Saturday, July 3, 2010

Eating With The Enemy: How I Waged Peace With North Korea From My BBQ Shack in Hackensack / by Robert Egan and Kurt Pitzer

"I just called them up." (p. 12)
Robert Egan began life unextraordinarily enough. Raised in a "mobbed-up" working class part of northern New Jersey, he dropped out of high school in the mid-1970's, spent a few years working construction, building roofs and getting by with various odd jobs. One thing which had always interested him was war, the Vietnam War especially (Egan had intended to sign up as soon as he was old enough, but the war ended before then) and the detainment of American POW's after the war was over. After hanging out at a few local POW/MIA gatherings, in which participants staged protests, and perceiving that very little was actually being done, Egan decided to get in touch with those responsible for still detaining hostages. So, one day, he called the Vietnamese delegates at the UN (Vietnam had no direct diplomatic relations with the US at the time) and began an informal relationship.
The Vietnamese, thinking him a plant by the American secret service, reciprocated Egan's outreach and modestly accommodated his unsolicited, non-tactical approach (Egan kept quiet about the POW's for a time). Before long, the two parties were on genuinely friendly terms, several of the delegates even frequenting Egan's newly opened Bar-B-Que stand in Hackensack where the relationship gradually built into something of a purely deformalized spot for discrete political talks. The following years went smoothly between Egan and his friendly patrons, and one day, in the early nineties, he was introduced to several North Korean officials who were in a mood to improve their country's relations with the US. An obliging Egan was soon introduced to the country's UN ambassador, Han Song Ryol, and over the next few years the two would remain in close contact, exchanging information and steadily relaying it to their requisite parties--Egan (now an informant for the FBI) to the Americans and Han to the North Koreans.
Things remained on a virtuously casual basis with Egan actually chaperoning the visiting North Korean athetes during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, and being inolved on a uniquely intimate level with the controversial nation until the government politely intervened, putting a stop to the friendship between "Pyongyong Bobby" Egan and Han. This story is as implausible, inconceivable and thoroughly unconventional as it gets. And yet it's all true. And it's more than just a really, really wierd story. Egan's ability to engage in foreign policy at a grass roots level and establish communication with an enemy nation is a remarkable fable on the effectiveness one individual can have. (B EGAN)

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