According to an article in Time, Christmas celebrations do not happen in spite of the country’s “Eternal President” Kim Il-Sung being born to a Protestant minister’s family and raised Presbyterian. Instead on December 24, the people of North Korea celebrate the birth of Sung’s wife, whose major “accomplishment” was giving birth to Kim Jong-il, making her the grandmother to current leader Kim Jong-un, or as we like to refer to him, Dennis Rodman’s BFF.
In a February 2009 article from DailyNK, it was reported that Valentine’s Day is also not celebrated, at least not in the traditional sense. No, the month of February means celebrating “The General’s Birthday.” Instead of a dozen roses, women typically do the gift-giving as the country is a largely patriarchal society. One common gift that a woman would give to her love interest is a case made from nylon thread that celebrated the Workers’ Party, usually featuring the Party slogan or words “Workers’ Party” inscribed in crimson thread. The case can be worn across the shoulders by a strap about 150 centimeters long.
From the Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Book: The country has no independent media. Every radio or TV that you buy is pre-tuned to a government station. Listening to foreign broadcasts is a felony offense, and the government jams all foreign signals so you can’t stumble upon one by accident. In other words, seeking outside sources of information is treason.
In the 2008 book North Korea: Enchantment of the World, it was reported that citizens of North Korea worship Kim Jong-il — we’re sure voluntarily — and are told he was born on the sacred Mount Paektu, which stands at 9,003 feet as the highest point in the Koreas and is revered by both the North and the South. (By the way, Kim Jong-Il was really born in Siberia, and like many ORDINARY people, he died in 2011 of a heart attack.) Of course, the government-run broadcast stations claimed that during his death, a blizzard ceased, the sky above Mount Paektu glowed a bright red, and the ice on one of the country’s great lakes cracked so loud it sent a shudder through the heavens and earth. Didn’t quite make it to the US, though.
Yes, that’s right, in addition to heart problems, NK’s fearless leader and self-proclaimed deity was afflicted with Little Man’s Disease, that same condition that infects your boss’s son when he realizes Dad is on the brink of retirement. At five feet, two inches tall, the North Korean leader couldn’t stand the fact that most women in the country were taller than him, so he wore four-inch lifts to bring himself up to a towering 5’6″. One of the great mysteries and perplexing Things You May Not Know About North Korea, and great mysteries in life, is how an entire nation of people could fear and obey a man the size of a child lost at the supermarket.
The CIA notes that men in North Korea have a life expectancy of around 61 years to women’s 66. Compare that to the average life expectancy of the US in which men, as of 2010, were expected to make it to 76 and women 81 — source: InfoPlease — and you can tell something is askew. Of course, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il went far beyond those numbers at 82 and 69, respectively. The difference likely came because as presidents, they had access to the best healthcare. Not so much for the country’s citizens. They’re entirely dependent on government healthcare, which is free to everyone, but considering at age 33, I’d be in the second half of life in NK, it’s not what we would call high quality stuff. Luckily, that’ll never happen here — oh wait, never mind.
For anyone who mistakenly thinks the US spends too much on military, consider this little factoid, also from the CIA. North Korea’s expenditures as of 2010 totaled more than 30 percent of its gross domestic product. That’s almost ten times as much as the US spends by comparison (3.7 percent). And you wonder why such a small percentage of people can make life so miserable for the majority! Those expenditures have bought them enough plutonium to create six nuclear weapons, and the country is currently capable of wiping Alaska, Hawaii, or our West Coast off the map. Additionally, in the book North Korea: Enchantment of the World, it was estimated that the country has in excess of 5,000 pounds in biological and chemical weaponry.
In the book North Korea: Another Country, writer Bruce Cumings tells of the manjokjo, a group of “satisfaction teams” that are comprised of young girls, who are used specifically for the pleasure of the country’s highest ranking officials. News of the manjokjo broke when Mi-hyang was able to break free from her homeland and defect two years in to her service to Kim Jong-il. Guards acting on the leader’s behalf snatched Mi-hyang from her classroom when she was 15 years old. In the weasel’s defense, he had a basic sense of morality and according to Mi-hyang, would not have sex with underage girls, so she was never forced to be with him. But at a certain point, women selected for the satisfaction team have no choice. Mi-hyang alleges that she escaped prior to her “promotion” in a heart-breaking interview reported by Marie Claire. “Heart-breaking” because these women are forced into sexual acts, kept away from their families, and largely marginalized as people, all in the name of inflating a man’s ego. And we use the word “man” loosely here.
There is much good and beauty in the nation’s people, customs, and geography, but with human rights abuses running rampant and a totalitarian regime that favors itself above its people, it’s hard not to feel sympathy and anger for what ordinary people must go through. Until these Things You May Not Know About North Korea have been corrected, the nation, and the world may never be at peace.