Soldiers in North Korea These Days, ‘No’ To Joining The Party, ‘OK’ To Making Money

[imText1]April 25th is the day of foundation of the People’s Army in North Korea.

North Korean military has 1.2 millions of regular army of land, naval and air forces. The exact strength of an army has not been revealed, and some estimate the strength 1.7 million.

If Pacification corps and Red Guard composed of workers and peasants, and 8million effective strength of reserves, everyone belongs to the military except for the old, sick and young. The ratio of civilian to military is the highest in the world.

Kim Jong Il regime is adhering to its “Military First Policy” based on such enormous military power. Kim Jong Il is spending almost all of his time visiting the military bases. On 8 April, at the 13th Anniversary of the Appointment of Kim Jong Il as Chairman of National Defense Commission, Kim Il Chul Deputy Director of People’s Army Forces, has announced ‘hard line countermeasures’ regarding the financial sanction of the United States in response to the counterfeit dollars.

The Reason Why The Military Duty Cannot Be Reduced

Such Militarism requires sacrifice on the youth. Young People are called out for 10 years of military service and various construction projects. Their precious youth is offered to the military.

For men, the military duty is for 10 years, and for women, it is 6~8 years. Between 1987~1998, the military duty was for 13 years, but after that, it was reduced back to 10 years. The reason for such a long military duty has to do with the maintenance of the military force and the physical strength of soldiers.

North Korea is in a dilemma where they cannot reduce the military force in order to maintain the military equipment that they imported from Soviet Union and East European countries, as it has been continually reinforcing its military power. Soldiers are called out to maintain military force as well as to supply labor for constructions since “Military First Policy” was put forth in mid 1990s, which is why they cannot reduce the military duty.

North Korea had a hard time reinforcing the military power because of the food difficulty in the 1990s. The students were stunted from lack of food, and some became “Kotjebi(begging children)” and wandered around, which caused their physical strength to remarkably reduce. Men used to have to be taller than 148cm and heavier than 48kg, but now they only have to be 145cm and 40kg.

In 1995, workers and farmers older than 23 were recruited in order to supplement volumes of recruitment at the Military Mobilization Department of every city and district.

They Cannot Have Relationship While In the Military

The most serious problem in the military is various kinds of stress and extreme malnutrition. North Korean soldiers must obey the orders from above, and need to observe principles in the army such as keeping the harmony between the government and the military, and staying away from harming the relationship between the people and the military.

The biggest cause of stress for the soldiers is not being allowed to have relationships in the military. The 10 years where they have to spend in the military is when they begin to learn about relationships. For this reason, seniors who have been in the military for 5~10 years are having relationship with women at a secret place in the nearest village. There are many seniors who prepare to end their term in the military after they are engaged and have hoarded some materials for marriage.

There is a rule that bans relationship while in the military, which makes it possible to penalize ones who had relationship or who had the woman pregnant; they are ‘discharged from service due to family hardships’. Soldiers who are discharged like this have harsh limitation of never being able to become high officials.
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The second source of stress is money. Before the 1990s, joining the Chosun Workers’ Party was the highest honor and it was the purpose of serving in the military. However, money is preferred to membership of the party these days, and people try to make money while they are in the military.

This is why they try to choose a better department. In the past when joining the party was important, people preferred a forward unit and a special branch of the army, but now they prefer border guards and coast guards.

In the 1990s, the border guards aimed to “make three~five hundred thousand won ($100~$167)”, but now they aim to “make 3 million won” ($1,000).

Exemption From Military Duty Possible With Money

The most serious problem is malnutrition spreading in the North Korean military. Before the food shortage, 800g of rice, 200g of meat was the official amount provided for one day, the soldiers have not been receiving the official amount for more than 10 years. It does not seem to be improving either. Rice has been replaced with corn or potato, and meat is only provided for holidays. Military bases try to run greenhouses and farms, but they fail for the lack of materials and proper management.

A military base where it is announced that Kim Jong Il is visiting, borrows vegetables and meat from nearest villages for ‘food inspection’ and returns them.

Lim Young Soo (25, North Korean defector) who used to be a part of Military Base 407 says, “Only 5 remained in the military among 100 whom I joined the military with. Some died during construction or became handicapped. Some returned home when they were (temporarily) discharged for hardship.

Mr. Lim says, “Even if you are malnourished, without connection, you can’t go home. If you die in the military base, you are buried on the hill”. The comment reveals that malnutrition in North Korea has reached a very serious level.

In North Korea today, anyone can be exempted from military duty with money. Mr. Lim said that he was discharged early with paying three hundred thousand won ($100) and other gifts to the military staff of the military base.

This is the reality at the lower military bases of People’s Army at the 74th anniversary of its foundation. Kim Jong Il is even more focused on developing weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapon, in order to be dominant to South Korean military, overcoming such decline in the military power.

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