The demilitarized zone (DMZ) running along the border between North and South Korea is among the most heavily guarded frontiers in the world. The focal point of the DMZ is the Joint Security Area (JSA), in which South Korean and American soldiers guard one side and North Korean soldiers guard the other. Since the Korean War armistice, troops from both sides have occasionally traded fire during times of high tension.
Borders between poor undemocratic states and wealthy democratic ones are often sites for defections, but given the state of tension between the two Koreas, most people seeking to escape North Korea choose other routes. However, some have attempted to escape directly from the North to the South, such as one Soviet citizen in 1984. He was assigned to the Soviet Embassy in Pyongyang, and sprinted to freedom during a JSA tour (both sides offer tours of their portion of the JSA). This caused some North Korean soldiers to react, resulting in a firefight with casualties on both sides.
Recently, a North Korean soldier defected to the South by crossing the DMZ. This is the second such defection in the past year. In a more dramatic 2012 defection, a North Korean soldier defected to the South after killing both his squad leader and his platoon leader in order to escape.
Given that the North’s own soldiers would be willing to go to such desperate extremes to defect, it may seem unimaginable for an American soldier to defect to the North. But it has happened, and more than once.
Continue to the next page for the story of the last American soldier who went north.