North Korea loves to bark out threats, upside-down history lessons and untenable orders via the megaphone-media-mouthpiece known as the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). It especially loves to do so on, or around, significant anniversary dates. The minions of KCNA most likely have a tattered, annotated Almanac to go along with those old 1960s Korean-English dictionaries that they seem to rely upon for their day-late missive translations.
And so it was that on Thursday, June 24th, on the cusp of the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War (June 25th), the Hermit Kingdom announced that because U.S. led efforts to rebuke the country over the Cheonan sinking “had gone over the tolerance limit,” it was contemplating treating American detainee Aijalon Mahli Gomes as a prisoner of war. As such, it has threatened to mete out “harsher punishment” beyond the eight years of hard labor and six-figure fines already handed out.
Gomes is caught up in a tragically real Korean Peninsula version of the 1959 Peter Sellers film The Mouse That Roared. A nation still technically at war with its neighbor to the south sporadically acts out far beyond the realm of a paper-thin armistice, but gets completely bent out of shape when that neighbor and its major ally decide to hold it accountable for its ongoing acts of war.
Last year, Laura Ling and Euna Lee were caught in the middle of this dance, played out to missile tests and an underground nuclear explosion. This spring, because of a disastrous currency re-denomination and a desire by North Korea to misdirect population anger around the idea that the March 26th naval attack is a western conspiracy, the tempo is much louder. Predictably, the U.S. quickly dismissed the June 24th KCNA communique, asking once again that Gomes be released on humanitarian grounds.
The case of Gomes has a potentially troublesome and heretofore unreported added dimension. A fellow writer who interviewed some of his teaching colleagues in South Korea says they conveyed the impression that “Gomes very likely fled the United States because of personal sexual orientation issues… It appears that he left the U.S. to get away from family conflicts he was having over these issues.”