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The peninsula of the Koreas has been established since ancient times, dating back to around 668 AD. It was with the uprising of the Silla Dynasty that the Korean people had been first united, providing an opportunity to create a culture and civilization of their own It went on that way for centuries, until in 1910, when the Chosun Dynasty was forced to an end by Japan. Japan had colonized Korea in a harsh and violent manner (“North Korea History” 1). It caused an outbreak of Korean and Chinese resistance groups that took opposing political views; mostly leftist.
Korea and Japan still have bad relations to this day as a result of the oppression led by Japanese Imperial Administration (“North Korea History” 1). It was also during this time that Korea began to adapt western culture.
More specifically, the city of Pyongyang was a modern center for Christianity and culture. Next in history, the country of Korea was split into two; the northern and the southern half.
It took place in 1945, when World War II came to a close and Japan had been defeated The Soviet Union and the United states had decided to then evenly split the country between themselves. On August 10, 1945, two US soldiers had fashioned a supposedly temporary line that put forth the boundaries of the Soviet and US’ territory. However, this line turned permanent and increasingly influential with the commencement of the Cold War (“North Korea History” 1). At this point, the US and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), did not want to lose any power of their respective land, so they each established leaders.
Both sides did not trust the other, so it was impossible for one to rule the entirety of Korea, this two were chosen. The United States gave South Korea Syngman Rhee, and the USSR gave the North Kim Il-sung (“North Korea History” 1). It took only three years, for these makeshift leaders to claim themselves to be legitimate representative of the people, and a real government was established. Everything is downhill from this point on.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Il-sung, demands for a military control on the country, and instills war on its Southern neighbor in 1950. This marks the beginning of the most horrific war in Korean history. The US was involved and dropped a multitude bombs, and because of that the city of Pyongyang was turned into ash and debris. North Korea also lost around 10 percent of its population, over 2.5 million people (History.com 1). The Korean war ended in 1953 and a demilitarized zone, spreading over two miles wide, between the two sides was established (History.com Editors 1). From 1953-1970, the North Korean government attempted to create a Stalinist State. With this, comes a severe lack of freedom for civilians, even though from the outside, North Koreans are thought to be better of than the Southern half. That was not the case. “Kim Il-sung remodeled North Korean society along the lines of Juche—North Korea’s radically nationalistic ideology promoting Korean autonomy” (North Korea 101 1). In return, almost everything private belonged to the state, anywhere from organizations and business to essentially the shoes on one’s feet were owned by the government. The regime had rebuilt Pyongyang. Unfortunately, it was no longer a vibrant city full of cultural expression, rather a socialist capital with idealization and propaganda through monuments for its leader. Kim Il-sung chose this type of control solely for obedience of his people. This power-hungry motive continued until it had possessed an authority over media and even travel (North Korea 101 1).
Freedom of speech is one thing that North Korea has gotten rid of. It started when the government had developed the Songbun System. It is currently still being used in their society today. The regime had the ability to split the entire population into a system of social classes, based on the individual’s “loyalty to socialism and the regime” (North Korea 101 1). This loyalty determined possible jobs, where one lived, and even where one could go to school. Consequently, about 25 percent of the capital’s population was kicked out. They were forced to move to lower quality places due to a perceived notion of loyalty (North Korea 101 1). Additionally, anyone who went against this system was silenced and perceived as lower class. Freedom of speech no longer exists. No one is advised to openly discuss a dislike for the government. In fact, it is incredibly frowned upon. If anyone is reported for such crimes, a couple things could occur; you and your family would suddenly disappear, you could face public execution, and/ or up to three generations of your family could be imprisoned in political prison camps (North Korea 101 1).
To elaborate, when one “disappears” it is assumed they are in a prison camp or worse, dead. One woman explained that when her dad was detained in 2010, she and her family would visit every day bringing food and water, but one day, he was gone without any explanation (Robertson 1). These human rights violations taking place are normalized here, even considered a state policy (Robertson 1). Since it is against the law to speak out, it is encouraged to report those around you. Children are told to give accounts of their parents, neighbors are instructed to tell on other neighbors, and basically anyone you hear disobeying the regime you should report. Along with freedom of speech, any sense of trust has been annihilated in the citizens of this country. In the end, a want for a higher quality life and no reason for the government to notice them, made it so many people are forced to focus their entire life around the regime and socialism.
Another freedom that is stripped from the people of North Korea, is the ability to move inside the country and especially the ability to travel outside the country. The policies are unbelievably strict. If one wishes to move to another part of the area, he/she would require special permission from the state. These permission certificates will get one through checkpoints placed around the country (Dukalskis 1).To get these certificates, one would need to have a specific purpose for doing so and get it signed off by their work unit. The purpose must directly be something that has an advantage for the country. For anyone outside the capital of Pyongyang, it is most likely access will be denied (North Korea 101 1). So, no one can go on vacation just for the sake of travel because it is not a right given to any of the citizens. It is something that is earned. Most regular people are prohibited from free travel. However, there are certain cases that allow one more access to travel. For example, “athletes competing on national teams abroad, cultural representatives participating in performances and cultural exchange abroad, diplomats and their family, business people on a mission to secure trade with other countries, whether that be import or export, or girls working as waitresses in one of the many Pyongyang restaurant chain outlets abroad” can all get approved for travel (Dukalskis 1).
Many people attempt to sneak out of the country without being detected. It is particularly risky to endeavour this if one has family they are leaving behind. They could be severely punished for that person’s actions. Often those leaving go to either China or South Korea. It is safest if one makes it to Mongolia because they will safelty bring you to South Korea to seek refuge (Dukalskis 1). However, if one is caught, they could be deported back to North Korea which is a huge problem in itself. Many of those who are found guilty of leaving, will end up rotting in prison camps. According to man by the name of Scott Kim, who attempted to leave on three separate accounts, he was sent to a prison camp where he and the others were “treated like animals” (Kim 1). He first tried to escape in 2001, when he was only 17. Him and his mother were trying to get to China, so they could finally get some food to eat as they were living in a horrific famine. They almost made it when his neighbor reported him to the officials, and had him sent back. When detained, he was forced to move from place to place on all fours, crawling. They lost all their rights as a human. They were beaten with numerous different objects: sticks, hands, etc. Over 100,000 people face the same treatment as Kim did: being “tortured, starved, and forced to complete extreme labor” (Jacobs 1). It is difficult to imagine everything these citizens are put through for seeking a safe means of travel, and the consequences if not followed correctly. The freedom to travel is not something North Koreans have the luxury of enduring.
North Korea is a country that has developed through decades of hardship and colonization by different nations. It has ended up in disaster and a overall horrible place that strips the rights of its citizens on a day to day basis. There is no safe place to be as everyone around you has the ability and a motive to turn you in. Also a country where you can hardly travel from the location you were put in based off of a biased social class system. The leaders of North Korea expect total obedience, and therefore leads to a country built off lies and mistreatment of everyone living in it.
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