September 9 – National Independence Day in North Korea

Posted on September 9, 2014

Today is the anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1948.

Like so many other patriotic “holidays,” this day commemorates division as well as union, war rather than peace; and it is an occasion for sadness for some people.

Because the division of Korea into North and South Korea really did permanently divide some friendships and families.

How did the division happen?

Japan ruled Korea from 1910 to the end of World War II. When Japan was beat by the Allied forces, the Soviet Union occupied the northern portion of Korea, to the 38th parallel, and soon U.S. forces occupied the portion of Korea south of that parallel. By 1948, two separate governments had been set up.

But each government felt that IT was the one true government of Korea. “That other government isn't the legitimate government,” each side claimed—“WE are!”

A division that had been imposed on a land and a people by outside nations—even if those nations had just liberated the land of invaders—should not have been permanent, and the North and South Koreans didn't hold the division as permanent.

But of course they disagreed about what to do about this artificial division.

North Korea was set up as a communist nation, with backing from China and the USSR. South Korea, on the other hand, was set up as a democratic republic modeled on U.S. and European capitalist nations.

Soon after the creation of the separate governments, North Korean forces attacked South Korea and tried to take back the “bottom half” of its nation. The Korean War lasted three years and killed more than half a million troops (plus wounding more than a million troops, plus killing and wounding around 2.5 million civilians, plus damaging and destroying buildings and property plus/plus/plus!) – and when the war was over, the exact same situation resumed:

Korea remained divided into two separate nations, along the 38th parallel.

More bad news...

You probably already know that North Korea is a dictatorship, and the people there do not have the access to information and freedoms that most of the rest of us enjoy. They don't even have access to as much FOOD as the rest of us, and on average North Korean people are one to three inches shorter than South Korean people because of chronic food shortages. North Korea has one of the largest armed forces in the world, with 1.1 million soldiers on active duty. Its reserve forces of 8 million reserves is THE largest in the world (even though the nation is only the 48th most populous nation in the world!).

The people of North Korea struggle economically, and the infrastructure (such as power supply lines and transportation routes) is in many cases old and in disrepair. But the ruling family spends a lot of money on their own 32 homes, including palaces and mansions.

Is there anything nice to say?

The roads may be marred by potholes and other rough patches that need repair – but at least they aren't congested with traffic! (Photo by Bjorn Bergman)

There are universities, and public swimming pools... (Photo by David Guttenfelder

...and a pretty amazing water park... (Reuters / RCNA)

...and of course much of the countryside is beautiful.

North Korea would also be a pretty awesome place for star-gazing and other astronomical pursuits - because it has a LOT less nighttime lighting than its neighbors South Korea, Japan, and China. (The almost entirely dark part is North Korea!)

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