It’s hard to believe that North Korea exists. Between its over-the-top propaganda and complete disregard for reality, North Korea seems more like a monster invented to scare small children than an actual place where people live. However, as tensions rise, North Korea may be about to get all too real for its enemies (which is literally everyone. Literally). If, like Dennis Rodman, you are confused about all things Korea, read on:
The Making of North Korea
Korea was occupied by Japan from 1910 to the end of World War 2, at which point the Japanese got sick of Gangnam Style and surrendered. Or maybe lost World War 2? The Allies were left to decide what to do with Korea, which was difficult because all they really agreed on was that Hitler was some kind of jerk. After watching the Parent Trap, they came up with a brilliant idea: take half of Korea each! The Americans controlled everything South of the 38th parrallel, the Soviets took the North and much like Lindsay Lohan, it all went downhill from there.
In 1948, the people of the South elected ardent anti-Communist Syngman Rhee as their leader. Meanwhile, in the Soviet-controlled North, everyone was truly and utterly shocked when Communist Party puppet Kim Il-Sung came to power. I mean, what are the odds, amirite? Kim Il-Sung decided he didn’t care for this “democracy” caper and didn’t bother with it again.
He also did not care for the North/South divide. Hoping to unite Korea and expand the pool of people he could oppress, Kim Il-Sung invaded the South in June 1950.
American logic held that if the Reds took over Korea, they’d soon be under the bed of every freedom loving, free spending, bald-eagle hugging American. The United States and its capitalist friends joined in the war to fight the Communist foe. In response, China came to the aid of the North and just like that, a small regional conflict turned into a multinational war.
In the ensuing clash of ideologies, over a million soldiers and civilians lost their lives.
The Korean War never actually ended. Both sides got to 1953, looked around and realised the territory they had won was the size of an innercity studio apartment. An armistice was declared in July 1953, which meant the war was still on but everyone got to go home. A heavily guarded border fence was erected along the 38th parallel. The zone between the two nations was “demilitarised” and declared neutral, which surprisingly enough did not boost real estate prices.
Life in North Korea
North Korea is not just another socialist wannabe.While nominally communist, its ideology is closer to a cult of personality with just a dash of hereditary monarchy. Prince Charles could (and probably does) only dream of the kind of power that the Kim family has. The political structure in North Korea is that Kim decides things. Sure, there’s a People’s Assembly but they rubberstamp Kim’s ideas. Self-reliance is the guiding philosophy, meaning North Korea don’t need no man. That is, no man except Kim. Kim Kim Kim.
What Kim Il-Sung and his descendants wanted most is to cut off the population’s access to the outside world. The average North Korean has no internet access, watches state-controlled TV and radio and needs government permission to travel. North Koreans do have a limited intranet with an email service, scientific websites and probably KimBook, where Kim Jong-Un is your only friend and you have to like everything he says. The government controls every detail of people’s lives. Even your hair. As in, one popular TV show is called “Let’s Trim Our Hair In Accordance with the Socialist Lifestyle”. Next time you’re watching Toddlers and Tiaras, bear in mind that reality TV could be shittier.
Real talk though: North Korea is a horrifying place to live. A famine in the mid 1990s, caused by a combination of natural disaster and economic mismanagement, killed over a million people. According to reports, some people resorted to cannibalism to avoid starvation. Foreign food aid from 1997 onwards caused dramatic improvements but malnourishment remains a major concern.
Concentration camps did not disappear with the Third Reich. The North Korean government doesn’t just arrest political dissenters; they arrest their entire family, including their parents and children. Prisoners are forced to do hard manual labour, upwards of fifteen hours a day. Those who disobey any order are immediately killed. Torture is frequent and entire families are punished for the misdeeds of a single member. Hell on Earth exists and its North of the 38th parallel.
North Korea and South Korea have a rocky sibling relationship. South Korea is the overachieving Student Council President. North Korea sits in the corner eating glue. Although progress was made in North-South relations during the mid to late 1990s, when Kim Jong-Il took power from his father, North Korea soon started fixating on nuclear weapons. When they conducted their first nuclear test in 2006, the Security Council immediately imposed sanctions, on the philosophy that the last thing anyone wants is the creepy kid to act on his creepiness.
Between 2008 and 2010, North Korea continued making friends in the international community, holding four US citizens hostage, firing a long-range missile over Japan and torpedoing a South Korean warship. C’mon guys, Kim was saying, I just want to hang out and maybe murder some of your citizens. In November 2010, they directly bombarded South Korean islands. Evidently, when George Bush referred to North Korea as the “axis of evil” in 2002, it only made Kim Jong-Il dream bigger.
In December 2011, Kim Jong-Il died and was replaced by his fourth son, Kim Jong-Un. The newest Kim was educated at a Swiss boarding school and initially seemed more interested in video games and donuts than oppressing the populace.
Unfortunately, like many little boys, Kim Jong-Un wanted to follow in his father’s dictatorial footsteps. In January 2013, he announced plans to target the US with missiles. On March 13, he officially ended the 1953 Armistice. Which means that North Korea is at war with South Korea again, or maybe still?
In late March, North Korea moved missiles into position to target US-controlled Guam. As of today, North Koreans are rumoured to be planning a new nuclear test. Fortunately, their nuclear weapons are currently only just powerful enough to blow up a very small island. Unfortunately, Guam is very small.
Other countries have reacted as calmly as possible given that North Korea is shouting obscenities and giving everyone the finger. Obama has been exercising a policy of strategic patience, the equivalent of turning your back on your screaming toddler at Coles. Japan and South Korea have made preparations to defend themselves, but South Korea in particular seems unfussed by the supposed imminent destruction.
It’s hard to judge how serious the danger is. North Korea is the girl who hates drama because there’s always so much drama and oh my god, drama! Plus, no one knows enough about Kim Jung-Un to work out if he’s the type of guy who would start a nuclear war (it’s always the quiet ones). Even China, previously a North Korean ally, has been getting over it and told North Korea to pipe down, the grown-ups are talking. The coming weeks will show whether Kim Jong-Un is looking for war or whether he just likes talking about it.