Monday, December 26, 2011

Vignettes of North Korea

by Richard Crews
If you live in North Korea, the chances are you are either in the military (42% of the population is active duty, paramilitary, or reserves), or hungry (callory intake average is less than half that in the "West"; 45% of the children are stunted by malnutrition).

If you are lucky enough to live in some sort of a house, there is no TV or Internet, but there is a radio speaker on the wall (that cannot legally be turned off) that wakes you up in the morning with political propaganda, and continues until your required bedtime at night.

You probably work in industry or agriculture--those are the two economic sectors that are created, run, and subsidized by the government. You probably also take part in the rich underground network of black market activities; otherwise you and your family could not survive.

You know that Kim Jong-il, officially called the "Great Leader," died December 17 and was succeeded by his 20-something-year-old son, Kim Jong-un, officially called the "Great Successor" or "Wise Leader."

You probably don't know that Kim Jong-il passed over his two other sons, Kim Jong-un's two older brothers, because they were simply too irresponsible to run the country. Or that their uncle, Jang Song-thaek, pretty much runs the country and probably assassinated Kim Jong-il (according to South Korean intelligence sources).

Two items of good news in this bleak landscape: One is that the southern half of the Korean peninsula, South Korea, is doing well economically and socially, and is ready and willing--at the drop of a coup d'├ętat--to run massive military forces north, with food supplies, etc. The other is that there is a Demilitarized Zone between the North and South, a corridor 2 1/2 miles wide and 160 miles long, that has been forbidden to human passage for several decades, and therefore has come to represent one of the most pristine and precious natural habitats on the planet.