By CAROL LI
Sometimes one mistake is all it takes. When 22 year old Otto Warmbier made the conscious decision to tear a North Korean propaganda poster off the wall of his hotel, he locked his fate up and threw away the key. About seventeen months later, he was dead.
Warmbier’s story is sad, depressing even. But rather than take this tragedy as an opportunity to wallow in pity for the unfortunate, one would do better to see it as a cautionary tale. As cruel as it seems, passing lax judgment on the issue is far from beneficial as the nation moves forward. As more and more American citizens willingly plop themselves in the middle of danger, in countries like North Korea and Afghanistan, one important question begins to emerge: Exactly how much responsibility do we have as a nation to constantly bail citizens out?
When citizens are captured, the government negotiates with the other country by attempting to come to an agreement. The government tries to avoid paying ransoms by using prisoners as currency instead.
Even though this may not cost the government financially, it still takes time and effort to come to consensus with different nations. These additional problems could be avoided if people were more cautious when traveling to dangerous destinations, or completely demolished if they didn’t travel there in the first place.
To put it frankly, Otto Warmbier traveled to North Korea, a country notorious for its strict policies, and knowingly violated one of their established rules. When you look at it this way, some may argue perhaps it shouldn’t be the U.S government’s job to clean up after the rash actions of its citizens. Although the government’s job is to protect its citizens, sometimes, we the people make it difficult for them to do so.
Examining another case brings about much of the same things to light. On October 12, 2017, a Canadian-American family was rescued after five years of being held captive by the Haqqani network, a terrorist organization. Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle were on a backpacking trip that led them to northern Afghanistan, where they were abducted and lived a cruel existence before rescue.
Although the government has since rescued the family, the issue raises some questions as to why Coleman and Boyle traveled to Afghanistan when the media has consistently emphasized its dangers.
As American citizens, it’s a given that they and those in similar situations should receive all the resources our country can offer to maintain the people’s safety. Nevertheless, Warmbier, Coleman and Boyle should serve as case studies of risking too much with far too little heed for clear danger.
Understandably, citizens may travel for humanitarian reasons or even for work related assignments. However, touring the lands the government has deemed time and time again as incomprehensibly dangerous purely for entertainment should be more strongly regulated.
More than 50 million people travel to developing nations a year. As a whole, it is a tricky issue. To outright ban people from travelling as they please is akin to a less extreme form of indecent imprisonment and ultimately an infringement on the intrinsic rights we all hold as citizens of the United States.
Nevertheless, as American citizens, it is our duty to exert responsibility and rationality when necessary. When you book your ticket to Syria or ISIS controlled Iraq, consider the danger you put yourself in over the “unparalleled” experience you can brag about to your friends at the next dinner party.
To be clear, Warmbier’s story is absolutely not to be condemned. Neither are Coleman’s and Boyle’s. But think twice before you act. Coupled with restraint, it may truly be a most difficult task to accomplish. However, rather than maintain the consistent self centered, unaware attitude we have grown to accustomed to today, apply the following instead.
“Ask not what you country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” -John F. Kennedy.