One of the remaining Communist countries is North Korea. A great deal has been written about North Korea's military program, especially its nuclear weapons program. Less is known about the humanitarian nightmare inside the country. Information is tightly controlled by the North Korean Government. No one has precise statistics, but it is believed that anywhere from 1-3 million people have died in famine that began in the mid-1990s. Although there has been a drought and the country's economic policies have worsened an already dire situation, a major cause of the famine appears to be a result of Government policies similar to those pursued by Stalin in the Ukrainian famine. The Government of Kim Jong Il seems determine to use food as a famine for those deemed the least loyal. Notably, relief agencies are not allowed to monitor food distribution in the most severely affected areas. North Koreans are desperate to flee their country. An estimated 0.3 million are in hiding in China, terrified that the Chinese will repatriate them forcefully, Another 0.2 million people are in the North Korean Gulag in which an estimated 0.4 million people have perished in the last three decades. Kim Il Sung, the current ruler's father set a goal of eliminating class enemies through three generations.
One of the remaining Communist countries is North Korea. It is by far the greatest failure of all the Communist states--which speaks volumes. It is also one of the most dangerous of the former Communist countries because it possesses nuclear weapons, has a huge army, and sells advanced weaponry to rouge states. North Korea or the Korean Democratic People's Republic was founded by a protege of Stalin Lim Il Sung during the Soviet occupation. He is believed to have launched the Korean War (1950-53) under directions from Stalin, but the details here are not fully understood. After his death he was replaced by his son, the erratic current dictator Kim Jong Il.
The North Korean economic system is called Juche. It is a mixture of xenophobic nationalism, central planning, and economic independence. The North Koreans have attempted to produce all of their needs domestically. The exception of course is dictator Kim Jong Il who enjoys lavish meals of imported food as well as imported clothes and consumer goods. The results of Juche has been an economic disaster. North Korea was the most heavily industrialized and prosperous area of Korea. Today North Korea has no only fallen behind prosperous South Korea, it has become perhaps the poorest country in the world and can not even provide subsistence levels of food to its people. North Korea is afflicted by famine and dependent on shipments of food and oil from donor countries to prevent mass starvation.
A great deal has been written about North Korea's military program, especially its nuclear weapons program. Military analysts agree that North Korea has functioning nuclear weapons. Experts disagree as to the number, but most agree that the North Koreans are adding to their stockpile. They have demonstrated ballistic missiles which they have developed, including overshooting Japan. The North Koreans also maintain a huge, well equipped standing army--one of the largest in the world and a constant threat to South Korea. Especially troubling is that North Korea has used military weapons to earn foreign exchange. High tech weapons and technology has been sold to rogue nations working on weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Korea was a very traditional, agricultural country until Japan formally seized it (1909). The Japanese developed mineral resources and introduced heavy industry. Most of the industrial development occurred in the north where the mineral resources were located. North Korea thus was an important part of the Japanese World War II war industry. North Korean industry was largely beyond the range of the American strategic bombing campaign and thus unlike Japanese industry survived the War. Thus when the Communists took over, it was the wealthiest, most productive. Kim Il Song installed in power by Stalin pursued Soviet-style central planning and integrated the country into the Soviet economic system. The Korean War (1950-53) did considerable damage and was followed by a long period of economic decline when a series of large centrally planned projects proved economic failures. At the same time the South which pursued capitalist free enterprise economics brought about an economic miracle accomplished without important natural resources which made it one of the richest countries in Asia. Communist North Korea is the world's most centrally directed and least open economies. The result has been unmitigated disaster. Economic problems are endemic, but largely hidden while the Soviet Union subsidized the regime and forced its Eastern European satellites to do the same. The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, ended North Korea's ability to arrange barter deals. State policies preventing foreign competition has meant that industry fell behind that of other countries. The country's industrial capital stock is thus old an inefficient, suffering from under investment and shortages of spare parts and unable to produce products saleable outside of the country. As in other Communist countries, agriculture is also a failure as a result of collectivization and mismanagement. Combined with droughts, crop failures have resulted in famine, only ameliorated by food shipments from countries the regime vilifies (America, Japan, and South Korea). All of this is further compounded by the maintenance of a huge military and weapons programs which absorbs much of the country's economic output.
We do not have much information on children's activities in North Korea. We note a photograph of a light opera produced by children at the Won San orphanage about 1965. Won Son is a port in North Korea built by the Japanese during the colonial period. Given the quality of the costuming this seems more of a propaganda show even than the way that state orphanages were normally supported. We are not sure just how common such events were.
Details on the full extent of the humanitarian nightmare inside the country. Information is tightly controlled by the North Korean Government. Some information is available from refugees, most of who have escaped through China.
No one has precise statistics, but it is believed that anywhere from 1-3 million people have died in famine that began in the mid-1990s. Although there has been a drought and the country's economic policies have worsened an already dire situation. Maintaining a huge standing and therefore unproductive army is another factor. A major cause of the famine appears to be a result of Government policies similar to those pursued by Stalin in the Ukrainian famine. The Government of Kim Jong Il seems determine to use food as a famine for those deemed the least loyal. Notably, relief agencies are not allowed to monitor food distribution in the most severely affected areas. [Gershman]
North Koreans are desperate to flee their country. Escape through the heavily militarized DMZ to South Korea is virtually impossible. Most refugees have managed to escape across the Chinese border. Chinese authorities return refugees they encounter to North Korea. An estimated 0.3 million are in hiding in China, terrified that the Chinese will repatriate them forcefully. Leaving North Korea illegally is a criminal offense and those returned are arrested and committed to the Gulag, often along with their families.
The Soviet Gulag has not entirely disappeared. The North Korean Government operates its own vast Gulag known as kwan-li-so or political penal labor colony. Satellite photographs and interviews of refugees suggest that 0.2 million people are in the North Korean Gulag. Prison conditions are horrendous. Many do not survive. An estimated 0.4 million people have perished in the last three decades. [Gershman] Camps are vast enterprises. One camp in Hoeryong County has about 50,000 inmates. [FEEC] The North Korean Gulag and police state system make North Korean the most rigidly totalitarian state in the world.
Kim Il Sung, the current ruler's father set a goal of eliminating class enemies through three generations. This means that those arrested in North Korea also have their parents, children, and grandchildren as well as other relatives committed to the the Gulag. Often infants are killed and pregnant women given abortions. [Gershman]
The U.N. Human Rights Commission has largely ignored the situation in North Korea. As of 2004 they have only criticized the regime twice. In addition, the Chinese have prevented the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from contacting North Korean refugees in China. [Havel]
Foreign donor countries have provided extensive food aid and relief assistance to North Korea to prevent famine. The North Korean Government has sought to use threats of invading South Korea and its nuclear problem to black mail neighboring countries into expanding these shipments. The United States has also provide relief assistance and oil. The results are distressing. Not only has North Korea not curtailed its nuclear program, but much of the food aid is diverted from the population suffering from famine and instead used to support the army and regime loyalists. [Havel]
Since the Korean War, the South Korean Government pursued a policy of unrelenting hostility to North Korean and its Communist regime. In recent years, South Korean Governments have pursued what they call the Sunshine Policy. This change occurred when South Korea emerged from military governments to democratically elected governments. The idea was based on the idea that dropping the official policy of hostility would help develop positive contacts with the North and gradually change the nature of the North Korean regime. There have been some heavily publicized family visits and some small achievements such as opening communication among naval vessels to reduce the possibility of unintentional fire fights. There seem to have been very little real progress, however, even though the South Koreans have provided large amounts of food and other relied assistance to the North. One observer writes that South Korea;s "official 'sunshine policy,' which, however well intentioned, is based on constant concessions and appeasement. The policy costs South Korea hundreds of millions of dollars, but is not helping in the effort to save innocent lives. In the end, the policy only keeps the leaders of Pyongyang in power." [Havel]
Gershman, Carl. "North Korea's human catastrophe," The Washington Post (April 17, 2003), p. A23.
Havrel, Vaclaw. "Time to act on N. Korea," The Washington Post June 18, 2004, p. A29.
Far Eastern Economic Review (December 2002).
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