A cornfield in North Hamgyong Province featuring guard posts (inside the yellow line).
Image: Daily NK
As the corn harvest season approaches, low-ranking soldiers in North Korea are reportedly being encouraged by their superiors to steal food.
Although the North Korean authorities have been emphasizing a “combat readiness” posture for “total war” with the US, the military instead appears far more focused on the acquisition of food.
“Young soldiers tired of relentless hunger are frequently deserting the army to steal food. Even military officers are encouraging the practice,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on August 23.
“The military officers are instructing their soldiers, exhausted after training, to eat corn in the fields because war is imminent. They are even threatening their soldiers, saying, ‘If you become malnourished despite permission to eat the corn, you will face difficulties.'”
In the northern regions of North Korea, the corn harvest generally begins in early September. Residents have started guarding their farms and small agricultural holdings day and night. However, the young, stout and well-armed soldiers are still able to steal despite these measures.
“A soldier who fails to acquire enough food during the autumn harvest is deemed a fool. The soldiers are stealing food using any method they can think off. In addition, as the military officers turn a blind eye toward these activities due to the lack of food within the army, even the collective farmlands and private fields are becoming the targets of food raids,” the source said.
“Soldiers carrying big sacks of unripened corn can be frequently seen at the markets. They sell the corn at cheap prices to merchants who have made deals in advance,” a source in Ryanggang Province noted.
It has become a widespread practice for North Korean soldiers to steal food from residents, as the state supply of food has not functioned properly since the period of mass starvation (referred to as the Arduous March in North Korea) in the mid and late 1990s.
The situation remains even during periods of high intensity training arising from heightened levels of political tension. The meager army rations remain the same despite the intensified training, and the hungry soldiers are driven to steal food from local residents.
“Because of this, many residents are criticizing the army, saying, ‘How will you fight a war with these thieves?’ Some are arguing that the military should first create an environment in which the soldiers do not have to steal in the first place,” the Ryanggang-based source noted.