Famine & Food Aid Resistance

North Koreans fight a losing battle for the soil they till & the food they grow

With the greening of the trees each year in North Korea come annual predictions of famine due to weather conditions that, by some meteorological miracle, never cross the Demilitarized Zone and cause hunger in South Korea. This year, as with every year since 1999, the reality was not as bad as the dire predictions, but the situation is still bad: some of the Daily NK’s sources say that they’ve seen the bodies of people who (or so they believe) have starved to death. That wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened since the end of the Great Famine, and it’s also a sign that the causes of hunger in North Korea remain unchanged.

So unsurprisingly, yet again, Pyongyang isn’t feeding its people. But of all the obligations a state undertakes in its social contract with the governed, the one obligation you’d think Pyongyang would be able to deliver on would be security. But as this blog has documented, in North Korea, unfed soldiers roam the roads and rape women with impunity, and are sometimes ordered to pillage homes and farms by officers who aren’t feeding them. This year, Pyongyang will again loose its soldiers on the people.

Sources in North Korea are reporting that the authorities are preparing another push to collect rice for the armed forces this fall. However, in contrast to previous years, this time the order has been issued to the military itself. Ordinary citizens have in the past been assigned the task of gathering these provisions, but the responsibility this year has fallen on military conscripts.

“Military leadership handed down orders last month detailing the quotas required to be collected by the local 12th Corp. These orders include amounts covering every division and brigade in the entire 12th Corp, which must be collected and presented to division leaders in the coming season,” a source in Ryanggang Province informed Daily NK on October 18.

“It is quite absurd that military personnel have to collect these provisions themselves. And such orders were handed down in all provinces, covering all military divisions across the country.”

The source says that soldiers are complaining about the plan, especially given the government’s failure to distribute goods, even to the military in recent times.

“Is there any other country on Earth that does not feed its own military? I thought the army was supposed to be defending our country, but instead they’re turning us into an army of farmers,” one serviceman told the source. [Daily NK]

In the markets, the best thing that has happened to the North Korean people since the Japanese occupation army left, organized crime (often, in alliance with corrupt officials) is starting to monopolize trade and control prices. Now, with most North Koreans expecting a bad harvest, private sotoji farmers are taking the security of their crops into their own hands, unarmed.

Many farmers take security over their fields seriously even in good harvest seasons, but with this year’s poor yields, people are staying up all night to keep watch, as even a small amount lost to theft can leave a whole family in dire straits. The farmers and locals tend to watch the fields themselves. Although police officers also keep watch in some places, they are widely criticized as being so incompetent that “10 of them could not catch a single thief,” she said.

According to the source, the police are widely distrusted because they often only demand bribes from thieves that are caught in the act, which does little to address the problem. However, because citizens are patrolling the fields and catching thieves themselves, it has also been common for fights and other incidents to break out during confrontations.

Another source in Jagang Province spoke of a specific incident where “a fight broke out after citizens in the village of Wiwon caught a thief in the fields. However, after many locals began angrily condemning the thief for stealing their food, they also found themselves asking whether they would do the same in such circumstances.” [Daily NK]

Citizens, including the farmers who feed everyone else — and who will become increasingly important to the survival of the population as sanctions invariably have unintended impacts on non-sanctioned trade — can’t really look to the security forces for security: the security forces shake them down for bribes and intermittently enforce orders to clear, confiscate, and replant the plots they farm. Indeed, the abusive and corrupt security forces themselves are the single greatest threat to the security of the people. And consequently, the converse is increasingly true, as it justly should be in this unjust world.

The North Korean authorities have yet to identify any leads in the murder of a Preliminary Examination Officer outside his own home in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province. The officer worked for the Ministry of People’s Security’s Inspection Department.

A source in the area notified Daily NK on October 17 that the “authorities believe the state inspector was killed out of revenge, though they have yet to find the killer.”

According to the source, the 32-year-old agent was ambushed after returning home from work outside an apartment block in the Kangpo neighborhood of Sunchon. As the man parked his motorbike, he was struck in the back of the head and later died. The authorities are apparently wary of additional attacks targeting law enforcement officials.

MPS personnel responding to the scene of the crime immediately notified their superiors when they discovered that the victim was an MPS investigator. Attention soon turned to the likelihood that it was a revenge killing, carried out as payback for misconduct by the officer.

“This MPS officer was the most sadistic and brutal of them all. Anyone caught by him was usually beaten half to death, paralyzed, sent to a correctional labor camp, and almost always died within a few years after intense suffering,” the source said. [Daily NK]

Surely events like this must enter into the minds of the security forces’ officers as they go about their brutal work. More events like this would cause more of them to think twice — specifically about actions that impede the supply and distribution of food.

Lately, I’ve taken to citing the argument of Nobel prize-winning economist Angus Deaton, that foreign aid can have the effect of reinforcing the very state behavior that causes the hunger aid is meant to address. Marcus Noland is fond of citing the work of the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, who argues that most modern famines are not the consequence of inadequate supply, but of grossly unequal distribution of that supply as a consequence of unequal entitlements. North Korea turns out to be a good case study for both of these arguments. Look no further than the U.N. aid agenciessilence — even falsehoods — attributing hunger to everything except Pyongyang’s gross waste of resources, and its onagain, offagain suppression of private farming and trade. No wonder hunger still stalks the people of North Korea despite decades of U.N. aid.

This blog has long presented evidence that North Korea’s government has more than adequate resources to feed its people with just a fraction of what it spends on weapons and luxuries for its morbidly obese tyrant. The reasons for hunger in North Korea are not material, they are political. And if the world won’t confront those political causes, the North Korean people must. To shift their country’s grossly unequal balance of entitlements away from the state, they will first have to confront its monopoly on violence. With a futility borne of desperation, they are. But without the means to communicate and arms with which to resist, they will do no more than shift that balance minimally at its margins.

4 Comments

  1. Now, Joshua you mean to tell me that people could be starving in North Korea? And that the civilian population is supposed to provide their rice for the support of the military? Naw, that’s not possible because North Korea is no longer a military first state; it lives in the glorious age of byungjin.

    I read it in Nick Kristoff’s latest column.




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  2. “But without the means to communicate and arms with which to resist, they will do no more than shift that balance minimally at its margins.”

    Therein lies the biggest challenge for those hungry and angry victims in NK who see the travesty in being dominated by a grossly over weight young punk who rapes and kills their sisters and brothers with blind sycophantic support from the “elites” in Pyongyang.

    Its time for somebody like Kim Han Sol to start a “revolutionary leaders in exile” movement to start pumping information, mobile devices and arms to strategic locations throughout NK as soon as possible (easier said than done, I know… but this first step of identifying who can pose credible, charismatic and symbolic challenge to the Porcine Majesty is an important one).




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  3. The DPRK system excuses ROK or US food aid as reparation money. It is a system of lies. The DPRK wants to enslave ROK, plain and simple. They want to live in Stalinism that Russia rejected in the mid-1950s.
    The greatest thing to happen lately is the DPRK/ASEAN nation split. Malaysia can no longer be the DPRK playground. Even Myanmar (Burma) expelled an diplomat from the DPRK that was was from a sanctioned oil company.
    I personally do not think the president Donald Trump should visit the DMZ. Not in submission to KJ-UN like the leftists want. But because DPRK needs to be reminded that It is not that important, and if/when it launches a missile over JAPAN it faces REAL MILITARY PUNISHMENT. KJ-Un needs to continue to be not treated in a diplomatic fashion but ostracized and insulted by the president. Who cares about the State Department handwringers? There is nothing admirable in the DPRK. THey are totalitarians who Asia has outgrown. What I care about are the potential escapees that can not escape Hamgyong province North Korea because they have electrified the barbed wire fence. Any leftist who calls DJ Trump a fascist should study DPRK to see what North Korean peasants suffer.




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  4. President Trump’s visit to DMZ will continue to amplify much needed focus and attention to the potential military conflicts in and near Korean Peninsula.

    I am willing to bet that a lot more Americans and other concerned world citizens can now pinpoint exactly where these countries are located on a global map as compared to six months ago..

    Say what you will about Donald Trump and his sometimes controversial tweets but he has done a great job in waking up the world to start debating about what to do with that extremely dangerous and crazy guy in Pyongyang. (heard Myanmar just kicked out their NK “diplomat” out of its country! NICE!)




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