2004 March 02 Tuesday
North Koreans May Suffer From Hunger Induced Brain Damage

As the Marmot has previously reported and as Barbara Demick describes in greater detail the North Koreans are about 8 inches shorter than South Koreans (same article here) due to the sustained food shortages and famine in North Korea.

South Korean anthropologists who measured North Korean refugees here in Yanji, a city 15 miles from the North Korean border, found that most of the teenage boys stood less than 5 feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. In contrast, the average 17-year-old South Korean boy is 5-feet-8, slightly shorter than an American boy of the same age.

North Koreans are shocked when they find out that South Koreans are so much taller. Imagine what the impact would be North Koreans if they all knew just much much shorter they are than the South Koreans.

To the extent that they ever get to meet South Koreans, the North Koreans are likewise shocked. When two diminutive North Korean soldiers, ages 19 and 23, accidentally drifted into South Korea on a boat, one reportedly was overheard saying they would never be able to marry South Korean women because they were "too big for us," according to an account in the book "The Two Koreas," by Don Oberdorfer.

The United States government ought to be making a very large effort to break through the information monopoly the North Korean government has over the North Korean people by smuggling in radios, books, and other material. The chief goal of such an operation should be to cause the North Koreans to learn just how much worse off they are than South Korea, Japan, and the United States. A secular ideology is disprovable by empirical evidence. North Korea's regime is far more vulnerable to undermining by outside influences than is a regime based on a widely believed religion. Religions based on beliefs about the supernatural are as easily disproven or discredited in the eyes of their believers and so theocratic regimes in religious nations are harder to undermine.

South Koreans fear reunification with the North in part because they fear the Northerners suffer from lower IQs due to sustained hunger and malnutrition.

The issue of IQ is sufficiently sensitive that the South Korean anthropologists studying refugee children in China have almost entirely avoided mentioning it in their published work. But they say it is a major unspoken worry for South Koreans, who fear that they could inherit the burden of a seriously impaired generation if Korea is reunified.

"This is our nightmare," anthropologist Chung said. "We don't want to get into racial stereotyping or stigmatize North Koreans in any way. But we also worry about what happens if we are living together and we have this generation that was not well-fed and well-educated."

About 500 North Korean children have come to South Korea, either alone or with their parents, and they are known to have difficulty keeping up in the school system, say people who work with defectors.

The food problem in North Korea shows no signs of getting better.

BEIJING, Feb. 13 -- A severe food shortage has crippled the U.N. feeding program that sustains North Korea's most vulnerable and undernourished people, according to Masood Hyder, the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator and World Food Program representative in Pyongyang.

He said his organization can now feed fewer than 100,000 of the 6.5 million people it normally does, many of them kindergarten-age children and pregnant women who cannot get what they need to stay healthy from the country's distribution system.

Undermining the North Korean regime ought to be a major US foreign policy goal. That the Bush Administration is not trying very hard to reach the people of North Korea is a major continuing US foreign policy mistake.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 March 02 02:41 AM  Korea

Mike Quinlan said at March 3, 2004 3:08 PM:

Gotta love those South-Korean xenophobes fretting about the burden of caring for the nutritionaly deprived northerners in the advent of Korean reunification. I'm probably being harsh, but I tend to view with suspicion the direction of such thinking. I would hate that it might be used as an argument against the reunification and intergration of Korea based upon a supposedly biological development lag that has had the effect of creating two races out of one. One of course being further along, further evolved so to speak. Its a horror even to think this way, so I will curb my suspicion of the above South Korean anthropologists' motivations, and acknowledge that yes there will be problems and challenges inherent in such a social reunification. Ones that Koreans will find that they are capable of meeting and living through should they so desire.
The North Korean regimes is one of humanity's shames. Sadly, its also quite fascinating from a sociological point of view. Nevertheless this functioning Stalinist charade has to come to an end. Propaganda maintains it, and, you are right, means must be used to wage an ideological war against the regime and undermine its legitimacy.
Will the US step into the breach and make it an aim of their foreign policy ? I doubt it. Its a quagmire and realpolitik game involving the Chinese and their concerns regarding Korea
as well. What a world...

Patri Friedman said at March 8, 2004 2:08 PM:

It does seem a bit wacky to view problems caused by malnutrition with a xenophobic eye. Unlike an actual racial difference, which would affect the newly integrated countries gene pool in a lasting manner, the effects of malnutrition should disappear in a generation. Seems like rushing to fix it should be a more natural response...

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