Phobia of Nuclear War: Interviews with North Koreans

By | March 09, 2013 | No Comments

North Korean citizens gathered in Pyongyang. Image via Chosun Ilbo

As AP’s Korea Bureau chief Jean Lee said yesterday in Texas, North Koreans eagerly consume state media in order to locate the limits of politically acceptable discourse. In recent days, that discourse has gotten awfully wide when it comes to discussing prospects for warfare. Asserting that the US, South Korea and Japan are all planning pre-emptive strikes on North Korea, the DPRK has boasted of having functional miniaturized nuclear warheads and is threatening to undertake pre-emptive nuclear attacks on the United States. State media throws around phrases like “precision nuclear strike…in Korean style” and “second and third countermeasures” without much clarification as to what those phrases, functionally, mean.

While it stands to reason that such bellicose statements are intended to boost the credibility of Kim Jong-un within a highly militarized state and give the young leader unique achievements of his own (Kim Jong-il, after all, never threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the USA), they have not been without a negative impact among the masses of North Korean people who are struggling to make sense of what benefits the new political line is to bring them — beyond more belt tightening.

Yoon Dong-bin (reporter), “North Korean citizens fear ‘war might break out right now,’” [北주민 “위에서 당장 전쟁 일어난다고…Chosun Ilbo, March 9, 2013.

The citizens of North Korea, including Pyongyang, suffer from a “phobia of nuclear war” (핵전쟁 공포증),  reported Radio Free Asia (RFA) on March 8. “Only in the possession of nuclear weapons is it possible to block the invasion of foreign powers through nuclear deterrence,” North Korean officials said. After the success of the third nuclear test in North Korea the media reported citizens’ rising dissatisfaction with the “threat of invasion of foreign powers.”

According to RFA, one resident of North Korea’s Yanggang Province said, “All the people around here said ‘If there are nuclear weapons, I thought it would get better, but I didn’t know it would be this horrible.’”

“When there are nuclear weapons or when there are not, there’s no change,” the resident said about the current atmosphere. “The authorities said if we have nuclear weapons, we can scare off anyone we meet, but on the contrary even though we have nuclear weapons and we’re shouting that we might launch a preemptive strike, I’m worried it seems we might receive a preemptive strike.”

In an interview with RFA, one resident in Hamgyong Pronvince said, “If we shoot off a nuclear weapon, are the Americans going to stay motionless? In any case, if nuclear weapon is launched everyone dies, so I feel there’s no use for training or anything.”

A citizen from Hamhung City in [South] Hamgyong Provice said, “All of the this could incite war immediately. School teachers are saying ‘Can war easily break out?’ while soothing students under the conditions.”

“Now in North Korea there’s the atmosphere that war is about to break out. Everyone is thinking that this time if war breaks out, there’s no question that it will be nuclear war,” he said.

Blog by: Darcie Draudt

Mobilizing at a Pyongyang Middle School | Image via Rodong Sinmun

Mobilizing at a Pyongyang Middle School | Image via Rodong Sinmun

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