One of the recurring narratives I consistently encounter when researching narco violence is the constant but why did he have to kill my…. This is followed with, but my, whatever, was not a drug dealer, or my whatever does not do drugs. But if you look closer at the family unit, you start to see the linkages into the drug cartels. Sometimes, the links are not so apparent, but as you look closer, you notice that a family member, maybe an uncle, is doing business with the drug lords. Or, simply, business owners are looking the other way when the drug lords spend ill-gotten money at their establishments. While the money is rolling in, everyone conveniently looks the other way, but when the bullets start to fly, everyone demands that the authorities do something. Blaming others for personal choices that people make has become the rule, rather than the exception.
Last week, Otto Warmbier was transferred from North Korea back to his country, the United States. Warmbier arrived back in the U.S. in a coma he suffered from unknown reasons. In 2016, Warmbier was jailed by North Korea for stealing a propaganda poster from the hotel he was staying at. He was arrested at the airport before his flight out of North Korea. Sentenced to 15 years, Warmbier was released in a comatose state last week.
There is no doubt that North Korea is a rogue state. There is also no doubt that North Korean officials do not follow the standards of fairness and basic humanity that most of us believe are essential rights for all human beings. And therein lies the problem. Because Warmbier is a U.S. citizen, the news media from many parts of the world, and many government officials have taken up his case to illustrate the horrors of North Korea.
The issue is that Otto Warmbier made a conscious decision to travel to an authoritarian country whose standards of fairness and governance are not acceptable to most of us. Warmbier went for a visit and, unfortunately, returned in a comatose state after likely being severely beaten. But Otto Warmbier wasn’t arrested just because some North Korean official wanted to make a name for themselves. Warmbier was arrested for tearing off a poster from the wall of the hotel he was staying at. Not only did Warmbier travel to a country the United States specifically tells its citizens not to travel to, but he also committed a crime, however small, while there.
Otto Warmbier does not deserve what he suffered, but neither should the decisions he made that led him down his path be ignored. While most are decrying what happened to him, many aren’t asking the simple question of what about the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of North Koreans who suffer each day. Very few of them, if any, made the decision to be born in North Korea and to suffer under that regime.
Therefore, the question that begs to be asked, at what point are individuals expected to be responsible for their own decisions. If you are outraged by what happened to Warmbier, you should be more outraged by what happens to hundreds of thousands of North Koreans day in and day out. Warmbier had the luxury of making the decision that put him in his predicament. How many North Koreans have that luxury? It may not be proper to put it in these terms, but it is the reality that it must be discussed under.