Army Life in North Korea

My favorite e-mails are the ones I get from readers, and  among  even these, the best are those that send links or new information I hadn’t seen before.  One reader today sent  this Google Earth image (click to enlarge; coordinates along the bottom of the image):


He wondered whether the label on the placemark was accurate.  I opined that it  probably was not, because of the absence of a fence line or guard posts, the location just east of Pyongyang  as opposed to an isolated area, and its mismatch with any known labor camp locations (I’ve placemarked all of them).  I’ve published plenty of  GE  photos of  North Korean gulags, and this just doesn’t look like one of them.  

I still think this shows something interesting, however.  I believe this is an army post  holding a  formation.  After I laid out my reasons, the reader agreed.  We also agreed that this could be a small detention camp for displaced persons, although that possibility is much less likely.  This is, after all,  Pyongyang’s eastern defensive perimeter, not too far from Kim Jong Il’s palace, a “core” area where the population ought to be  relatively  well-fed and loyal. It’s where you’d expect to see army posts; you’d expect to see gulags spread out in remote areas far from major roads.

Here are two more images.  Note the shadows.  I’m guessing the time is about 9 or 10 a.m., which is a bit late for morning formation.  Most likely, these guys got up much earlier to do their  physical training or exercises.  Why such a late formation?  Unless the North Korean army is made up of stoners, slackers, or hung-over drunks, these guys are having a late morning formation.  Why?  I could only guess that it’s  for some kind of political harangue. 

soldiers3.jpg     soldiers2.jpg

It’s not the only place you can see soldiers in formation.  Here’s an image of a location near the DMZ.


This also  looks to be later in the morning.  The shadows aren’t long, but the sun appears to be due east  on a summer day.  Accounting for the different seasons, you might even guess that both pictures were taken around the same time of day.

Thanks to the reader for sending the image.  I’ll let it be his choice to identify himself.

Some anju links:  

*   There is a new harvest of rewards for giving away the store to Kim Jong Il:   Kim agreed in February to shut down the Yongbyon reactor in April.  He never complied with this term of the deal, or any other, but the reactor briefly shut down in May, for technical reasons.  In  June, Kim Jong Il  promptly restarted the reactor, eliminating any residual doubts about his good faith.  Russia is now  saying, again, that this is all our fault for not returning millions in laundered criminal proceeds to North Korea, even though that was never a part of the deal and arguably violates U.S. law.  All I can say is thank goodness George W. Bush has learned to use diplomacy to solve problems and win friends.

*   “I and my brother against my cousin, I and my cousin against the stranger.”  Speaking of enemies who respond poorly to diplomacy, NATO troops have caught Iran red handed arming the Taliban.  This is ironic in two ways.  First, Iran once armed the Taliban’s enemies, although this shouldn’t seem odd for even casual observers of the region.  The second irony is that some U.S. experts on the Middle East still would tell us that terrorist alliances can’t cross sectarian lines.

*   Having lost much of his support among foreign policy conservatives, George W. Bush will meet with North Korean democracy activists and again mouth the words about spreading democracy that he actually seemed to mean in 2004.  The credibility problem Bush has since bought himself is the difficulty of spreading democracy  while enabling those who crush it with the least mercy.