Kim Jong Il: The Nuclear Family Paradox

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Alfred Lord Tennyson (Ulysses)

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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This is the story of North Korea, that is the darkest in the world at night and equally disturbing during the day.. Of its 30 million people and one Choe Yong Taek who dreamt of freedom and food for all..

North Korea at Night
North Korea at Night: Contrast to the illuminated South Korea

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Let us cross the border tonight.. This is our last chance, everyone has left, what do we have here..?! Can you imagine the life we will have just 15 kilometers across the border..? Come on friend, let’s do it, let’s swim the Amnok tonight..” Jang Song-rim pleaded with his friend as night fell in the border city of Sinuiju. The vivacious and brightly lit city of Dandong was just across the border in China, a safe haven and popular spot for defectors and refugees from North Korea.

The river is going to be ice cold.. We will wear out in less than 3 hours, what will you do then Tongmoo* Song-rim..? Besides, our mission is coming to a great reality in a month, there should be no looking back now!” Yong-taek said, his filthy face faintly illuminated in the 10 watt bulb, flickering at the distance..

There are missionaries who keep boats and canoes in the bushes, waiting for people like us who are trying to flee the country.. There are options, Beijing, eventually to Seoul, if you can’t survive there we will go to Laos or Bangkok.. ! Or even further away.., anywhere in the world.. ! Think of a new life where you dont have to worry about food every day! “.. Song-rim was infuriated, by this time he was desolate and desperate.. “You are going to bring us all down with you! I say, you are acting selfishly! We are going to meet the same fate as Ang, and she was only 23!

Yong-taek, 27, took his eyes off the mortar and pestle in his hands and stared at Song Rim.. “Ang did not listen to us, she died like our parents trying to cross the border.. She was severely underweight and the cold weather got the best of her!

Kim Bong-cha was mixing the herbs that they picked up in the farm that afternoon.. She was going to make wild grass soup for the entire family. The delicate twigs, the ground up corn, the herbs made a flavorful daily delicacy.. It was their only choice of breakfast, lunch and dinner.. It also helped to keep one busy when both the boys in the house started screaming at each other..

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The OmniPresent Duo - Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il
The OmniPresent Duo – Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il

Ang, Yong-taek’s sister and Song-rim’s girlfriend, had talked to her brother about selling herself up for sex in Dandong, China to make enough money to help them all cross the border into a world of Freedom, in this case, China . Women currently account for 80 percent of North Korean refugees fleeing through China.. A typical boat ride, a subsequent taxi route avoiding border checkposts, a shelter in the Govt. subsidized apartment and a refugee stamp as part of an asylum program in another country – everything would cost them about 5000$ including fees and bribes. And if one wished to seek refuge in the United States, it would cost twice as much..

The trade embargoes and the economic sanctions to the country meant no imports to the country.. The row of dilapidated apartments in the border town of Sinuiju were secretly home to bags of rice stolen from the Kim’s various warehouses.. But for now, they will have to live on rationed food.. The desire for a warm dish delicacy of toenjang seemed elusive.. Atleast that was the case now.. !

History always repeats itself.. And History says 220,000 people perished during the 1995-98 great famine.. Studies from South Korea suggest that more than 2 million North Koreans died during The Great famine: A direct result of the completion of the enormous West Sea Dam in 1986; immediately followed by a countrywide famine due to the government having used the entire nation’s resources on its construction.

As May approached, the lean season for crops and agriculture had begun and the soil dried up and the land turned barren.. Song Rim helped smuggle the bags of rice and dry beans with the help of soldiers into the dirty empty village houses in Sinuiju.. They were to be kept there until the time was right for their distribution.. And that time might be right around the corner!!

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Kim Il Sung at 65 feet tall and in bronze atop the Mansu Hill
Kim Il Sung at 65 feet tall and in bronze atop the Mansu Hill

Yong Taek was a rebel since he was born.. His friends remembered him from the days when he was punished severely for mocking Kim Il Sung’s pose in front of his iconic 65 feet bronze statue on a a field trip day at school.. He had a penchant for freedom, a thrill for the forbidden or so it seemed.. He would gather a few of his friends having clandestine meetings with them, asking them why they did not have aspirations to take down the leader and create a free country for themselves.. Why run away from the country they were born?? Why listen to a dictator in this 21st century..?? How cool were all those action movies that they saw, the language English that they did not speak but understood the difference between a Hero and an ordinary man..

He despised the monotonous ceremonies celebrating the greatness of the Leadership, the ritualistic songs of praise written by his highness Kim Il-sung himself.. A country that did have nothing to envy about..?? And if that was the case, why did people having fleeing on their minds?? Their society was made up of mindless color coordinated flag-wavers..!!

He was not interested in gathering a crowd for spraying graffiti on buildings or distributing anti-government pamphlets.. These show of small discomforts and dissent — were the kind of discussions that would only stay within the four walls of homes and among family and friends.. Prison camps, torture cells would await anyone caught protesting publicly; so the operation was top secret.. The idea was to step up the game and be discreet about it..

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Children Pixels make Giant Pictures © Eric Lafforgue

As days broke one after another, Minsuh Son, a farmer woke up one Sunday feeling different.. As he struggled to gather his thoughts and find out what was, he realised that the loud speakers which played patriotic music in the city streets each morning was replaced by a Public Service announcement.. The people of Pyongyang were to gather around the Kumsusan Memorial of the late Kim Il-sung in an hour. He wondered if there was going to be a Nuclear attack and if they had to go underground or hide for the impending doom..

As the young and the old gathered together, the minister for National Security, Kim Yong-kyu addressed the crowd and answered why the urgent assembly had been called for. As newsmen from the Korean Central News Agency questioned him and clicked pictures, the wider rural public of North Korea tuned into through broken radio sets and old television boxes..

Yong-kyu read aloud from a paper in front of him..

His highness, Kim Jong Il’s palace came under siege last night. The palace complex went completely dark for 4 hours. The measures were assumed to be part of the significant efforts by the Presidential Energy committee to conserve electricity and save the natural resources of North Korea. So, there was no sense of panic until the lights came back up after 4 hours. By that time, significant changes have taken place. Kim Jong-il is officially missing and we are not able to locate him as of now. Until things are resolved and we can trace him, the interim governance has ordered a ‘State of Freedom’ to the entire country of North Korea. The rules and restrictions of the current presidency are temporary suspended until further notice.”

“On an unrelated incident, North Korea’s twitter account was hacked sometime last night and we are looking into it. No damage to National Pride and Honor has been done and there is no cause for alarm.”

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KumsusanMemorialPalace-Pyongyang
The Kumsusan Memorial Palace – Pyongyang

There is however a detail that was missing out of the government statement. And that was something Kim Bong-cha guessed, because as she stood there staring at the vast sky above her head, she squeezed Yong Taek’s palm in disbelief and overwhelming happiness.. And what Minsuh Son did not know now, he might not know forever..

The soldiers that formed the security detail to the dictator formed the largest unbreakable chain of 250 soldiers that night.. They worked with a couple of hundred palace personnel and workers in the dark to restore their own Human Rights that night. What they did and how they did it, the details remain as varied as the various versions of a popular folklore now.. And Choe Yong Taek is a North Korean National folk hero!

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The Nukes Barter system
The North Korea Nukes Barter Ideology

About the country North Korea: The archaic, stubborn state of North Korea stunned the world by testing an atomic bomb for the first time in October 2006. Kim, the dictator, is genuinely interested in feeding his people, the proof of which is in the picture above.

The Strong and Prosperous Nation agenda was announced by Kim Jong Il in 1998 after a long mourning period following his father’s death where he urged his country men that, “every intellectual must open the doors to the era of a strong and prosperous country” by the 100th anniversary of the birth of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung. There are media reports that in order to put up a great show of celebrations and prosperity, the food that is being produced is being hoarded away into storage units until the 2012 celebrations while millions and millions are starving to death..

Excerpts from an NPR radio broadcast from Apr 12th, 2011:
In North Korea, the price of rice has increased 100 times since a year ago.. For her daily meals, a 3 year old child ingests alternatively food, a combination of ground corn, wild grass and twigs; her stomach cannot process the food and she will ultimately starve to death..” Listen to the full podcast HERE.

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Sources: The Telegraph, Wikipedia.org, The NPR, National Geographic

Translation for Tongmoo*: Comrade

36 Comments

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  1. Being an emigrant myself, I do understand the need to change country completely, unfortunately not everyone is lucky like me to change country legally, without the need to cross the border in the darkness of the night and to pray that on the other side there won’t be a bad surprise. I don’t know with details many things about North Korea, but it’s really sad how in some places of the world people can’t even have a breath of freedom, not to talk about free days! Thanks for sharing this Rachana, I’m glad to read a post from you!

    • That is the gist of my story Blaga.. Why should one fear to stay in their own country, why should the natural resources not be utilized to feed themselves..? The answer is the regime of Totalitarian Dictatorship, where the concept of Civil liberties is practically nonexistent except for a few of the elite.
      Blaga, thanks for taking the time to visit.. Your input as an ‘Emigrant’ is a significant addition to my story!
      Have a great day!
      Rachana.

      • There are many reason why one would not want to stay in its own country, I left mine not because of fear, but because I found it difficult to live in a place where almost everything was against my beliefs. Not that I found a better place where I am right now, but still I had the chance to get up and leave. The sad part is for those who want to leave because of fear, they usually can’t or they do but after suffering … I’ve said that many times, the world is not going in the right direction, someone has done the math absolutely wrong about human rights and freedom …
        Happy days!

        • Hi Blaga, thanks for telling your story through our discussion here. It is amazing how all our lives are so different, the different reasons why we are not staying in our “home” country etc.. But, we can still read and understand one another’s thoughts through our words and writings.
          Hope you stay well wherever you choose to be!
          Rachana.

  2. Wow Heart. If Kim Jong is starving his people to death,
    he’s the worst dictator ever!
    You’ve really gone political huh? :-)

    • After hearing the news, and reading multiple accounts of the story last week, I did not sleep for two days Poch.. The story is brutal, the deaths avoidable – all the evil work of a self indulgent dictator! And to know that such a deprived world exists amongst us, in this modern world and age is unfathomable.. !
      This time I did not want to write in fictional names, unless of course one finds Choe Yong Taek and his friends extremely believable.. :) I risk a nuclear threat because my computer IP address is out there, but then who cares if I am able to feed a few undernourished and under privileged people, right?! See, I have learnt a little bit of bravery from your own news stories too!!
      Thank you for cheering me up this morning!
      Have a great ‘news’ day!
      Rachana.

  3. So good at last to hear from you again! Hubs and I heard that report last week. It had us crying, praying, discussing, and ultimately stunned at the conditions under which the people of North Korea must try to live. I am still stunned that a leader of his ilk could survive. I also wonder what waits in the wings. . .is it more of the same, or possibly worse (how could it be?), or is it the freedom that they all need so desperately?

    • Hi Paula, I truly appreciate you checking up on me.. I have been struggling with personal health issues, but trying hard to put them in order before I can do justice to my blog and my readers. I am grateful for readers to come back, in spite of a shaky posting schedule and so thank you, your comment helps me in more ways than you can imagine!
      It is ironical, but I am glad to share the pain of this terrible knowledge with you.. After listening to the NPR article last week, I was numb for two days.. How horrifying is it to live under oppression..?? Yes, isn’t Freedom to Live the most basic fundamental right of all?!?!
      Thank you for your input and have a great weekend!
      Rachana.

  4. I have never understood this dictator of North Korea. A country is its’ people and not so much its’ stockpile of goods. You have explored that idea, very effectively, in what you have written, here. I hope for these peoples’ release from oppression. Thank you, Rachana!

    • No one has been able to understand the North Korean leadership, Leslie! 60 years of isolation from the entire world, lack of basic freedom for the common man, unproven fear of spy satellites and nuclear attacks.. All this constitutes something is seriously wrong with the fella.. :)
      I wish I get one chance to talk to him, I will say, “Live and Let Live!”
      Well.. now we will have to wonder if this public plea will go unheard too!
      Hope you had a wonderful weekend!
      Thank you for your time,
      Rachana.

  5. Rachana, I can believe your heart didn’t allow peace when you discovered this information. I am sickened. I cannot imagine the horror of the lives of these people.

    This cruel man will have to realize that a leader of broken people is a broken steward.

    But FIRST the people. Hope is not a menu for the starving soul but is can be a revitalizing spark for GOOD.

    Surely we can think of a flicker of hope that can change the masses like a candle to a pitch black room.

    Food is a weapon for control purposes? How can we get them food? That’s the control for GOOD. How can we give them energy to take a stand.

    Is there a way to interject subliminal messages on that damned announcement system that would build courage? We have mined underground, beneath mountains, for miles. We have a Chunnel that runs under the ocean, for goodness sake, from one country to another. Are we not smart enough to tunnel food discretely to these people so they can find the strength to stand up to this insanity?

    I’m ranting. One voice. One candle?

    • “interject subliminal messages on that damned announcement system that would build courage” I wish that was somehow really really possible.. But, did you know that a lot of the publicly sung songs and praises for the Leadership is written by Il Sung himself..?
      Amy, your response did not feel like a rant even in the least sense, it gave me goose bumps, it felt real and made a terrific climax for my story!
      Thank you!
      Hope you are doing well, and the trees are ready to shade your steps as you walk underneath them.. :)
      Rachana.

  6. I love the story Rachana, and the fact you apply factual data with events and portray the role of a family looking for a new land and their struggle in the process. Always great to be able to see another one of your pieces.

    Take care,

    Mr. Mojo Risin

    • Hi Mojo, It is so nice to hear from you! Hope you have been doing well, and your school – I really hope you are busy with it! :)
      Thank you as always for your feedback and time, North Korea is still under my list of places to visit, so I wish to go there to see the country for myself, unless of course, I am banned from entering because of this piece of writing..!
      The fact of the country is hunger and death due to hunger related causes, it bothers me so much that having a full plate of food in front of me and eating it, sometimes gets very tough..
      Have a great week ahead,
      Rachana.

  7. Hi Rachana,

    I will write again later :-) . I am not sure about other places but in Malaysia, one of the highest contributors to waste is food waste :-(

    • I mean one of the biggest contributors of waste.

      • Thanks for visiting FonZ! You have told me that you are super busy with your new projects, so good luck with those! Thank you for bringing up an important note about Malaysia.. I know it a very prosperous nation, but does it mean to say there is no dearth of food for people who need it?? On a lighter note, again on your comment, let’s add another project to your list – an underground secret tunnel to pump food into the country, as my friend Amy here suggests.. !! :D
        Have a great day!
        Rachana.

  8. OMG this is tragic and hard hitting, Rachana. My heart goes out to the people suffering so.

  9. Hi Rachana,

    Another compelling story. I also like how you gave this tragedy a face in form of your characters.
    It is incredible under which circumstances people must live in this century…

    • Thanks Timo for all the encouraging words always.. !
      Yup, that is the part that is the most amazing.. Tyranny and dictatorship even now, really, in this Modern world.. ??
      And special thanks for all the travel tips for helping us plan our visit :) We are possibly arriving at a great itinerary!
      Hope you have a great and fruitful weekend in photography!
      Rachana.

  10. Well written Rachana (and nice to see you after an absence). I like the way you’ve woven this together with real people. It is heart breaking. What, beyond starvation, could compel revolution?

    • “What, beyond starvation, could compel revolution?” Great interpretation Tammy.. ! It is amazing you would think after hearing stories of revolt and rebellion in the Middle East that a revolution in North Korea is not far behind.. ! But I wonder if the situation is really day-to-day for some people.. To put a few grains of food into the mouths of their loved ones.. So, is that to say, rebel is not on their mind??
      Also they don’t have the advantage of Social Media on their hands.. Of course, Malcolm Gladwell will agree to disagree with me on that one! Not all great revolutions had the advantage of the Social Media Wild Fire.. :)
      Here is to hoping that this dream will come true and the people of North Korea will have the courage to fight for their own rights!
      HAPPY EARTH DAY 2011, girl!!!
      Rachana.

  11. Thanks for always speaking for those without a voice, Rachana. You do a great job of connecting real life to the heart. It’s a sick, twisted world out there full of unbelievable suffering… that’s why we should be grateful everyday for the small things, the routine, the food and water we have. No man has the right to make another man suffer simply because one has power and one doesn’t.

    • That reminds me of your post where you paid tribute to “routine”, Lisa! You are right, the idea of getting up every morning expecting to see a beautiful and predictable day ahead, sometimes, that itself seems to be big deal to the underprivileged of the world..
      Thanks for taking the time to visit! I am always glad we connect.
      Have a great day ahead,
      Rachana.

  12. I was able to watch this documentary about North Korea,I think it was for the show “don’t tell my mother where I am” or something to that effect and it was disturbing to me. There was a lot of deception and inequality. I remember being struck by one area wherein you could see beautifully painted buildings, only to discover that they were mere exterior walls built to hide the poverty. Coming from the Philippines, we too have our history under a dictator, the difference i think was we weren’t that isolated from the outside world. My parents told me that life under the dictator was very controlled, however they weren’t starving. There was work and there was food. Your post is moving and it does beg me to ask how this sort of country continues to exist in a world where human rights are being upheld by the majority. We can only hope and pray that in the next few years that their fate changes and North Korea’s people find their freedom.

    • Hi 83, How have you been?!?! Thanks so much for the introduction to the compelling undercover documentary. It is fascinating how so many websites had to bring the videos down after they have initially linked them to the National Geographic video.. :) I have watched it over 2 days and it is chilling to hear first hand accounts of the people living under the stressful circumstances esp. on the DMZ line. I would like to read some more about Philippines too.. Thanks for the idea :D
      Hope you are doing well!
      Thanks much for stopping by,
      Rachana.

      • Hi Rachana,
        I am well. Do you mean, you found the documentary?
        Well, as much as I am into our country’s history I am not its expert, but if you do get to read more about my country i’m open for discussion. You have a very interesting blog….its compelling.

        • Thank you for the kind words about my blog 83. This coming from a kind, gentle and compassionate girl like you means A LOT!
          Yes, I found pieces of the documentary all over the web, but not at a single place.. And sure, I will let you know when I read an interesting piece about Philippines!
          Have a great week ahead!
          Rachana.

  13. Wow, fantastic post. Not many people understand what is happening there. Thanks for writing this.

    • Theresa, your first visit! Welcome, first of all apologies for not being able to reply immediately! If I get into the reasons, I will quickly fill the word limit. You have a cool blog, I will have to write at yours when there is something I can’t say on mine ;)
      Hope you are doing well, good luck with your writing!!
      Rachana.

  14. Hi Rachana!! Just stopping by to see how you are doing… I have missed your writing, but I know that life gets in the way for all of us sometimes. I hope all is well and I am sending you positive thoughts :)

    • Lisa, Thanks for your wishes.. I have struggled every morning to write something, and yes, life is getting in the way – in a good way of course most of the times :)
      Sorry for not getting back immediately, with any lifestyle changes (read a new job), certain passions and thoughts get to the back burner.. But the blog, writing and readers are in my thoughts every waking hour – words just did not find a way up here! Thank you for your encouragement, it means a lot!
      Rachana

  15. I have wondered where you’d gone to, Heart.

    A very worthy effort here. Once again you have pieced together an honest story. The situation in Korea is heart-rending. I had a friend who went to Japan and apparently there it is easy to pick up videos from Korea. He said that they showed people struggling to walk down the street and then just falling from starvation.

    Thank you for this post.

    Here from Amy’s.

    Hope you and your family are well.

    Warmest regards,
    Jamie

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