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’s question is:
What do ordinary North Koreans think of the regime’s nuclear tests and possession of nuclear weapons? Do they just act as if they support the regime’s decision because they have no other choice while secretly disapproving of it?
No, to my knowledge most ordinary North Koreans don’t have negative opinions of the regime’s nuclear program.
When I was still living in North Korea, the regime had a successful nuclear test. People were very proud of it. We once had a town hall meeting where my neighbors talked about how the U.S. could not boss us around anymore. Most North Koreans are very aware of the fact that other countries make fun of and look down upon North Korea. North Koreans think that the main reason for this is poverty – in other words, North Koreans think that other countries look down on the North because they’re poorer. North Koreans are well-aware of North Korea’s status in the international community.
In fact, when North Koreans return after spending some time abroad, people are curious as to know how North Koreans are perceived in other countries. Those North Koreans would tell their neighbors that North Korea and its people are usually looked down upon. People take great interest in this and it spreads quickly among the people.
Also, leaving North Korea isn’t as difficult as you’d think. Of course, moving from North Korea to South Korea is a very difficult task – it’s never easy. But in my hometown many of my neighbors frequently visited China without permission from the government. Still, they eventually voluntarily return to North Korea because they get discriminated against in China. When you’re a North Korean who goes to China, they treat you as if you’re always starving. The moment you say you’re from North Korea, they would throw food at you, saying things like, “You poor thing, you must be starving! Here’s food!” Incidents like this make North Koreans feel self-conscious.
Therefore, North Koreans become very proud when they hear that North Korea has become a de facto nuclear state. When North Koreans hear news like this, they tend to think “Our nation may still be poor. But we can be one of the most powerful and influential nations in the sense of national defense.”
Unlike South Korea, North Korea makes great investment in history education, especially on the Japanese imperial rule and the era following independence. As many people know, Japanese committed unpardonable atrocities against unarmed, innocent Koreans. The North Korean government highlights the acts of brutality and the agony people are faced with when they suffer the loss of their country. This is how the North Korean government justifies its possession of nuclear weapons in order to protect the country against others.
Pictures and graffiti of Japanese and American soldiers committing acts of violence are painted on the buildings of kindergartens, schools and offices in North Korea
And North Koreans show more hostility toward Japanese than Americans. When adults in my hometown talked about America, they referred to Americans as American adults (in the Korean language, “adult” is added to the sentence to show respect). But they used a derogatory term to refer to Japanese people. That’s how much they felt hostile toward the Japanese and they still hold a grudge against the Japanese who acted brutally toward Koreans in the past. The brutality of the Japanese and U.S. military are depicted in textbooks. North Koreans read such textbooks from their kindergarten years. Pictures and graffiti of Japanese and American soldiers committing acts of violence are painted on the buildings of kindergartens, schools and offices in North Korea. If you grow up being brainwashed and exposed to such environment from kindergarten years, how would you feel? North Koreans grow up realizing the importance of protecting their own country.
This leads to the justification of possessing a nuclear program and weapons. The North Korean government doesn’t teach its people about the negative sides of nuclear program. So, ordinary North Koreans have no way of finding out how dangerous nuclear weapons can be.
Of course, some North Koreans may hold different opinions or beliefs on this issue. I’d like my readers to keep in mind that this is purely my opinion and experience from my time in North Korea. But from what I’ve seen, North Koreans are in favor of their government’s possession of nuclear program for one reason: It will protect North Korea from powerful countries such as the U.S. and Japan and they won’t have to go back to the time when Koreans had to suffer under the U.S. military and Japanese imperialism.
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Editing and translation by Elizabeth Jae
Artwork by Catherine Salkeld
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