Their names are Ted and James, and they look like the kinds of men you might bump into on the streets of Richmond, Va., where their father was born.
But they’re speaking perfect North Korean and wearing badges of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the first two leaders of North Korea, over their hearts. Oh, and the younger one, James, is a captain in the North Korean army.
They’re the Pyongyang-born sons of James Joseph Dresnok, the former American GI who defected to North Korea in 1962 when he was stationed in South Korea after the war.
And they’ve just appeared in an extraordinary video published online by Minjok Tongshin, a pro-Pyongyang news service based in the United States that runs the kind of stories that wouldn’t look out of place in North Korea’s official media.
“I want to advise the U.S. to drop its hostile policy against North Korea. They’ve done enough wrong and now it’s time for them to wake up from their delusions,” said Ted Dresnok, 36, who goes by the Korean name Hong Sun Chol. He was wearing a navy blue suit with a red Kim badge on it.
His younger brother, James, or Hong Chol, was wearing a North Korean army uniform and said he held a rank equivalent to a captain in the U.S. Army. His comments also sounded like they came out of the propaganda department.
“The American Imperialists caused the division of the Korean peninsula,” James said.
This led to a bizarre situation in which Roh Kil-nam, the ethnically Korean, naturalized U.S. citizen who runs Minjok Tongshin, asked the ethnically Caucasian, North Korean citizen brothers if they considered him among such ilk.
“No, I mean the very top leaders of the U.S.,” James clarified.
Ted and James are the sons of Dresnok, known as Joe, and a Romanian woman, Doina Bumbea, who was reportedly abducted by North Korea. Charles Jenkins, another U.S. serviceman who defected to North Korea but was allowed to leave in 2004, described Bumbea as a Romanian abductee in his memoirs and said she died of cancer in 1997.
Dresnok is then thought to have married the daughter of a North Korean woman and a Togolese diplomat, and they are said to have had a son, Tony. (North Korea is big on blood purity and generally won't allow foreigners to marry Koreans, meaning that the foreigners get matched up among themselves.)
Ted and James said that Tony was at school at the time they did the interview, which was apparently carried out in Pyongyang after the much-hyped congress of the Korean Workers’ Party this month.
All three sons, along with Dresnok’s third wife, appeared in "Crossing the Line," a British documentary about the former American and his life in North Korea. That film showed the older boys speaking English with a Korean accent.
Dresnok came from a difficult background and was going through a difficult period — his wife had left him and he was in trouble with his superiors — when he decided to cross the demilitarized zone into North Korea in 1962. He was 21.
He taught English and appeared in television shows and movies — always playing the “evil American.”
Like their father, the two sons also have appeared as Americans in North Korean dramas.
— NorthKoreaRealTime (@BuckTurgidson79) May 25, 2016
Now 75 and in poor health, Dresnok hasn’t been heard of for several years.
But his sons were apparently trotted out to extol the glories of the “socialist paradise” into which they were born. Each contact with the media is highly scripted in North Korea, but it's impossible to tell whether the men were saying what they'd been told to say or if, after spending their entire lives in North Korea, they really think this.
Here’s what they said:
Ted: He said he was born in Pyongyang on Dec. 13, 1980. “Under the generous care of Kim Jong ll,” he went to an elementary school and foreign language schools and then the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, majoring in English and Japanese.
He said he is now working at a defense education facility, part of the Workers’ Party.
He is married to 36-year-old Ri Ok, and they have a 7-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son.
James: Prompted, he said he volunteered to join the military in 2014. “Thanks to the general's hospitality, we receive gifts on every national holiday. I’m very grateful for the socialism system. Due to the worsening situation on the Korean peninsula, I decided to work for the military.”
He said he met his wife through workmates, and that they have a 6-year-old daughter.
On their father:
Ted: I heard a lot about his life. The more I hear, the more I think he chose the right path. Had he not come to North Korea, it wouldn’t have been possible for him to live as he does. He was much loved by the country and his small achievements were appreciated greatly. I think about the different life I would be living had my father been living in the U.S.
James: He was an orphan, but his misery wasn’t due to his or his family’s fault, rather it was due to American society. It’s due to policies made by the privileged in the U.S.
On their dreams:
Ted: My precious dream is to become a Workers’ Party member and pay back my gratitude to my general [Kim Jong Un]. I want to stand in a unified country by my general.
James: My lifelong dream is similar to my brother’s. I want to serve my mother country with my life and bring about the unification of the Koreas so the world will see the superiority of Kim’s Korea.
On North Korea-U.S. relations:
Ted: As Kim Jong Un said at the congress, the U.S. should sign a peace treaty with North Korea and withdraw its forces and nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula. It’s the quickest way to solve the current issue.
James: The U.S. keeps talking about the North Korean threat, but it seems that's the only way they can justify their East Asian strategy. When two kids fight, and one kid hits the other with a wooden stick, the other kid picks up a wooden stick too. When the enemy makes nuclear weapons and threatens us with them, we make nuclear weapons to defend ourselves.
Suggestions for the United States:
Ted: The U.S. wants to make a big deal out of North Korean human rights issues. We are enjoying very equal and free lives here. But look at the U.S. A white police officer shoots a black citizen in clear daylight, treating black people's lives as if they were as worthless as flies. I want to tell Americans to break away from their leaders’ mindsets and begin peace negotiations with us. That’s the only way to save yourselves.
Yoonjung Seo in Seoul contributed to this report.