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Amid internet riffs about Kim Jong-il looking at things (Kim Jong-un, too), and listicles such as the Funniest Evil Dictatorship Ever, it's possible to forget the atrocities that make up North Korea's system of oppression, but an Atlantic piece Wednesday provides a chilling reminder

Blaine Harden starkly relates the tale of Shin In Guen, the only person known to have escaped from a North Korean labor camp, where before he snuck through a fence and walked to China (eventually making his way to California). Shin relays the betrayal that got his mother and brother executed. After a life of torture not just at the hands of guards but his own family, Shin really doesn't seem to have understood the concepts of loyalty and compassion, as those not born and raised in a North Korean prison camp know them. He does now, and the shame of having told a guard of his mother and brother's escape plan haunts him. Harden writes:

Shin was born a slave and raised behind a high-voltage barbed-wire fence. His mother beat him, and he viewed her as a competitor for food. His father, who was allowed by guards to sleep with his mother just five nights a year, ignored him. His older brother was a stranger. Children in the camp were untrustworthy and abusive. Before he learned anything else, Shin learned to survive by snitching on all of them.

How can you not read the rest of that? You should, at The Atlantic.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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