"If you wanted to create a totally isolated and hermetic society, northern Korea in the years after the 1953 'armistice' would have been the place to start. ...Pyongyang was an ashen moonscape. It was Year Zero. Kim Il Sung could create a laboratory, with controlled conditions, where he alone would be the engineer of the human soul."
The Democratic People'sRepublic of Korea, far better known as North Korea, is a pseudo-socialist state in East Asia which controls much of the northern Korean peninsula. It was founded in 1948, something the late Christopher Hitchens noted: "You almost get the feeling that Kim Il-sung was handed a copy of 1984 in Korean that year and asked, 'Do you think we could make this work?' And he thought, 'Well I don't know, but we can sure give it the old college try.'" Indeed, North Korea is probably the closest any society has ever come to realizing a real life Oceania. A highly isolationist and rigidly controlled society, it has reasonable relations with its two powerful northern neighbors, the People's Republic of Chinanote Relations have soured considerably after the whole nuclear weapons rigmarole, now North Korea is more likely to serve as an embarrassment to China than anything else. The interest China has in North Korea these days is keeping the government from collapsing so their border won't be swamped by a flood of North Korean refugees. and Russia; while maintaining unbelievably terrible relations with its southern neighbor, the Republic of Koreanote although the ceasefire from the Korean War was established in 1953 and continues to this day, North and South have always technically been at war, and every so often the North sends the South a poke, or some artillery shells, as well as with the United States and Japan; keeping good relations with Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, and Pakistan, and bad relations with just about everybody else. It also possesses one of the largest armies in the world, and holds the record for highest military spending as percentage of GDP - so much, that rather than a country with a military, it has been described as a military with a country - but there's no need to worry because the army is so badly equipped. Spending most of a country's GDP on the military doesn't amount to much when there's not much GDP to begin with, after all.
Generally featured in fiction as Acceptable Political Targets and a sort of Captain Ersatz for China, as both happen to be a) East Asian, and b) "communist" (while China itself is a major economic power with a growing media industry, and doesn't take too kindly to Yellow Peril portrayals). There have been some interesting non-fictional works made about the DPRK, such as propaganda films and documentaries from survivors of the regime.
The second North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il was seen by the West as a real-life Dr. Evil and actually a James Bond fan. (Except Die Another Day, obviously. But then, there are claims by former White House adviser Victor Cha in his book that Kim Jong-il watched the film and was impressed. Knowing him, he would probably have ordered a few hovercraft thinking it would be a good idea.) He died in December 2011, with the announcement coming a couple of days after the fact, having reigned since his father's death in 1994. North Korean state media announced that he will be succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. It should be noted that neither Kim Jong-il nor Kim Jong-un were given the title "head of state", that title still belongs to Kim Il-Sung... who died in 1994. They take his title as the "Eternal President" very seriously, continually referring to him in the present tense.
North Korea adheres to the political doctrine of Juche or self-reliance, which is ironic since it is dependent on foreign (particularly China's) aid to prop up its failing economy. Between 1994 and 1998 it suffered a disastrous famine in which around a million citizens died. The regime's propaganda refers to this as the Arduous March. According to recent defectors, the country's food situation is again deteriorating since ascension of Kim Jong Un. The country's official policy is seen by some as extremely authoritarian, militaristic, nationalistic, xenophobic, and racist. Some observers describe it as the world's last Stalinist dictatorship, but others believe terms such as "hereditary dictatorship" or even "absolute monarchy" are more appropriate because of the strong personality cult organized around the ruling Kim family. Another view, based on researching the country's domestic and international policy documents instead of its propaganda, is that North Korea's politics are actually very similar to those of Imperial Japan - very ironic, considering that Kim Il-sung made a name for himself as a guerilla fighting against the Japanese in WW2. Although ruled by a nominally communist party, North Korea has recently removed all references to communism in its constitution. Perhaps they realized communist internationalism is diametrically opposed to the isolationist and xenophobic tenets of Juche, or perhaps they realized the Second World is effectively dead and thought dropping the "communist" label would get them good PR. Make of it what you will.
Whilst its portrayal as the Card-Carrying Villain of world politics is frequently played for laughs, it may do you good to recall that this country is indeed home to 25 million people who never asked to live in a totalitarian nightmare. So, rule of cautious editing very much applies.
See this page for the lowdown on some of the people who run (or are believed to run) North Korea.
Within the country, they pretty much hate every race and society not as "pure" as them (which is every other race in existence), with most of the focus being on South Koreans (who they see as race traitors) and Americans (who they see as the traditional "Yankee Imperialist Pig Dogs").
The Alcatraz: The gulagsnote they're not actually gulags, since the GULAG was the name of an organization; this is more of a descriptive name for them. You can count the number of people who have escaped on one hand. Kwon Hyok, who worked as the head of security at Camp 22, described the high voltage electric fence and moat with wooden spikes sticking up from it that surround the camp.
And after he had his Uncle executed, he had the rest of his Uncle's family executed, even their grandchildren.
This is actual state policy: If you fall afoul of the regime, up to three whole generations of your family can go down with you, regardless of any knowledge of or complicity in your "wrongdoing". This can result in either execution or being tossed in concentration camps, whichever the regime feels like at the moment.
Culturally, people with the surname Li/Lee/Yi are almost superstitiously regarded as a clan of usurpers and traitors. The man who overthrew the first united Korean kingdom, the man who brought in American invaders, and the current South Korean president all have this surname.
Appeal to Force: "Screw The Rules, We have Nukes!" is what they say, and they say it very loudly. Fortunately they never have the balls to back it up.
They do however love testing their nukes (on their own soil) at every opportunity they get.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In 2013 Kim Jong-un had his uncle Jang Sung-taek executed for a charge list that included "applauding half-heartedly".
His other crimes included this absurd indictment:
He was so imprudent as to prevent the Taedonggang Tile Factory from erecting a mosaic depicting Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and a monument to field guidance given by them. Moreover, Jang turned down the unanimous request of the service personnel of a unit of the Korean People's Internal Security Forces to have the autograph letter sent by Kim Jong Un to the unit carved on a natural granite and erected with good care in front of the building of its command. He was so reckless as to instruct the unit to erect it in a shaded corner.
Not that the North Koreans have ever followed Juche to the letter, which is obviously impossible given their lacking resources. Even when the DPRK was first formed, they relied heavily on financial support from the USSR and later communist China. While the regular North Koreans are barely scraping by, the leaders and top brass have access to basic needs like running water, and have plenty of luxurious western goods.
Badass Army: Subverted. They would like us to think that their Army is this. It isn't. Turns out a mix of starvation, an utter lack of training, no combat experience other than bayoneting the occasional concentration camp inmate, equipment that in some cases dates back to the Cold War, and delusions of inherent superiority over the "spineless and impure yankees/southern traitors" leading to almost hilariously stupid levels of underestimating their opponents do not count for much in the real world.
The state-run construction force is considered a part of the army despite not having any practical armed vehicles or firearms.
As Christopher Hitchens observed: The Korean People’s Army doesn’t look so frightening when you see it stripped to the waist and digging ditches with worn-out tools.
Doesn't stop them from basically keeping Seoul hostage with outdated artillery and nuclear weapon so they can almost deliberately start a War that'd cost too much by Seoul's shelling.
This trope is expanded upon by a French Canadian cartoonist called Guy DeLisle in his book adequately named Pyongyang, where he was sent for several months so he could manage an animation team. At one point, his two guides ask him if he wants to go to a shooting stand and have a go against American soldiers cardboard cutouts. After he agrees and they arrive, he realizes he never touched a gun before and decide to play it like Corto Maltese. His two guides were both soldiers before and test their skills too. It then turns out he got the best result. Sure, you could say he lucked out, but he was supposed to compete against professionals here.
At the Joint Security Area in the DMZ, where soldiers from the North, the South and the United States routinely see each other, the South Koreans send their tallest, most intimidating soldiers to mess with the North. The North does the same◊, but it doesn't have the desired effect.
Banned in China: ALL non-North Korea media is automatically banned in the nation. Even if you listen to South Korean music on the radio you can be arrested. Exceptions are imports from China or Russia/USSR, and some pre-Kim Jung Il western entertainment.
Barbarian Tribe: Americans are portrayed this way in North Korean propaganda. During the Second World and the Cold War era, they followed the standard Soviet bloc line that Americans were oppressed by a capitalist cabal, but since the collapse of Communism they now prefer to portray Americans - especially black ones - as having an actual biological need to conquer and enslave.
Big Blackout: There's a rather famous image◊ of the Korean Peninsula at night, with the North being almost completely dark (except for Pyongyang), but the South is lit up like a Christmas tree. A similar image taken four years later shows zero improvement. In fact, due to the angle and coloring used for the new one, North Korea literally blends into the ocean.
A little Fridge Logic makes that picture particularly horrifying. Notice the smaller pinpricks of light. Note their locations. Then compare them with a map of the Kwan-li-so prison camps. In North Korea, only the gulags are well lit.
Black Market: When Communism fell in the early 90's the North Korean economy fell twice as hard. Ever since then the black market has been the only reliable source to get anything.
On a more international scale, it also is one of the very few sources of hard cash for the North Korean Government. North Korean intelligence services are pretty big players in East Asian illegal smuggling rings...
Blatant Lies: Unsurprising both towards their own people and the rest of the world. From claims of having researched nuclear fusion to propaganda videos of soldiers smashing tanks in half, North Korea has lied to anyone and everyone at least once or twice. Expect the list of "well-known facts" about any of their dictators to rival even the collection of Chuck Norris Facts.
This extends inside the leadership. Several defectors have said that various agencies and the military report fake results to avoid being sent to a re-education camp.
Propaganda claims that Kim Jong Il shot a 34 the first time he held a golf club and nabbed 11 holes in one on his first 18 holes (see here), and since then had an average of three or four holes in one each game. For those not familiar with golf scoring, lower scores are better, the current world record lowest score is 55, and Tiger Woods managed 18 holes in one across his entire career.
Furthermore, a regulation 18-hole course has about two to four par-3 holes (of which almost all holes in one are made). This means that Kim would have had to hole out in at least seven par-fours. An albatross on a par-four has been hit only five times in the history of golf, and Kim would have made seven on his first try.
Kim also reportedly bowled a 300 in his first game. For those of you watching at home, 300 is the highest possible score in ten pin bowling; you only get it by bowling a strike in every frame - in other words, knocking down all ten pins every single time on the first try, every time.
They are also quite capable of making fools of themselves this way. They actually painted a cave black so they can claim it contains rich amounts of coal. This incident is particularly egregious, considering two things. Firstly, the context in which this happened; South Korea discovered a tunnel leading under the border into their country from the north-leading North Korea to declare that the tunnel was absolutely not a route to invade South Koreaand was totally a legitimate coal mine. Secondly, North Korea is a coal-producing nation, so not only should they know better than to think anybody at all would fall for this, but they had access to actual coal that they could have, at the very least, planted in the cave.
Even the country's name is four lies for the price of one - the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" is not democratic, callously indifferent to the sufferings of her people, not a true Republic (seeing as the Presidency is hereditary and persists after death) and does not cover the whole Korean Peninsula.
Their railway system is apparently entirely electrified, apart from the bits that aren't. That is to say, all of it.
Kim Jong-Un claims that the KPA has enough artillery and rocketry aimed at Seoul to destroy the city in minutes, as well as superweapons that can "reduce the South to ashes." Whether he has enough fuel to move his artillery, the technology to guide (or even fire) his rockets or one rivet of a so-called "superweapon" is doubtful.
The government claims the guiding principle of the nation is "Juche" (translated roughly as self-reliance). With how much of North Korea's food and energy is donations from other countries, they are failing horribly at it.
There was also the infamous parade the government held in November of 2012 where they displayed what they claimed were nuclear missiles, attempting to both intimidate South Korea and rally their citizens with proof that they had them. Any expert on missile technology that viewed the parade realized that not only were the missiles fakes, they were very unconvincing fakes. They didn't even fit properly into the platforms they were displayed in.
If you take a tour of the nation you will be constantly be brought propaganda to make it seem like the greatest nation on Earth, or very orchestrated places that make it seem like the nation has food, computers, and all the great things you have in capitalist countries. It is also extremely obvious you're always being lied to.
Body Horror: Kim Il-sung is always shown looking slightly to his right in official photographs. There is a reason for this. That reason is he had an enormous and inoperable tumoral calcium deposit on the right back of his neck. By the time of his death, it was the size of a baseball. Hold on to◊ your breakfast.◊
Born in the Wrong Century: Their unbelievably bizarre and crass blend of Stalinism, xenophobia, radical nationalism and militarism seems like a throwback to World War 2. Though it's unlikely they would have found many friends had it been there back then.
Bread and Circuses: Averted. When the economy fell apart in the 1990's the government decreased rations. The result was the emergence of a black market that local officials ignored in exchange for bribe money.
The result of which is described in one of Christopher Hitchens' lectures, where he mentions that the current generation has been stunted by growing up under truly appalling famine conditions; at the border with South Korea, the North Koreans try to be intimidating by posting their biggest, toughest-looking soldiers... who are six inches shorter than the South Koreans◊.
Inverted for the "Circuses" bit. Kim Jong Il had all kinds of HUGE performances (mostly preformed in the Rungnado May Day Stadium), marches, sport demonstrations, etc. Problem is, only he and a few other powerful military commanders were allowed to see them.
Hilarious in Hindsight as Kim Jong Il is always sporting a bored look (at times even flipping through a magazine) whenever state media shows him "watching" the performances in question. Apparently there are downsides to being the Dear Leader.
Bullying a Dragon: North Korea is surrounded by nations that could crush it on a whim, but this hasn't dissuaded them from being belligerent. They get away with it because China has a vested interest in keeping a buffer between itself and the U.S.-allied South Korea, not to mention the fact that collapsing the regime would send a flood of refugees into China. The U.S. and South Korea are also unlikely to attack unless directly provoked, since North Korea could still manage to kill a lot of civilians even though they would certainly lose in the end.
As noted elsewhere on this page, there is growing sentiment in China that North Korea is more trouble than it's worth, ranging from Chinese vocal support for a Korean reunification under the ROK government to higher-up Chinese officials comparing the DPRK to a "spoiled child" over their nuclear program and aggression. China has even cut off financial ties with the country, though aid for farming and such is still going on. Even so, as North Korea's belligerency continues, it grows ever-more likely that China would just abandon them to keep the U.S. happy.
China has stated that they will not help North Korea if they start the fight, only if they are attacked first.
And even then, some western officials suspect that China would let the DPRK hang in exchange for the US agreeing not to put too many troops along the Yalu.
And not only that China decided to turn against North Korea by backing U.S. sanctions after North Korea's recent nuclear weapons tests. Mind that if you will.
Even antagonizing the South may be this, who, while they have far fewer troops, they are far better equipped, better trained, better supported, and better fed, and are backed by a military budget that comes close to North Korea's entire GDP. And of course, the South has universal male conscription, as well, with non-exempt men required to complete approximately two years of service and even exempt ones required to complete four-week basic training; South Korea's wartime military could end up larger than North Korea's in a truly desperate situation.
Catch-22 Dilemma: North Korea is pretty much trapped in its current state barring a disruption of the status quo by an outside party. Their economy can't grow unless they undergo reformation similar to that of China, and they can't reform because that would undermine their massive propaganda campaign which legitimizes their government.
Chest of Medals: North Korean generals tend to be awarded a lot of medals even though the nation has had armistice with the South longer than most of the current generals have been alive.
A Child Shall Lead Them: Part of their propaganda. In 1946, the Korean People's Army celebrated "two decades of Kim Il-Sung's glorious leadership". This means he must have been a General since age fourteen.
Another was the world's tallest flag pole in Kijŏng-dong, which quickly became a war of the flag, as the South built a taller one on their side of the border, and both started trying to make their own pole taller than the others.
Counterfeit Cash: The country is the prime suspect for the creation of the "Super dollar," basically an extremely high quality counterfeit. It's worth far more than the nation's actual currency.
Reportedly, some of the cash once made it (in VERY large quantities) into Las Vegas. Not even the security checks in slot machines, which are highly sophisticated, could tell the difference between the "super dollar" and the real one.
Dangerously Genre Savvy: The Kim family. Say what you like about their country, but they do know how to play their cards, domestically and externally. Political scientists around the world agree that it is not an accident that they have been having Orwellian control over twenty-four million people for more than a half century and counting.
With most nations now refusing to play the "threaten for aid" game, it would seem they're losing this. Of course, when your only strategy is to bluff, someone will eventually call it.
It should be noted that Orwell was satirizing Stalin's regime in 1984 - Kim Il-Sung based his policies around a lot of Stalin's ideas, so it makes sense they'd be very similar.
One of the defectors interviewed in Nothing to Envy was given a Korean translation of 1984. It says that he "marveled that George Orwell could have so understood the North Korean brand of totalitarianism."
"Defensive measures": Attempting to build nuclear weapons, naked aggression, murdering and detaining foreign servicemen and nationals illegally, and hiding beneath China's skirt-tails.
"Freedom of Religion": The Kims are gods. Heaven help you if you believe in anything else, though the government does put on a (weak) pretense of religious activity for foreigners.
"Freedom of Speech": Say the wrong wordnote and by that we mean anything from criticizing the government to singing a Christmas carol and your ass is grass.
"Hardship period": Another term for the famine.
"Internment": Self-explanatory, but with a twist: the next three generations of your family get to come too. See also "Re-education".
"Let's eat two meals a day!": Thanks to a series of poor decisions, we're running out of food, having to rely on other countries to pick up the slack, and we're basically delaying the inevitable famine.
Dirty Communists: Subverted as North Korea has since dropped any pretensions to Communism or Socialism, even though the authorities still use Stalinist-style imagery.
Dirty Coward: Whenever North Korea violates the ceasefire agreement with the South (or any other agreement for that matter), which it has done at least twice in recent times with the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong, the first thing it does is run back and duck behind China, forcing it to step in and deescalate the situation diplomatically.
Doublethink: The propaganda that the North Koreans present to the world is of a harmonious, raceless internationalism, as envisioned by Karl Marx. The propaganda the regime feeds its citizens is of North Korea being a bastion of racial purity in a degenerate world that needs the steady hand of the Kim family to guide it through, much like Hitlerite or Imperial Japanese attitudes.
Christopher Hitchens: Not for [North Korea] the charm of the ethnic mosaic, but instead a rigid uniformity.
To the outside world, they claim to hope for Korean Reunification, such that they built the Arch of Reunification to symbolize it. Within their borders however, short of invading and subjugating the South, they fear this event ever occurring as it would mean "surrendering to the traitors and their American masters".
Christopher Hitchens stated that when he managed to get permission to visit North Korea with some of his friends, one of them claimed that when he went to the zoo the parrot started singing Kim Jong-il's praises! Whether it had actively been taught to do this, or had just heard it so often over the loudspeakers that it learned on its own is anyone's guess.
Every household must always have portraits of the Kim's and must bow to them whenever they see them.
Elaborate Underground Base: Of course it has these and plenty of them as well. One of the telltale signs is a runway that disappears into the side of a mountain.
Enemy Mine: North Korea's hatred of the USA was toned down for a brief moment in 2007, when a US Navy vessel assisted in the rescue of a North Korean vessel from Somali pirates. Not that 99% of North Korea's population even knew about that part.
Similarly, despite technically being at war with them, they support South Korea's claim to the Tokto Islands over that of Japan. This is likely because Japan is one of the few states North Korea hates more than than the USA, South Korea and Israel, due to its legacy as a vicious colonial oppressor and its ongoing refusal to admit it was a vicious colonial oppressor (at least, from North Korea's point of view.)
Hilarious in Hindsight: During an episode of The Tonight Show Gilbert Gottfried (as "Kim Jong-il") and Steve Bridges (as "George W. Bush") make the joke that North Korea's launch would crash and burn... back in 2006.
However, it must be noted it was a parody of Park Geun-hye, the daughter of South Korean president and dictator Park Chung-hee and herself current (as of 2013) president of South Korea to boot, who is said (in the video) to be supportive of dictatorships. ("Yushin" refers to the Yushin Restoration, which was the name of the dictatorship her father imposed).
The Nampho dam, which North Korea constantly talks about as the grandest piece of engineering on the planet, has caused flooding and helped to destroy the little farmable land that remained in the country.
Their latest propaganda video. For all its bolstering of the (functionally useless) North Korean space program and its hostile message toward the US, its poor CGI, the usage of the song "We Are The World" and Modern Warfare 3 footage, and the "dream" itself being full of Narm, has caused the outside world to look upon the video with certain hilarity. Oh yeah, and its deliberate use of copyright material ensured an early ban from Youtube.
They uploaded another propaganda video, featuring what was supposed to be a threat of total annihilation for the South and Obama burning to death... Except it was mainly a bunch of videos with a crappy flame effect over them that made them extremely difficult to see, really bad CGI, and finally, the background music was "Reign of the Septims", though they tried to disguise it by using a short excerpt looped over (not that it fooled anyone, of course). Like the other video, it was taken down for copyright infringement. It basically made a mockery of itself.
Parodied by a British travel writer's video from an actual North Korean video depicting Americans in poverty. 
Most of the footage in said video is not even of the US, but of Eastern Europe.
Everyone Knows Morse: Everyone is taught Morse as part of the mandatory national curriculum, at any rate.
Fan Nickname: Hardly "fans" of them, but South Korean presidents are invariably referred to in state media as "traitor [insert name here]." In return, the South Koreans have given Kim Jong-un the nickname of "Fatty Kim III".
The Friend Nobody Likes: North Korea's 'allies' are mainly in it for their own ends, mostly operating under The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Friend. Russia and China also have to worry about a dangerous lunatic in their own backyards, and would really like to keep this last remaining bit of the Cold War from turning hot, so they have managed to keep the DPRK on a pretty tight leash, threatening to cut off fuel and food shipments and economic relations whenever the North starts rattling its saber too hard. The fact that palling around with the North pisses off the USA and Japan is just a bonus.
Or The City of London Loves North Korea. According to Christopher Hitchens, the most numerous kind of exhibit in the "International Friendship Exhibition"'s Kim Jong Il section is the ludicrously specific category of "plaques from British insurance companies."
Gone with the Wind, of all things, is very popular in North Korea. The regime allowed the book version to be imported and translated in the 1990s, apparently for its propaganda value, and it just took off. The movie version is still banned, but the country's elite watch it anyway and have used it as a tool for teaching English.
A God Am I/God Emperor: Kim Il-Sung, later his son, Kim Jong-Il, and probably now Kim Jong-Un, who rule over and are (all but) worshiped in North Korea. (Note the present tense on "rule". Though Kim Il-Sung died in 1994, he retains his position as "Eternal President"). They have assembled a cult of personality revolving around the eldest Kim's revolutionary activities and the "successes" of the North Korean economic system.
A few journalists have reported that they are directly worshiped, or at least prayed to.
Gullible Lemmings: In On November 14, 2012, The Onion ran a story titled, "Kim Jong-Un Named The Onion's Sexiest Man Alive For 2012." The North Korean government actually thought they were serious about it; on the 27th, the online version of the Chinese Communist Party newspaper The People's Daily ran a story on Kim Jong-Un, citing The Onion's parody. The People's Daily web site included a 55-page photo gallery with the article in tribute to the North Korean leader. (In their defense, several other folks have taken The Onion seriously too, including Iran's Fars News Agency and WBC founder Fred Phelps.)
Hell Hole Prison: Their prison system is medieval, reckoned the most unpleasant in the entire world and probably the worst instance of human rights abuse since the Second World War. People have reported mass rape, starvation, slavery, torture, execution, vivisection, and human experimentation. Prisoners often have to steal food to survive, eating rats, insects, lizards, animal feed, and excrement. The punishment for being caught doing this ranges from lengthy torture to summary execution.
Hereditary Republic: Kim Jong-il was the son of Kim Il-sung. After Kim Jong-il's death, his third son, Kim Jong-un was announced as the "Great Successor".
Identical Grandson: Kim Jong Un bears a startling resemblance to his grandfather, and he accentuates this by wearing the Mao suits that his grandfather wore instead of the jumpsuits that his father habitually wore. See Suspiciously Similar Substitute: below.
In Name Only: In addition to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea not really being anything of the sort, it also until recently flaunted itself with Marxist pretensions, at least until all references to Communism and Socialism were purged from official propaganda. In practice though, it's far more akin to a militarist and extreme nationalist dictatorship. Its Stalinist veneer meanwhile has arguably evolved into something that's become a religion in all but name.
Insistent Terminology: Despite what the name of this article might suggest the government in Pyongyang insists there is no such nation as North Korea. There is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea which is the rightful sovereign of the entire Korean peninsula. The southern half are nothing more than rebellious provinces controlled by US puppet government. To be fair, South Korea holds the same views in reverse.
Irony: For a nation running under an ideology of self-reliance, they do an admirably horrible job of feeding their own citizens. Apparently the hardships are necessary to keep citizens from falling into the "weaknesses" that come in societies with abundance. It is as perverse as it sounds.
You think that's funny? They can't even finish the Ryugyong Hotel themselves; they had to hire out to an Egyptian construction firm in order to continue building. And it only took two percent of the GDP to get it up in the first place.
Even funnier is that, despite its fanatical obsession with its own military (such that Killzone reportedly took inspiration for the Helghast from it), the so-called Korean People's Army is actually one of the most poorly trained and underequipped in the world. Similar to World War II Soviet Russia, the bulk of the KPA are conscripts that are basically given a uniform and (sometimes) a gun and sent out to duty (though not without absolute loyalty to the Eternal President and the state being drilled into them beforehand), while their reserve forces are essentially kids and elderly with bladed weapons. Their tech pool is little more than Cold War era vehicles and weapons, usually hand me downs from Russia or China, that are given sporadic "upgrades" as time goes on (more hand me downs from China really). The Korean People's Army Air Force still uses mostly MiG-21 "Fishbeds" (a Vietnam era fighter), with their most advanced fighters being MiG-29 "Fulcrums" used to defend Pyongyang's air space, and the Korean People's Army Naval Force is a green water navy that constitutes a few diesel submarines and corvettes. Overall, they're hardly the military superpower they tout themselves to be (shock and surprise).
To put it in raw numbers: The Korean People's Army Air Force is the only branch to have truly modern equipment in significant numbers (the aforementioned MiG-29's) but their pilots only receive about 10 hours or so of flight time per year while units fielding older material might do as well as 25 flight hours per year. By comparison; most NATO countries require a minimum of 200 flight hours per year.
The Korean People's Army deploys several companies of Pokpung-ho (Storm Tiger) Main Battle Tanks, which are essentially reverse engineerings of the Russian T-72 with some more modern elements mixed in, namely composite armor. Unfortunately (for them), North Korea's extremely poor domestic industrial complex means that they can only produce so many at a time; only 200 have been reported in KPA service since the 90s. By contrast, the US has over 8,000 M1 Abrams in service between its Army and Marine Corps.
There's also points in North Korea's overly revised history that are so ironic they're laughable. One such case is their depiction of the Battle of Chumonchin Chan, the only major naval battle between surface combatants of the Korean War. The North Koreans' claim is that they managed to sink a US heavy cruiser, USS Baltimore, with a combined charge with torpedo boats. In reality, the Baltimore never took part in the Korean War (the actual ship encountered was USS Juneau, a light cruiser), and while the North Koreans did mount an attack with their torpedo boats, they were easily obliterated with a salvo from the Juneau (alongside her British compatriots HMS Black Swan and HMS Jamaica) before they could launch their torpedoes. Only one torpedo boat survived the attack, and it is now housed in the Museum of Victory of the Fatherland Liberation War, commemorated for "sinking the Baltimore".
Even worse is the fact that the Baltimore was decommissioned three years after the war ended, and was finally scrapped in the 70's.
North Korea is the largest counterfeiter of US currency in the world.
Also, for a country that claims to hate everything the west stands for, the elite really do love their pizza, hamburgers, and European cars.
Some defectors from North Korea thank their lucky stars that they have escaped North Korea and can now live in a wonderful country where they can say and do whatever they want free from government control. This country is the People's Republic of China. The scariest thing? In comparison, the People's Republic of China is a free and open society! Even scarier, in Camp 14: Total Control Zone, labour camp escapee Shin Dong-hyuk reflects that he was astonished by the "freedom" he saw when he escaped the camp - into ordinary North Korean society.
Kangaroo Court: The witchhunts against the suspected enemies of the state were a combination of the Red Scare and strict background checks. The trials ranged from execution for theft, being released to avoid overcrowding, and being arrested for a false crime since the police would steal evidence and sell it on the black market.
Even the regular criminal courts are this - unlike in common and most civil law countries, the North Korean legal code inverts the traditional legal balance of rights. In accordance with Stalinist theory, the state has rights against the accused, which makes the system astonishingly prone to convicting the innocent.
After the economy started to implode in the 1990's the legal code began to be selectively enforced. Bribery has become the only way to get anything done. For the correct amount of money or merchandise nearly anything can be done and the local officials will ignore it as long as the black market is discreet.
One black market operation fell apart because of the people involved. A train official, who seized evidence from smugglers, was arrested for embezzlement because he arrested a smuggler working for a minister. The lower ranked official then bribed his way out of a major prison sentence, instead of a political prison he was sent to a prison for regular criminals.
Land of One City: Pyongyang is the only place in North Korea with anything important, and its the only place that receives any government support and lights, the rest of North Korea has very little in the way of electricity or even running water. Many villages have practically no infrastructure.
Notably, the other "cities" consist essentially of a central strip, which will have various socialist engineering projects that the regime can show off, surrounded by slums.
Towns and villages are either just slums or collections of shacks.
Consider this: Pyongyang is the biggest city in North Korea, with ~3 million people. The next-biggest city is Hamhung, with... ~800 thousand.
Chinese and South Korean politicians are also worried about the cost of accommodating a few million North Korean refugees in their countries.
Macross Missile Massacre / More Dakka: Whilst serious penetrations of North Korea's flak and SAM belts have never been attempted for obvious reasons, it seems that despite their fairly outdated ack-ack equipment, what it lacks in quality it goes some way to making up for sheer quantity.
However, it's questionable whether they have the ammo to fire multiple bursts.
It's also questionable just how many of those guns still work, considering most of them are Korean War vintage.
Miles Gloriosus: Despite their rather feeble actual capabilities compared to the modern Armies facing them over the DMZ, the KPA is very fond of this, from hostile rhetoric to fielding fake "missiles" to bolster their number at military parades.
Medieval Stasis: For most of North Korea, little has changed since the Cold War, with the average citizen having little food and no power. Things have actually only worsened as the nation lost support from the USSR. Besides the images of the Kim's plastered everywhere, one would have a hard time telling the difference between the villages of today and of several centuries ago.
Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Kim Jong-un was awarded an honorary doctorate in economics from the privately run HELP University of Malaysia in 2012. Seeing as North Korea has one of the worst economies in the world, exactly how and why he was given this dubious honor is suspicious to say the least. (Possibly suggesting that whoever was behind the decision had a doctorate just as "morally ambiguous".)
The Neidermeyers: The entirety of the Korean Peoples' Army officer corps is thought to be composed of Neidermeyer types. Keep in mind that, as the KPA was built on the guidelines of the Soviet Red Army, officer selection is based upon "political reliability" (i.e. loyalty to the regime) as opposed to individual skill or talent. And then there's the standard communist practice of generals awarding automatic high ranks and commands to their children; the best examples are (obviously) Kim Jong-il, who was made Supreme Commander of the KPA by his father, and Kim Jong-un, who was initially given the rank of Daejang (the Korean equivalent of a full General) by his father, and then became the new Supreme Commander only a year laternote Neither Jong-il nor Jong-un held any actual military service.
They never fail to blame South Korea and/or the United States for their own belligerent behavior.
Their team once suffered a humiliating defeat against a soccer match against another country. Their coping mechanism was to blame the referee; since that referee happens to be Israeli, to this day, whenever North Koreans are dissatisfied with a referee, they yell, ‘The ref is Israeli!’
No Party Like a Donner Party: Famine has apparently returned under Kim Jong-Un, and some North Koreans have been executed for eating their own children or the decomposing corpses of their dead relatives. Yum.
Whilst North Korea's having a dead guy as head of state is all very funny and the target of much well-deserved mocking (even on this very page of This Very Wiki), people often forget that George Washington is still listed on the US Army rolls as "Washington, George. Lieutenant General (ret).", and received his last promotion, to six-star rank "General of the Armies of the United States of America", in 1976. Nor, by Act of Congress, can any military officer, serving or retired, living or dead, ever outrank him. On the other hand, Americans very much acknowledge Washington as retired and inactive, whereas the North Koreans believe Kim Il-sung is still guiding their nation from Heaven.
There's also the demonization. North Korea loves to paint the Americans as manipulative brutes whose only purpose is to destroy lives; some paranoid Americans (and quite a few cynical American politicians) on the other hand portray North Korea as the next Yellow Peril and will one day cause World War III. If you read this far, you should know by now that these ideas are laughable.
This "mockumentary" (purporting to originate from North Korea but apparently actually made by New Zealand director Slavko Martinov) tries to demonstrate how the Western establishment is (allegedly) pretty good at making "propaganda" itself (once you get over the unintended irony of what the regime does).
Plus, the whole thing about the official name of North Korea. Not the points about "Democratic", "People's" and "Republic", but about the whole thing about them using only "Korea" in the name despite occupying effectively only half of the peninsula. It's not like the United States of America encompasses both American continents, or even just the entirety of North America, either...
No, You: It's a fair bet that any criticism of North Korea will be parroted back by them in reference to their accusers.
Nuke 'em: Though they've been threatening it for years now, the North Koreans have recently claimed they are in the final stages of an actual nuclear deployment against the United States. That said, it's still doubtful they have the capability (or the balls) to actually do it.
Orwellian Retcon: From the 1950s onwards, North Korea has been erasing all evidence that the Soviet Union played any role in the country's founding. (Indeed, in recent years they have been erasing any connection the state ideology has to communism too, which is just as well, seeing as at least one commentator remarked it was more like Korean fascism).
Our Presidents Are Different: Kim Jong-Un, so very much. In fact, he's technically not even president; the actual title of (Eternal) President of the Republic belongs to Kim Il Sung, his grandfather. Who passed away in 1994. It is unknown how much respect he will command from the people if North Korea can't start at least acknowledging that a person can't be a president and be dead at the same time.
Paper Tiger: As threatening as the North Koreans would like to portray themselves, their armies are severely outclassed by that of South Koreans and the USA. Even with some of their more advanced weapons, they have very few resources to be able to wage any form of prolonged warfare.
The most up-to-date estimates reckon that North Korea has the weapons, ammo, and fuel to wage total war for one hundred days. By contrast, nations like the USA and China and confederations like the EU (and some of its member states) are reckoned to be able to wage total war for up to a decade. Even South Korea can go a long way, especially with outside support, which it can pretty much count on.
Not convinced of North Korea's Paper Tiger status? Then consider this: Kim Jong-un has recently given final authorization to deploy nuclear weapons against the US, with one such missile supposedly being moved to North Korea's eastern coast. The fact Hawaii and the US' western coastal states—hell, not even Alaska—aren't being evacuated shows just how serious North Korea's "nuclear deployment" is being treated.
This may be because there is not a single missile in North Korea's arsenal that has the range to cross the Pacific. They can threaten all they want, but they are technologically incapable of actually hitting the US or any other Western nation. They could theoretically hit some US missile bases in the area, of South Korea and Japan, but they won't.
On top of this, the North does not have the strategic capabilities that the US does. Just one Ohio-class "boomer" submarine has more nuclear warheads than all of North Korea's nuclear arsenal.
The United States has, however, moved a greater number of THAAD anti-ballistic missile batteries to Hawaii and Guam, just in case. Even a wildly off-course hostile ballistic missile isn't something you want in your airspace, after all.
People's Republic of Tyranny: Probably one of the best modern examples in just how long its name is. The usual joke being that the country is neither democratic, nor belongs to the people. It is not a republic (a non-hereditary head of state is the defining criterion of a republic), and does not even take up the whole of the Korean peninsula in the first place.
Penal Colony: The North Korean gulag system is effectively autonomous - with its own children (those who don't have their skulls smashed in after birth, that is), with factories and farms which rely on slave labor. The gulags appear to be important enough to their economy that they have anti-air batteries around some of them.
Pet the Dog: Kim Jong-Un sent a message of sympathy to Cuban President Raul Castro following storm-related casualties and damages caused by Hurricane Sandy.
"Deep sympathy and consolation to you and, through you, to the Cuban government and people and the inhabitants in the afflicted areas."
The country has a literacy rate of 99%. This is the only demographic statistic in which they beat South Korea, albeit by only 1.1%. This may be an aversion however; the North Korean government defines "literacy" as simply being able to write Kim Il-Sung's name.
North Korea's Arirang, the charming epitome of beauty.
North Korea cultivates good relationships with Africa, sending aid to various African nations (though one can call this an aversion of sorts, since by the 21st century North Koreans needed it as much if not more). North Korean designers also helped create the controversial, though undeniably impressive, African Renaissance Monument in Dakar, taller than the Statue of Liberty. Doctors have also combated polio in Nigeria, and have died in the process
They condemned Israel's actions in the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. note Of course, North Korea is one of the few states that do not officially recognize Israel as a country and is openly hostile to Israel. It also doesn't help to note that North Korea also have a lot of anti-Semetic propaganda.
Poe's Law: It's safe to say some people read things about North Korea that're real, and think it's a parody.
Poisonous Friend: There is a growing segment of China that sees North Korea this way, though some could argue they were simply China's Big Bad Friend to begin with. Until the benefits of dropping them outweigh the economic and strategic consequences, though, China isn't likely to drop them wholesale.
Politically Incorrect Villain: The DPRK is perhaps one of the most racist governments in the world, continually espousing their own racial purity, while demonizing other countries for allowing races to mix. They especially hate black US soldiers in their propaganda. Of course, anybody who's studied history finds this wonderfully ironic.
Posthumous Character: The aforementioned Kim Il-Sung. No, we're not kidding. North Korea has the dubious distinction of being the only country with a dead guy as president.
The Catholic Church also used this trope to show that it doesn't forget about its enemies: The Church maintained (until 2013) that Francis Hong Yong-ho, who was imprisoned by the North Koreans in 1949 and never seen again, is still head of the Diocese of Pyongyang for 64 years after he disappeared. Just to drive the point home, the church gave Hong a promotion in 1962. The Church finally admitted his death in 2013.
Post Peak Oil: The nation has almost no oil, with the very little they get is coming from China. All fuel is used by the military and government almost exclusively.
Several of their media is actually listed as propaganda. They have a radio channel that they claim is broadcasted from South Korea to corrupt the true Korean people (but really isn't) and some merchandise on their website is labelled as propaganda. If this is due to a bad translation or an insult by the programmer they kidnapped isn't known.
The radio channel is analogous to 1984 to a disturbing degree; it evokes the Two Minutes Hate, a daily two minute period in Oceania in which the image of Emmanuel Goldstein is broadcasted to emphasize the Proles' hatred toward him and his Brotherhood alongside their continued support and acceptance of the Party. Really, Minitrue and Miniplenty wouldn't just be proud, they would feel outright honored.
The Purge: Kim Il-Sung did one in the 1950's to get rid of potential Soviet or Chinese fifth columns - and to secure his own power. From how Kim Jong-un is treating his uncle, it seems like there's another one coming...
Pyrrhic Victory: Practically invoked as a defense mechanism. The sheer amount of artillery pointed at Seoul would be able to cause significant immediate damage and longer-term economic damage to South Korea, while the North has much less to lose. It would take a serious act of provocation to make stomping North Korea worth the risk.
Pyrrhic Villainy: Their tests of and threats to use nuclear weapons have brought down heavy UN sanctions to stifle their efforts to further develop these weapons. It's generally agreed that despite being politically-savvy in the past, this accomplished absolutely nothing but to further isolate them. Likewise, their unilateral closing of the Kaesong Industrial Region, a source of hard currency for them, now has them deadlocked with South Korea trying to get it open again, since the south is taking a hard-line on negotiations and won't settle for a deal the north could just back out of again.
Reality Is Unrealistic: Pretty much all appearances of North Korea in fiction show an extremely toned-down version. Or an extremely over-exaggerated version. (As far as we know, the DPRK army still do not have the technology to outfit their crack troops with powered armour nanosuits.)
Recursive Translation: Sometimes. It is especially noticeable in their incredibly simplistic news articles. Rather than describe, say, some friends of "traitor Lee Myung-Bak", or some cronies, or confederates, they will say something like: "Some guys of Lee Myung-Bak make aggression and imprudent talking to complacent DPRK."note One wonders if this is their attempt at New Speak.
Ridiculous Exchange Rates: The North Korean Won is practically worthless after an ill-conceived currency revaluation. The Chinese Yuan is considered preferable because it's actually worth something in trade.
Scary Black Man: Black American soldiers are usually portrayed as sadistic primitives, are often featured marching beneath the Stars and Stripes. The regime claims that "interbreeding" between blacks and South Koreans is a sign of the racial and moral decline of that country. The black Cuban ambassador was almost lynched by a Pyongyang mob, and black people are almost never given visas to visit.
Dennis Rodman being a notable example. And Kim Jong Il had an entire museum built to house a basketball autographed by Michael Jordan. The Kim family's love of basketball seems to trump racial bias.
Their treatment of Barack Obama however plays it straight, with propaganda painting the American president as a monkey.
Scary Dogmatic Aliens: Non-Koreans are portrayed this way in North Korean material. Propaganda describes them as "insects," with "muzzles", "snouts", "paws", who "croak" when they die. Like so many aspects of North Korea, Christopher Hitchens delightfully skewered this part of their propaganda by turning it on its head:
Hitchens: Unlike previous racist dictatorships, the North Korean one has actually succeeded in producing a sort of new species. Starving and stunted dwarves, living in the dark, kept in perpetual ignorance and fear, brainwashed into the hatred of others, regimented and coerced and inculcated with a death cult.
Schizo Tech: Their air force includes some relatively modern jet fighters, as well as MiG-15s (the Soviet jet fighters that fought in the Korean War), and even biplanes. Pretty much, given their position and economic situation, they use whatever they can get.
This was parodied in Mash with Five O'Clock Charlie, a North Korean pilot who regularly performed bombing raids on an ammo dump next to the 4077th...with an open cockpit monoplane and hand dropped bombs. Even funnier was that his attacks were so inaccurate, the 4077th personnel (and at least one General) took bets on how far off his bombs would land from his target.
Many people who defect from or visit North Korea have reported that it resembles the Victorian era or The Edwardian Era in technology and architecture.
It is not always that old. Other tourists report that the areas outside the capital city resemble South Korea of the 1950's and 1960's.
Schmuck Bait: Kijŏng-dong is a nice, brightly colored town in the demilitarized zone that blasted the greatness of North Korea for 20 hours a day, in an attempt to get defectors. Closer inspection with telescopes and binoculars showed the "buildings" are little more than painted concrete shells, and people are bussed in at night to make the place look populated.
Then there's the aforementioned Ryugyong Hotel. Since its "completion", it pretty much looks like your usual skyscraper (that is, if your usual skyscraper is Barad-dûr or the Dark Tower) and might actually come across as a great place to stay for the average tourist (that is, if the average tourist knows absolutely nothing about North Korea). The inside however, is little more than a glorified parking lot; nothing but concrete, uneven support beams and winding elevator shafts that couldn't even function as dumbwaiters. In that sense, it's more like potential schmuck bait as the hotel is not officially open yet, but knowing the North Koreans, it probably won't be too long before they start taking "reservations" — which, of course, will inevitably lead to indefinite postponement once the government has the reservation money.
There are also suspicions that the hotel is actually structurally compromised, which is a possible reason why construction on it was halted.
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: You can jump through the many, many legal and political hoops to get into North Korea... or you can fly to Shenyang in China and bribe the North Korean officials there to let you in, as Vice's travel correspondents did.
Within the nation, the police will turn their eyes to anything if you give them enough. The Black Market is the only reliable way to get anything done.
Sealed Army in a Can: Kinda. While it's not a tiny country on the level of Monaco or such, it has the world's 4th largest army, and has enough missiles and heavy artillery pointed at Seoul to wipe out the city in 30 seconds. One of the only reasons they haven't done this is because the United States and the rest of South Korea could wipe out Pyongyang (and maybe the rest of the country too) in 20 seconds.
Secret Police: In addition to the regular secret police, there also exists a system of civilian informers called the Inminban. Any remarks, jokes or utterances that come anywhere near criticizing the regime are reported.
They reverse engineered some US surveillance drones sold to them by the Syrians, and tricked the Germans into selling them some MD 500 helicopters, which they have subsequently copied (only they bolted some RPGs and guns to them). Similarly, they claim that all technology visitors see is North Korea produced, sometimes coming up with creative explanations for why all the writing is in Mandarin or Cyrillic.
Their primary strategic bomber, the Harbin H-5, deserves a mention. The airframes are Chinese knock-offs of a Soviet design from 1948. The engines are North Korean knock-offs of Chinese knock-offs of Russian knock-offs of the Rolls-Royce Nene, a British design first tested in 1944, which makes North Korea's bomber fleet powered by technology almost 70 years old.
This even goes for their non-military tech. Their smartphones and tablets, claimed to be made locally, are most likely Chinese in origin.
Sex Slave: Sexual slavery and violence is endemic within the North Korean prison system. Kwon Hyuk, a defector to the West who was formerly commandant of Hoeryong concentration camp (officially "Place of Custody No. 22"), described how he and his fellow guards would force newly-arrived female prisoners into sex, under threat of execution of them or their children. Former elites were preferred, as they tended to be "pampered and attractive" according to Hyuk. If they became pregnant, or if the guards got bored of raping them, they would be executed. Other defectors report that those prisoners who are useful to the guards are sometimes given other prisoners as "spouses".
Sins of Our Fathers: People are punished for political crimes to the third generation, and so it's possible to be born into imprisonment in a labor camp for offenses your grandfather supposedly committed due to your parents being incarcerated there. One man who had managed to escape was in this situation before.
Except when they are copying Western designs (Arch of Triumph), or taking from 1984 (Ryugyong Hotel).
State Sec: ever since the economy began to fall apart in the early 1990's the military has shown signs of this. Black markets have appeared that are run solely by the army and navy. Also, the secret police agencies are involved in black market activities such as the printing of superdollars.
Stealth Parody: The shop section of their (Western-designed) website may be an example of this: it actually lists various prints the customer can buy as "propaganda".
"Propaganda" is not necessarily a term with negative connotations. Particularly in the context of North Korea - the term "Agitprop" (agitation propaganda) was made popular by the Bolsheviks in Russia. It's still quite fittingly Orwellian for a term with such negative connotations to be proudly plastered on North Korean merchandise, though.
Stepford Smiler: An entire nation of them, as shown whenever the government releases photographs of their leader visiting the people. Some of them can't even manage that.
Studio SEK: One out of the few known animation studios in North Korea, the studio has done stuff for the North Korean market and has done some co-productions like Empress Chung (a co-production with AKOM (yes, thatAKOM)), but has mostly has done outsourcing for South Korean studios that get their contracts from the US (as the US blocked shipping stuff over to North Korea like with Cuba) like with Digital eMation (Billy And Mandy's Big Boogey Adventure The Movie), JM Animation (most of the 3rd season of Avatar: The Last Airbender) Rough Draft Studios (Futurama: Bender's Big Score and The Simpsons Movienote this came out of their respected DVD commentaries) and others; However, the studio went out of business in late 2010 due to the government's lack of money (as the studio was owned by North Korea's government).
Summon Bigger Fish: Their military strategy in the event of invasion can basically be summarized as: "Eek! China, help us!" This nearly worked during the Korean War.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Some official North Korean releases have taken to billing Kim Jong-un as going to be identical to his father in terms of how he runs the country. They do look pretty physically similar, Kim Jong-il's dead status and advanced age aside.
Both North Koreans and outside observers noted that Jong-un looked like his grandfather when the latter was of his age.
In fiction, it is sometimes used as a Suspiciously Similar Substitute for the People's Republic of China, which itself was used as a Suspiciously Similar Substitute for the Soviet Union.
It's been observed that most of their older military equipment and technology date from World War 2, while most of their "modern" equipment is hand-me-downs from China, who in turn got it second-hand from the Soviets... during the 70's.
In terms of their foreign policy, it could be said that North Korea is fighting the Cold War all by itself.
What passes for popular culture could be said to be this too- for example this appears to be the closest they get to pop music. It sounds like it could have come from the '70s or '80s. Yet the group portrayed, the Moranbong Band, were only formed in 2012 at the behest of Kim Jong-un.
North Korea is one of the only countries which still use DDT the way the U.S. used it in the 1950s, i.e. excessively spraying everything with it.
UNIX: North Korea is on Linux. Yes, really. Red Star OS is the national operating system, used on all North Korean computers (it replaced Windows 95 in 2006). It also uses Koryolink, a state-run intranet.
Ungrateful Bastard: North Korea needs friends. Not normal friends either, but the kind who don't mind them raiding the fridge on a regular basis, even though you know half of it is going to feed the hungry dog they keep threatening to set on people, and you're still going to see their girlfriend rooting for some leftovers in the dumpster outside this evening.
Then there was the incident where China shipped relief supplies to North Korea via train. North Korea kept the supplies and the train, and forced the Chinese relief workers to walk back to China.
On a personal level, Kim Jong-Un. After Vice-Marshal Ri Yong-Ho helped get the Army to accept him as the new leader and ensured a smooth transition from Kim to Kim... Kim Jong-Un had him arrested and shot. Jerkass.
The museum dedicated to the Korean War on the Chinese side makes a lot of fuss about Socialist Internationalism and how China and Russia worked together to help Communist Korea remain free of the imperialists. Indeed, Mao's oldest son (Mao Anying) died during the war. Yet on the Korean side, the museum guides won't even mention China or Russia except as a footnote, unless the tour is specifically catered towards Chinese or Russian tourists.
Un-Person: In true Oceania fashion, Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Sung-taek very quickly became this. Before his execution, he had been edited out of a documentary.
Up to Eleven: If North Korea was a sucky place to live in before, then Kim Jong-Un's rule has turned it into a god damned nightmare. He's managed to drive the country even further into the ground, is turning his own country into a useless wasteland with nuke testing, and earned it even more hatred from the rest of the world. Plus he's been upping the ante on his threats towards other countries, making it all the more likely for the country to smashed like an ant by the US. What few allies it has (aka. the small few people who are willing to tolerate its antics) are now becoming increasingly convinced that the DPRK just simply isn't worth the trouble.
Vetinari Job Security: The only reason North Korea hasn't collapsed in on itself is thanks to its neighbors propping it up to prevent a refugee crisis or possible civil war between the military and secret police. However, China wants North Korea to cease the border incidents and instead promote regional stability. Japan and South Korea have increasingly taken hard-line positions and increased military spending.
Matt Harding: I look forward to answering the "how did you get into North Korea?" question about a million times once the video is done. The answer, by the way, is "with baffling ease." You go to a site called google.com. You type in "North Korea tour," and you click on the first thing that pops up. You fill out some forms, you pay some money, and you're in. It's amazing all the things we assume we can't do.
Considering the extremely dire situation the North Korean economy is in, and the numerous references to the black market on this very page, you could probably do just about anything in North Korea if you had enough money to bribe the law enforcement there.
We Have Reserves: It should be clear by now that the only thing that the North Korean army has going for it is the huge number of troops they can throw at the enemy. Offensive strategies are limited to "Push forward till somebody can get in bayonet range!" and the one defensive tactic they have is "Clog up their tank treads with your corpses until China (hopefully) bails us out!"
Zeerust: There is a state museum in Pyongyang which displays such wonders as outdated cell phones and toaster ovens; sadly, even these are far beyond the reach of ordinary North Koreans. If you want a good view of how stagnant and technologically backwards North Korean society really is, check out the DPRK's officialwebsite.
Not true for this website, at least. It would appear the North Korean government has kidnapped a decent web designer. note It is in fact run by a group of European sympathizers.
Zerg Rush: This seems to be the only way their military could cause damage. Indeed, whilst individual Korean formations and equipment are not feared by NATO or South Korea, there is a real worry that the KPA will be able to overwhelm the combined forces in an armed confrontation through sheer force of numbers.
Even then, it's not that big of a worry since counter-mass tactics have long been implemented in the Western world (all the way back to Hannibal's stint at the Battle of Cannae, in fact), and what the US and South Koreans lack in numbers (compared to the DPRK at least) they more than make up for in raw firepower and long-range strike capability.
The concern is not if the North could eventually be stopped, but rather how long it would take and how many civilians would die before this could be done. A lot of South Korea's population live near the DMZ and, as listed above, the Norks have a large amount of troops and artillery set along the border.
His biographies aren't taken at face value by the North Koreans. They don't believe he actually has all those magical abilities, but many of them believe those stories reflect his "heroic" personality.
Cloudcuckoolander: On one occasion, he left his tightly guarded hotel while visiting China to go to the grocery store and buy salad dressing... surrounded by bodyguards, of course.
Cool Train: Kim Jong-il had his own private armored train which he used to go to China.
Dead Guy Junior: North Korean propaganda paints all the Kims as looking very alike.
Dead Guy on Display: His body was presented in a glass coffin for all to see during his funeral.
As of December 2012, the body is on permanent display at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace alongside that of his father.
A Hero Is Born: According to the North Koreans, he was born in a secret guerilla camp on the slopes of Mount Baekdu, accompanied by a double rainbownote All the way across the sky during the day and a thunderstorm at night. Flowers burst into bloom as he was born, and birds sang songs of praise in Korean. According to the Russians, he was born in a shack in the tiny fishing village of Vyatskoye on the Amur River, whilst his father was hiding from the Japanese.
Hidden Depths: Possible, but doubtful. On one hand, Kim Jong-il and his family were able to retain full administrative control of North Korea at a time when the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc were falling around them and China was "going over to the enemy", which they would hold all the way to Jong-il's death (or whatever the North Koreans claim happened to him given his "Eternal" status) and beyond. On the other, this is more likely due to North Korea's continued isolation and the government's decades of brainwashing the people into believing that the rest of the world is a desolate hell (leaving nowhere else to run if the DPRK would ever fall) and the Kim family is made up of immortal demigods that will see them through to paradise (thereby ensuring that no "mortal" could ever take their place), all with a military and secret police to take out the ones who would believe otherwise. Either way, the debate on Jong-il's intelligence and leadership qualitiesnote i.e. whether he was a genius sociopath in the manner of Joseph Stalin, a pure Caligula in the manner of Pol Pot or simply a front man in the manner of Leonid Brezhnev continues to this day.
I Have You Now, My Pretty: Allegedly, several Korean women have been raped by him. Not surprising at all, since no woman in North Korea would ever dream of saying "no" to the Dear Leader.
I Read That As: His name is sometimes mistakenly pronounced as "Kim Jong the second" rather than "Kim Jong il". As an UrbanDictionary editor puts it:
"An imaginary man who receives blame for problems he didn't even cause. Some people confuse this obscure character with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The last letter of the man's name is an 'L', not an 'i'."
Idiot Ball: The rest of the world seemed to carry it whenever they dealt with him.
Mysterious Past: His exact birthday and birthplace. Kim Jong-il's official biography places the year at 1942 and the location somewhere in Baekdu, the tallest mountain in the Korean peninsula, while Soviet records place his birth at 1941 and in Vyatskoye, a tiny Russian fishing village near the city of Khabarovsk. Either way, both accounts agree on the month and day of his birthday — February 16 — as well as the fact that he was born inside a camp of Chinese-Korean La Résistance fighters against the Japanese during World War II.
The Napoleon: He had a venomous inferiority complex about his height. That explains his bouffant hairdo and high-heeled shoes. Once, the DPRK authorities put out a commercial for a drug treatment that would supposedly make you grow taller. When a whole bunch of short people called in and applied for the treatment, Kim Jong-il had them rounded up and deported to a prison labor camp.
Nobody Poops: Well, at least the biographies said that he didn't urinate or defecate at all.
One of Us: He was quite nerdy, and once claimed to have learned English by watching Star Trek, and has the unique distinction of both being a James Bond fan and strongly resembling a James Bond villain.
He also claims to love surfing the Net, and be an expert on it. He's probably the only private person in North Korea with internet access, which by some definitions actually does make him an "expert", at least compared to everyone else in his country.
In addition to owning a large collection of movies, he owned all footage of Michael Jordan playing for the Chicago Bulls, and was delighted to receive a Jordan-autographed basketball, to the point he had a museum built specifically for its housing.
It runs in the Kim family. His son and successor, Kim Jong-Un, is a video gamer and a basketball fan. He even befriended an American basketball star, Dennis Rodman
Overlord Jr.: He succeeded his dad as leader of North Korea, and then he started grooming his son to be leader after his death.
Paid Harem: Rumor had it he traveled with a pack of beautiful women called the "Pleasure Squad".
Self-Deprecation: He once asked a kidnapped South Korean woman what she thought of his physique. After a second of awkward silence in which she pondered how to answer, he said: "Small as a midget's turd, aren't I?"
There are conflicting reports on this; it's also said that he wasn't amused and instead tried to convince the Czech Republic to ban it (for what it's worth, The Other Wiki states this to be the case).
Well, there's no reason he couldn't have personally enjoyed the film, but still wanted it banned for political reasons.
Sinister Shades: As seen on that trope's page image; photos had him wearing them quite regularly. Admittedly, his appearance means he doesn't pull it off all that well...
Surprisingly Good Foreign Language: In addition to English as mentioned above, he was also a good conversant in Chinese and Russian, obviously due to his living in Russia and China in the early parts of his childhood.
Only the regime wasn't really communist back in Kim Il-Sung's time. He liked to paint himself Marxist, but after his death Kim Jong-Il started to distance the regime from the Communist and Socialist trappings, concentrating instead on radical nationalism and militarism. Recently, the DPRK officially dropped all mentions of Communism and Socialism from its propaganda.
Kim Jong-Il also features in the Larry Bond novel Red Phoenix.
The first Mercenaries game is set here, when it gets an even more 'rogue' leader. China, South Korea, Russian criminals, and a UN in all but name show up to finally bring it in line with..er, something.
North Korea will later unite with the South in Homefront under its rule and conquers most of East Asia sans China and even invades the western United States by 2027. They're the villains of Homefront, unless you play the Japanese version, wherein CanadaistheBig Bad.
The Red Dawn (2012) remake received a last-minute edit to turn the villains from Chinese to North Koreans. The reason behind the change is that China makes up the second largest box office audience. This elicited much derision at a movie depicting North Korea, a nation so dirt poor that it can't keep the lights on, taking over the United States.
In the film, the fate of North Korea is elaborated on: they survived by removing the teeth from the entire population inside of twenty four hours. Fascist dictatorships get things done when they need to.
How I Met Your Mother has on several occasions mentioned or implied that the Mega Corp. Barney works for has a number of illegal dealings with North Korea. At one point, Barney is chewing out a woman who pretended to be into him just so he'd give her money, saying, "At my job we don't rip people's hearts out for money. My company briefly backed a lab in North Korea that did, but we sold it!"
NCIS: The team tracked down a woman from North Korea who is married to a US marine. Turns out she is out killing other women from North Korea who are trained as infiltrators just like her, and trying to stop a terrorist attack directed by their leader.
JAG: Harmon Rabb flies the secret Aurora spy plane in on a reconnaissance mission over North Korea in "The One That Got Away".
Archer: Archer and Lana are tasked with intercepting North Korean agents looking to purchase weapons-grade uranium in "The Honeymooners".
Due to its anti-war perspective on The Korean War, M*A*S*H is probably the closest thing you'll ever see to a positive portrayal of North Korea in American pop culture. Most of the North Korean characters are soldiers and/or Viet Cong-style guerrillas who are treated with sympathy by the war-hating protagonists. Almost nothing is said about the actual North Korean regime, although "Joe Stalin" is occasionally alluded to be the leader of "the other side".
Spinnerette villain Colonel Glass hails from DPRK. He's... not a very nice person. Best that can be said about him is that he seems quite patriotic, taking offense at an insult to Kim Il-Sung.
In Scandinavia and the World, North Korea is the only character whose face cannot be seen. Instead, he is completely wrapped in the North Korean flag, only showing his (angry) eyes. And whenever he and South Korea are in the same comic, he's attacking South Korea (either verbally or physically).
The North Korean flag
The flag reuses the standard red, white and blue colors of the Korean Empire, but with more prominence placed on the red (as reflected on its central placement), symbolizing the revolution, while the blue side stripes stand for sovereignty, peace and friendship, and the white fimbriations stands for unity; the red star on a white disk symbolizes communism, and later, after North Korea disassociated itself from post-Stalinist USSR, the juche philosophy.
North Korean society is shut down—animation suspended, all dead quiet on the set, endlessly awaiting not action (we hope) or even cameras, but light.