A Bullet Is More Precious Than A Bon-bon

Ask A North Korean: What do most North Koreans think of the country's satellite and rocket programs?
December 5th, 2012

Every week we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about. This week, Chett asks:

What do most North Koreans think of the country’s satellite and rocket programs?

When I lived in North Korea, I was very proud of my county’s satellite and rocket programs. You see, for us these rocket and satellite launches were great news because they showcased the high education of our country and our nation’s strong technical capabilities.

On launch day there would always be lots of news on the TV and radio and so the rocket program would get a lot of attention from the general public. However, the news was always vague – we didn’t know where the launch was held, how the scientists prepared for it,  or what technology they made the rocket with.

When it came to cost, we didn’t mind so much. In North Korea we understand the country to be poor because of sanctions from the U.S. and South Korea. In this regard it makes sense that the military should get the most resources, as they are the ones protecting the nation. We actually have a saying that “a bullet is more precious than a candy”.

So when I would see news about the rocket and missile launches, I always thought, “our technicians have done a great job and no powerful country can do anything to us because we have the newest and greatest weapons”. Yes, I believed the rocket and satellite made my country more powerful.

I assume some people had an idea of the big impact of the satellite launches on the poverty and hunger of the country. From time to time I would hear some rumor that the country was poor because the party was spending all the money on the military. But of course, nobody can mention anything! For example, you’d never hear someone say, “We would all have a better life if they instead used the money from the rocket launches on the general public”.

Anyway, no one in North Korea knows exactly how much money is needed to develop these programs and certainly no one individual can judge the great work of the party. But even if the rocket and nuclear programs do require a lot of money, our strong ideological education means that nobody has a totally negative opinion about them – because everyone knew they make the country stronger.

From another perspective, I do remember an interesting rumor that used to go around quite often. This was that North Korean satellite and missile technology was much better developed than in South Korea or other countries. Even today I think it could be true, but in the past I was sure that we were the best.

I also remember the successful launch of 1998 and 2006, when our news media reported that North Korean technology was admired by many other countries throughout the world. I can’t remember for sure but I think I didn’t hear about any failures in these projects. I was confused when I came to South Korea and heard those rockets actually ended up failing. But not everyone believes that. Even now, my defector friend still believes we’ve been lied to and these launches were actually successful.

Well, now in South Korea I really don’t have much personal interest in North Korean rocket launches like the one coming up. I do not support them and I’m no longer proud of them. Rather, I think it would be better if the party could spend the money from the rocket launch on development which can be used for the people and help save lives.

Got A Question?

Jae-young grew up in North Korea but now lives in the South, and is happy to tell you all about her past. So if you have a burning question for her, get in touch and send us your questions.

Artwork by The Morning Skyrail

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About the Author

Jae Young Kim