I use the scare quotes in the headlines for a good reason. Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran, flew a month ago to North Korea to visit some of the scenes of his service — and was unexpectedly arrested by authorities after he boarded his flight to leave. For three weeks, no one heard from Newman or Pyongyang about his case, but yesterday Newman appeared on North Korean television reading an “apology” for his supposed “war crimes,” which Pyongyang says includes the deliberate murder of civilians and espionage:
The New York Daily News has more today:
In the patchy video, Newman appears composed and is shown reading aloud from a handwritten statement dated Nov 9, 2013 in a wood-paneled meeting room. At the end, he bows and places a finger print on the document.
“I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives (offenses) but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives (offenses) sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people and I want not punish me (I wish not to be punished),” Newman, who has a heart rhythm disorder, was quoted as saying by KCNA.
The apology for his “indelible crimes” was actually made on November 9th, which raises the question of what has happened to him since. NBC’s Eunice Yoon suggests that the apology might make it easier for the North Koreans to release him, but that still raises the question of why they arrested him in the first place. Other American veterans have gone to North Korea without incident. State-run KCNA claims that Newman worked with the partisans rather than regular forces, which might be one reason, but that was still 60 years ago — even if it is true:
Newman belonged to the 8240th Unit, nicknamed the ‘White Tigers’, said guerrillas who were trained by him.
“We co-operated and helped with each other and fought,” Kim Hyeon who lives south of Seoul said in an interview with Reuters. Hyeon remained in touch with Newman after the war and visited him with his family in 2004.
“In the past we couldn’t even speak up (about our activities,)” said Kim, who served as a staff officer of the Kuwol Regiment of partisans, referring to the clandestine operations it conducted under Newman’s supervision.
So why go back? My father was a soldier in the Korean War and is fortunately hale and healthy at 81. Based on our few conversations about his experiences in the war, I doubt seriously that he’d find a trip back to the Korean peninsula a romantic adventure in any sense of the word. Given the levels of hostility between Pyongyang and Washington, the risk hardly seems worth the nostalgic value of the trip, even if others have made it without incident.
Still, this “apology” may work with propaganda-fed North Koreans, but it’s going to make Americans angry and put pressure on the Obama administration to get Newman out of the DPRK. Maybe it will convince other nostalgic veterans to stay below the 38th Parallel from now on, too.