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5 Americans Who Defected to North Korea

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There is an early scene in Austin Powers wherein our hero is thawed from cryogenic freeze and wakes to scientists and men in uniform. He first entered his sleep at the height of the Cold War, and is alarmed now to see a Russian officer nearby.

"Austin, the Cold War is over!" he is assured, to which Austin responds, "Finally those capitalist pigs will pay for their crimes, eh comrades?" (Sheepishly, his superior says, "Austin... we won.") In the 1960s, it was not clear that America would emerge triumphant, and Austin's mistaken assumption is understandable. For whatever reason, that scene came to mind while I was researching this list of Americans who defected to North Korea. Some of them were sold on the Communist lifestyle, some were looking for an escape from Western problems, and some were simply misled. Here are five Americans who expected the capitalist pigs to pay for their crimes, and defected to North Korea.

1. Joseph White

In 1982, an Army infantryman stationed in South Korea shot the lock of the demilitarized zone gate and slipped into the North. Joseph T. White was quickly put before cameras to denounce the "corruptness" and "hedonism" of the United States, and, if correspondence is to be believed, soon landed a job in North Korea as a schoolteacher, and was very happy there. Two years later, he drowned while fishing, and his body mysteriously disappeared.

2. Charles Robert Jenkins

On January 4, 1965, Charles Jenkins traded LBJ for Kim Il-Sung (the latter of whom, it should be noted, remains the Eternal President of the world's only necrocracy). Jenkins, it seems, was pretty worried about being transferred to the hell that was Vietnam, choosing instead the hell that is North Korea. Upon crossing the DMZ and surrendering to North Korean forces, he had hoped for a quick transfer to the Soviet Union. Thirty-nine years later, he finally left North Korea for Japan. He petitioned for a pardon by the United States, but was declined. (This was his second such rejection by a foreign power. In 1966, he slipped into the Soviet embassy and requested asylum. The Soviets would have none of that.) Unsurprisingly, Jenkins did not enjoy his time in North Korea, noting his quarantine in a crowded one-room shanty that lacked running water, the routine beatings, and the requirement to memorize the writings of Kim Il-Sung.

3. Larry Abshier

Larry Abshier crossed the border in 1962, and was cast as an Evil American in propaganda films, alongside such fellow defectors as Charles Jenkins. He became, by most accounts, a celebrity in North Korea for his body of work. Like Jenkins and the other defectors, he was forced to memorize vast swaths of Kim Il-Sung's prose. A fellow American expatriate named James Joseph Dresnok also bullied him relentlessly. (Jenkins described Abshier as "simple" and "easy to take advantage of," so much so that Abshier was nicknamed Lenny, after the character in Of Mice and Men.) Abshier married a couple of times; the North Korean government provided the women. He died in 1983, and was given a hero's burial. But not even on a headstone could the North Korean government pass on the opportunity to test the mutability of the past. Abshier's birthday is incorrect on the marker, and his birthplace is marked as "Pyongyang."

4. James Joseph Dresnok

One year before Larry Abshier arrived, James Dresnok was the new kid on the perfect incarnation of all that a block should be. He was a consummate actor—at least in his roles as Arthur, an Evil American in North Korean propaganda films. Why did he defect to the North? "I was fed up with my childhood, my marriage, my military life, everything," he said. The Army wasn't too upset about the defection. According to military records, he was "a chronic complainer" who was "lazy" and "defiant to authority." Since his defection, three government-provided women have married him, and he seems to enjoy his life in the kingdom of the Kims. In what is probably the weirdest fact in this piece, you can follow Dresnok on Twitter here.

5. Jerry Parrish

Jerry Parrish made a dash for unhappier lands on December 6, 1963. His reason is both vague and suggestive: He believed that if he returned home from his Army stint in South Korea, "his father-in-law would kill him." He spent much of the next two decades in North Korea as a teacher at the state's Reconnaissance Bureau Foreign Language College, a military school in Pyongyang. He died in 1998 of kidney problems.

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8 of the Weirdest Gallup Polls
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Born in Jefferson, Iowa on November 18, 1901, George Gallup studied journalism and psychology, focusing on how to measure readers’ interest in newspaper and magazine content. In 1935, he founded the American Institute of Public Opinion to scientifically measure public opinions on topics such as government spending, criminal justice, and presidential candidates. Although he died in 1984, The Gallup Poll continues his legacy of trying to determine and report the will of the people in an unbiased, independent way. To celebrate his day of birth, we compiled a list of some of the weirdest, funniest Gallup polls over the years.


According to this Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans have at least one paranormal belief. Specifically, 41 percent believe in extrasensory perception (ESP), 37 percent believe in haunted houses, and 21 percent believe in witches. What about channeling spirits, you might ask? Only 9 percent of Americans believe that it’s possible to channel a spirit so that it takes temporary control of one's body. Interestingly, believing in paranormal phenomena was relatively similar across people of different genders, races, ages, and education levels.


In this poll, Gallup tried to determine the popularity of heliocentric versus geocentric views. While 79 percent of Americans correctly stated that the Earth revolves around the sun, 18 percent think the sun revolves around the Earth. Three percent chose to remain indifferent, saying they had no opinion either way.


Gallup first measured anti-Mormon sentiment back in 1967, and it was still an issue in 2011, a year before Mormon Mitt Romney ran for president. Approximately 22 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, even if that candidate belonged to their preferred political party. Strangely, Americans’ bias against Mormons has remained stable since the 1960s, despite decreasing bias against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and women.


This 2010 poll amusingly confirms the stereotype that southerners are more religious than the rest of the country. Although 42 percent of all Americans attend church regularly (which Gallup defines as weekly or almost weekly), there are large variations based on geography. For example, 63 percent of people in Mississippi attend church regularly, followed by 58 percent in Alabama and 56 percent in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Utah. Rounding out the lowest levels of church attendance, on the other hand, were Vermont, where 23 percent of residents attend church regularly, New Hampshire, at 26 percent, and Maine at 27 percent.


Although 76 percent of Americans knew that the United States gained independence from Great Britain as a result of the Revolutionary War, 24 percent weren’t so sure. Two percent thought the correct answer was France, 3 percent said a different country (such as Mexico, China, or Russia), and 19 percent had no opinion. Certain groups of people who consider themselves patriotic, including men, older people, and white people (according to Gallup polls), were more likely to know that America gained its independence from Great Britain.


This Halloween-themed Gallup poll asked Americans about their habits and behavior on the last day of October. Predictably, two-thirds of Americans reported that someone in their house planned to give candy to trick-or-treaters and more than three-quarters of parents with kids reported that their kids would wear a costume. More surprisingly, 31 percent of American adults claimed to believe in ghosts, an increase from 1978, when only 11 percent of American adults admitted to a belief in ghosts.


This recent Gallup poll is funny in a sad way, as it sheds light on the tragicomic life of a millennial. In this poll, well-being is defined as having purpose, social support, manageable finances, a strong community, and good physical health. Sadly, only 5 percent of working millennials—defined as people born between 1980 and 1996—were thriving in these five indicators of well-being. To counter this lack of well-being, Gallup’s report recommends that managers promote work-life balance and improve their communication with millennial employees.


If you seem to feel more stress, sadness, anxiety, and pain than ever before, Gallup has the proof that it’s not all in your head. According to the company’s worldwide negative experience index, negative feelings such as stress, sadness, and anger have increased since 2007. Unsurprisingly, people living in war-torn, dangerous parts of the word—Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Sierra Leone—reported the highest levels of negative emotions.

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11 Times Mickey Mouse Was Banned
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Despite being one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved characters, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Mickey Mouse, who turns 89 years old today. A number of countries—and even U.S. states—have banned the cartoon rodent at one time or another for reasons both big and small.

1. In 1930, Ohio banned a cartoon called “The Shindig” because Clarabelle Cow was shown reading Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, the premier romance novelist of the time. Check it out (1:05) and let us know if you’re scandalized:

2. With movies on 10-foot screen being a relatively new thing in Romania in 1935, the government decided to ban Mickey Mouse, concerned that children would be terrified of a monstrous rodent.

3. In 1929, a German censor banned a Mickey Mouse short called “The Barnyard Battle.” The reason? An army of cats wearing pickelhauben, the pointed helmets worn by German military in the 19th and 20th centuries: "The wearing of German military helmets by an army of cats which oppose a militia of mice is offensive to national dignity. Permission to exhibit this production in Germany is refused.”

4. The German dislike for Mickey Mouse continued into the mid-'30s, with one German newspaper wondering why such a small and dirty animal would be idolized by children across the world: "Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed ... Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal.” Mickey was originally banned from Nazi Germany, but eventually the mouse's popularity won out.

5. In 2014, Iran's Organization for Supporting Manufacturers and Consumers announced a ban on school supplies and stationery products featuring “demoralizing images,” including that of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, and characters from Toy Story.

6. In 1954, East Germany banned Mickey Mouse comics, claiming that Mickey was an “anti-Red rebel.”

7. In 1937, a Mickey Mouse adventure was so similar to real events in Yugoslavia that the comic strip was banned. State police say the comic strip depicted a “Puritan-like revolt” that was a danger to the “Boy King,” Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was just 14 at the time. A journalist who wrote about the ban was consequently escorted out of the country.

8. Though Mussolini banned many cartoons and American influences from Italy in 1938, Mickey Mouse flew under the radar. It’s been said that Mussolini’s children were such Mickey Mouse fans that they were able to convince him to keep the rodent around.

9. Mickey and his friends were banned from the 1988 Seoul Olympics in a roundabout way. As they do with many major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Disney had contacted American favorites to win in each event to ask them to say the famous “I’m going to Disneyland!” line if they won. When American swimmer Matt Biondi won the 100-meter freestyle, he dutifully complied with the request. After a complaint from the East Germans, the tape was pulled and given to the International Olympic Committee.

10. In 1993, Mickey was banned from a place he shouldn't have been in the first place: Seattle liquor stores. As a wonderful opening sentence from the Associated Press explained, "Mickey Mouse, the Easter Bunny and teddy bears have no business selling booze, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has decided." A handful of stores had painted Mickey and other characters as part of a promotion. A Disney VP said Mickey was "a nondrinker."

11. Let's end with another strike against The Shindig (see #1) and Clarabelle’s bulging udder. Less than a year after the Shindig ban, the Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America announced that they had received a massive number of complaints about the engorged cow udders in various Mickey Mouse cartoons.

From then on, according to a 1931 article in Time magazine, “Cows in Mickey Mouse ... pictures in the future will have small or invisible udders quite unlike the gargantuan organ whose antics of late have shocked some and convulsed others. In a recent picture the udder, besides flying violently to left and right or stretching far out behind when the cow was in motion, heaved with its panting with the cow stood still.”


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