2003 April 28 Monday
North Korean Teenage Refugees Struggle To Adjust To South Korea

New York Times Magazine has an excellent article by Michael Paterniti about North Korean teenagers who escape North Korea to go to South Korea. It is entitled "The Flight of the Fluttering Swallows".

It was easy to forget that they had been born into one social experiment and were now suddenly part of another. In North Korea, they had been required to take daily ideology classes in which they were versed in the illustrious past of their leaders. Given the mythopoetics of the North Korean government and the propaganda -- Kim Il Sung singlehandedly beat back the Japanese, then the Americans; Kim Jong Il showed such scholarly aptitude that his teachers came to him for lessons -- they were instructed that their lives should be molded in the image of these gods and that strict discipline, order and sacrifice were necessary to achieve a state of juche, or self-reliance based on what was best for the collective.

In cloistered North Korea, little of the outside world penetrates or, if so, often comes as a distortion. Se-ok, the most world-savvy of the group, once asked, ''Is it true that every home in America has a robot?'' One boy said he had heard that there were extremely wealthy Americans who made $35,000 a year, every year. And if the fluttering swallows had heard rumors of places beyond their country where life was better -- China, Japan, America, South Korea -- there was no hard evidence to support the claim.

These kids provide a window into the mindset of all the people who are still in North Korea. For a variety of reasons illustrated by this article the North Koreans do not adjust well to South Korean society. A collapse of the North Korean regime would present South Korea with a problem far larger than the problem that West Germany has gone thru in reintegrating with East Germany. The gap in outlooks in life and in understanding of the world is far greater between the two Koreas than it was between the two Germanies.

The problem posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons development program and other Weapons Of Mass Destruction (WMD) development programs is heightened by the degree of isolation of the North Korean people. It is difficult to know just how much most North Koreans know about the outside world but there are indications that most know very little.

If North Koreans knew just how worse off they were than the rest of the world (especially South Korea and the United States) their support for their own regime would decline markedly and their desire to flee their own country would rise dramatically. With that thought in mind here are some ideas for how the US might be able to break the information monopoly that the North Korean regime has over the people of North Korea.

  • US attack subs should be loaded up with books and small radios (photovoltaic or mechanical piezo-electric powered), told to go up along the North Korean coast line, and then release their cargo to float to the surface and then to shore. Surface ships could do the same from a greater distance where the prevailing currents are favorable.
  • CIA agents in China and Russia should pay people to smuggle the books and radios over the border.
  • Books and radios should be attached to balloons when the winds are in a favorable direction so that they float into North Korea.
  • Book contents: Lots of pictures of life in South Korea, China, and places further afield combined with descriptions of life. Plus assorted classical novels, biographies, history books, etc.
  • CIA covert operators should work to get these materials and some cash (dollars or Chinese currency - not sure which is better but I've read dollars are used in NK black markets) into the hands of North Korean refugees living in China. The message then will get back into North Korea that there is help for them in China if they can only reach there. Plus, the cash will feed the development of a black market. A bigger black market will weaken the government.
  • Radio broadcasts: More frequencies and more kinds of content. Spoken book reading radio programs in Korean should be done continuously with multiple books on multiple frequencies at once.
  • Radio development: multiple US, Japanese, Taiwanese, and South Korean firms should be approached to propose designs.
  • The CIA should consider funding the development of a tuner that will fit inside of existing NK radio designs so that someone with an NK radio could change its guts to get more frequencies while outwardly the radio would look the same. Ditto for tuners for NK TV sets.

This all should be done on a massive scale. While it will not by itself bring down the North Korean regime it will reduce the support for the regime (which could be useful if military operations become necessary) and will make it more corruptible as well.

We just spent tens of billions on Iraq and were spending $2-3 billion per year on patrolling the no-fly zone. We ought to be spending $2-3 billion per year to break the NK information monopoly.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 April 28 01:01 AM  Korea


Comments
mikey said at June 12, 2005 9:15 PM:

This is an outstanding post. I have thought about these types ideas for a few years now. How can I help inspire the North Koreans to start a revolution? I have many pictures and videos of myself and south korean citizens having a good time together and so forth. I think If I was able to host a group of North Korean citizens in the USA or in South korea for a week or so, and then released them back to the North, that they would start a revolution.


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