North Korea: Life Under Tyranny

Updated on July 9, 2018
JohnBridges profile image

John Bridges is a published author specializing in History, Geo-politics, and Politics. His Doctorate is in Criminal Justice.

North Korea is one of the most mysterious and reclusive countries on earth due largely to the its political and social detachment from most of the world. It is the most secretive nation on Earth and has gone to extraordinary lengths to guard those secrets from outsiders as well as its citizens. It is unlikely that people living in the capital city of Pyongyang know much about the lives of people outside the city and vice versa.

Much of our knowledge about life inside North Korea comes from people who risk their lives to get information out of the hermit nation; defectors and spies. This information is often tainted by the individuals own experiences and do not reflect the situation in the country as a whole.

Tourism does exist in North Korea, but it is limited and highly controlled. Those who visit North Korea are usually restricted to the capital city of Pyongyang and the specific site the government authorizes them to visit. Photography is restricted as is the use of personal electronic devices. A good analogy you be taking a tour of Disneyworld and only being show one ride. The ride might be impressive, but it would be impossible to evaluate the entire park based upon the staged snapshot you could take. Tourists may not travel alone. They have limited, if any, contact with the local population and what they can see is highly controlled and orchestrated. It may seem very restrictive to westerners, but the amount of freedom tourists are granted is far greater than the average North Korean citizen.

Tourist are Welcome but Their Exposure is Controlled

All maps in North Korea show a Unified Korea, as does this tourist card. While tourists are welcomes, their actions are highly controlled and monitored.
All maps in North Korea show a Unified Korea, as does this tourist card. While tourists are welcomes, their actions are highly controlled and monitored. | Source

Most North Koreans are restricted from entering Pyongyang. In North Korea, internal movements are also controlled. Citizens need a certificate issued by the government to travel from city to another. Only those deemed to be most loyal to the government can enter, work or live in the city. Only government officials and those tied to the government have access to private vehicles. There is rarely any concern about traffic in North Korea.

Restricted movement provides the regime with an additional layer of protection from its own citizens. Aside from Pyongyang this policy is strongly enforced for people allowed to live near and work in Kaesong. Kaesong is a special industrial zone on the border of South Korea. As part of the “sunshine” outreach of 2002, South Korea collaborated with the North to provide around 50,000 factory jobs to North Koreans. This collaboration allowed a much-needed influx of cash to the North and inexpensive, skilled labor to the South. Those who are authorized to work in this zone are chosen for their demonstrated loyalty to the North’s regime, but they continue to work under heavy scrutiny. Any lapse in judgment or discussion about life in the North can result in the worker being punished. The punishment often extends to his or her entire family. The pressure to remain loyal is great.

In North Korea there is no freedom of speech or freedom of the press. Criticism of the regime or the leadership in North Korea can cause a citizen and his or her family to ‘disappear’ from society. They could end up in a political prison camp or face execution. The government officially denies the existence of these camps, although they have been exposed through spies, defectors and satellite imagery.

There is no free media inside the country. The only opinion allowed to be voiced inside the country is that of the regime. The media of North Korea is amongst the most strictly controlled in the world. There are three television stations in this country and each is controlled by the government.

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The regime controls all radio and television stations.“Radio and TV sets in North Korea are supplied pre-tuned to government stations and radios must be checked and registered with the police. According to reports from dissident and defector groups, some North Koreans purchase a second radio set that is not registered, enabling them to listen to foreign broadcasts”. (BBC Staff Writer, 2011)

Internally made radios and televisions cannot translate information from external sources. Even if a person lives close enough to the South Korean border to receive signals, the equipment would not be able to process the signal.

Some North Koreans own Chinese radios which can receive foreign stations. Listening to foreign broadcasts is prohibited and the punishment is severe. Foreign broadcasts are jammed and due to planned incompatibility between television systems in the North and South, South Korean television programs cannot be received in the north. There is an active black market for the sale of USB flash drives containing foreign entertainment, despite the threat of severe punishment.

Elite citizens have restricted access to government sanctioned foreign news sources. China has covertly trained several North Korean journalists to report events inside North Korea. Journalists risk their lives to provide footage of executions and the predicament of the people to foreign media.

“Internet access in North Korea is restricted to a small section of the elite who have received state approval, and to foreigners living in Pyongyang. The only option, in the absence of a broadband network, is through satellite internet coverage, which is available in some tourist hotels”. (BBC Staff Writer, 2011)

In North Korea there is no freedom of information. Propaganda is pervasive and comprehensive. Young children are taught that the United States is evil and American soldiers kill and eat Korean children. Children are told that the Kim family are living Gods. Propaganda even extends to art which often depicts the victories of North Korea, the God-like nature of the Kim family and the evil of America.

Propaganda is Everywhere

Propaganda is prevalent throughout North Korea. At a young age, children are taught that Americans are evil, and eat North Korean children.
Propaganda is prevalent throughout North Korea. At a young age, children are taught that Americans are evil, and eat North Korean children. | Source


Understanding the threat that external information poses to their propaganda and ideology, the regime has invested massive resources in maintaining an information. With knowledge comes power. The regime maintains power by blockading and keeping its monopoly as the only source of information available to the North Korean people. There is no access to the Internet except for a few hand-picked and monitored officials. Most of those people actually have access to a government-controlled intranet and not the actual Internet which is reserved to the most elite people in the regime and the cyber warfare army. North Korean landlines and mobile phones cannot make international calls.

There is no religious freedom in North Korea. Organized religion is seen as a potential threat to the regime and therefore nothing apart from token churches built as a facade of religious freedom for foreign visitors are allowed. Thousands of Buddhists and Christians have been purged and persecuted throughout the history of North Korea. People caught practicing or spreading religion in secret are punished harshly, including public executions, or exile in political prison camps.

When dealing with North Korea, it is important to understand that the people live in a society that differs from most of the developed world. What seems odd to us, is simply the norm for them as they are unaware that anything else exists. They are aware of their own hardships, of course, but likely assume everyone lives a life under tyranny.

BBC Staff Writer. “North Korea's Tightly Controlled Media.” BBC Asia-Pacific, 19 Dec. 2011, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-16255126.

All photos used in this article are public domain. The video used in this article was created by Amnesty International

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Mastered under his father, censorship is the rule of the day in North Korea

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    • JohnBridges profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr John Bridges 

      5 months ago from Portland, OR

      Yup...stick and run is a great way to put it

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad Masters 

      5 months ago from Orange County California BSIT BSL JD

      Dr John

      I believe this was your response to your other article?

      As to the tweeting, don't you think the way Trump uses the tweets, unbalances the left. It is like a stick and jab and then move. He is on his next tweet and they are still trying to figure out what happened with the last one. At least that is the way that I see it.

      Just a thought, and thanks again.

      I would defer to your historical knowledge even though I may see it differently.

      Thanks

    • JohnBridges profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr John Bridges 

      5 months ago from Portland, OR

      You said, “My definition of winning a war is that we don't go back again, we don't defer it, we don't create a cold war over it, and we move on”. Using you definition, you are probably correct in your contentions but I share you definition.

      You said, “ we didn't win WWII. We had a military win, but not a winning war”. At the end of the war, most of the world was destroyed. The only ones left to rebuild it were the Americans which in turn made us an economic giant. Our enemies (Japan and Germany) became close allies. We became the dominant superpower (more than an equal of Russia), we also took on the responsibility of being the policeman of the world…which in my mind is a negative. The Russians were our dubious allies, and no there was no doubt that they would need to be contained or we would end up fighting them as well (the cold war). The first act of the cold war was the allied bombing of Dresden, deep into eastern Germany. The mission had nothing to do with WW2, it was a warning to the Russians that we were capable of massive attacks at that great of a distance.

      Russia also had a non-invasion pact with Japan that extended only until the war in Europe ended. The Japanese feared the Russians most. The Russians freed North Korea while the US and allies freed the South (form Japan). It was planned at that time that they would become unified again but the Russians wanted to ensure the country would be communist (Stalinist) so they prompted the North to attack the South. The Chinese supplied support troops as well. Almost (600,000) Chinese died in the Korean War. Officially Russia was not involved but we know they had assisted with air coverage. Once the South was liberated, the US went beyond the UN mandate and continued to attack deep into North Korea. The armistice came at the insistence of the UN, and the dividing line was returned to the 38th parallel.

      Prior to US entry into the war, we profiteered off selling all sorts of thing to both sides…including the Russians and Nazis. The US wanted to stay out of the war initially, so all the other sides would weaken each other in battle first…and the US could come in and sweep up the rewards. It became unthinkable though, to allow Germany to develop an atomic weapon. Germany was close to completion and planned to drop it on London to force a surrender. Germany would then sue for peace and assimilate the British Navy for a planned invasion of Canada and the US to occur 10 years after. We had no choice but to get involved.

      You say, “ All that the war did was to change Eastern Europe from the Nazis to the Communists.” I do not agree, with a war weakened western Europe and emboldened by its defeat of Germany, the Russians would not have stopped at Berlin.

      The Russians developed the A bomb and its space program with the help of captured Nazi Scientists. The US Space program did the same (operation paperclip)

      The cold war was a war of proxy, limited conflicts between the US and Russia, economically, militarily, ideologically etc. It was a means of sizing up abilities short of a direct conflict. Neither Russia nor China are actually our enemies, but we do have some conflicting goals.

    • JohnBridges profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr John Bridges 

      5 months ago from Portland, OR

      I do like the tweeting too...but would like less of it. I agree foreign news can be corrupted as well, but it does give a balance. JB

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad Masters 

      5 months ago from Orange County California BSIT BSL JD

      Dr John

      I agree, and today we have no newswire, no trusted source of news. Even those that report the news, don't really check the facts. The rush is to be first, breaking news.

      I question the foreign news as well. That is why I like Trump's Tweets, it is unfiltered:)

      Disney, no longer for the children. ABC showed its true colors when they dumped Roseanne's TV show. I liked Vegas when the mobsters ran it, and I stopped liking Disney when Walt Disney died. I haven't been to Disneyland this century, and I only live 8 miles away.

      Thanks for your response.

    • JohnBridges profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr John Bridges 

      5 months ago from Portland, OR

      Brad, I find your comparison insightful. While in North Korea it is a given that the media is being controlled by the government. There never was a reason to trust it. Here in the US the media, to any objective observer, is off the rails. Opinions over facts, repetitions, hypocrisy and selective reporting. I am not sure who is controlling the media or how or why but . For those on the right, it is blatant that this is happening in the leftist media....what may not be as clear is....whether it is also happening in the conservative media...where those on the left claim it produces false news as well. Now that FOX is being bought by Disney (which own ABC and ESPN) there is a high chance conservative voices will be squelched altogether. ad as it may be I do not trust the liberal or conservative media and have caught both skewing news. I try to balance my news with foreign sources whenever possible.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad Masters 

      5 months ago from Orange County California BSIT BSL JD

      Dr John Bridges

      In reading your article, I see some disturbing similarities between N Korea and the US today. While the N Korean government has total control over the country and the media, the US has some of the same controls.

      "In North Korea there is no freedom of speech"

      B:

      In the US the liberals have chilled the protection of speech. Political Correctness is an abridgement to free speech. While not mandated by the government, it is administered and policed by the politicians and the media. How is it freedom of speech when people, not all people that can say something and lose their job, and or be chastised for what they say. There is a difference between defamation, political correctness, and just simply rude behavior.

      People like Maxine Waters can say anything they want protected by the freedom of speech, but conservatives can't. The first amendment has not been protected by the 14th amendment and its equal protection clause. But the 14th amendment was pivotal in the recent federal judge Mendez for the illegal immigrants. Yet, American citizens are not protected in their speech.

      The point here is the comparison with N korea.

      ------

      or freedom of the press."

      B:

      Again, the comparison with the US. The media has been and continues to be biased. The press is no longer in the business of news, but since the creation of the cable news network they are trying to change the news through biased opinions. You can no longer count on getting the truth from news reports today. You can't trust the Internet, nor its fact checking websites.

      Then aren't we closer in practice to that in N Korea than we were when the News was the news, and the opinions were in the editorials.

      ----------------------------------

      "Criticism of the regime or the leadership in North Korea can cause a citizen and his or her family to ‘disappear’ from society. They could end up in a political prison camp or face execution. The government officially denies the existence of these camps, although they have been exposed through spies, defectors and satellite imagery."

      B:

      The left while not patently involved in punishment such as N Korea, their attacks do have political ramifications including losing elections by lighting up their opponents with their PC and accusations of anything they can think of the blacken their opponent.

      The current congressional hearings concerning the US intelligence agencies puts these agencies more in line with that of N Korea. The only difference is that the US agencies do it below the surface, while N Korea keeps theirs in the light.

      ---------------------------------

      There is no free media inside the country. The only opinion allowed to be voiced inside the country is that of the regime. The media of North Korea is amongst the most strictly controlled in the world. There are three television stations in this country and each is controlled by the government."

      B:

      We are supposed to be the land of the free, but look at what we have in the way of the media. The media has been hiding behind the freedom of the press, yet they don't have the professionalism and the integrity to give the people the unadulterated reports of the news. The news from them is the appetizer, but the news meal is their biased opinion. Today reading newspapers, watching the news on TV and even on the Internet is keeping you informed. It is making you a willing target of social re-engineering. Is that much better than what is happening in N Korea.

      ------------------

      "Understanding the threat that external information poses to their propaganda and ideology, the regime has invested massive resources in maintaining an information. With knowledge comes power. The regime maintains power by blockading and keeping its monopoly as the only source of information available to the North Korean people. "

      B:

      Isn't the goal and the result from the media and even the government to accomplish the same thing. When has the US government told us the truth? Today, even congress that oversees the administrative branch can't get the information they request from the DOJ, FBI, CIA and State Department. This tells you that below the veneer of our government we could find the same as you mention in N Korea.

      --------------------

      If you think making the comparison between N Korea and the US is beyond the scope of your article, then please delete it.

      Thanks

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