ZUSHA ELINSON in San Francisco And
JONATHAN CHENG in Seoul
Updated Nov. 21, 2013 10:20 a.m. ET
Merrill Newman of Palo Alto, California was travelling in North Korea on a ten day trip with a friend and was detained by authorities as he was trying to return to the US on October 26. Newman, 85, is a veteran of the Korean War and according to his son Jeff Newman has always wanted to visit North Korea. The detention further complicates the fragile relationship between the US and North Korea and coincides with a trip two US diplomats to North Korea have taken to the region to attempt to restart talks with North Korea to persuade the country to abandon its nuclear weapons program, and to work for the release of Kenneth Bae, another US citizen who has been held in North Korea for more than a year. The Korean War remains a sore spot for Pyongyang, and the speculation is that Newman’s status as a Korean War Veteran is the motivation for the detention. The regime of Kim Jong Un still uses the Korean War (1950-1953) to bolster their legitimacy. Last week, the US State Department issued new travel warnings for North Korea, and the US envoy to North Korea sees the detention as “an indication that North Korea seems not [to] be seeking a better relationship with the United States.” Bong Youngshik, director of a think tank in Seoul, said that the detention could exhaust what little goodwill Pyongyang has left with the US and China. Newman has a heart condition controlled by medication which he only had enough with him to last a couple of days longer than the trip. More medication has been delivered to North Korean officials, but it’s uncertain if it was delivered to Newman. Newman’s son said that the State Department has been involved since the beginning of his detention, but he has received no information as to the reason and has not spoken to his father.
According to the article the Korean War, which the nation refers to as the Fatherland Liberation War, is something still used by the leadership to gin up nationalism and loyalty to the regime. The article also claims that sometime prior to the flight he was removed from, Korean authorities summoned Mr. Newman to discuss his military service. It seems pretty obvious that Newman was detained as a way to punish him, the West, and the US for the Korean War. While I agree that Mr. Newman has the right to travel as he wishes, I really question the judgment of anyone travelling (outside of charitable concerns) to a nation such as North Korea. Seriously, just go somewhere else.