I've heard some people say that Americans once upon a time wouldn't have stood for the way North Korea has dealt with the two Korean-American reporters who allegedly strayed across the border into the Communist autocracy. The women have just been sentenced to twelve years in a labor camp for what is vaguely described as a "grave crime" or "hostility toward the North Korean people." Observers suspect that the women are, in effect, hostages to be offered their freedom in return for concessions to the Kim Jong Il regime by the U.S. government or the international community. If so, that's bound to make their plight even less acceptable to our more bellicose citizens.
By now, many Americans probably hold Kim Jong Il in no higher regard than Teddy Roosevelt held the Moroccan Raisuli (of Wind and the Lion fame) who kidnapped an American family in the early 1900s. Then, the demand was "Pedicaris alive or Raisuli dead." Such talk might still be permissible today to the extent that the Raisuli was a bandit, but Americans have too often extended the principle to the effect that they deny fellow citizens' accountability to some foreign governments. In the days of imperialism, the great powers exacted concessions from weaker states requiring that nationals from the powers not be tried in the weaker states' courts for crimes allegedly committed in those countries. The accountability of American soldiers in countries where the U.S. has bases is still a subject of controversy. An international rule of law should leave no ambiguity. Offenders should be accountable to the countries whose laws they violated. Any deviance from that standard is unjustified privilege. Except for the dubious vagueness of the charges against the American reporters, I would say that the same standard should apply even in North Korea. In any event, Kim Jong Il should not be allowed to enjoy the benefit of hostages. President Obama has expressed growing frustration with Kim's atomic antics, and goes so far as to say that George W. "Axis of Evil" Bush was too soft on the tyrant. If he plans to play hardball with Kim, however, he had better prepare his people to regard those two reporters as dead already.