November 29, 1987: Why North Korea is a Rogue State (Rotten Things They Have Pulled)

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A Brief History

On November 29, 1987, Korean Air Lines Flight 858 exploded over the Andaman Sea, downing the jet liner and killing all 115 people aboard the plane, mostly people from South Korea.  The cause of the deadly blast was a bomb planted by North Korean “agents,” basically state sponsored terrorists, at the behest of the son of North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung and future dictator of North Korea himself, Kim Jong-il.  Normally, such a state sponsored act of terrorism could easily be the casus belli for declaring war against the country that perpetrated such an outrage against humanity, but the dynamics of international politics in 1987, with the Cold War still ongoing with its inherent threat of any war escalating into a nuclear holocaust precluded such a firm action.  Communist North Korea has pulled one dirty, rotten trick after another over the decades since World War II when Japanese occupied Korea was divided between a North Korea client state of the Soviet Union and an American aligned democratic South Korea.  Murders, kidnappings, military provocations, nuclear sword rattling, oppression of their own people, and presenting an overall danger to the peace of the world are all hallmarks of the North Korean regime.  Today we examine some of the criminal acts of North Korea and its criminal “royal” family that has run the place since 1946-1948.

Questions for Students (and others): This list is only a fraction of North Korean atrocities, what other incidents or practices would you add to the list?  Were you familiar with any of these incidents?  Should the United States have reacted more forcefully to North Korean aggressions, even if such action resulted in open warfare?  Should the United States have allowed North Korea to develop nukes?  Was it possible to stop them from such nuclear development?

Digging Deeper

1. Downing of KAL Flight 858, 1987.

A Korean Air Boeing 707 similar to the one that was destroyed in the Korean Air Flight 858 bombing although it was wearing an older livery with Korean Air Cargo.

As described above, the murderous North Korean regime will stoop to any low and break any law to lash out against its perceived enemies.  While to our knowledge, the South Koreans have never engaged in any similar terrorist acts and murders of North Koreans, the North Koreans have proven themselves unfit for civilized company among the nations of the world by engaging in such barbaric acts as this mass murder.  When the agents responsible leaving the bomb in the overhead stowage compartment of the jet liner were tracked down by law enforcement, the murderers took their own lives by ingesting cyanide in order to avoid capture.  A male and female pair, the male died, but the female survived and gave authorities a full confession.  The South Korean leader then pardoned the female agent, recognizing that she had been brainwashed by cruel and criminal North Korean apparatchiks.

2. Invasion of South Korea, 1950.

Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans fled south in mid-1950 after the North Korean army invaded.

Apparently with the blessing of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, North Korea’s original dictator and founder of the Kim dynasty, Kim Il-sung, had his armed forces violently invade South Korea in 1950 in a brazen attempt to seize power on the entire Korean peninsula.  This outlaw action was condemned by the United Nations, and the United States led a multi-national defense of South Korea, ultimately resulting in a war that lasted until 1953 with an armistice leaving the North-South Korean border at the 38th Parallel, pretty much where it was at the start of the Korean War.  The War cost about a million South Korean civilian casualties (killed and wounded) and another 1.5 million North Korean civilian casualties.  Military deaths numbered an estimated 220,000 dead and missing on the side of South Korea and its allies, and as many as almost 700,000 dead and missing on the North Korean side, including Communist Chinese that intervened on behalf of North Korea.  (The US suffered about 38,000 deaths.)

3. Ill treatment of American POW’s, 1950-1953.

Two Hill 303 survivors after being rescued by US units, 17 August 1950

Of course, the North Koreans and their Chinese allies mistreated prisoners from all countries, but it is the American POW’s we mourn the most for obvious reasons.  Of the 7000 Americans taken prisoner by communist forces during the Korean War, at least 2800 died while in captivity (40-43%), of abuse, torture, malnutrition and execution.  An unknown number, perhaps hundreds of others were summarily executed on the spot when they surrendered.  The percentage of American POW’s that died in captivity even eclipsed those Americans that died while POW’s of Japan during World War II (as high as 40% according to a US Congressional research team).  While Germany was hardly considered a humane country during World War II, by contrast only 1% to 2% of Americans held prisoner by Germany during World War II did not survive!

4. Murder of 2 US Army Officers with an ax, 1976.

Remains of the tree that was the object of the 1976 axe murder incident, taken in 1984. Deliberately left standing after Operation Paul Bunyan, the stump was replaced by a monument in 1987.

On August 18, 1976, Soldiers of the North Korean Army used an ax to murder 2 US Army officers that were overseeing a work party to cut down a tree in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, in an area known as a Joint Security Area (JSA) that is manned by soldiers from North Korea, South Korea, and the United States.  An American working party was sent to chop down a tree near the border between the 2 Korean countries in order to maintain better lines of sight for observation of the border.  A larger North Korean detachment responded to the scene and the 2 Americans were murdered.  A larger US detachment was later sent an the subject tree was cut down in defiance of the North Korean murderers.  Unfortunately, Captain Arthur Bonifas and Lieutenant Mark Barrett, both of whom were unarmed, were killed for no good reason whatsoever.

5. Supreme Leader feeds uncle to dogs, 2014.

Head shot of deceased North Korean, Jang Sung-taek

Kim Jong-un, the successor to Kim Jong-il, wanted to consolidate his absolute power and remove any potential threat from family members that might try to seize power for themselves.  Kim had his own uncle, Jang Song-thaek, fed to 120 ravenous dogs that had been starved just for the occasion.  Kim was also reported to have forced other government officials to watch the grisly murder in order to reinforce the message of not challenging the boy-king.  Later, North Korean officials claimed that the victim had been properly tried in court, confessed to his crime of treason, and executed by firing squad.  Yeah, that is a LOT better…

6. Kim Jong-un has half-brother assassinated with nerve agent, 2017.

Half shot of deceased North Korean, Kim Jong-nam

The psychotic North Korean leadership has never shied away from killing its enemies or perceived enemies, including family members and people outside of North Korea.  The 3rd of the Kim Dynasty, Kim Jong-un, the guy President Trump referred to as “short and fat,” had his own half-brother assassinated in a Malaysian airport by a pair of female North Korean agents that splashed liquid VX in the face of Kim Jong-nam.  The stricken victim notified airport workers he had been attacked, but the poison that is banned by international treaty took its deadly toll and killed the unlucky victim before medical professionals could save his life.  This brazen violation of another country’s sovereignty and a crime against humanity is par for the North Korean course.

7. Limiting access to outside world, including the Internet.

Korea News Service in Japan carries articles of the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and is blocked in South Korea.

Censorship and mind control are trademarks of paranoid and unconfident regimes and leaders, and North Korea takes the extreme view when it comes to controlling the news and information their own people may receive.   The North Korean government allows only a select few access to the internet, and carefully blocks outside radio and television transmissions from entering North Korean airspace to the extent possible.  North Koreans can be jailed or even killed for listening to unapproved broadcasts.  State television and radio is the only television and radio allowed, and those media are merely a tool of the government to propagandize the people and glorify the Kim family.  Televisions must be registered with the government when purchased by the few that can afford the luxury!  Travel to other countries is strictly limited, and any North Korean that defects and stays in a foreign country instead of returning is subject to the possible assassination of themselves or the jailing and/or murder of their family members that remained in North Korea.  North Koreans are without a doubt the most isolated population on the Earth.  School children are indoctrinated in the “teachings” of Kim Il-sung and his heirs, with only those elite families getting higher education for their children.  There is no free speech or independent media in North Korea.  So wacky is the government of North Korea, that all North Korean households are required to have posted on their interior walls a photo of Kim Il-sung, a photo of Kim Jong-il, and a photo of the father and son together!

8. Egalitarian Communist system is cover for a caste system of discrimination.

North Korean soldiers in the Joint Security Area

Despite the workers paradise promised by communist doctrine, the reality is a rigid social system of exploitation and oppression that controls all levels of North Korean society.  The so called “songbun” caste system has 3 main levels of society, with about 51 sub-levels.  Which group you are in determines much of your life, including whom you may marry, your housing options, what jobs you may have, and how much and what types of food you may buy.  National dress codes and even regulated men’s haircuts add to the incredibly goofy nature of North Korean life.  It would be funny if it were not so darn serious.  Over 30% of North Koreans are believed to be suffering from malnutrition.

9. Secret arrests with no trial, resulting in torture and summary execution.

Map of the location of political prison camps (kwanliso) and ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso) in North Korea. Map issued in 2014 by the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK, under the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Any pretense at an independent justice system is a joke.  Citizens are rounded up without trial and tortured.  Maybe they will be released, or maybe they will be executed without further comment from authorities.  Prisons are largely political concentration camps where prisoners are “re-educated.”  Political prisoners are estimated to number over 100,000 North Koreans.  A favorite torture is to pour hot chili pepper down a prisoner’s nose.  Standing orders for guards include the immediate extermination of all prisoners in the event of war.

10. Starving the public while building gigantic military force including nuclear bombs.

A potato mound near Nampo, North Korea.

It is estimated several hundred thousand North Koreans (mainly of low songbun) have been starved in the past few decades while the government lives in luxury and the military is built up beyond any reasonable size and capability needed for defense.  Sanctions placed on North Korea for violating international agreements and nuclear non-proliferation measures hurt the North Korean lower classes but do not deter North Korean leadership from continuing to flaunt international sanctions.  China and Russia regularly undermine international sanctions by illegally trading with North Korea in violation of such sanctions.  While pretending to negotiate with President Trump and the US government, Kim Jong-un secretly continues his nuclear and missile programs in a duplicitous and devious manner.

11. Kidnapping foreigners, including movie-maker, 1986.

Choi Eun-hee (1926–2018), a South Korean actress abducted to North Korea in 1978, is seen here in a 2006 photograph by Kin Cheung.

North Korea not only kidnaps North Koreans that have made it to foreign shores, but even foreign citizens, especially South Koreans, that may have special skills needed in the “Hermit Kingdom.”  (By the way, North Korea is often referred to as “The Hermit Kingdom,” a sobriquet awarded because of the willful walling off of itself from the community of nations and international intercourse.)  In 1986, North Korea kidnapped a South Korean movie director and his actress daughter and forced the pair to make modern movies for the North Korean government, something the North Koreans apparently could not do on their own.  Japanese citizens have been kidnapped and spirited away to North Korea to provide instruction in language and other disciplines.  What could be next?  Kidnapping American basketball players?  Which brings us to…

12. Dennis Rodman.

Poster of Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang.

Dennis Rodman, former National Basketball Association player and rebounding legend is, in a word, a weirdo.  He has posed nude, married himself, dyed his hair a rainbow of colors and adorned his body with an incredible array of piercings and tattoos, been accused of owing over $800,000 in unpaid child support, claims to have broken his penis 3 times, accidentally broadcast himself having sex with 6 women, head butted a referee, kicked a journalist between the legs, and spoke irreverently about basketball legend Larry Bird.  Meanwhile, he has become a good buddy of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.  Even President Trump has been smart enough to keep his distance from this weirdo!  Rodman’s nickname is “The Worm.”

13. Attempted assassination of South Korean President and Seizure of USS Pueblo, 1968.

Pueblo in North Korea, 2012

The North Koreans risked serious US military retaliation in 1968 when they illegally seized the USS Pueblo, an American Navy spy ship under the guise of an environmental research vessel.  The Pueblo was in the Sea of Japan observing Soviet naval activity, while the evil North Koreans were attempting an assassination of the South Korean President.  On January 23, 1968, a day after the assassination attempt, a North Korean sub-chaser and 3 torpedo boats accosted the Pueblo, fired warning shots, and demanded the American ship to stand down.  The Pueblo attempted to flee, but the slow speed of the American ship was outmatched by the North Korean vessels.  North Korean jet fighters appeared overhead, and more North Korean military ships also responded, making any defense a suicide mission.  In any case, the Pueblo was armed only with a pair of .50 caliber machine guns and would have been outgunned immediately in the 10 minutes it is estimated to have taken to deploy those machine guns.  American aircraft and ships were too far away to provide timely cover for the Pueblo, and the spy ship was forced to surrender and be led away from the international waters she had been steaming in.  At the edge of North Korean territorial waters, the Pueblo was stopped by her captain, but the North Koreans fired on the US ship, killing a sailor.  The Pueblo was boarded by North Koreans and the American crew were blindfolded, beaten, and poked with bayonets.  While in custody, the Americans were tortured physically and psychologically and used for propaganda photos.  The US finally negotiated the release of the 82 surviving members of the crew 11 months after the incident, only after the US “admitted” having been spying, apologizing for spying on North Korea, and promising to never spy on North Korea again.  When the crew of the Pueblo were safe, the US retracted the previous statements.  The Pueblo remained in North Korean hands.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Benright, Jay. NORTH KOREA: Learn Everything You Need To Know About North Korea During The USA & North Korean Missile Conflict – IN LESS THAN 30 MINUTES. Amazon Digital Services, 2017.

Croft, Scott. Braving North Korea: True Stories of Those Secretly Bringing Hope to One of the Darkest Nations On Earth. Amazon Digital Services, 2017.

Braving North Korea: True Stories of Those Secretly Bringing Hope to One of the Darkest Nations On Earth (Kindle Edition)

List Price: Price Not Listed
Kindle Edition: Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only
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Cumings, Bruce. The Korean War: A History. Modern Library, 2010.

The Korean War: A History (Modern Library Chronicles) (Paperback)

List Price: $18.00 USD
New From: $15.63 USD In Stock
Used from: $6.00 USD In Stock
buy now

Friend, James. North Korea: A Bare Bones History. Amazon Digital Services, 2015.

North Korea: A Bare Bones History (Kindle Edition)

List Price: Price Not Listed
Kindle Edition: Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only
buy now

The featured image in this article, a photograph by J.A. de Roo of North Koreans bowing to statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il at the Mansu Hill Grand Monument in Pyongyang (April 2012), is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  You are free:

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.