Monday, June 1, 2020

⚒ North Korea & The Short Life of Otto Warmbier ⚒

Otto Warmbier was an American man who went on a daring trip to North Korea back in 2016. North Korea is a very hostile country and relations with them are always extremely tense. They censor their people to the extreme. It's truly like the entire country is a giant cult.

The rules when going to North Korea is that you are not allowed to bring almost anything. They control everything, including what you’re allowed to see. Absolutely no cell phones, no computers, no printed material, no music, no camera that is too sophisticated, nothing. When people go to North Korea like Otto did, they are forced to watch these propaganda videos saying how horrible the US is and showing how much food North Korea has. They are extremely Anti-American.

North Koreas "Great Leader" Kim Jong-Un
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Occasionally, North Korea allows some US citizens to come in, although they are extremely choosy about who they let in and it's all pretty much to shove propaganda down their throats and try to make it seem like the people in North Korea are doing well. They control everything and you only get to see what they want you to see. It's truly bizarre. There are videos you can watch of North Korean kids performing and singing songs and the whole thing is so rehearsed and not natural at all.

North Korea broadcasts these videos showing how the people worship their great leader and they show videos of people crying and cheering when they see him but the whole thing is very off and extremely fake. When Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il died in 2011 the entire nation was shown crying and weeping in a huge display of overwhelming grief. That would obviously never happen in a country where people are free to have their own opinion. In North Korea you can be imprisoned and tortured for minor trifles, like not mourning the death of their great leader enough. People are sent to a kwan-li-so for being related to someone who displeased the state, or they face a kangaroo court trial and possible public execution for a long list of political or economic "crimes."

(photo credit: The New York Times)

North Korea as a whole is a very very poor country and their people are literally starving. Many many people try to flee north to China at extreme risk to themselves and their families. When anyone comes to North Korea to film things for documentary reasons they are only shown what the state wants them to see and a lot of the homelessness and poverty goes undocumented.

There is this really funny (but also very sad and horrible) video where North Korea literally faked showing their people doing google searches. This documentary team went to this school or library and showed this group of students sitting at computers where they were just sitting and staring at the computers and not even touching it. There was only one man there who looked like he even knew how to use a computer and of course that was the one man that they wanted them to meet.

This North Korean man was filmed just sitting and staring at the google page. He never even touched the computer.
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These people are SO controlled it's actually hard to fathom. Their entire reality is warped and people who have gone there have said that it’s like walking around in a real life Truman Show.

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This is the story of Otto Warmbier. Honestly I’m shocked and a little disgusted at how little coverage this story got and the fact that it got swept under the rug so quickly. Otto was a 21 year old man from Cincinnati who went on a daring trip to North Korea in 2015. He was taken by the North Korean authorities for allegedly trying to steal a poster of their great leader and was sentenced to 15 years hard labor. Otto was released by North Korean authorities in 2017 and sent back to the United States in a deep coma which he never came out of. He died on June 19th, 2017 at the age of 22.

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Otto was born on December 12th of 1994. His parents are Fred and Cindy and he has two other siblings, Austin and Greta.

Otto was a very smart individual with some of the highest grades in his school. People describe him as being enthusiastic, energetic, and eager to learn. He was Prom King, an athlete, and he even gave a speech at graduation. He was very well-known in his area and very well liked. Everyone who knew him really liked him and he was just kind of a zany guy with a weird sense of style. He wasn’t the type to be super into himself and he was just a super down to earth, solid type of guy.

After high school Otto enrolled in the University of Virginia and was double majoring in commerce and economics. He was also very interested in international relation/studies, and had a minor in global sustainability. Otto really liked to travel and he had actually already been to quite a few countries. His friends said that he was very daring and that he wasn’t afraid of anything. He really searched for that adventure in life. In 2015, Otto signed up to do a trip to North Korea because that was just the kind of adventurer he was. 

Otto speaking at his highschool graduation.
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Otto signed up through this group called Young Pioneer Tours and this tour group really advertised themselves as “places your mother doesn’t want you to go.” Meaning that these were dangerous trips. Specifically on the North Korea trips they really advertised how wild and fun it is. They made it seem like the hotel was super nice and that you were gonna have a really fun time in North Korea. (“fun time in North Korea” I know right?)

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North Korea is extremely dangerous and they HATE Americans. They literally sing songs and have posters up everywhere that say things like “Death to America.” It’s obviously not the people's fault that it’s like that because they’re brainwashed to hate Americans but still… it’s not a good place for an American to be. But Otto was fearless and wasn’t scared. He really was just looking for a cool adventure.

So Otto went with this tour along with 10 other Americans and he didn’t know anyone else on the trip personally when they left. The tour he signed up for was a 5 day tour around New Years Eve. They were shown a bunch of cool places around Pyongyang and were staying in this super nice hotel. Pyongyang is pretty much where all of the nation's money goes to make it look super nice for when other nations come to visit. It’s all part of the illusion that their country is “powerful” and “strong.”

Whenever North Korea has visitors from other countries they all stay in this super nice hotel that is literally built on an island and where your every move is watched. The thing that is super weird about this hotel is that there is allegedly this 5th floor where guests are not allowed to go to. No one really knows what's going on on this 5th floor, people speculate that it’s probably where the North Koreans keep an eye on their guests. The elevator in the hotel even skips the 5th floor.

Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang North Korea
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Otto, being this adventurous kind of guy allegedly wanted to go to the 5th floor. There’s actually been some reports of some tourists who have come and stayed in that hotel, and have gone to the 5th floor before. There is even a blog post written by one of those tourists that talks about the 5th floor and she even has pictures and video of it. Apparently on this floor there is just a ton of Anti-American propaganda and Pro-North Korean posters. There’s some stuff online about it and it kind of seems like going to the 5th floor was just kind of a tour thing that a lot of people did.

Allegedly, Otto and his tour group were celebrating New Years Eve and after celebrating and drinking in Kim song-il square, they decided to go to the 5th floor. Which is SUPER ballsy and something you probably shouldn’t do. North Korea is super serious about rules and punishment and many people speculate that maybe he had been drinking and just wasn’t thinking straight. However his friends on the trip say he never removed the poster from the hotel and that he was in bed on the night of the alleged theft. Otto was a smart individual and he knew how serious North Korea was, he wouldn’t have risked his life to steal a poster.

North Korea claims that Otto and a couple other people went to the 5th floor and that Otto stole a poster off the wall. There is video footage that North Korea claims is Otto that shows him taking and rolling up a poster with an image of their great leader on it. Now North Korea is CRAZY obviously and they have insane rules about the image of their great leader. You cannot fold, roll, or mess with the image of their leader at all. It’s a serious crime to do anything to his image.

Alleged video of Otto taking a propiganda poster. 
(photo credit: twitter)

The video of “Otto” has been under a lot of scrutiny. North Korea doesn’t have any fair kind of justice system and it’s all pretty just a Kangaroo Court. In the video it’s not really clear that it’s even Otto, for all we know it could have been staged by North Korea (which it probably was). We really just don’t have any facts and North Korea can, and does lie to the US (and the rest of the world) frequently. Many people think that he never even went to the 5th floor and that North Korea just accused him so they would have an American Prisoner.

As the tour group was about to leave Otto was taken by North Korean authorities and that was the last time anyone would ever see him. At first his tour group didn’t think anything was wrong but as the plane was boarding he never showed back up. When the plane was closing up the tour group started freaking out and demanded to know where he was. The North Korean authorities told them that Otto was sick and that he couldn’t get on the plane. His tour group knew this was a lie because they had just been with him but they had no choice and were forced to leave without him.

North Korea doesn’t really have a justice system. If you are accused of a crime you’re forced to confess even if you didn’t do it.They do these super fake trials to make it seem like they have a trial system but none of it is real. They give statements for the defendants to read and they have act exactly how they want you to act. Otto was forced to do one of these “trials” and “confessions.” The North Korean authorities televised this and there are videos you can watch of it although I will say that it is extremely disturbing.

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In his “confession” the values highlighted are on par with Confucian values. The language, vocabulary, and body language used are exactly the same as many of the North Korean reporters. He was forced to say things like “I can’t believe I was fooled by the American government,” and “I have come to realize how the US Administration has lied to its people so that they can overthrow the DPR Korea.”

Otto was found guilty of his crimes and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. North Korea has these labor camps which are basically concentration camps similar to what the Nazi’s had in WW2. Some of these camps are huge, one is the size of New York City, another is the size of Washington DC. No one really knows what really goes on in these camps. Some Americans have been held prisoner in these but their reports vary a lot. Some say that it wasn’t that bad and some say that they were starved, beaten and tortured.

Some said that people would catch frogs and rats and eat them raw because they were starving so bad. Some prisoners have been able to escape and tell their stories. There's even a book out by a man who escaped called Escape from Camp 14. He is known to be the only person to escape from a "total-control zone" grade internment camp in North Korea.The prisoners there are forced to do hard labor and are barely fed. They’re tortured, beaten, and are treated as inhuman. 

Satellite image of one of North Koreas labor camps. 
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Otto’s sentence officially started in January of 2016. His family tried everything they could to get him back but it was super super difficult and they were basically told to stay quiet because “you don’t wanna upset the North Koreans.” And honestly…. The US government really didn’t do anything to help get him back. They might have done some things behind the scenes but it really seemed like nothing was being done to try and get him home.

In 2017, North Korea finally admitted that Otto was in a coma. Nobody knows how this happened. Specialists who have looked at him think that this happened to him just weeks after he was sentenced. Meaning Otto had been in a coma for over a year. They think that his coma was not caused by any head trauma because his brain tissue was damaged throughout his whole head. Specialists think that it was from lack of oxygen. Some people think that the North Koreans did as a torture but some people actually think that Otto tried to commit suicide right after his sentence so that he would die in North Korea and cause a lot of problems with the government. No one really knows how this happened and we probably will never know. 

Otto after he was sentenced.
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North Korea finally released Otto “on humanitarian grounds” but that's total bullshit because if they actually cared about being humanitarian they would have released him as soon as he went into a coma. US authorities think that North Korea just didn’t want him to die while in their possession and that the only reason they gave him up was because they knew that he was close to dying.

In June of 2017 he was officially released by North Korean authorities and flown home to the US. His friends and family weren’t really aware of the severity of his condition so when his plane landed they were all really excited to see him again. However his severe condition became clear when he carried him off the plane. He was limp, unconscious and when doctors took a look at him it was clear that he had no chance of survival. On June 19th of 2017 Otto was taken off life support and passed away a short time later.

Otto being carried off the plane after his release from North Korea. 
(photo credit: The New York Times)

Truthfully I don’t really have a good ending to this story. Nothing was really done to get justice for Otto and his story was swept under the rug really quickly. I feel like his story deserved to be told and shared and it’s something we shouldn’t forget.

It’s fun to talk about conspiracies and speculate but this shit is real. This government is real. We read books about dystopian or futuristic societies being mentally controlled and heavily censored but this is REAL and happening right now. 

Ottos parents, Cindy and Fred Warmbier. 
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May Otto rest in peace. So much potential for such a short lived life.

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