North Korea is an isolated Communist state, often the subject of mockery by various western news outlets. The well-being of North Korea is controversial, with CNN depicting North Korea as “The Hermit Nation” and that, “citizens are closed off from the rest of the world, mostly impoverished and only allowed to access state-run propaganda.” The nation is currently undergoing an economic depression, partially due to significant funds going to the production of nuclear weapons and military utility rather than to restoring food production and improving living conditions.
North Korea’s current condition is often recognized as the result of the Russian Revolution of 1917, as it lead to the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II (executed by the Bolsheviks) and the birth of the Soviet Union. Lenin—being the leader and founder of the Bolsheviks—assumed power and control over the Russian government. The Soviet Union founded under the administration of the Bolsheviks later gave way to the Cold War. The communist society threatened western ideals and Stalin caused the U.S. to recognize the Soviet Union as a world-domination seeking party. The Cold War finally initiated due to U.S.’s delayed entry into WWII which resulted in the deaths of millions of Russians. Just following the end of WWII, both sides saw the other as the enemy, but neither sought out to initiate a nuclear war. Instead, their fury would be diffused through proxy wars, including the Korean War.
Tension rose between the U.S. and the Soviet Union with the Soviets actively challenging the ideas of capitalism by giving constant economic support to small communist countries. Capitalism was always the main economic system and ideology that provided the U.S. with economic profit and had large potential to harm the U.S. if replaced. Just as it is now, a countries’ economy is very influential towards its international power. However, during the Cold War, this was the only desire among the two dominating states. At the time, many social and political strategies were devised to promote either states into larger superpowers. The Warsaw Pact was a defense alliance uniting the Soviet Union and seven Soviet state as well as a Soviet initiative involving the Soviets giving endless aid and creating diplomatic ties with its communist allied countries to fortify and expand its domain while avoiding forces such as the U.S. that would otherwise hinder their development. In fact, so much support was given that much of the European Socialist Bloc collapsed following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Image of the Korean War. Source: Getty Images
The Soviet Union and North Korea had been united since the beginning of the Cold War. North Korea was constantly receiving financial and military aid while Stalin recognized multiple long-term advantages in helping North Korea including gaining possession of water ports and possibly gaining China as an ally. Many water ports on the outskirts of North Korea could allow for more strategic and flexible military plans while China, being supportive toward North Korea, would seek reliance on the Soviet Union if it were ever in trouble. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991—a major turning point in North Korean (as well as Russian) history—would cause North Korea to encounter many national problems.
The Soviet Union has had many leaders, many of whom which had a substantial impact on its progress. Vladimir Lenin, being the founder of the Bolsheviks, was the first leader of the Soviet Union. He initiated the October Revolution and lead the Bolsheviks to victory in the Russian Revolution (1917-1922), a series of revolts against the Monarchy resulting in the creation of the USSR. Before his death, he had announced warnings involving the hostilities of communist party members. However, his warnings were ignored, and Stalin became the next leader. Stalin immediately commenced collectivization in the Soviet Union’s agricultural sector, an initiative that sought to unite all individual farms to generate increasingly large food supplies. This was a major component of what is known as the first five-year plan, a set of economic goals created by Stalin that increased industrial power, though also created the famine of 1932-1933. Stalin was also responsible for organizing what is known as the “Great Purge”. The Great Purge lasted from 1936-1938 and involved political repression and elimination of the “enemies of the working class”, in which they would be executed, sent to prison camps, or exiled, often to Siberia. The enemies were defined as anyone who opposed the center of power. Stalin led the Soviet Union to victory during WWII triumphing over Germany and becoming a world superpower along with the U.S. His reign later invoked the Cold War. The next leader was Georgy Malenkov. He did not hold power for very long. He supported cutting military funds and stopping political oppression which ultimately led to Nikita Khrushchev—the Communist Party’s First Secretary—stripping him of his powers and having him exiled. Khrushchev became the next leader. He worked to “de-Stalinize” the country through discontinuing all purges and working to better the lives of common folk. However, faced with the conflict with the west as well as unachievable goals set (by him) on agriculture, most of his actions resulted in a negative impact on the Soviet government as well as the people. Recognizing this, he ordered cuts in conventional military funding and focused on development of nuclear arsenal. However, this only lead to further economic decline as well as the Cuban Missile Crisis, often termed, “the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war.” The Soviet Union was already beginning to cripple. The last leader was Mikhail Gorbachev. He wanted to strengthen the Soviet Union, however, his methods inadvertently led to its downfall. Through removing the Communist Parties power to govern the state, he allowed Boris Yeltsin—the soon-to-be president of the new Russian Republic—to take over and recreate Russian policies, ending the Cold War as well as the reign of the Soviet Union.
In 1985, the Soviet Union began to redevelop relationships with South Korea and much of Europe and ultimately, the Soviet Union stopped aiding North Korea, causing North Korea’s economy to collapse. However, it was saved by short-term trade relations with China and food aid from the UN. Further natural disasters in the 1990’s caused North Korea’s failure to produce sustainable agriculture and led to the economic crisis that has slowly worsened, even though North Korea had many chances to re-establish economic stability. In 2003, North Korea was offered a proposal from the UN, requesting that North Korea would reduce military funding and promote peace and human rights. In return, the UN would offer aid as well as a renewed relationship with other countries. However, this offer along with many others was dismissed.
Ever since the end of World War II, the Korean Peninsula had been split by the 38th parallel, a circle of latitude depicting the 38th degree north from the equator. North Korea had been supported by the Communist Soviet Union and China while South Korea had support from the US and the UN. At the time, Russian soldiers were housed in North Korea and U.S. soldiers, staying in the South, were recovering from WWII.
The Korean War began on the 25th of June 1950, when North Korea and their allies invaded South Korea in an attempt to reunite the war-torn semi-countries through establishing the rule of one government. The fighting quickly began to stall, as neither side made substantial territorial gains. Recognizing the wasted money and men, both sides agreed to end the war on the 27th of June, 1953, when an armistice was signed by a US Army Lieutenant General representing the UN and a general representing North Korea and China. However, the armistice only provided for a ceasefire, the return of prisoners, and the creation of the DMZ (demilitarized zone). Considering that a peace treaty was never signed, the Korean War is technically still waging on, albeit at a lesser intensity.
Statistics today share that the total cost of the Korean War reached around 15 billion dollars (in comparison to 25 billion dollars spent on WWI) and led to approximately 1.5 million total casualties.
Demilitarized Zone, Source: Wikimedia Commons
To this day, the DMZ still exists separating North Korea from South Korea. Due to violent suppression by the U.S. on North Koreans, North Korea continues to hold a sinister hatred toward it. During the Korean War, the U.S. used tens of thousands of tons of napalm, obliterating nearly 75% of the North Korean territory, leaving behind collapsed buildings and piles of cement. This event was scarred into the minds of the North Korean people and their leaders. Now, North Korea threatens the U.S. with the deployment of their nuclear arsenal. Their current leaders misinform the people of North Korea, using propaganda to intensify hatred toward the U.S. and promote support for their own nation.
Elitists of the North Korean regime often receive praise from the people. This sense of patriotism and loyalty stems from the Korean ideology Juche. This ideology emphasizes self-reliance and independence, however, is closer to, “a pseudo-religious philosophy [that] promises North Koreans a kind of immortality through their dedication to the state.” The term first appeared in 1970, being one of the premises of the Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System introduced by Kim Jong-Il. Initially, Juche had originally been recognized as Marxism-Leninism due to the influence of the Soviets on North Korea. However, it was converted by Kim Jong-Il into Juche to mark the states development into an independent power. Juche as well as the ten principles both emphasized the importance of the people to move from love for socialism to love for the nation: socialism to nationalism. Three primary concepts supported this transition.
The “Great Leader” theory was allegedly the primary ideal that allowed Kim Il-sung to become the one-man supreme leader. Under this theory, a state can only function with the presence of a Great Leader assuming control over all internal factions. The Great Leader was a flawless being, who always worked for the good of his people. He was put before all else, representing a god-like savior to the people.
The “masses” concept involved the segregation of the people into three classes, each theoretically equal to the other. The North Korean government believed that by creating three equal classes, they would be able to quickly reach self-reliance. Rapid industrialization of the masses was also encouraged.
The final concept, “Songun”, prioritizes the Korean People’s Army (KPA) before any other department. Being introduced relatively recently (1997), North Korea is considered to currently be within the Songun Era. This is behind North Korea’s addiction to nuclear arsenal and military funding.
Juche has allowed North Korea to escape intrastate revolts. However, following the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle ordered by Kim Jong-un himself, mistrust has clouded the mind of many elitists in fear that they could be the next execution target. Many critics predict that their regime will not last much longer. However, for many years now, experts on this subject have assumed the quick collapse of the North Korean regime, yet were always mistaken. Currently, there are many risks in trying to physically administrate North Korea as it can incite nuclear war, causing drastic changes in climate harming everyone. The future of this isolated, totalitarian nation further remains dictated by itself.