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“”If this were a movie, the evil iron-fisted dictator would get his comeuppance before the closing credits. In real life, the Kim family has been oppressing their starving little country for 65 goddamned years, with no end in sight, and getting steadily crazier with each passing day.
|—Cracked|Eastasia The Kimdom of The People's Free Democratic Republic Where We Will Kill Anybody Who Does Not Like the Fair and Equal System of Our Glorius Leader of North Korea, officially known as the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (DPRK; Korean chosŏn'gŭl: 조선민주주의인민공화국; Korean hancha: 朝鮮民主主義人民共和國; Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk), is a small, autarkic remnant of the Cold War, ruled by hereditary dictator Kim Jong Un. The official name is actually less accurate than the informal name (in contrast to its neighbor, the Republic of Korea, which is—well—a republic on the Korean peninsula). Honestly, its name kind of shows that the Kim dynasty is somewhat self-conscious about their totalitarianism, in a "We're not totalitarian! We have THREE words symbolising democracy in our name. The South only has one! See, we're good. See? SEE?!" kind of way.
The former ruler and grandfather of the current one, Kim Il Sung, is still the "Eternal President of the Republic", even though as of July 8, 2017, he's been dead for 23 years, and that nothing on this plane of existence, especially governments, lasts anywhere near an eternity. He founded the nation with the assistance from the Soviet Union and lorded over it as a God-king for 32 years. Likewise, his son Kim Jong Il inherited the office from daddy, and continued to lead as the "Eternal General-Secretary" and "Eternal Chairman". Since the present leader is a third-generation Kim, that would make North Korea the world's only Communist dynasty. The regime is so abhorrently totalitarian that most – though not all – Communists despise it (as monarchy was one of the things Marx railed against).
It is perhaps the most undemocratic and totalitarian state in existence, even worse than Saudi Arabia and in a close competition with DAESH, with possibly the world's worst human rights record, and one of the only countries in the world in which Internet access is hugely censored and generally only available in the capital city. You can compare it to Nazi Germany easily without violating Godwin's Law. Seriously, the people in that country are starving to death, and yet Kim still thought that one day he would reunite all of Korea under his benevolent heel.
North Korea is a rogue nation that is barely kept in check by China. Its isolation is so intense that it is basically the world's largest personality cult. China does not want to see North Korea collapse, resulting in incredible numbers of refugees in flight across its border. China also doesn't want a united Korea, with the South taking the lead, in the U.S. sphere. There has to be a regime change which China, South Korea and the US can cooperatively accept. (And while we're at it, everyone should get a pony.) It remains to be seen when, or if, the North Korean cult regime can be safety defused and then dissolved. The first step would entail cracking open that cult isolation shell.  Given the difficulties that resulted when 17 million East Germans were united with some 60 million West Germans to form a united Germany, some South Koreans also fear a reunification would result in economic and humanitarian disasters, as North Korea is much larger in comparison and much poorer (even in the 1980s right at the time collapse was inevitable, the GDR managed to export goods for hard currency at a notable rate. North Korea? not so much). Therefore almost all relevant players are rather content with the status quo. All except the North Koreans, that is. And nobody ever asks them.
The country's official name (DPRK) is anything but accurate. Amusingly enough, the definition of the word "democratic" according to the Oxford English Dictionary is "a system of government by the whole population of a state," and the definition of "republic" is "a state in which supreme power is held by the people," meaning that North Korea's full name means "People-ruled People's People-ruled State of Korea." In reality, North Korea is neither a democracy nor a republic: it is a full-on dictatorship — specifically, an absolute hereditary monarchy. The real leader, Kim Jong-un, is officially only de facto head of the party (With his death, Kim Jong-il was declared "Eternal General Secretary" of the party, making him the head of the party de jure) and the head of the army. Kim Il-sung, despite being dead[note 1] since 1994, is still the official head of state, which led columnist Christopher Hitchens to refer to the nation as a "necrocracy" and "one short of a trinity". Unfortunately the trinity would not be completed before Hitch shed the earthly bounds of his mortal body.
North Korea's official ideology is "Juche," a totally self-serving invention of
Sauron Kim Il-sung which combines Stalinism and Maoism with fervent religious worship of Kim Il-sung, and now his son and grandson. As part of the Juche ideology, North Korea's government is a dictatorship of three groups in society: the industrial proletariat, farmers and peasants, and intellectuals (represented by the symbol of the Worker's Party of Korea: a hammer, a sickle, and a calligraphy brush). This is in contrast to the usual Communist notion that the dictatorship is either of the industrial proletariat only or of the industrial proletariat in conjunction with the farmers/peasants[note 2] and, one supposes, makes North Korea slightly less bad in comparison to Cambodia under Pol Pot, who had all the intellectuals executed. Furthermore, after the fall of the USSR, the official North Korean propaganda shifted away from Communism (though much of the imagery in sculptures, etc. remained), and a few years ago references to Communism were removed entirely, despite the command economy still in force.
Whether any of the ideas that comprise Juche other than veneration of the Kim family matter is disputed. B.R. Myers argues that Juche is a Marxist-Leninist fig leaf intended for external propaganda that conceals a racial nationalism, and a very different propaganda exists for domestic consumption in which the Korean people are portrayed as a pure race whose continued purity requires infantile dependence on the motherly bosom of the Great Leader.[note 3] (Anti-miscegenation rhetoric about Barack Obama is quite striking in this aspect.) Kongdan Oh and Ralph C. Hassig conclude that the supposed content of Juche evaporates once one peels away a few layers of the discourse. In either case, it hardly matters what Juche means. What matters is that North Koreans are presented with an ideology that legitimates the authority of their rulers. In this they share a common circumstance with the rest of humanity.
North Korea has three political parties, allegedly representing each of these classes, instead of the usual one in other Communist states. None of these parties are independent to any degree, so don't let anyone fool you into thinking North Korea is a multiparty democracy or anything like that. The largest and most dominant of these parties is, again, the Workers' Party of Korea. The real opposition, if it exists, is forcibly suppressed by the government to the point of paranoia; anyone who fails to show sufficient religious fervor toward the Great Leader, Dear Leader and Great Successor is suspect.
Its only real industry at this point is its military (which all men and women aged 18-35 are required to join). A joint North-South industrial park, Kaesong,
has been was set up, but rather intrusive "security" regulations on workers and businessmen has prevented it from doing as well as it could have. During the Cold War, North Korea benefited from favourable trade deals with other Communist countries, particularly the USSR. However, when the USSR collapsed there was no longer a market for inferior North Korean goods and the Kims stopped receiving favourable prices on fuel and the like. DPRK factories stopped functioning, and a 'rust belt' emerged, as factories fell into disrepair.
Instead, North Korea is trying to build up its tourism, by showcasing the "natural beauty" that exists there. Considering the nation's near total lack of development it does indeed have a lot of natural wonders. Of course, the tourist board does not mention the spirit-crushing hunger that most of the non-military citizens endure (or much of the military, for that matter).
North Korea is world-renowned in the underworld for its Breaking Bad-levels of pure meth, among other specialties. Coincidentally, it also boasts the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, which is regarded as the largest stadium in the world with a capacity of 150,000. The stadium holds the Mass Games (or the Arirang Festival), as well as the occasional public execution.
Believe it or not, North Korea has its own unit of currency, the North Korean Won (sign: ₩; code: KPW). Once in a while, you'll even see international currency trades involving it — just don't count on them happening at any particular time of year.
Human rights record
“”No tyranny lasts forever.
|—Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, President of Mongolia, to Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung University in 2013|
North Korea is likely the most blatant violator of human rights in the world. While Kim Jong-il ate delicacies from around the globe, most of the country's population is starving, brainwashed, and terrified. Most Western and South Korean food aid is given to the Army and to government officials, and only a trickle is available to the population. Famine conditions among the rank-and-file North Koreans have gotten so bad in recent years that cannibalism (of children and relatives, living or dead) has reportedly become commonplace.
At the same time, the government has told its people to blame Western sanctions, and has even spread the story that it is stockpiling food to feed the starving South Korean masses. Millions have died of starvation, and many are forced to scavenge for food. Most of the population lives in villages with little or no food available, and must rely on themselves to survive and keep their families alive. If they can afford it, they can buy from the country's secretive black market. These villages are among the most filthy and impoverished areas in the world.
People living in cities or towns have slightly better lives. They have access to state media, and can get jobs in local factories, hospitals, or schools, but people's lives are constantly controlled by fear. The residents of Pyongyang, the capital, live better than the rest of the country; the government rewards people by letting them live there. However, living conditions in Pyongyang are still poor by Western standards. In a sick parody of George Orwell's 1984, each home has a radio in the wall that blares propaganda at given times, and cannot be turned off. Each home in North Korean cities also must have well-maintained portraits of Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung, and Kim Jong-un.
Health care is universal in North Korea, but the perpetual poverty of the country makes it almost non-existent. North Korea's hospitals have extreme shortages of medicine and medical supplies, and use beer bottles as IVs. Most of their antiquated medical equipment is donated by the rest of the world, but few doctors know how to operate it. Doctors often have had to donate their own blood and pieces of skin when operating.
Political repression is worse than any other country in the world. People often spy on each other for the slightest signs of disloyalty, and the government not only punishes offenders, but also punishes three generations of their families in order to purge their tainted blood. Police can at random inspect someone's home, and look for signs of disloyalty, such as foreign television or a secret lover (pre-marital relationships are strictly forbidden, despite both Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il reportedly having many of them). As well as any open criticism of the government, any slight sign of disrespect for dead dictator Kim Il-sung, complaints about living conditions, or offenses by a family member can get one in severe trouble. In North Korea, "punishment" includes either public execution or imprisonment in one of a series of gulag-like camps in mountains near the Chinese border, where people, some of them there for life, slave away to brutal guards, scavenge for food, eat their own waste, are tortured and interrogated and even raped, and are forced to watch and even participate in public executions. Many children do not even know that a world exists outside of the camps.
North Koreans are taught to hate and fear the rest of the world, and especially South Koreans, Americans, and Japanese, the latter of which are a particularly virulent target of official DPRK state hate. Although a privileged few get the chance to meet a Westerner in a carefully guided tour throughout Pyongyang, almost all North Koreans have had absolutely no contact with citizens of foreign nations. The only media available is government-controlled (consisting of the Korean Central News Agency, and a newspaper called the Rodong Sinmun). As previously mentioned, access to the internet is strictly forbidden. Amateur radio licenses are not issued to North Korean citizens. Mail can only be sent within the country (except for tourist postcards and government mail). Access to telephone lines going into and out of the country are restricted and are always monitored. With information access from the rest of the world completely blocked off, no one except those who secretly listen to foreign radio or watch foreign television can get any real news. Many people don't even know that a man walked on the moon.
Though it is possible for foreigners to visit North Korea, tourism in the country is generally considered risky at best. The regime has proven willing, if not eager, to hold political hostages; several westerners have been detained in recent years for what, to outsiders, may appear inconsequential crimes. The punishment meted out by the North Korean regime is often harsh and has drawn criticism from human rights organizations. Though high-ranking US diplomats have managed to secure the release of American detainees in the past, the US Department of State likely doesn't enjoy dealing with this sort of thing and strongly advises against travel to the country.
Why do they still exist?
“”The engagement camp asks: How can we lure them back to the table so that we can persuade them to disarm? The regime-change camp asks: Where can we squeeze to hasten the collapse? The big question we should be asking is: What about the day after? Because when North Korea goes, the Day After is likely to last 20 years.
This is a question which is frequently asked, but infrequently answered. Part of it is due to its vicinity to post-Soviet era states, but it gets more complicated than that:
- The primary reason is that the North Koreans have dug a massive artillery network into the mountains, which is so deep that even modern bunker buster bombs couldn't possibly reach them. These artillery pieces have the range to reach Seoul, which is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Given the expectation of gas and chemical rounds, the civilian casualties could be in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands. There would also be a large number of ballistic missile attacks, possibly now even with nuclear warheads, against other South Korean and Japanese cities. After that, North Korea's ability to wage war would essentially be zero, as even their soldiers exist on starvation diets. These artillery pieces are in the process of falling apart, which necessitates North Korea acquiring, or at least pretending to acquire, nuclear weapons to preserve this stalemate.
- Add to that the fact that the annexation of North Korea could be the single largest humanitarian crisis in history, and there is a strong disincentive for NATO to go to war. South Korea keeps up appearances, but taking on millions of unfed, untrained peasants may well destroy its economy for decades. The South Korean legislature, in fact, rejected a special "Unification Tax" which would have set aside the revenue for spending in the north. Even if reunification happened peacefully, like in Germany, problems will arise. Northerners would likely be lured south with the prospect of good paying jobs and food. Infrastructure in the north is poorly maintained and far out of date. Skills of northern professionals would be obsolete compared to their southern cousins. There are also slight, but significant, linguistic differences exacerbated by 71 years of separation and isolation. While the US and South Korea obviously could beat the North Koreans, the ultimate dilemmas still remain "for what" and "at what cost," neither of which can be answered by the West as of yet.
- Japan has strong anti-Korean sentiment (in part because Japan occupied and colonised Korea for forty years) and does not want to deal with unified Korea as a competitor either.
In the end, all the cards are left with China, arguably the Kims' sole remaining ally on the entire planet; given the often chilly relationship with the US, it is not terribly keen on having the US Army camped out at the Yalu River. So, China throws North Korea a bone to maintain a buffer, but there's also the realization that a collapse of the North Korean state would result in refugees streaming across the border in staggering numbers. With the third Kim's current threats to change the status quo, they have almost had enough with his shit, and are now devising plans beside the US on sanctions. According to recent leaks, Beijing even seems to have recognized that militarily intervening might not be in their best interest. (Its dream scenario is probably to have North Korea liberalize along Vietnamese lines, but they're learning that the minimal and minuscule reforms so far — and numerous reversals of them — make this a fleeting prospect.)
Nothing is certain, but the two most likely outcomes both lead to its destruction; perhaps as a prelude, the US is working alongside Japan and South Korea to bolster their defenses in the event of a North Korean attack.
US Military defectors to North Korea
After the Korean armistice, 21 American and 1 British soldier refused repatriation and chose to remain in North Korea. For reasons of their own, a total of six American soldiers have defected to North Korea after the Korean armistice of 1953.
- Pvt. Larry Allen Abshier (1943-1983): Deserted in 1962, died in Pyongyang.
- PFC Roy Chung (1957-2004?): Deserted in 1979. Suspicion is that he may have been abducted by DPRK troops.
- PFC James Joseph Dresnok (1941-2016): Deserted in 1962, died in Pyongyang. Worked as a teacher, translator, and actor.
- Cpl. Charles Robert Jenkins (b. 1940): Deserted in 1962, later left for Japan in 2004 where he now lives. Wrote of his life in his book The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea.
- Cpl. Jerry Wayne Parrish (1944-1998): Deserted in 1962, died in Pyongyang.
- Pvt. Joseph T. White (1961-1985): Deserted in 1982. Reportedly drowned in the Ch'ongch'on River.
- North Korea's official website.
- North Korean news headlines from the official English language service of the DPRK. This has to be a parody, right?
- North Korea at Rick Ross's Cult Education Institute.
- North Korea Today - Channel of North Korean propaganda films.
- Squirrel and Hedgehog - Channel of fan-translated North Korean propaganda animation
- A very funny North Korean government video on why citizens should keep North Korea beautiful, in accordance with socialist principles, by getting a haircut.
- Hi-res photo of Taepodong-2 launch on April 5, 2009
- Parody North Korea Tourism Page
- The Toughest Job in North Korea
- Life in the Cult of Kim
- The forbidden railway - Yes, a Swiss and Austrian citizen travelled by train from Vienna through Russia to Pyongyang without a minder.
- If you're actually dumb enough to think that nothing's wrong in North Korea, here's the 400-page 2014 UN inquiry into the regime's crimes against humanity. Have fun puking.
- Welcome to North Korea - The 2001 International Emmy Award-winning documentary about the Hermit Kingdom, shot mostly within the country with official permission. (Seoul Train is another one.)
- Crossing the Line, Documentary about US Army PFC James Joseph Dresnok, who defected to North Korea in 1962 (originally published by the British Bolshevik Commies).
- Or, as the North Korean government has said, "sleeping in his mausoleum"
- E.g. the East German self-designation as the Arbeiter-und-Bauern-Staat and symbolised by the combination of the hammer and sickle on the official flag of the Soviet Union.
- As a sham "fig leaf" ideology intended for propaganda only and not actually followed by the regime, see also Moammar al-Gaddafi's Green Book which had a similar role in Libya.
- ""5 Ways Growing Up in North Korea Is Worse Than You Think".
- The Internet Black Hole that is North Korea, New York Times, October 23, 2006.
- Though according to Andrei "Strangelove" Lankov, "slightly less starving to death" than the mid-1990s.
- McCurry, Justin, "The defector who wants to go back to North Korea ", The Guardian (Tuesday 22 April 2014 02.22 EDT).
- "Democracy" and "Republic" at Oxford Dictionaries
- Kim Jong-il made General Secretary for Eternity at North Korea ceremony, The Telegraph, April 11, 2012.
- Visit to a Small Planet, Vanity Fair, January 1, 2001.
- North Korea drops communism, boosts "Dear Leader", Reuters, September 28, 2009.
- B.R. Myers. 2010. The Cleanest Race. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House. ISBN 1-933-63391-3
- North Korean screed against Obama illustrates race-based worldview, Washington Post, May 8, 2014.
- Kongdan Oh and Ralph C. Hassig. 2000. North Korea: Through the Looking Glass. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 0-815-76435-9
- A Tourist in North Korea, The Atlantic, October 30, 2014.
- In North Korea, meth is offered as casually as a cup of tea, Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2014.
- North Korea's Modern Architecture, Designs From An Alternate Universe, io9, July 31, 2014.
- Mongolian President's Speech Raises Eyebrows, Daily NK, November 15, 2013.
- Amnesty International calls it "appalling", while Human Rights Watch calls it "grotesque indifference."
- At the Heart of North Korea's Troubles, an Intractable Hunger Crisis, Washington Post, March 6, 2009.
- The Cannibals of North Korea, Washington Post, February 5, 2013.
- How Choco Pie infiltrated North Korea's sweet tooth, CNN, January 27, 2014. (And, months later, the authorities are trying to ban it.)
- Early immersion in culture of fear, New Zealand Herald, February 19, 2014.
- Interview with Dr. Norbert Vollertsen, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, January 5, 2002.
- Concentrations of Inhumanity, Freedom House, May 2007.
- North Korea's hidden labor camps exposed, Christian Science Monitor, May 21, 2013.
- North Korea's tightly controlled media, BBC, December 19, 2011.
- An In-depth Look at North Korea's Postal Service, Daily NK, April 4, 2008.
- Lessons from the death of North Korea's first leader, BBC, December 19, 2011.
- Human Rights Watch, BBC, March 16, 2016
- United States travel advisory, US Dep. of State
- The Day After, New York Times, April 29, 2012.
- Can North Korea Really "Flatten" Seoul?, Popular Mechanics, November 24, 2010.
- Dozens of government ministries are already being relocated to a brand-new city partly to prevent HCM in a worse-case scenario.
- I didn't choose the nuke life, the nuke life chose me.
- U.S., Republic of Korea and Allies Should Prepare for Eventual Collapse of North Korean Government, RAND Corporation, September 19, 2013.
- Korean War II Not Easy As It Looks, Outside the Beltway, March 26, 2013.
- Reunification of the Koreas is a noble ideal, and might be seen in our lifetimes, but trying a repeat of West and East Germany will be downright impossible.
- Who knows why...
- Think of areas like these being stacked with hundreds of thousands of people.
- Tougher Sanctions on North Korea Pass in Unified U.N. Vote, New York Times, March 7, 2013.
- China's secret plan for North Korea's collapse, revealed, Vox, May 6, 2014.
- Wikileaks cables reveal China 'ready to abandon North Korea' The Guardian, November 19, 2010.
- Chinese Annoyance With North Korea Bubbles to the Surface, The New York Times, December 20, 2014.