But as you grow older, you begrudgingly realize those rules are there for a reason — they’re there to keep you safe.
You realize your parents warned you not to play with fire not because they were out to ruin your fun, but because they were trying to protect you. That they had you wear a helmet not because they were overprotective, but because they were precautious.
Look both ways before crossing. Stop at a red light. Lock the front door when you leave the house. Sure, you can choose to break these rules, but only at your own peril. And if a child can understand these fundamental principles of life and death, then Otto Warmbier should have been able to as well.
First, we can all agree that North Korea and its leadership are absolutely deranged and unhinged and their sentencing and treatment of Warmbier, and all of their political prisoners, reprehensible. But here’s the thing, everyone knows that, including Otto Warmbier. Yet he made his decision anyway.
Do I believe he should have been arrested? No. Do I believe he should have been imprisoned? No. Do I believe he deserves to be in a coma? Of course not. My heart breaks for Otto, his family, and everyone affected by this tragedy. But while Otto may not deserve any of this, he set himself up for all of it.
As a University of Virginia student, it goes without saying that Otto is a wildly intelligent young man. And as an assumedly intelligent man, you have to assume he did his research on the United States, North Korea, and traveling between the two. And while doing that research, you have to imagine he made his way to the State Departments official statement on travel to North Korea, a statement which opens as follows:
“The Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens not to travel to North Korea/the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). U.S. citizens in the DPRK are at serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement. This system imposes unduly harsh sentences for actions that would not be considered crimes in the United States and threatens U.S. citizen detainees with being treated in accordance with “wartime law of the DPRK.” Since the United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea, the U.S. government has no means to provide normal consular services to U.S. citizens in North Korea.”
Even without the US State Department’s official statement on traveling to North Korea, every adult in this country is acutely aware of the threat North Korea poses, especially when you’re alone on their turf.
And despite all of this, Otto not only chose to take the trip, but to try and bring something back with him. I have made an infinite amount of poor decisions in my life, some so moronic I can’t even share them on the internet, but I have never made a single decision that would put my life in harm’s way. Otto Warmbier made a choice knowing the potential consequences could result in both the loss of his own freedom and his own life, and that’s exactly what happened.
Don’t play with fire. Look both ways before crossing. Don’t travel to North Korea: you can choose to ignore these rules, but you are putting your own life in peril by doing so.
My heart, prayers, and best wishes go out to Warmbier and his family.