautionary tale for anyone who is thinking of traveling to North Korea, a place where the regime is actively seeking to turn visitors into hostages.

    1. Hostages that they will kill should the hostage situation fail to achieve it’s desired results.

      Because that is what this was, an upping of the ante.

  19. And now the Trump administration is considering heading off any future such misadventures by banning Americans from traveling to North Korea. For our own good, it claims.

    Or for the good of international relations and national security when you have a country that routinely kidnaps and detains foreigners to use as bargaining chips in negotiations and to exact ransom. Not to mention the fact that tour groups provide further financing of the regime.

  20. Speaking of taking chances…

    It is entirely possible that there is a close member of Otto’s family who does not take kindly to anyone accepting the North Korean version of events. Someone who just maybe could get more than a little violent towards anyone willing to pimp the North Korean version.

    Not to say that any sort of violent action would be remotely justified, just to note that it is a foreseeable risk. A risk that someone might find to be a low-reward, high risk undertaking suitable for tales told later in life. If he lived that long.

    But, either way, it certainly is no reason to ban such an endeavor. We would all regret J.D. Tuccille’s untimely death?and that his gamble didn’t pay off and he didn’t gain a great story to tell. And we should leave the way clear for others so inclined to take similar chances in the future.

  21. It may not be a reason for the government to ban travel to North Korea, but it’s certainly a reason for the government to refuse to do anything to help anyone who is foolish enough to go there and get into trouble. It’s also a very good reason to decide to do your traveling somewhere else.

  22. The State shouldn’t restrict travel to North Korea. Only idiots would be going there and dying anyway. If you can’t see that, by all means, head on down.

  23. I note that we also can’t know he was killed by NK, just as we can’t actually know the tried to steal a poster.
    And the reason we can’t know if it was murder, suicide, or incompetence is precisely the same reason we can’t trust the claim that he was stealing the poster; it all happened under NK’s control.

    But, it could very well be that NK was trying to treat him “nicely” (for a hostage) rather than as a suicide risk, he despaired of ever getting released, and he attempted (and after a delay, succeeded) at killing himself. The brain damage was likely caused by cardiopulmonary arrest according to US doctors, and there are any number of was to self-inflict that. That would still be NK’s responsibility, since it would have happened to him in their custody and because of his captivity, but they wouldn’t have actually killed him.

  24. This is ridiculous. You should be on your own if you travel to a foreign country and get in trouble. We should never send in the marines to help. Travel at your own risk. Period.

  25. I’ve been to North Korea (2008) and it was well worth the time and money and risk. Plus I got a million hit YouTube video out of it (Hot North Korean Woman Has Her Eye On You).

    Otto didn’t steal anything. He stepped into a non-tourist area behind a reception desk on a floor all tourists have access to, he removed a poster from the wall (calling it a propaganda poster, as if it is somehow different from every US Marines recruiting poster, adds nothing to our understanding of the event), he looked at the back of it, and he set the poster down on the floor.

    Shit happens. It happened to Otto. In North Korea. Some North Koreans probably kept their jobs because of their actions doing what they thought their bosses wanted them to do, a few might have lost theirs for screwing up and letting Otto die.

    Yes North Korea would be a shitty place to be born, but for those of us who were lucky enough to be born in the United State instead the idea that our government should have anything at all to say as to what we do after we leave our borders is absurd.

    It’s my life. It’s not news if shit happens to me.

  26. “Otto Warmbier…”

    … is surely not the only American tourist to set foot in North Korea. What’s to stop our reporter from using his telephone to contact some of these others who’ve managed to return from North Korea and live to tell the tale, and let them tell it? Journalists call this an interview.

  27. Who. The. Fuck. Would Want. To Travel. To North. Fucking. Korea.
    Otto, RIP. We should bomb the living fuck out of those stupid fucking slopes.

    1. The Korean war wasn’t particularly a nice one. Chinese and Russians were strongly supporting NK and supplying its army. I think it would be a mistake to bomb them.

  28. These comments were very helpful for me.
    I want to point out 2 aspects of the issue:
    1. It would be wrong to ban the travel, from many points of view, but mainly because the US does not and/or should not restrict, any freedoms.
    2. However, the US and especially the government often faces public backlash for hostage situations.

    The best solution I think would be to ask all citizens embarking for North Korea to sign a kind of affidavit that they understand the danger of the situation. It could also include a quiz where for example one would be asked if she knows about the Otto Warmbier case.

  29. Except in none of those cases did the people and states they snuck into derive direct political and propaganda benefit from those adventures in fact few of them ever knew they were being used at all. The DPRK though gets to portray itself as something it is not with every one of these ‘adventurers’

  30. I think that there is a difference between the explorations of Richard Burton and nowadays Otto Warmbier’s tragic story. At the time of Burton’s travels, the impact of him being identified would have lead to his death and that would most likely have been the end of the story. Nowadays, with the means of communications, we know – nearly – everything (of we think we do). A citizen captured in a foreign country – and those like North Korea, can be used as human shields to blackmail governments. We must be aware of the risks we may encounter by visiting unfriendly places, and the consequence on those who will follow. In the current age, there is nothing heroic in challenging the cruel reality of world politics. Citizens are not above that. The passport we own, the color or our skins, our beliefs (faith/religion), and sexual orientation DO govern the locations we may or should not visit. It shouldn’t be like this. But it is reality. Transgressing those thin lines may lead to death, as we were sadly reminded this week. Otto Warmbier took a risk and he did not deserve what happened to him. One can only ask: even if he had comeback to tell his story, would it have been worthy ?

  31. Was the risk worth the reward?

    Wouldn’t a normal person ask whether the reward is worth the risk?

  32. Dear Lord! I have subscribed to Reason every year since I was a junior in college. In 1977. I now renew sometimes 5 years at a time. I gift subscriptions to everyone I know. I have almost never disagreed with an editorial — they were always thought provoking and original. Mind opening, But this piece on Otto Warmbier is deeply offensive to me. To compare a 22 yr old from 2017, with all the cultural rot he has grown up with, to other historic figures is insane. And any sentence that begins with “while his death was tragic” is complete bullshit. This whole article smacks of a nasty anti-UVA frat boy assumption which is precisely the opposite reason I have been a long time subscriber, in-box reciever, etc. to Reason. I am honestly heart broken that this piece was posted. Also nauseated — makes me want to puke. So not up to the long held Reason standards.

    Hey Nick — stop glamming around in your leather jacket and pay attention to your magazine.

  33. DHaze, you are a bit emotional.
    Two things I want to note:
    1. The comparation with other historic figures is on the motivational level. It’s about the adrenaline one gets when it engages in an adventure. And here I also want to answer to another critique above: no, a normal person doesn’t ask weather the reward is worth the risk, but it does it internally, subconsciously, when one feels the drive of adrenaline.
    2. His death was tragic. On the other hand that doesn’t have to stop us thinking about what happened. That is the meaning of the ‘while his death was tragic’, at least in my humble opinion.
    This is my opinion, it is not an absolute truth.

  34. And, hey, to the webmasters of this site, why can I not edit my comment once it has been posted? That is a standard feature in online forums!

  35. I went to North Korea in April/May.

    I’m an American citizen. I used the same agency as Otto.

    Many commenters have asked for proof he did steal that poster. Well, 8000 westerns per year visit North Korea. That include about 1000 Americans. Virtually none experience problems – myself included. So either Otto had extremely bad luck or he did steal that poster. Occam’s razor leads me to believe the latter.

    The State Department Travel Warning says nothing about ARBITRARY detention. Which leads me to believe the US government believes the North Korean story as well.

    I don’t consider myself a huge risk taker. However, my background is in finance, which lends me towards a more quantitative and actuarial view of risk.

    When you’re over there, the North Koreans don’t assume you know their laws. They’ll let you get away with a fair amount of stupid shit – for proof look at YouTube videos of North Korean tourist hijinks – because they know tourists do stupid shit. However, they do expect you know ‘thou shalt not murder’ and ‘thou shalt not steal’, and laws any other civilized society has.

    When I was over there, I asked them about Otto. What they said is that he stole the propaganda poster that said “The memory of Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-il will always be with us”. That’s an extremely sacred poster to them – it’s in every village in North Korea.

    Like Iran, North Korea is a theocracy. It’s just their religion is the Kim Dynasty. That informed my actions in North Korea.

    1. Occam’s razor leads me to believe that anything significant that happens to an American in North Korea happens because Poofy Head Jr. wanted it to be so.

      Beyond that, I do not think the principle can shed much light on what exactly Poofy Head Jr. wants.

      Never been to North Korea, but have been to both China and Viet Nam. That pretty much everyone is versed in the approved party line story does not convince me that any of it is true. More so the rote repetitive nature of their telling tells me the opposite.

    2. The video is of a human being, but that’s as much as I am willing to conclude. Warmbier’s confession is logically absurd, and key details have been denied by the relevant parties. The banner said “Let us arm ourselves with Kim Jong iL patriotism.” How did Warmbier even know what it said? I am sorry, but I cannot make his confession work, and the idea that he took it as a spur-of-the-moment decision is only somewhat less implausible.

  36. I agree – there’s no reason to improve the USA’s DNA via Darwin award adventure tours. It’s especially useful for liberals and progressives. Living there for a month would do wonders for a socialist’s education, that is if they don’t win a Darwin award first.

  37. Kim Jong Un wants to increase tourism: restricting travel is probably our best option in terms of a diplomatic response.

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