The Life and Times of North Korea

When Joseph Stalin died, so did his sin. They called this “De-Stalinization” When Kim Il-sung died on July 8th, 1994, there was no De-Kimization.

There was just another Kim.

The Five Stages of Grief

Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il statues, North Korea
By Nicor (CC BY-SA 3.0)

When Joseph Stalin died, so did his sins. They called this “De-Stalinization” When Kim Il-sung died on July 8th, 1994, there was no De-Kimization.

There was just another Kim.

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“How are you doing?” Russia asked North Korea over the phone. He figured she was checking up on him due to her “maternal disposition.” That was her codeword for guilt.

“Does my well-being suddenly concern you?”

He remembered it well, the day Russia cut him off. She made sure to let him know that although she wouldn’t support him with policy or with money, he was welcome to come to her “as a friend.” But he refused to give her the satisfaction. He watched from afar the embarrassing collapse of the Soviet Union, and he was happy to let her wallow in her own despair and failure the way she deserved to. Alone.

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The Life and Times of North Korea: Sino-Soviet Split

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You’re Both Wrong, Now Give Me Your Money

North Korea was never good at making friends, but he had a lot of comrades by default. The Golden Rule of Communism stated that every communist be friends with every other communist (which was funny because many communists hated each other). But when it came to people North Korea felt a deep personal connection with, there were really only two. So when those two began to have a horrible falling out, he knew he needed to do something. And that something was to take advantage of their hatred for each other.

The early 1970s

Five minutes into the conference call and already China and Russia were slinging communist buzzwords at each other.

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The Life and Times of North Korea: Drug Money

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Narcotics and the Nile

North Korea didn’t have a drug problem. He had drugs, but they weren’t the problem. A stagnant economy was. Drugs were merely the solution. Well, they were a sort of solution. Hash couldn’t solve the flaws of his rigid and closed-off socialist system, but it helped. So for the first time, the depravity of the Western world worked in North Korea’s favor.

May 1976

North Korea stepped into China’s office, head downcast. He walked slowly to his comrade’s desk, feet heavy with guilt as he dragged them along the carpet. He could only guess that China was watching him with eyes slowly widening in anticipation.

When China spoke, his tone was as accusing as it was assuming. “What did you do?”

North Korea stopped in front of the other’s desk, refusing to look at him. “I’ve been bad.”

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The Life and Times of North Korea: Korean War

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Image by USMC

Happiness is a Warm War

Some might say that war on the Korean peninsula was inevitable. The formula was perfect; you had two superpowers who would do anything and everything short of unleashing a nuclear apocalypse in order to outdo each other, two politically opposed countries with only a little line of latitude between them, and a man who really wanted to make sure there was only one Korea.

May 1949

The sturdy oak door was heavy as North Korea pushed himself into Russia’s office. He greeted her plainly, voice terse and more impersonal than usual, and bowed with respect. “Good evening, Russia.”

She looked up from her papers and smiled at him. “I was not expecting you to be here so soon. What is troubling you, little bee?

The bee then demanded with a burst of enthusiasm, “Let me liberate the south!”

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The Life and Times of North Korea

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Mommy and Daddy

With the stroke of a pen, the United States and the Soviet Union carved the Korean peninsula in half. The Korean Empire was no more. But the spirit of Korea lived on, however, in two separate states that emerged from the war.

South Korea was a budding anti-Communist democracy, North Korea was passionately Stalinist, and both felt the grip of a superpower who sought to help, to hurt, and to do everything in between.

Looking at North Korea’s upbringing, it’s no wonder he’s as troubled as he is today. After all, he was raised by Soviet Russia and Maoist China.

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The Life and Times of North Korea

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“You’re going to know pain,” she told him.

“I do know it.”

“No,” she said sharply. “You have memories of what pain feels like—pain that wasn’t yours. You don’t know it personally. You will, though. But…” Her voice trailed off before she turned away from the window to warm him with her tender gaze. Heels clicked against the floor as she drew closer. Her hand reached for his his, but his eyes were fixed on her red lips. “But you don’t have to feel it alone.”

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The Life & Times is a new series that promises you an intimate look into the people and events that shaped North Korea into what he is today–a hot mess.

This Cold War-focused series shows you the good, the bad, and the unbelievable parts of North Korea’s history. From war to narcotic smuggling to manipulating a superpower, see it all unfold through a series of vignettes each with their own narratives and punchlines. Think of it like a sketch comedy, except about the story behind a totalitarian dictatorship.

Major guest appearances from: Russia, China, and (reluctantly) the United States of America.

The first post is going to hit P&P next week. Stay tuned!