The Idiot’s Guide to North Korea

Here’s a peek into the gulag known as North Korea.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:


With the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, American, Chinese and South Korean forces are on high alert, worried that internal frictions in the hermit kingdom might spark instability and lead to a flood of refugees fleeing to the Chinese and South Korean borders.

It’s difficult for Westerners to grasp the evil that is at the core of the North Korean state—a Stalinist regime that deliberately created a famine in the mid 1990’s which killed over two million North Koreans—but it is a gruesome reality. North Korea is the world’s most repressive regime. Reports indicate that the state practices euthanasia on infants born with mental and physical disabilities.

Those few North Koreans who have successfully defected to the West have drawn a picture of a state that is ruled by the Kim family and a political elite that oversees a vast military apparatus. Hundereds of thousands of North Koreans are each year sentenced to forced labor camps where an Auschwitz-like diet is supplemented with earth worms and tree bark.

Private property is unknown, there are no privately owned business, no banks, no contracts, no internet, no movie theaters, no bookstores. There’s not even paper for fear on the part of the government of subsersive writings and private diaries that encourage counter-revolutionary thinking.

North Koreans live, breathe and perish for one purpose: to serve the state.

The only religion that is permitted is worship of the ruling family, a collection of mass murderers, dim-wits and playboys rapists. This is a Communist state that makes Cuba and Venezuela look like a Disney theme parks.

The reason the West has been unable to deal effectively with this monstrous regime is because North Korea is a nuclear power. Hence, a self-defeating policy of appeasement has allowed North Korea to proliferate their nuclear program to Syria—Israel took care of that nasty business—and now Iran, where hundreds of North Korean scientists are hard at work in exchange for Iranian petro dollars.

If there is one lesson to be drawn from our failure to deal effectively with North Korea it is this: the West must not allow rogue regimes to acquire nuclear weapons. Because once that line has been crossed, nuclear blackmail becomes the coin of the realm for the emboldened totalitarians and viable foreign policy options are greatly reduced.

We messed up badly with North Korea. And it looks like the Obama administration is following the exact same playbook with Iran.

Sadly, it appears that, once again, Israel will be forced to deal unilaterally with Western indifference and stupidity.

Tonight begins the holiday of Chanukah. Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a joyous holiday filled with the light of Torah and freedom.

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  1. antoineclarke
    Posted December 26, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Euthanasia in North Korea.

    I’m not in favour of euthanasia, though I don’t judge those that decide they wish to die if they have an untreatable illness.

    But to be born in North Korea must surely be to draw the short straw in the lottery of life. I fear the ones they let live are the unlucky ones.

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  2. josh gberg
    Posted December 21, 2011 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    I feel awful, living in a world where this is happening and having no way to change it. Thanks for giving our fellow human beings in distress a voice here.

    By the way, I was kinda surprised by your use of the word euthanasia instead of infanticide or murder.

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted December 21, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink


      Thanks so much for your comment.

      I was wrong to use the word euthanasia. Infanticide/murder is more appropriate.

      Happy Chanukah to you and yours. 

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  3. GW
    Posted December 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    One final point – at the 3:50 mark in Video One, this long haired idiot opines that he thinks that, in the event of an invasion, the NK’s will walk over the SK’s because they are tougher, while the SK’s are raised on Playstation.  This joker has no clue whatsoever just how tough the soldiers in SK – both U.S. and Rok – really are.  He wouldn’t last half an hour in an SK combat U.S. or ROK unit over there.  Twelve to twenty mile runs, 30 mile forced marches over the mountains, those were weekly norms just for the regular units.  Bottom line, you could put the combat soldiers in South Korea up against any unit, regular of special ops, in the world, and in terms of toughness and discipline, the SK’s and U.S. would more than hold their own.  And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the superior tactical training of ROK and U.S. units.  When I hear off hand remarks like from this joker, it just makes my blood boil.     

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted December 21, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink


      Thank you for your service.

      And thanks so much for all your articulate comments. We value your wisdom.

      I agree about Shane Smith’s ignorance. The NORK army is, for the most part, malnourished and in a high state of discontent. An IDF analyst told me that maybe one Division in the NORK army is combat ready. And yes, he agrees, the South Korean army are some of the best, toughest, most motivated troops on planet earth. They are also several inches taller than their NORK counterparts due to a far better diet.

      I agree, the invasion tunnels are a death trap for the NORKS.

      BTW, I screen quite a few South Korean films and they are some of the most twisted, violent movies I have ever seen. The SK movies that deal with the North display profound fear of the sinister methods utilized by the NORK security apparatus. Movies might be just enetrtainment, but they frequently express popular national anxieties and dreams.

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    • Posted December 23, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      I’m always suspicious of these countries with their big parade armies, turned out to put on a show of discipline and might on command. The more grand the uniforms, the more outlandish the marching steps, the more I’m convinced that they have no real combat purpose. Unless NorK is sending men to fight surreptitiously abroad, I doubt if any NorK soldier has had any direct combat experience in two, perhaps three generations, and you can only learn so much from exercises.

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  4. Bill Brandt
    Posted December 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    While I am at work – ready to leave and just waiting for my flash drive to load (with my evening’s work!) several thoughts came to mind – will watch the video tonight. 
    First is that so many people here continue to be shocked at the brutality in the North – I am thinking of the “journalist” who Clinton rescued a couple of years ago – wrote a book about her experience. I am surprised that she was surprised.
    Second, while I was never stationed in South Korea (enjoyed reading the 2 posts from those who were) I read that the North has constructed invasion “tunnels” under the DMZ – and Seoul is only, what, 30 miles from the DMZ? 
    To be able to visit North Korea would probably be a surrealistic experience. I read somewhere that the late dictator used to ride in a train that Stalin gave the country – and old steam locomotive train. And he supposedly died on a train – the same one? 
    My father was called back during the Korean War – as it happens a week after I was born – and he supervised the loading of bodies at Inchon, according to my mother. 
    That and seeing children rummaging through the Army garbage left a life long impression on him.

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    • GW
      Posted December 20, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

      Seoul is 30 miles from the DMZ.  As I recall, four invasion tunnels have been found.  They were large enough to move up to 30,000 NK troops an hour and were designed to feed out about 5 to 15 miles behind the DMZ.  It certainly sounds like a good strategy to get troops behind the defenses on the DMZ itself, but the truth is, that from Seoul northwards, there are thousands of defensive points, and every possible choke point is rigged with explosives set to blow at the first hint of aggression.  Thus getting beyond the DMZ is not like getting “behind the defenses,” and two, what did the NK’s think was going to happen when the SK’s get word of a tunnel opening up into the South.  That whole route from Seoul to the DMZ is very heavily populated.  It is going to be hard to maintain surprise when digging out the exit point.  It always seemed to me to be far more of a death trap for the NK’s than a masterstroke of MacArthurian strategy.  (Oh, and speaking of MacArthur, the South Koreans have erected a beautiful statute of him looking out over Inchon harbor.)

      We know that about 1970, Kim Il Sung gave the order that all front line divisions were to dig and maintain two tunnels under the DMZ.  And indeed, the SK’s eventually found three tunnels under the DMZ in the 70’s.  A fourth was found in 1990.  The 8th Army has teams dedicated to scouring the DMZ to find more tunnels, but that has been it so far.  

      For the strategy to work, the NK’s who dug the tunnels about 145 ft deep, have to start tunneling upwards.  There are just all sorts of sensors and sophisticated means to detect that now, so, even if there are other tunnels, the NK’s being able to make use of them in an offensive is questionable.  Indeed, I am sure the 8th Army has an entire stock of thermobaric bombs just waiting for such an eventuality.      

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      • Bill Brandt
        Posted December 21, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        That’s interesting about the tunnels. I impression of NK is that it would have imploded long ago were it not for the Chinese and even our own politicians – using the mistaken belief that they can trade food for paper “agreements”.
        The food, if I’m not mistaken, simply goes to feeding their military and not the starving populace. 
        I believe the Chinese guard their border and return North Koreans trying to escape – how desperate do you have to be to want to escape to China? Death or a concentration camp awaits those returned.
        I think Robert’s description of the country is an appropriate one – one giant Gulag.
        I remember some years ago at the DMZ North Korean guards beat an American soldier to death over a tree. Can’t remember the exact circumstances but I remember the incident.
        Thanks GW for explaining some of the internals for me.

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  5. GW
    Posted December 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Actually, I see the North South meeting point at Panmoonjeom. I was stationed in the area just adjacent to that.  The line of dermarcation there is in a valley about a mile wide.  It is the most heavily mined area in the world.  But there is no bright line, or even a fence directly on the line of demarcation.  But wander on the wrong side and bad things happen.  Small firefights happened there with regularity at night.  

    On the northern side of the DMZ is a modest sized North Korean town.  It appears, from our side, to be quite well kept.  During the day, you can see “civilians” working in the surrounding rice fields.  But at night, the town is completely empty.  There are no heat signatures.  It is completely a propaganda display.  Likewise, the NK’s maintain huge loud speakers near Panmunjom, blasting propaganda and music into the South.  Actually, we kind of liked the music.   

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  6. GW
    Posted December 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    As a light infantry officer, I spent 5 years in South Korea, and a good part of those 5 years on the DMZ.  The North is a military state grafted onto a cult of personality that goes beyond anything Stalin could ever dream of.  Indeed, it is Orwell’s worst nightmares given force of reality.  You hit most of the salient points about life north of DMZ, but just to add two points – and I am not sure whether they are covered in the video (I am watching as I type).  One, the typical diet of North Korean’s – not in the gulags, but the 20 million non-politically connected people – is about 700 calories a day.  The average defector shows the effect – the average NK is 5 inches shorter than his SK counterpart.  And far worse, I have heard numerous reports of cannibalism in the North.  

    As bad as life is in the North, life in the South was vibrant, raucous and alive.  The South Koreans were some of the friendliest people I have ever had the opportunity to meet.  And South Korea is an incredibly mountainous and fecund land.  If you have never visited that country, it is one of the most naturally beautiful places on earth.  And the culture is rich indeed.

    During my first tour in South Korea, stationed near the DMZ, some of my first sites were of women breaking ice on a small stream to wash clothes and men using oxen to till their rice fields.  When I started my second tour, three years later, everything had changed.  What was a third world country had changed seemingly overnight.  They were approaching a first world standard of living with amazing rapidity.     

    Unfortunately, Korea is a small country, and tens of millions of people live within artillery range of the North.  If there is ever a war again in the Koreas, there is no question in my mind that casualties will easily climb over a million in just civilian deaths.  

    The North Korean Army, decimated by the US during the Korean War, has since been reconstituted and manned as an invasion force.  That is why they have over a million people in their active duty forces, with millions more in reserve.  There was a long period where North Korea held an upper hand, with the only things keeping them north of the DMZ were the threat of U.S. intervention and the fact that China had no desire for renewed hostilities.  Their military force is still numerically strong today, but its potential effectiveness is decreasing exponentially for lack of funds.  The window in which the North might still attack south and have a chance of winning is still open, but it is closing rapidly.  And God help us all if the new dictator or the military command decides that it is time to push south before all hope is lost.   

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