North Korea: What You Need to Know
By: Sarah Michels, Co-Editor-in-Chief Rosecall
The recent actions of North Korea and its military dictator, Kim Jong-un, have been making headlines the past several months. The country has become a major threat to the entire world during this time; even though they are across the globe, what Kim Jong-un is doing impacts every single citizen of the United States significantly. In the following story, I have provided brief answers to some frequently asked questions concerning the status of North Korea, in the interest of making Assumption a more informed and globally aware community.
What is North Korea like?
In North Korea, propaganda rules. Propaganda is misleading or false information used to promote a political cause: in this case, the political authority of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s military dictator. Citizens are extremely limited in their knowledge of the outside world, with no media or news access except for sources censured and falsified by the government. The leaders live an extravagant life, depicting themselves as divine figures, while everyday citizens nearly starve trying to survive on the near-barren agricultural land just outside Pyongyang. North Koreans are not allowed to leave the country, and many are so brainwashed that they never dream of escape.
How did North Korea develop into the nation it is today?
Before World War II, North and South Korea were unified under Japanese colonial rule. However, with the onset of the War, everything changed. The Japanese empire fell apart, leaving Korea isolated and vulnerable by the time the last shots had been fired. After World War II ended, the Cold War began. The Soviet Union and the United States were the world’s only remaining superpowers and they each wanted to claim, “spheres of influences” in all the developing countries of the world. The Soviet Union was trying to spread communism, while the United States wanted to diffuse democracy, and one of the contested areas was Korea. The northern part of Korea was taken over by the Soviet Union, and the southern by the US. The division line was along the 38th parallel, now called the DMZ (demilitarized zone). North Korea adopted communism and evolved into a police state, continuing to spiral into a dictatorship even after the Soviet Union dissipated. Its first leader was Kim Il-sung, followed by Kim Jong-il, and now is headed by Kim Jong-Un.
What is the extent of their nuclear testing?
North Korea has performed six nuclear tests so far, (once in 2006, 2009, 2013, and 2017 and twice in 2016) each in a series of underground tunnels in the mountainous area of Punggye-ri. North Korea’s goal seems to be miniaturization, creating nuclear weapons small enough to be loaded onto long range missile warheads but powerful enough to cause major devastation. They claimed they reached this goal in 2016, but the world must be wary, for the only information coming out of North Korea is what they provide—propaganda. Satellite imaging has provided useful clues to their activity, and while experts’ opinions differ, the majority believe that even if North Korea has been exaggerating about their nuclear weaponry, they still have immense nuclear capabilities that should be taken seriously. The most recent test occurred in September, and the North Korean media labeled it a “perfect success”. This test was unique in that it concerned a hydrogen bomb, which is set up using nuclear fusion (merging atoms together), instead of an atomic bomb, which is set off using nuclear fission (splitting atoms). The chemical reaction caused by hydrogen bombs releases far more energy, and therefore is much more threatening to global stability. The test triggered a 6.3 magnitude tremor and landslides, and the blast was estimated to be 50-120 kilotons. For reference, the nuclear blast of Hiroshima was only 15-20 kilotons.
What would war with North Korea mean for the US and the world?
North Korea only has two or three weeks-worth of stocks, including food, ammunition, and fuel, before they can no longer sustain a war. This is a very short timeframe, and so they would most likely utilize a strategy of quick and massive destruction rather than a slower, more logical method. North Korea has the 4th largest army in the world; experts say there would likely be about 300,000-400,000 deaths in the first week of war, and over 2 million deaths by the end of the third week. North Korea’s first target would likely be neighboring Seoul, South Korea. After that, they would probably turn towards Japan and the United States. This may seem like a good thing, because after three weeks North Korea would basically be out of luck, but unfortunately, this also means they would have nothing to lose. If their country is going down, they are certainly going to take as many other countries down with them, especially the United States. After they run out of stocks, they have the recently tested nuclear devices at their disposal, and the world may be in for its first hydrogen bombing.
Why should I care?
Although it is unclear how accurate the aim of North Korea’s nuclear weaponry is, the United States is certainly one of North Korea’s top targets if they were to fire off a hydrogen bomb. Experts estimate the trajectory of their long-range missiles definitely encompasses the cities of Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago, and possibly even New York City and Boston. While it is unlikely that North Korea would aim at Kentucky, their aim could easily be off several hundred miles. Even if it is not, an attack on any US city is an attack on all US cities, and therefore, every American citizen should be concerned with the threat to our nation.
What are some possible (and attempted) solutions?
In the past, the United Nations has attempted to negotiate with North Korea, to no avail. The United States made an aid for disarmament deal with North Korea a few years ago; the US would help North Korea on the economic side in exchange for the destruction of all their nuclear weaponry. It appeared as if the deal would work, but North Korea supposedly lied about the extent of their artillery, and conducted a nuclear test in the midst of negotiations, which effectively revoked the deal. Now, the United Nations has imposed strict sanctions on the nation and China, North Korea’s only ally, has placed diplomatic and economic pressure on them. China has the power to deprive North Korea of most of its resources, but it is a risky game for them to play, for by going on the offensive China sets itself as an easy target. Finally, talk of assassinating the current leader, Kim Jong-un, has been circulating, but the unpredictability of what type of leadership would replace him makes this a last ditch option.
What can I do?
In reality, you are just one person, and as hard as you try, you cannot block a hydrogen bomb. However, do not think that you can’t be part of the solution just because you aren’t the President, a senator, or other government representative. The best thing you can do is to continue informing yourself on the issue, so that when election times roll around, you have the insight to choose the leaders who can help block a hydrogen bomb. By listening to the news and keeping updated on global politics, you will be more likely to elect wise leaders who have the most potential to ease tension with North Korea. You are the future, and your voice matters. Please, don’t be afraid to use it.