From a satellite in Space, North Korea is merely a black spot, an anomaly compared to its bright technophile neighbours China and South Korea. Often called the most dangerous place on Earth, the Stalin-like state isolates itself and its 24 million inhabitants every day, making only feeble attempts to hide its dire economic situation and extreme human rights violations.
North Korea has been popping up on my twitter feed non-stop today. At first I was worried it was some form of mini-hack from the minions of Kim Jung-No-Fun because of my previous article, but realised after clicking a link it was because of the controversy surrounding Sony’s new film, ‘The Interview’. Following a sophisticated hack into Sony systems and numerous threats from a mysterious organisation, Guardians of Peace, Sony have decided to pull the film from theatres. Since then, North Korea has found itself trending online. So, the question must be asked, is Sony’s decision the same as a child deciding not to sleep in their bed to stay away from the bogeyman that doesn’t exist? Or have we simply underestimated North Korea?
There is a growing curiosity as to the real threat this state poses to the world, focusing particularly on its relationship with America and more importantly, their nuclear capabilities. First, let’s get down to the technical stuff. Does North Korea possess nuclear weapons? Technically, they do. Recent reports show that they have enough resources to create six bombs, however are lacking the ability to deliver them via missile. In 2013 North Korea announced that it had conducted a successful nuclear test by having “miniaturised” a nuclear device. However, this was brought under scrutiny as experts later claimed that they could not have possibly created a nuclear device small enough to go on a missile. To add to the uncertainty of this, censorship in the country makes it difficult to discern between what is real and what is propaganda. One TV channel, one newspaper, one source. Nevertheless, in a country that spends nearly a quarter of their yearly budget on the military and maintains a bitter relationship with most of the world, one cannot help but wonder how much longer it will be until North Korea surprises the world with an indisputably successful nuclear missile test.
The other issue concerns the almost obsessive North Korean hatred for America. To understand this, we must address a few historical facts. After a unified Korea secured independence from Japan in 1945, it began to look rather attractive to the key players of the Cold War; America and the USSR. Naturally, as you did back then if you were a Superpower, you picked a side and started a war. At first it looked like America would claim victory until General MacArthur overstepped his mark, forcing China to swarm in and push the Americans back to where they started, completely changing the playing field. What emerged were two opposing states; the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) led by Kim Il-Sung, and the capitalist Republic of Korea led by Syngman Rhee. Here the roots of hatred were sown in North Korea. Kim Il-Sung then began to tighten up the reigns of his rule. Citizens underwent complete indoctrination, and even if you were not really with the “#TeamKim” crew, you had to pretend to be or you would soon find yourself on the way to a political prison camp. When North Korea started to look into developing nuclear weapons, they faced massive sanctions from the international community, plunging the people into a devastating famine. Incidentally, this was blamed on America. Surprisingly, this did not cause the citizens to start waving American flags from their windows.
Today, North Korea is noted especially for its strange customs. One of them is that when you pop down to the hairdressers, your stylist has to be officially approved by the DPRK. Also, they have technically been at war with South Korea since 1953. That’s about 62 years of war. If we include the three years of actual war from 1950-53, that’s 65 years. That’s a lot of war.
They are also the only country with a dead President; or a President who never technically dies. However you want to interpret it. Kim Il-Sung died in 1994. After his death, they abolished the post of Presidency for any of his successors, and granted him the title of the “Eternal Leader”. I can’t help but imagine a parallel universe where we loved David Cameron enough to make him our “Eternal Leader”. Simply, unthinkable. It doesn’t stop there – being the loved President, Kim Il-Sung naturally needs to have regular opportunities to meet his comrades. So for a special time only, courtesy of the North Korean government, you can now visit his embalmed body at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun!
I could go on for a long time about the odd aspects of the DPRK, however that is not the purpose of this piece. With all the recent controversy surrounding the withdrawal of “The Interview”, one cannot help but wonder if this will again overshadow the stories of those subjected to extreme human rights violations committed regularly in North Korea.
Put simply, we need to start raising awareness of the pain felt by the millions of citizens and stand up for the North Koreans, rather than simply closing this tab and going to check out the Christmas sales.
Nora Hamdi is a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies. She is a contributor to The International Interest. Twitter: @NALHACHIMI