Let us imagine you are a North Korean man with a decent songbun, and you want to have a good career in the Korean People’s Army (KPA). What should be your strategy?
First, as you know, almost no one can join a military academy (your main objective) without serving as a regular enlisted soldier first, so when you turn 17, you have to report to the local military mobilization committee.
Consider bribing the commission, especially if you want to serve in the navy or air force. But even if your objective is to serve in the ground forces, a bribe is still useful: serving in a good unit will ensure you are fed and trained well instead of being used as a laborer.
Your first few months will be spent in a training camp. The conditions are not exactly what you will be accustomed to in your family (they may be better, or worse, depending on your social background) but know that conditions in the real army are probably worse than here. It would be wise not to make long-standing social connections: in two months or so you will be reassigned to the unit where you are going to serve.
YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW
So, two months are over. Congratulations, comrade private, and welcome to your company. Let me introduce you to the most important person in the unit for you: your company’s political instructor.
He, or sometimes she, is in charge of who is going to be admitted to the Party and how soon. Since you are a North Korean, there is really no need for me to explain how important that is. Remember, most of your comrades have the same goal. You do not need to worry that much: you will probably be admitted, you are a military man, after all, but the question is who gets there fastest. Make sure it is you.
The second person who you should eventually get to know is the chief of your division’s cadre department. This guy – probably a colonel – decides whether you will be admitted to the academy.
The decision is made based on one’s chulsin-songbun (i.e. your family origins, which you cannot change, so relax: no need to worry about things we cannot influence), successes in training, and knowledge of Great Leaders’ speeches. Of course, if the colonel or one of his superiors end up owing you a favor, you will probably be admitted ahead of others.
When you turn 17, you have to report to the local military mobilization committee
One personal request while you serve: do not sleep with girls who serve in the army, be it in your unit or anywhere else. You know that this is forbidden and you don’t want your lover to be publicly disgraced in front of her unit and immediately discharged. Please be a gentleman.
Remember: your rank now does not really matter that much. The important things are to join the Party, be liked by your superiors, and do reasonably well in training and political sessions. It may take between four and ten years for you to be selected.
And of course, if the Leader suddenly visits your unit, try to do your very best to please him. His one word of praise will override almost all, if not just all, of your problems. Of course, since everyone else wants to get his attention, too, your unit’s command may simply not let you and many others see him.
Let us assume that you succeed and are admitted to an academy. You quit your unit and move to another part of the country where your academy is located. The training course usually takes several years, after which you are granted the rank of junior lieutenant. One or two people from your year will be granted a promotion directly to lieutenant, but let us be realistic: one or two out of more than a thousand means “not you”.
UP THE GREASY POLE
So, congratulations on your graduation and welcome back to the army, comrade junior lieutenant! I should probably, however, call you comrade platoon commander – that will probably be your first position as an officer. You still sleep in the platoon’s barracks, but the life of an officer has its privileges: you can now call your family on a regular basis. Your salary has also increased, although it is still tiny.
The important things are to join the Party, be liked by your superiors, and do reasonably well in training and political sessions
Once you rise in rank to company commander (you will probably be a senior lieutenant by then), you can start looking for a spouse. Once you are married you can live with your wife in a small, but separate, house.
Promotions to senior officers require further education in one of the military colleges and, if you are thinking about your career, you’d better do it sooner rather than later. The next and highest step of your education, if you are lucky, will be attending lectures at the Kim Il Sung Military University, where all graduates get to wear a special badge showing everyone that they have completed the highest course of military education in the country.
TOUGH AT THE TOP
A successful officer’s career in most countries ends at the rank of colonel – and that the case in North Korea too. Promotions are rare, and, as you know, even some Heroes of the DPRK were never promoted to generals. But we all like to dream, so let me tell you what will happen if you are one of the very lucky ones who would manage to reach these heights.
All general ranks are given on the Leader’s orders, which are usually issued in middle February or April – just before Kim Jong Il or Kim Il Sung’s birthday. Unless you are doing something really secret, the news will be published in the Rodong Sinmun – it is front page news, at least as far as the Party is concerned.
Roughly from the moment you get your third star (thus becoming a Colonel General), you become more of a politician than a general. In time you will discover that your rank is once again of less importance: some four-star generals may be more powerful than even a KPA Marshal.
North Korean politics are a completely different world, but before we part ways, allow me one final piece of advice, comrade general. You know how many generals were recently shot, don’t you? They all thought they could escape such a grim fate, and now they are all dead. So if you notice any problems around you, best retire as soon as possible.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News
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