The Lives of North Korean Veterans

Seeing the events organized in South Korea on the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War and reading stories about South Korean veterans who live on veterans’ benefits, I am moved to recall the lives of North Korean veterans.

Veterans of both sides fought with the same intent; to offer their lives for their country and ideology, but there is a clear difference now between North and South.

North Korea designates three days between June 25 and 27 as “days of struggle against imperialism and the U.S.” and holds several events including meetings between Korean War veterans and younger generations, screenings of war movies, showing war-related propaganda, special lectures by aged veterans and so on.

Meanwhile, the authorities categorize Korean War veterans into two groups.

The first group consists of those who have earned the title “Hero of the Republic,” recipients of the first and second grade “Hardworking Medal” or first grade “Flag Medal”.

They receive 800g of rice per day and 120 won per month.

In the second group, there are recipients of the second and third grade “Flag Medal” and “Military Meritorious Service Medal.” They are given 600g of grain and 60 won.

They are special seats for wounded soldiers on trains, buses and in other public places. Campaigns to help veterans’ families are common.

However, the veteran-friendly atmosphere has also been much reduced since the late 1990s.

To aged veterans and families of fallen soldiers, the authorities used to present home appliances such as Daedonggang televisions, clothes, traditional clothes for women and such like, calling them “gifts from the General.” But the scale and quality of such gifts has been trimmed a lot in recent years, now amounting to little more than ginseng liquor and a few roots of ginseng or another traditional supplement. However, they still receive these gifts.

And, at least for a veteran living in Pyongyang, the authorities serve a bowl of cold noodles in Okryukwan, a famous restaurant, every anniversary of victory in the Korean War. In rural areas, veterans have stopped waiting for help and have taken to cultivating mountainous fields to make ends meet.

All that remains for them are heavy clanking medals on their chests and feeble bodies.