Robin Hood, the heroic outlaw of 15th century English Folklore was a notorious thief, skilled archer and swordsman, who, with his comrades, methodically robbed rich people of England and distributed their wealth to the poor. This story of a man’s heroism against injustice, compassion for the poor, and his loyalty to his comrades has inspired children for 500 hundred years and will go on forever.
North Korean defector Park Sang-hak, 49, and his supporters, including the defectors from the North like himself, calling themselves Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK) have been helping the starving North Koreans, not by stealing from the riches of North Korea but by sending hydrogen balloons loaded with US currency, propaganda leaflets, and electronic data-storage devices full of information about the free world. An American non-profit human rights group supplies banners that read: “Kim Jong-un is afraid of the judgment of the people” or “He will be assassinated.”
Park’s exuberance and his outlandish confrontation against the regime received criticism in South Korea as “unnecessarily antagonistic and ineffective.” But he insists that the balloon campaigns are important and he has no intention to give up at any time, in spite of the fact that a North Korean assassin, disguised as a defector, was dispatched to murder him a few years earlier.
In the “Wanted” fliers, Kim’s regime had spelled out disdainful words to capture Park and end his anti-North Korean campaign once for all.
“Park Sang Hak was rescued from a slum in Japan where he was a mere vagrant and returned to the warm arms of his fatherland as a young man. But he didn’t want to work hard like his fellow North Korean comrades due to his lazy nature. He stole our historic national treasures and tried to smuggle them out of country and turn them into money but was caught by the Customs Department and found guilty of embezzlement. While serving his time in a prison, instead of showing remorse for what he had done against his motherland, he fled to South Korea.
“There, in the South, he founded an anti-North Korean group called ‘Fighters for a Free North Korea’ and launched anti-North Korean campaigns, and continues to insult our country and spit on our leader’s face. The fact that a ‘human scum’ like Park acting as leader of any kind is a laughing matter, but those who support Park’s crimes of smuggle in counterrevolutionary material to the North are unforgivable.”
According to Michael Monyhan’s account, the most recent Balloon Launching Mission took place on a Monday night in Jan 2016, in a small clearing north of the city of Paju, a few hundred yards from National Route 23, and a few miles from Park’s birth country. From where they stood, North and South Korea are separated only by the expanse of the Imjin River and the massive military force of Kim Jong-un’s personal army.
“If you didn’t know Park’s mission to send contraband material into North Korea via balloons,”Monyhan wrote, “you might probably think that he had pulled off the highway to illegally dump bags of trash.”
Finally, the hydrogen tanks were ready, and they were told to stop smoking immediately!
Todd Huffman, a technologist from San Francisco, who was recruited to offer technical advice on making Park’s launch successful and planned on gather basic data on the balloon’s flight to the North, worried that the extreme cold temperature at the moment could freeze the batteries and he might fail to see the signal after the balloon were released.
But with a deafening roar of hydrogen inflating five 36-foot long translucent balloons, followed by gleeful shouts of the members, the balloons were released, with the banners attached to them, and rapidly ascend and disappear into the darkness.
As the son of a former high-ranking official in the North who himself defected in 1999, Park, too, escaped the North with his mother, brother, and sister by crossing the Yalu River, into China. He chose a rough path of activism four years later, in 2003, after learning that his uncle in the North had been tortured to death because of their escape.
Today Park is one of the country’s most recognizable defectors, according to Monyhan.
Unlike Robin hood, who was loved and admired by the 15th century poor in England, Park Sang-hak will never hear the words of gratitude from the North Koreans he helped and will continuously help. But he doesn’t care. His determination to help his North Korean brothers and sisters he had left behind doesn’t diminish with time or with criticisms against his lofty purposes. In fact, it gets stronger everyday.