Monday, 8 August 2011

North Korea Made Simple

Yo followers, it has been a long time. Much has changed. However, original content remains the order of the day on this blog.

Here, enjoy a brief guide to North Korea. Feel free to comment or add anything I have missed.

Why is there a North Korea and a South Korea that are so different?
Let's shoot back to World War Two. Japan took control of the unified Korea at this time, until they retreated. The USA (capitalists) took control of South Korea, and the Soviet Union (communists) took control of the North. A war between the two countries ended in pretty much a draw, and nothing changed. During this war, both sides accused the other of doing very bad crimes.
Kim Il-Sung was the Soviet-born leader installed in North Korea. At the beginning, North Korea did very well under his leadership. The Soviets gave him a lot of money, and other communist countries supplied him with machinery, buildings, materials etc. North Korea did so well during the 1960s that it was seen as proof that communism could work. However, things would soon begin to sour.
South Korea meanwhile was supported by the USA, but nowhere near to the same extent as the Soviets helped North Korea. It went through several difficult periods including military coups and assassinations until it has turned into the thriving capitalist state it is today- but that is a story for another time.

How did North Korea go from doing very well to very badly?
In the 1970s, the Soviet Union fell on particularly bad terms with China- another Communist state which helped North Korea prosper. Because of this, Kim il-Sung decided to enforce more the 'Juche Idea'. This is based on North Koreans becoming self-sufficient and independent. The upshot of this was that North Korea secluded themselves even further from the outside world, with very little trade allowed. By removing themselves so much, they became increasingly reliant on other Communist countries supporting them.
One of the bonuses was that there was an upsurge in national pride, in the idea that North Korea don't need anyone but themselves. They see themselves as the tiny nation which fought off the USA forces when they invaded, and now they can do it alone, without any outside help. A major factor in the Juche idea is an obsession with the military- for their size, North Korea's army is disproportionally large. Money was pumped into the army, and taken out of rations.
Their first leader Kim il-Sung died in 1994. In Korea, he was seen as a God. People could not understand it when he died, because many simply thought he could never die. The cult of personality also follows their current ruler, Sung's son Kim Jong-Il.
Pyongyang, complete with massive hotel which was left unfinished after the famine kicked in.

So how extreme is this cult of personality, and what sort of propaganda are North Koreans exposed to?
The cult of personality is gigantic. There are statues everywhere of Kim Il-Sung and his son. Every single home in North Korea has a photo of each of them which are kept on the wall. Inspectors will sometimes call by just in case the pictures are not kept clean.
North Koreans are told, and the vast majority believe, that Sung and Il are superhuman. That they can control the weather, make crops grow, and are tirelessly working for North Korea and producing fantastic results are well known.
It is easy to look on from the outside and say how foolish it is for North Koreans to believe this, but they have no sense of context in this regard. They are taught from their first day that that is the case, so why believe differently?
North Koreans are not just politically isolated, but in terms of a population as well. Only the top 0.01% of North Koreans will ever leave the country. Those who escape (North into China- there is no way of escaping to South Korea because of the huge military presence still on the border) often do so knowing that their families will be imprisoned or even executed if they leave. Leaving the nation is seen as an insult to their leaders, and a sign of incredible disrespect and disloyalty to the nation as a whole.
North Koreans are taught not only that their country is the best, but also that the USA is the cause of all their problems. They are told that the USA invaded them for the Korean War- whereas the massive consensus of historians accept that the Korean War had been planned by Kim Il-Sung and the Soviets. They also are told that the USA is the only thing preventing North and South Korea reuniting, and that South Korea is secretly being completely controlled by the USA.

Very telling satellite image.

So what is it like to live in this country, where barely anything gets in or out?
Let's start on the upside. If you live in Pyongyang (the capital), your quality of life will probably be quite high. Only party members (those most loyal to the State) are allowed to live in the capital. Those living here will most likely be either students at Pyongyang University, or working for the government. Their rations will be higher than the rest of the country, they are trusted with foreign language books and music etc.
Much of the rest of the country is now very very poor. In the early 1990s, communism fell out of favour with many states. Former trading partners such as Czechoslovakia and East Germany ceased to exist, others such as Hungary, Poland, and most importantly the Soviet Union changed to capitalism. The effect was devastating.
Trade ground to a halt, the old machinery and materials rusted or fell apart. It was becoming clearer and clearer that the Juche idea could not support itself.
To make matters even worse, in the mid 1990s, huge floods across North Korea wiped out millions of crops. What followed was a devastatingly huge famine, in which more than 1 in every 10 North Koreans were said to have died of starvation.
Although the famine eventually relented- the North Koreans were for the first time ever forced to ask for aid from other countries- the weak economy and low rations remain. More and more, people are being allowed to sell the produce they grow- something which would have been met with the death penalty in previous years- to allow them more rations. Markets are appearing in some towns.
On a more personal level, North Koreans aren't just robots- they do have fun! Kim Jong-Il is a massive movie fan, and as a result every single town in North Korea has its own cinema. The films are about the Korean War mostly.

Why aren't we helping?
We are. During the famine, millions of tons of food was shipped to North Korea. UN Food Aid continues to this day to provide vast amounts. However, there are serious doubts about where the food is going to. UN Representatives state that they have little evidence that much of the food actually ends up on the streets, relieving hunger.
Also, there is a political element. When bags of food arrive in North Korea printed with the USA, UK, or UN flags, the population is told that the reason why this food has been given is because they have been forced to give it for committing war crimes in the Korean War.
North Korea is also a very dangerous state. While George W. Bush Jr was president, he drastically cut USA food aid to North Korea. He would use the food as a bargaining chip to get North Koreans to negotiate on other issues.
The current major issue with North Korea is nuclear weapons.

Propaganda ahoy!

Why are people scared of North Korea?
Let's get one thing for certain first- North Korea is dangerously unpredictable. At times the country gives the impression that it knows it's days are numbered, so acts like there is nothing to lose.
Consider these three things. Firstly, the Rangoon bombing. Rangoon is the capital of Burma. The President of South Korea was going there, with other high-ranking members of the South Korean government in 1983. The North Korean government heard of this. They set off a huge bomb at the meeting, killing 23 people (the South Korean President survived very luckily). Many countries after this cut all diplomatic links to North Korea. North Korea didn't care.
The next one was Korean Air Flight 858. A South Korean airliner in 1987 was flying from Baghdad to Seoul, South Korea. Two North Korean government agents placed bombs on it, killing all 115 people aboard. The two bombers were caught, one managed to kill himself, the other was given the death penalty but pardoned by the South Korean president. The world was appalled, many designated North Korea a terrorist state, more countries cut diplomatic ties. North Korea still didn't give a fuck.
Another one- The Blue House Raid. North Korea handpicked their 31 best soldiers and gave them a mission. Armed to the teeth, they would cross secretly into South Korea, get to Seoul the South Korean capital, and attack the Blue House- where the South Korean President lives. Their mission was to kill him. The group got spotted early on, and essentially ended up going on a 31-man killing spree through South Korea for weeks on end. 29 were killed, 1 was captured, the other escaped back into North Korea where he is now a high-ranking general. They managed to kill 30 in the process. Not a single fuck was given that day by the North Koreans.
And we haven't even gotten into the killing of an American soldier with an axe on the South Korean border, firing shells indiscriminately at a South Korean island, or sinking a South Korean ship for no reason at all- killing all aboard.

So how far along the process are they to getting nuclear weapons?
Their nuclear weapons programme for obvious reasons is being kept very quiet, much to the distrust of South Korea and Washington. The country has already performed 2 nuclear tests, both of which were apparently successful. It is currently estimated that the country owns around 10 functional nuclear devices- although the range of these is expected to be severely limited.
Currently the country is pressing on with a nuclear reactor which non-governmental experts visiting the country stated would be ready around 2012. The North Koreans argue that their nuclear programme is of no business of the rest of the world, and is for power. The rest of the world watches on, worried.