Apr 12 2018160 North Korea Part Ten, “Meanwhile, in South Korea!”

For years South Korea was a dysfunctional military dictatorship under leaders like Rhee Syngman and Park Chun Hee. Assassination, martial law, and political repression were the order of the day. North Korean propaganda was able to exploit the militarism, chaos, and violence in their neighbor in propaganda, but after democratic reforms in the 1980s, the relative stability of the Korean peninsula is very different. For the most part. South Korea still does have the occasional presidential scandal.

Apr 01 2018159 Spaghetti Trees

On April 1st, 1957 a BBC One news program ran a straight-faced and ostensibly real report on Switerzerland’s spring spaghetti crop, and convinced some of their viewers that spaghetti grew on trees.

Mar 28 2018158 North Korea Part Nine, The DMZ, Assassinations, and the USS Pueblo

During the Cold War, North Korea primarily interacted with South Korea and the United States via building the DMZ, several assassination attempts on South Korean presidents, and the taking of the USS Pueblo, the crew of which are pictured below. Note how they held their fingers when being photographed by their North Korean captors.

Mar 19 2018157 North Korea Part Eight, Juche

Juche is the animating principal of North Korea. It’s usually translated as “self-reliance,” but in fact it means whatever is good for the regime. Juche is the ideology that North Korea uses to convince it’s people, the outside world, and itself that its system of totalitarianism and authoritarianism has a coherent ideological basis. It’s distinct from communism, often incoherent, and is what keeps North Korea from integrating itself into the larger world.

Mar 06 2018156 North Korea Part Seven, The Good Old Days

The Cold War was a good time for North Korea. For much of the mid 20th century it was relatively better off than South Korea, and North Korean citizens recognized that the new regime was worlds better than what they had under Japanese occupation. In this time period of prosperity, the North Korean leadership played China and the Soviet Union off each other, instituted a caste system, and cultivated a policy of isolationism.

Feb 26 2018155 North Korea Part Six: War and No Peace

The Korean War was supposed to be over quickly. However, due to intervention from the United Nations, China, and the Soviet Union, what would have been a quick regional conflict turned into a years-long war that involved over twenty countries and left millions dead. At the end of it, the borders between the two Koreas looked much like they had before the war, and it gradually became apparent that the division would not go away anytime soon.

Feb 12 2018154 North Korea Part Five, The Spark of War

Prior to the Korean War, both North and South saw themselves as the legitimate government for the entire peninsula. At the time, the North was considered the more advanced, industrialized part of the peninsula, and Kim Il Sung believed that he could win a war with the more rural South. Stalin gave Kim permission for an invasion, and the Soviet premier believed that the war would be small, regional, and over quickly. However, the United States was able to mobilize the United Nations for what was termed a “police action” to intervene on the peninsula. The was would be regional, but it would drag on for years and involve several major world powers.

Feb 06 2018153 North Korea, Part Four: Red(ish) Dawn

After WWII, the Korean peninsula was briefly united again as The People’s Republic of Korea. However, the unification wouldn’t last. American and Soviet forces divided the peninsula along the 38th parallel, and in the north the Soviet Union set about creating a puppet state. However, the leader they chose, Kim Il Sung, and the founding ideology of their new state would not play out entirely as they had planned.

Jan 29 2018152 North Korea, Part Three: Collaborators, Resistors, and Kim Il Sung

Japanese occupation changed North Korea, with various citizens either collaborating with or actively resisting it. One of those resistors was a guerrilla fighter named Kim Song Ju, who would later be known as Kim Il Sung. If you believe North Korean propaganda (which you shouldn’t) Kim Il Sung was born of humble farmers and formed a secret Korean resistance during the occupation. In fact, his grandfather was a Protestant minister, he spent most of his youth in China, and the units he fought with were organized either by the Chinese or Russians.

Jan 22 2018151 North Korea, Part Two: Japanese Occupation

Japan’s occupation of Korea was a gradual process. As far back as 1876 Japan approached Korea with unequal treaties that attempted to economically exploit the peninsula. In 1895 Japanese officials assassinated Korea’s Queen Min, who opposed foreign occupation and influence, and Korea subsequently declared itself an empire. However, Japan returned in 1905 with yet another treaty that stripped Korea of its sovereignty, and completely annexed the peninsula in 1910.