Korean War Armistice Signing Anniversary

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Truce In Korea 1953

This past July 27th marked the 59th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that officially put the Korean War on hold. It was a silent holiday that went nearly unnoticed by the world. However, for those soldiers who lived through the Korean War, this was an important day, no matter what side they fought on, and many gathered to remember and to celebrate.

In North Korea, this day was celebrated with war veterans visiting Panmunjom to pledge their unchanging loyalty to North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un. Fireworks were also fired to celebrate the day. The commemorations are meant to kindle patriotism and loyalty in North Koreans, and especially the young, by showcasing veterans who fought for their country, said Kim Yeon-su of Korea National Defense University in Seoul. Ahead of the anniversary, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its long-standing demand that the United States sign a peace treaty with North Korea to replace the armistice. However, the United States continues to stand by its claim that normal ties will only come after North Korea abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons and takes other steps towards change. Continue reading

In the News – North Korea’s cult of personality surrounds Kim

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In the News – North Korea’s cult of personality surrounds Kim

The man before me is not yet 30. He stands, perhaps a little unsure of himself, a nervous tic in his shoulders seeming to betray his unease.

Before him is one of the largest armies on the planet. It is a war machine, still fighting a battle from more than half a century ago.

They move in lockstep, legs kicking and arms swinging as one, discipline and focus measured in millimeters.

A vast arsenal of weapons, missiles and tanks, pass by. The cost of this show of military might has been paid in the suffering of the people it is primed to defend. Aid groups say thousands have starved here; meanwhile, the army has grown fat.

The young man eyeing all of this is master of all he surveys. This is North Korea, and the man is Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Un named marshal of North Korean army

This was a rare glimpse indeed of a man who now rules the notorious hermit kingdom. In April this year, North Korea opened its doors to the world’s media. CNN was there to cover the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung.

The eternal president and “Great Leader” had passed power to his “Dear Leader” son, the erratic, eccentric Kim Jong Il. Now a third generation Kim, the so-called “Supreme Leader,” stood on the shoulders of his forebears.

He gained power by birthright, but the world is watching as he attempts to rule in his own right.

“He is the youngest head of state in the world,” said analyst Patrick Chovanec. “There’s still a lot of debate about how much power he has, whether other family members are in control or the military.”

Reading North Korean tea leaves

His soldiers certainly pay lip service to their loyalty.

These men are combat ready, never forgetting they have a sworn enemy in the United States.

“With the strategy of the great leader Kim Il Sung, the dear Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un with our bombs and weapons we will destroy them,” they tell me.

But beyond the war rhetoric are the realities of leading an impoverished, isolated and paranoid country.

As I stood below him at this military parade, my mind wandered to the young Kim’s thoughts. What would have been going through his mind? We’re told he was educated partly in Switzerland, loves music and western movies and is a huge basketball fan.

But the country he rules is largely sealed off from the outside world. People here mostly don’t have telephones; they never get exposure to foreign television, newspapers or films. The world is defined by endless statues, portraits and tributes to the cult of the Kims.

What Kim’s ‘mystery woman’ says about North Korea

When CNN visited Pyongyang, North Korea was putting on its most intimidating face.

But amid this display of what the regime called power and prosperity was the lone voice of the young leader.

For the first time North Koreans heard him speak.

This is why he appeared nervous.

Kim Jong Un mouthed the usual threats and warnings, but there was something different: an acknowledgment that North Korea must find a better future.

“Our fellow citizens, who are the best citizens in the world, who have overcome countless struggles and hardships, it is our party’s firmest resolve not to let our citizens go hungry again,” he said.

It was an important, if veiled, concession. Yes, North Korean people had suffered. Yes, the regime was responsible — not just for the past but a better future.

“This was really his introduction. A few years ago no one even knew he existed but they’re being told to worship him,” Chovanec said.

Our government-assigned minders escorted us around the city. They were there to make sure that what we saw and heard was strictly according to the party line.

In North Korea it is impossible to separate what is genuine and what is just for show.

In the streets of the capital, Pyongyang, we were given a glimpse of the great future Kim Jong Un was promising.

We were taken to bustling neighborhoods, saw families shopping, cars on the street.

But all of this only served to hide another harsher reality. Outside this showcase city, life was so very different.

In the bleak countryside, aid groups say people continue to starve. Defectors tell of surviving on little more than corn. Children are reportedly malnourished and have stunted growth.

All the while billions of dollars are still spent on high-tech missiles and nuclear weapons.

This is the essence of this secretive country.

Kim Jong Un may struggle to emerge from the shadows of his father and grandfather, but the gun here looms even larger. As young and green as he is, he knows this much: Without it, his rule and the regime itself will not survive.

Original Article

“Normal” North Korea

Often times, when we think of North Korea, we have an image of people with grim faces and lifeless eyes walking through a drab city full of grey tones. We think of these people as mere puppets of the North Korean government putting on shows for the foreign tourists with a forced smile on their faces. They become part of the picture we paint in our minds of starving children and prisoners. How often do we actually think of these people as just people who have daily lives just like you and I do? Granted, our lifestyles may be extremely different. But the fact that they have lives separate from the one we imagine them to have is very true. Dr. Andrei Lankov addresses this in his article in The Korea Times.

For those of you who do not know who Andrei Lankov is, let me offer you a brief introduction. Dr. Andrei Lankov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and is now a renowned specialist in Korean studies. In 1985, he even spent some time studying at Kim Il Sung University of North Korea. In 2004, he moved to South Korea to teach at Kookmin University, which is where he remains today. He is one of the few foreigners in South Korea who can offer a scholarly perspective on North Korean issues. If you follow North Korean news and issues, you have probably come across his name quite a few times.

In his article “Normal North Korea,” Dr. Lankov talks about his experience of visiting North Korea in September of 1984. As he first drove through the streets of Pyongyang, he explains that what he saw was quite unexpected. Russia at the time was by no means a democratic state but was far more open and “permissive” than North Korea was. Therefore, having come from Russia, he had expected North Korea to look like a scene from George Orwell’s book 1984, which is ironic considering the year of his visit. He explains it as follows: Continue reading

In the News – Controversy Follows Comments on Military Operations in N.Korea

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In the News – Controversy Follows Comments on Military Operations in N.Korea

Earlier this week, a U.S. Army Brigadier General Neil Tolley stirred controversy this week with comments about American and South Korean military operations in North Korea. On Wednesday, General Tolley said he had been unclear in his comments about possible U.S. operations, and said that “at no time have we sent special operations forces into North Korea.”

There are concerns about the ramifications of what the leader of the U.S. special operations command in South Korea said at a panel discussion in Tampa, Florida, on May 22.

Brigadier General Neil Tolley, to an audience of hundreds of people at the Special Operations Forces Industry conference, discussed the challenges the United States faces determining what is inside North Korea’s many secret tunnels.

Freelance combat reporter and technology writer David Axe was among those listening to the general.

“He was describing the utility of human intelligence on the ground in North Korea. He was describing it as though it were actually happening right now,” said Axe. “He since has walked that back to say that he was speaking hypothetically, although he didn’t say at the time he was speaking hypothetically.” Continue reading

Two Years Later

Amidst the frenzy of North Korea’s recent rocket launch, another very important day came and passed. For many of you, this may have been just another day in your life. But whether you knew it or not, March 26th marked the second anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan naval ship.

March 26th 2010 was just an average day for the 104 crew members of the Cheonan. They were on a routine patrol near Baekryong Island, which is an extremely tense maritime border with North Korea, when they were suddenly torpedoed. The ship tore apart into two and sank to the bottom of the sea, killing 46 soldiers. Continue reading

In the News – Chinese fishermen say North Korean soldiers beat and robbed them

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In the News – Chinese fishermen say North Korean soldiers beat and robbed them

BEIJING — Chinese fishermen released by North Korea this week after nearly two weeks of captivity alleged that they were beaten, robbed and stripped and given starvation rations in a case that has opened up a rare public rift between the Communist allies.

“They used the back of their machine guns to hit us and also kicked us,” said Wang Lijie, one of 29 fishermen in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “They stripped us of all our clothes after the beating, including sock and shoes. Most of us had only underwear left.”

The North Koreans drained the three captured ships of fuel and also removed almost all the caught fish and the food and cooking oil stored for the journey. The fisherman were allowed out once or twice a day to cook small rations of grain, but were otherwise confined in a tiny storage room while their captors negotiated for ransom.

The hostage takers had initially demanded $65,000 per ship, according to the ships’ owners, which apparently the Chinese refused to pay.

Although none of the Chinese crew were seriously injured, their accounts of mistreatment were reported in the Chinese media on Tuesday, triggering calls for an explanation from North Korea. “Crew treated ‘inhumanely,’ ” read the headline Tuesday in the Global Times, a newspaper closely tied to China’s Communist Party.

Moreover, the fishermen returning home identified their captors as North Korean military.

“They didn’t dock our ship at any of the North Korean ports. Our ship was just drifting in the ocean the whole time with North Korean soldiers watching and guarding us all the time,” said Wang. “The North Korean soldiers also forced us to sign a document in Korean language which is supposed to be confessions of us fishing in North Korean waters. When we at first refused, they started to beat us again.”

The boats were seized May 8 while fishing in what the ship owners claimed were Chinese territorial waters and were forced to sail toward North Korea. Although it is not the first time Chinese fishermen have claimed harassment by North Koreans, the incident is by far the most serious and raises questions about whether impoverished North Korea is descending into Somalia-style piracy.

The country is in a difficult transition period following the death of its leader, Kim Jong Il, in December and the elevation of his son, Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s.

“If North Korean governmental authorities are linked to this incident, we could suspect that the central government’s control has weakened in the process of power shifting to Kim Jong Un,” said Lee Dong-bok, senior associate at Center for Strategic and International Studies in Seoul.

China is North Korea’s main ally, the source of most of its fuel oil, investment capital and food aid, but Pyongyang has irritated its patron in recent months by ignoring Beijing’s calls for restraint in its weapons programs.

The Global Times, among other Chinese media, have demanded an investigation and prosecution of the latest incident.

“As lives are involved, the severity of the incident cannot be offset by national interests, including Sino-North Korean relations,” the paper editorialized last week.

 

Original article can be found here.

U.S. Suspends MIA Search in North Korea

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U.S. Suspends MIA Search in North Korea

By Jim Garamone

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2012 – The United States has suspended efforts to find remains of U.S. service members lost during the Korean War due to North Korean threats to launch a ballistic missile, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said here today.


Click photo for screen-resolution image

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little and Navy Capt. John Kirby, Pentagon spokesman, brief the press corps on defense-related issues at the Pentagon, March 21, 2012. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

Recovering remains of those lost and unaccounted for is a priority to the Defense Department, and U.S. experts were due to enter North Korea this month.

“We have suspended that effort because we believe that North Korea has not acted appropriately in recent days and weeks and that it’s important for them to return to the standards of behavior that the international community has called for,” Little said at a Pentagon news conference. “We do hope at some point to be able to re-engage the effort.” Continue reading

The DMZ: A Thin Wilderness

South Korea is a mountainous and crowded country. High hills and low mountains are in view no matter where you go, but there are also fifty million people on the peninsula. So, wherever there is flat land, there is a city. The cities, towns, and farms spread over the low-lying areas like water, and nearly all the undeveloped areas are in the heart of mountains.

The DMZ is an exception. Whether it crosses mountains or lowlands, it is wilderness: it stretches blank and empty like a thin belt across the waist of Korea, uncaring of topography. You can track it on a satellite map by the narrow band of darker green marking it out from the towns and farmlands to the southern side. It very roughly traces the 38th parallel of north latitude, extending two kilometers to either side. It is heavily fenced, mined, and guarded, but attracts some visitors, of whom I was one this summer.

Map of the DMZ (image credit smithsonianmag.com)

Map of the DMZ (image credit smithsonianmag.com)

Continue reading