North Korea: the medal-makers’ mother lode

north korean medals

North Korea has been making headlines a great deal lately, and not for good reasons.

So-called Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has spent the past few months engaged in sabre rattling to a degree that would have made his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, proud.

In a move that must have warmed the hearts of millions of impoverished North Koreans scraping to find enough food to keep their families from starving, the nation’s leadership announced intentions to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States, calling the US the “sworn enemy of the Korean people.”

A few days later, North Korea confirmed it was ending the 60-year armistice connected to the 1950-53 Korean War.

On March 30, Pyongyang declared it was in “a state of war” with South Korea, and Kim Jong-un stated that rockets were ready to be fired at American bases in the Pacific in response to the US flying two nuclear-capable B2 stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula.

While US intelligence officials speculate that Kim Jong-un is using the bluster to assert control over his country, and his ultimate goal is recognition rather than getting involved in a devastating conflict, the general consensus seems to be that the baby-faced dictator is decidedly unpredictable, if not eight kinds of crazy.

Which is just what the people of North Korea don’t need at this point.

The past century has not been easy for the North Koreans.

The entire Korean peninsula was annexed by the Japanese from 1910 until the end of World War II, and tens of thousands of North Koreans were conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army and an estimated 200,000 women forced to serve as prostitutes for the Japanese Army during the Second World War.

The peninsula was partitioned at the conflict’s end, with Soviet Union establishing authority in the northern half.

NASA Image of the Korean Peninsula, showing discrepancies in energy use between North and South Korea.

NASA Image of the Korean Peninsula, showing discrepancies in energy use between North and South Korea.

Kim Il-sung took over in power in 1946 and introduced sweeping land reforms and began nationalizing important industries.

In June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, beginning the Korean War, which would claim an estimated 2.5 million killed, wounded and missing, including more than 1.5 million North Koreans.

North Korea withdrew further into itself following the war, as a cult of personality developed around Kim Il-sung. Propped up by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, North Korea fell on hard times when the USSR collapsed.

More than 1 million North Koreans are believed to have died during a famine in the mid- to late-1990s alone.

But amid all the “Hermit Kingdom’s” problems, at least two industries appear to be thriving. One, not surprisingly, is the military.

North Korea has the fourth-largest army in the world, with an estimated 1.2 million armed personnel, or about 20 percent of its men ages 17–54 in the regular armed forces, according to the US Department of State.

North Korea has the highest percentage of military personnel per capita of any nation in the world, 49 out of every 1,000, according to The Economist.

The other industry that seems to be going gangbusters is military medal manufacturing.

Recently, a Chinese entertainment internet site posted a collection of North Korean soldiers that showed the latter covered in badges and medals, which drew a response from an online site called Daily NK, which is advertised as “Brightening the Future of Korea.”

Some of the images featured students from something called the “Revolutionary Academy” with multitudes of medals, which Chinese viewers found perplexing, given their young age.

The Daily DK explained that the majority of students from the Revolutionary Academy were offspring of parents who had performed meritorious deeds and died for North Korea, and the youngsters were wearing badges inherited from their parents.

Other photos posted on the Chinese site showed soldiers, both active and retired, with row upon row of medals, to the point that one wonders whether there is an action that the North Koreans don’t recognize with a decoration.

It’s all good for a laugh, one supposes, but it should also make those of us outside North Korea, especially those in the Western World, grateful to have been born anywhere besides the area along the Korean Peninsula north of the 38th Parallel.

10 thoughts on “North Korea: the medal-makers’ mother lode

  1. Three comments:

    – Wonder how long it would take a fully laden medaled Kim Jong-un to make it through our airport detectors?

    – This little man (and he IS a ‘little man’) is the result of DNA gone berserk. The whole ‘Kim’ dynasty is the result of inbreeding.

    – Maybe Truman should have kept his presidential pride at bay a little longer and kept MacArthur in charge until the job was finished — one way or the other.

    • This is another example where I have such a hard time siding with those that say the US should stay out of the affairs of other nations. The people of North Korea have suffered through decades of isolation and impoverishment as a result of this family’s totalitarian rule – with help from China and Russia, to be certain. Millions have been sentenced to prison camps, millions have starved and as inhumane as war is, is it better that the North Korean population suffers under these despots? I suppose there’s no easy answer, but I do believe that sometimes taking out a corrupt regime can be a humanitarian act.

      • I sincerely agree with your humanitarian point of view. It is true, and well documented by secret visits, photographs, videos, et al, that the people of N.Korea have suffered immeasureably for years. They do need help. So, so much terrible suffering….

        This whole situation there – and in parts of Africa – does beg the question: ‘Are WE the ones to step in and solve their problems, take care of the bad guys and restore peace and the economy to help them to help themselves…?’
        Are WE to be the policemen of the world? For us to step in and offer our help would mean immediate war.

        Most thinking people believe that the current wars in the Middle East are not of our making — although, there is a strong incentive for oil from that region – from the ME and, now we learn, from parts of Africa .Genocide, with the resultant starvation, and massive refugee numbers in Africa are, for the most part the result of internecide warfare. And then there’s the question of Israel. You know my thinking on that. No point in re-stating it again.

        It is now a matter of fact, too, that we have been sold a bill of goods and lied to so many times by our national leadership about why we were and continue to be in the ME.

        I do not have an answer, CBC. The whole situation lies heavy on my heart. As always, I bring it to the Lord in prayer.

        I cannot imagine that our country would get involved in a war with No. Korea. It’s a given that China and Russia would become involved immediately. There’s a strong possibility that it would be a thermonuclear war. My mind cannot even go there.So we would again have an inter-continental holocaust at our back door. This coming at a time when we are not in a position to handle such an outlay of weapons and manpower. We are economically and morally very weak. Further outlays would mean severe cutbacks among our own poor.

        Also — I do not think that a war with No. Korea would be ‘popular’ among the current Congress. How would they ‘sell it’ to the American people.

        I do not trust Obama. He has been shown to be self-serving and phony. It may even be deeper than that. There are very few in Congress that I trust. So many of them are busy bullshitting us while filling their pockets with lobbyists’ money.

        Sounds as if I’m in a ‘downer’ mood, CBC, but I am so worried about our beloved country. I do love it so. And we have such wonderful compassionate people living here with good, unselfish hearts. That always becomes evident when we have tragedies among us.


      • It is a conundrum as to what to do in situations such as North Korea. Personally, I’d advise against getting mixed up with a country led by a crazy man who apparently has nuclear capabilities and likes to bluster about using them.

        Obviously, a nation has to pick its place as to when to intervene. I’d very much like it if we could go back to a time when the US could sit on the sidelines and let others work out their issues, no matter what means they chose. That’s not a realistic option any longer, however.

        We don’t need to be the world’s policeman in every situation, but there are times when stepping would seem necessary. Stopping genocide is one of those reasons.

        I’m not a particular fan of our current president’s politics, but I also don’t adhere to those who believe he is motivated by nefarious intent. I think in general most of our elected officials, at least at the state level or higher, have traded any personal convictions they may have had for political expediency. Many are professional politicians and do what they need to to stay in office. This creates situations where what’s best for them and best for the district/state/nation don’t match up.

        Ultimately, you’re right in that there are many good people in this country – and other countries around the globe. That’s the thing to keep in mind when concerns about the future rise up.

        Take care.

  2. All I can imagine is the terror of the dry cleaner when one of these uniforms turns up. Do they take the badges off and risk putting them back out of order or do they just clean around them and hope for the best… 😉
    I wonder if they are like scout badges, knot tying, funny marches, bowing to the leader, jingliest walk…..

    • I think staying out of the North Korean version of the gulag and keeping your family from starving are worth at least a couple of medals.

      There are no dry cleaners in North Korea. I’m sure they just run them down to the river and scrub them on the rocks. If the washerwomen happen to nick a medal in the process, they get sent to a “re-education camp,” where they can ponder the error of their ways. Good times, I’m sure.

      • I bet those guys don’t even know how their uniforms stay clean, that is what terrified servants are for.
        It is a bit hard to take them seriously when the badges have migrated all the way to their trousers.

  3. I fall into the “we can’t be the world’s police” crowd; however, I do feel for the people under that despotic, inbred fool. I am registered in Virginia as an “Independent” but my politics do lean left and I vote with the Dems (usually as the lesser of the two evils). In our state, I can vote in any caucus or primary by being registered as an “Independent.” In national elections, I have voted for ONE Republican since I was old enough to vote and he was Virginia’s former Senator John Warner; a man that I truly feel did his best to look at the issues and cross the aisle when needed without being a party-line vote guy.

    I must admit that my views on war are heavily colored by the Viet Nam fiasco as I was of the age to be drafted then (AHEM, couldn’t vote because I was under 21 but old enough to go to war). Does anyone see a little sarcasm in that last statement? Fortunately, I was able to keep a college deferment until the lottery came along and I was lucky and received a high number.

    In the case of North Korea, I really do wish that a consortium of countries could do something to help the people of N. Korea instead of our typical unilateral invasion but Russia and China would still get in the way. Frankly, I just don’t have an answer.

    • So nice to see you on this blog, Louis VA. Always appreciated your cogent opinions and observations on another blog which shall remain nameless.

      Your idea of a ‘consortium of nations’ sounds good on the face of it — haven’t seen that suggestion anywhere before. I don’t know what that useless entity, the U.N. ,would have to say about that. I for one would like to see them disband. We could use that real estate in New York City for other purposes — hopefully peaceful. They never have been effective. In fact, most times they have been an impediment. I think the U.S. remains the only full dues-paying member.

      You were in Thailand for a time. Did you ever get any feedback on North Korea?

    • No, and I don’t have an answer, either. And as messed up as Vietnam became for the US, one need only look at what happened there after we pulled out. It was a nightmare for the anti-Communists. To be honest, I don’t know what our real intentions were, but the fact that thousands upon thousands of Vietnamese were willing to ship off in what were little more than rafts for other parts of the world to get away tells me our efforts to stop the North Vietnamese from taking over the South had at least some positive motivations.

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