10 Things You Might Not Know About North Korea

Getty Images
Getty Images / Getty Images

Yesterday, the world was set on edge when North Korea tested a multi-kiloton nuclear bomb at a facility in P'unggye. It’s always interesting to know who’s on the other side of the Bomb, so here are ten things you might not know about North Korea.

1. It has a large military.

While a real world occurrence of 2012’s Red Dawn is impossible even by the admittedly low standards of 80s action film remakes, North Korea does have a really, really large military. The country has universal conscription in accordance with its constitution, which states: "Defending the fatherland is the supreme duty and honor of citizens. Citizens shall defend the fatherland and serve in the armed forces as prescribed by law." It is estimated that 1.1 million males are on active duty military status, making it the fourth-largest army in the world. Its reserve force of 8 million is the world’s largest.

2. You’re not allowed to cross its borders with a “killing device.”

Sophie Schmidt recently toured North Korea with her father and provided a fascinating written record of her experience. Among items which must be declared at customs include “killing device,” “exciter,” “hand phone,” and “publishings of all kinds.”

3. On average, North Koreans are 1 to 3 inches shorter than South Koreans.

Professor Daniel Schwekendiek from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul studied refugees from North Korea. Compared with those who live in South Korea, there is a difference in height of 1 to 3 inches. He observed that the disparity is most striking among children. "The height gap is approximately 4 cm (1.6 in) among pre-school boys and 3 cm (1.2 in) among pre-school girls, and again the South Koreans would be taller." Martin Bloem, head of nutrition at the World Food Programme, attributed the difference to the poor diet of North Koreans. He says, "Food and what happens in the first two years of life is actually critical for people's height later.”

4. Kim Jong-Il was the “Shining Star of Paektu Mountain.”

Everyone knows that Kim Jong-Il was called “Dear Leader” by the state press. But North Korean journalists could get a little more creative than that. Among other titles, the North Korean leader was called: “Brilliant Leader,” “Guiding Sun Ray,” “Ever-Victorious, Iron-Willed Commander,” and “Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have.”

5. Its sitting president is dead.

The incumbent president of North Korea is Kim Il-Sung. He assumed the office of the Eternal Presidency on July 8, 1994, and he has steadfastly held onto power, even though he’s been dead for 18 years. This makes North Korea the world’s only necrocracy.

6. There’s no escaping the idols of the ruling family.

If you’re an educated North Korean, there’s a good chance you went to Kim Il-Sung University. (You might even have read the Complete Collection of Kim Il Sung's Works, a riveting hundred volume work.) Sports fan? See you at Kim Il-Sung Stadium. We can get there by crossing Kim Il-Sung Bridge. And just to shake things up, let’s meet at the Immortal Statue of Kim Il-Sung (which is one of 34,000 statues of Kim Il-Sung in North Korea, not including the Towers of Eternal Life in each town). But that’s nothing next to his son, who can reportedly control the weather based on his moods.

7. I can’t even think of something to say here.

In 2009, satellite imagery revealed a lot about the high life of the Kims, and the terrifying subjugation of the North Korean people. Photographs revealed details of Hwasong Concentration Camp, generally known as Camp 16, one of the country’s most notorious prisons. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is roughly 300 square miles. There are 20,000 political prisoners at Camp 16, and it is located near a facility for testing nuclear bombs (because the hell of lifelong forced labor isn’t enough). Things you might expect to find in a North Korean prison include torture, executions both public and secret, starvation, disease, and infanticide (in the cases where expecting mothers were incarcerated).

8. The Kim family is doing okay, thanks for asking.

When he wasn’t orchestrating genocide, Kim Jong-Il was building mansions. He had 32 residences ranging from ornate beach houses to frightful massive mountaintop palaces. Presumably, they weren’t returned to the people when he died. After all, the late dictator remains in office as Eternal General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea. And what better way to recover from a long day’s work than a few rides down a garish poolside water slide? For what it’s worth, when Kim Jong-Il came to power, the price tag of ceremonies honoring him and his father came to $2.68 billion.

9. Kim Jong-un is ramping up the propaganda machine.

The Supreme Leader of North Korea is Kim Jong-un, who also holds the positions of Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army, First Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea—look, I’ll save you some time here. He holds all the titles. The state press has called him the “Great Successor.” He’s the youngest head of state in the world, holds a physics degree, and loves long-range rockets and nuclear weapons. Upon his father’s death, Kim Jong-un was declared the "party, military, and country’s supreme leader who inherits great comrade Kim Jong-il’s ideology, leadership, character, virtues, grit and courage." Great.

10. It has its very own Internet.

Kwangmyong is North Korea’s intranet, available for the browsing of Kim fan pages by the North Korean people. It is not connected to the Internet, because—well if you made it this far in the list I don’t really need to explain why. Kwangmyong has email, news, an electronic library, and scrubbed science material from the world media. The official Internet presence of North Korea wants you to know that “The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is a genuine workers' state in which all the people are completely liberated from exploitation and oppression. The workers, peasants, soldiers and intellectuals are the true masters of their destiny and are in a unique position to defend their interests.”