Undercover video from North Korea: starving children, hungry soldiers

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has released undercover video depicting living conditions in North Korea. The video shows grimy children begging, laborers building a private rail system intended to serve as a wedding gift for Kim Jong-un (son and heir of dictator Kim Jong-il), and an official shaking down a private market stall for rice for hungry soldiers. The ABC's analyst says this last is the most significant part of the video: "This footage is important because it shows that Kim Jong-il's regime is growing weak... It used to put the military first, but now it can't even supply food to its soldiers. Rice is being sold in markets but they are starving. This is the most significant thing in this video."
The video shows young children caked in filth begging in markets, pleading for scraps from compatriots who have nothing to give.

"I am eight," says one boy. "My father died and my mother left me. I sleep outdoors."

Many of the children are orphans; their parents victims of starvation or the gulag...

In the footage, a party official is demanding a stallholder make a donation of rice to the army.

"My business is not good," complains the stallholder.

"Shut up," replies the official. "Don't offer excuses."

N Korean children begging, army starving: exclusive (via Reddit)


  1. What a swell country. Just because I don’t know what else to say or how to help… I’ll just quote what Letterman always says… “Kim Jong-il” and his brother Mental-e-ill…”.

    So sorry for them. WTF.

    1. This isn’t about communism. This is about greed and megalomania (look at Zimbabwe & Bahrain for parallels). It’s about the horrible way things work (don’t work) under totalitarian, dictatorial rule.

  2. “But this dynasty of dictators has proven that it is more than capable of keeping its wretched population in line through gulags, hunger and a total control over every aspect of life.”

    “But as this footage shows, occasionally, a crack of light emerges from this dark, dark place.”

    It is my dream that the next light illuminating the darkness would be a laser dot directly between the eyes of KJI (and his eunuch-looking son if necessary) and a crack of the rifle to make his demented brain go bye-bye.

    Of course one might have to kill a number of cadre and military leaders: until people could be found with enough clout and humanity that would be willing to ‘play ball’ with the normal countries around them. . .hopefully leading to reunification at some later date.

    But until that happy time: that poor country is totally fucked by evil men. So fuck them. I hope they die. Sooner rather than later. South Korea is a beautiful country with many decent, hardworking, fun-loving people. . .who are NOT starving and enjoy a semblance of law and decency. North Korea could be the same but for a backwards, bat-shit crazy ideology and the iron fist of tyrants.

    I laughed like a loon at the mini-me puppet Kim of Team America fame, but I’m not amused now.

    Water that tree of liberty. . .with the blood it is so thirsty for.

    1. This is obviously some strange usage of the word ‘happy’ that I wasn’t previously aware of.

  3. Damn, of all the conflicts we are part of, why aren’t we just barging in there and removing the government? I would support my govt overthrowing a govt that is starving it’s own people.

    Is there a friendly geologist willing to fabricate evidence of oil in N Korea?

    1. It wouldn’t matter. China won’t let the US put a large number of troops that close. Some day they will have to mop up the mess.

    2. I can answer your ‘why?’ in one word. China. They’ve been backing North Korea as a buffer between them and South Korea since the Korean War started (it ain’t over; they just ain’t shooting at each other right now). Chinese attitudes towards NK have been changing recently, but not enough that invading would be a much bigger can of worms than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. We’re getting away with the whole Libya thing because Gaddafi’s traditional ally was always the USSR.

      1. They’ve been backing North Korea as a buffer between them and South Korea since the Korean War started

        I think that lately, it’s more a matter of backing North Korea as a buffer between them and North Korea.

    3. The US and current SK gov’t regime are forcing a huge military base on Jeju-do, brutally putting down protests from the locals, supposedly to support SK when NK implodes. Since Jeju-do is the southernmost island (populated by more than 15 people) of Korea, that makes little to no sense– the US doesn’t care one bit about NK.

      They care– the military base– is to flex their balls. For China.

      1. the US doesn’t care one bit about NK

        The US certainly does care about NK. It cares that NK might attack SK. It cares that NK might attack Japan just for the hell of it. It cares that NK might destabilize our relationship with China (such as it is). It cares that NK is developing nuclear weapons and delivery systems (missiles). It cares that NK sells missile technology to other regimes that don’t like us.

        And, it cares that the people of NK are oppressed and starving, which is hardly news.

        If you want to get on someone’s case regarding the treatment of NK, talk to the Chinese.

        1. I think that you make a good point, but I think the US *people* care about the oppressed, starving NKeans – does the govt? I would suggest that the strategic reasons are all govt, and the humanitarian reasons are all the people.

        2. Well, yes, but the US decided to invade a country that had no WMD program (at the time), whereas N. Korea has been bragging about it’s efforts into missile launch systems and nuclear warheads.

          So I think you’re theoretically correct, but practically wrong. Saying that it’s China’s problem doesn’t really address the fact that the N. Koreans would shoot said nuclear missiles at OUR allies.

    4. I am a friendly geologist doing research in Asia (not the Koreas), but, nobody would believe me :)

      Seriously though, this is the kind of military action (“world police” action so to speak) that most people would actually get behind – just as most are generally behind ousting Gaddafi, though the specifics in that case are obviously contentious.

      And I agree that China is siding with N. Korea right now just so that they don’t provoke them in any way – if world leaders (including China) had some secret meeting and decided to topple the N. Korean government with a surgical strike (on the government and military leaders as well as immediate threats like the artillery pointed at Seoul), I really don’t see China objecting, and I would guess they’d even provide a major percentage of the operating forces. And further, I would guess that the N. Korean army would mostly cooperate fully – they’re apparently starving too, after all.

      Is there a potential for a quagmire of epic proportions? Maybe… but the payoff is worth that chance. It would certainly have to involve cooperation between east and west to avoid any cold war aggression coming up again, but as I said, I don’t think that would actually be a problem.

      1. And further, I would guess that the N. Korean army would mostly cooperate fully – they’re apparently starving too, after all.

        Proceeding on that assumption is likely one of the most classic errors of any military venture. When has this ever happened, even under the most hated and feared despots in human history?

        Deposing their own leaders does happen. Turning things over to outside invaders (for that is what any such venture would be) is far, far less common.

      2. The problem is that despite all the rhetoric that they used to do in the 1970s and 1980s, SK doesn’t actually *want* unification any more. Think about it. Germany *still* hasn’t recovered from unification, and the GDR was the cream of the crop of Communist nations economically (despite all the Trabant jokes, things like the late lamented MZ motorcycles actually were decent products which even Westerners admired; my father had an MZ). NK is pretty much the bottom barrel of Communist nations in comparison. All this means is that unification will stop SK’s economic rise.

    5. The other comments have cover this already, but there are a few basic reasons.
      Seoul, capital of South Korea and a city of 20 million people, is close enough to the North Korean border, and North Korean weaponry, that it would be mostly destroyed in a few hours in the event NK decided to attack. There isn’t anything we in the US could do about that.
      China worries that millions of North Koreans would flee across the border into China, a problem they want nothing to do with. We in the US need China more than we need to fix NK.

  4. Another 10 points for Australia’s government funded national broadcaster. Between ABC and SBS, we have some of the best true journalism.

    Oh, yeah: China needs to step up and put on the big boy pants they have been demanding to get. The only way the world can help these poor souls without bombing that Kim asshole (which would result in the deaths of thousands of South Koreans when he retaliates) is if China stops supporting them and threatens to cease aid until Kim’s fucking moron government learns to distribute resources according to need.

    Of course that won’t happen because the Chinese Govt. would rather hundreds of thousands (millions?) suffer starvation than admit that communism could possibly fail. Yeah.. communism worked real well for you, China. There weren’t any drastic foor shortages for you, were there?

    Fucking assholes.

    1. Am I the only one amused at the idea of solving the economic (read: food) problems of a Communist failed state by apportioning resources according to need? (Taking them, obviously, from those most able to provide?)

  5. There’s no good answer to this, certainly nothing that Western powers can provide. Maybe if we hadn’t spent all our political capital and credibility repeatedly destroying the middle and near east, we could have a greater effect on unambiguously appalling regimes like DPRK.

  6. Apologists of our bloated military budget will tell you that this is the country we need all those fighter jets and anti-missile systems to defend ourselves from. Clearly they are ready to launch a full-scale invasion any day now.

  7. Just FYI:
    There are two reasons we are not in active war with North Korea:

    1) They have the world’s largest concentration of artillery stationed within firing distance of Seoul, which is a megacity containing 40% of South Korea’s population. They would devastate a substantial fraction of the city within hours of the outbreak of war. Nuclear weapons capable of reaching the US or Japan are a vanity project, though nuclear weapons capable of 100 kilometer range are a serious addition to their already substantial deterrents.

    2) Our economy is largely dependent on Chinese trade, and on the currency flows that their full-employment policies support. Disruption of this relationship would not be a complete catastrophe for us, but it would be potentially the most rapid change our economy has ever experienced, perhaps to include the World Wars. This is to say nothing of the possibility of an actual nuclear exchange, Cold War, or quagmire of a ground/naval war – disruption of trade with China and Taiwan would be enough.

  8. How can North Korea even defend itself, when its soldiers are starving? The Kims will have nothing to protect themselves.

    I hope that the Kims will commit mass suicide.

  9. One of the worst nightmare scenarios (and they’re all bad) is if the country implodes due to a coup or an uprising. That’s actually very likely. Then there’s going to be untold bloodshed, and literally millions of refugees pouring across the Chinese and South Korean borer. Which will likely lead to an economic catastrophe that will impact the entire world. Which we’re not preparing to deal with, and we won’t see coming, because the country is so closed. And barring an amazing turnaround, it’s inevitable *something* like that’s going to happen.

    Sleep well!

    1. The total population of North Korea is about 24 million, which is 1.8% of the population of China, or 49% of the population of South Korea. While millions of people moving around would be significant, I don’t think it would be as big a disruption as China claims.

      To give a comparison, the US, with a much smaller population than China, has probably absorbed at least 20-30 million illegal immigrants in the last decade or two, without significant social or economic breakdown.

  10. NK is still a massively important buffer for China. Several large cities just across the border are mostly ethnic Koreans (see Yanbian). There are Koreans all the way up into Russia.

    Cut out the wackos in NK, and SK and NK will reunite. Why stop there? Yanbian will want in as well. Why stop there? All sorts of minority populations will want out. I hear there’s a group of folks calling themselves Tibetans…

    Not good for the DPRC.

  11. Google tech talk from a Nuclear Inspector who has visited North Korea several times. While he acknowledges that it’s an authoritarian regime, he disputes the narrative that North Korea is completely impoverished and closed to the outside world.

  12. The biggest problem is the north-korean people.
    Lets say NK implodes and the people are free, what now? They would be dropped into a world that they are totally unprepared and unfit for. Its like living in a cave for your entire life and going outside for the first time or suddenly awaking 100 years in the future. I´m sure millions of them would go insane from the culture shock. I saw a report about Northkoreans who made it out and had to live in aducation camps for months because they didn´t even knew how to operate a washing machine or a copy machine, all of them where uffering from depressions or other mental problems. Now multiplicate that with the population of North Korea. Thats one of the reasons nobody in SK really wants a reunification anymore, they would have to deal with 24 million mental invalids.

  13. Yes, yes NK is screwed. Read their history.
    But also read about western democracies and their suffering people as well; Brazil, India, Philippines, Mexico, Haiti etc.

    As…” Noam Chomsky, for example, writes that Amartya Sen in the early 1980s estimated the excess of mortality in India over China due to the latter’s “relatively equitable distribution of medical resources” at close to 4 million a year. Chomsky therefore argues that, “suppos[ing] we now apply the methodology of the Black Book and its reviewers” to India, “the democratic capitalist ‘experiment’ has caused more deaths than in the entire history of … Communism everywhere since 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, and tens of millions more since, in India alone.”

  14. Wait, i thought NK was a hardcore communist country without private property or private business? How can they raid a private market stall, then?

  15. Lets say NK implodes and the people are free, what now? They would be dropped into a world that they are totally unprepared and unfit for. Its like living in a cave for your entire life and going outside for the first time or suddenly awaking 100 years in the future. I´m sure millions of them would go insane from the culture shock.

    Well, other countries have undergone extremely rapid modernization quite successfully, e.g. Japan (which shut itself off from the rest of the world for much longer than NK), South Korea and China. And it’s not like there haven’t been communist countries that were literally walled off from the rest of the world for decades. I wouldn’t underestimate the North Korean people, they are not stupid.

  16. I suppose there are ‘geopolitical’ reasons for China’s support of North Korea– but the main reason is fear. If (or, when…) the central authority in North Korea collapses, it will be a catastrophe of truly epic proportions– millions of starving, armed North Koreans streaming over the border– and China is right in the bulls-eye. I don’t envy the Chinese one bit, and I don’t have any helpful free advice for them either.

  17. I’ve always wondered why we haven’t seen more photos and video like this. In the age of cheap, miniaturized cameras and memory, how does a country keep such a tight grip on all media leaving its borders?

    I wonder what would happen if we just air dropped tens of thousands of such cameras, along with a few sat phones, throughout NK.

    Kudos to Kim Dong-Chol(?) and Jiro Ishimaru for doing this critically important work.

    1. Because they don’t let people IN that often. I recall 15 years ago or so seeing an eye-opening Frontline episode on NK.

      You also have to remember that the NK people aren’t barking dogs in cages, just waiting for a hole in the fence. There is a lot of indoctrination and brainwashing surrounding the Kult of Kim. They are literally taught US and SK solders are just chomping at the bit to come over and rape their women and eat their babbys.

      If the NK gov. disappeared tomorrow, I imagine there would be a huge chance of them being self sufficient quickly. Already they persevere in spite of their govs. actions. With a little aid and support, they should do fine.

      They don’t NEED to know how to use a cell phone or washing machine right away. Plenty of people do fine with neither. Once they have the basics like food and shelter under their belt, they will start to assimilate the modern pleasures and conveniences that the world has to offer.

  18. First, North Korea is not communist. It is a theocracy.

    Second, the military must be fed. When they aren’t fed, their families aren’t fed. If their families aren’t fed, they sicken and die. When family members die, the military becomes… anxious.

    Third, the military is closest to the family of gods who rule North Korea. So they are the ones who know that the family just lucked out and took over rule at the “right” time. And this is what makes military coups over theocratic monarchies possible.

    Once the world was almost entirely ruled by theocratic monarchies. In case you haven’t noticed, there are very few left, especially in terms of actual rule. They were all eventually overthrown, one way or another. I believe the traditional path out of theocracy typically includes the narrative that the old gods were gods, of course, but the new god is an imposter, as evidenced by the evil their rule created. For the good of all, man must intercede, etc.

    When people contemplate good versus evil, which is sometimes a distanced from reality, what they are ultimately considering is the beneficial versus the harmful. Which is reality.

    “Evil” is harmful. That’s why we call it evil. Evil does not grow and sustain itself, like good does; that’s another reason why we call it evil.

    North Korea’s rule *is* evil, and harmful, and thus it is falling. It is just happening in slow motion — more slowly than we would like. Eventually it will happen in total. Perhaps that will be in a few hundred years.

    Want to accelerate that process? Consider the cost to South Korea and the West of maintaining current hostilities versus a non-theocratic leadership. Offer a bounty (but don’t call it that) of, say, half that amount to any person (and their family, and specifically include medical care) who seizes power in such a way that will end theocratic rule, and bring the nation in alignment with, say, South Korea’s national priorities. It will be an ungodly amount, fit for a (human) king. Re-unification could be managed later, as desired, over time. Offer that person a lifetime consultancy (bounty included, which can be minimized in actual duties over time, but under no circumstance, do not back out of that financial deal, which is absolutely essential that it be clearly and fully honored with all possible assurances in advance that it will be).

    I realize that the medical care specification may not make sense, when you are talking about hundreds of millions, but you don’t know who you’ll be dealing with (and they may not be entirely sensible). Instead, you are only assuming that human rule will be better than theocratic rule (which places enormous limits on choices the government can make without undermining its claims to rule).

    So why attempt this? Humans can bend to necessities of reality; gods *create* reality. Yet the ruling family are, of course, not gods. That is the main problem — making that connection. We in the West assume that this is obvious to all involved. It is not obvious to all involved. Only a few. And fewer still can actually do anything about it. And sooner or later, one of those few will find themselves with very few options over something very painful which will imminently happen to someone they love. And that person could/will be the breaking point.

    You simply need to offer a safety net to that person — for the good of all, of course — and make sure they know about it, and trust the offer.

    Or, we can keep the status quo. Seems to work for most everyone in charge. For now.

    1. A bounty? Consider if the NK gov collapsed tomorrow and the rest of the rulership turned to SK and the US for help. Now you have a humanitarian crisis we haven’t dealt with since WWII. This whole mess isn’t just to Kim’s interfering with the economy but due to having such a large segment of the population in the military that isn’t contributing to production (especially food) and are basically parasites.

  19. does it not worry anyone that this undercover ‘journalist’ was paid for by a japanese organisation? Japan ruled north korea for hundreds of years, brutalising and exploiting korean people. They got kicked out by communist rebels… thats a good thing… remember.

    its the same as the US journalists in Libya, Cuba, former Socialist eastern block countries. I mean what the fuck? Who would trust any bullshit they come out with.
    Yes there is poverty in north korea – but its under blockade. And yes, it has a nationalist government that does not totally serve the people like a communist one would.
    I would not go as far to say N Korea is a communist country.
    China calls itself communist, but it is not by definition. But i would prefer the chinese to sort that one out. US or British bombs will not sort that out.

    Lets not also forget there is an enormous US military base in Japan and South Korea.

    The US and its lackeys across Europe and in Australia are agitating for a chance to attack N Korea. Just like they are now doing in Libya and did in Iraq and Afghanistan, murdering millions of civillians.

    They should not be trusted as a true reflection of the political climate or political history. Do your own reading, read behind the curtain of mainstream ruling class propaganda.

    1. There are just so many things wrong with this, I am just going to ask what color the sky is in your world?

    2. You’re perfectly entitled to your own opinions about ideology and geoploitics, but you may want to try some of that “reading” stuff you advocate yourself.

      Japanese occupation of Korea lasted about 40 years, not hundreds. The Japanese occupation was ended by their defeat in World War 2, and the subsequent collapse of the CIA-backed government of Syngman Rhee, due to his incredibly unpopular policies. This gave rise to the Communist revolution, but the main driving force behind it was collaboration between Russia and China in establishing a buffer zone in Asia similar to the Eastern Bloc in Europe. Only about 10% of the soldiers involved in the war were North Korean (with a further 20% coming from the South), with the rest being foreign antagonists fighting a proxy conflict in the cold war.

      The current state of affairs is the result of both the ending of hostilities in the Korean conflict itself, the aftermath of the Chinese Revolution and the Second World War. There’s a “massive” US presence in Japan because part of the conditions of its surrender was the disbanding of its standing military, to be replaced by American occupation. They’re still there partly because of the threat from North Korea, but mostly to stop China annexing Taiwan, which is where the defeated Kuomintang fled to in order to create their own state after the Communists won the Chinese Civil War.

      Noone’s actively looking for a fight in Korea. The US is bound by existing treaties to maintain a presence there, the South doesn’t particularly want to unify due to the burden it will place on their growing economy, China and Russia are no longer ideologically interested and the North Koreans themselves want energy and a nuclear deterrent to what they perceive as US aggression.

      So yeh, it’s important to read about these things. I mean, if you have a decent understanding of history, you can totally avoid embarassing yourself in public…

    3. Yes, because Emperor Akihito is TOTALLY on the warpath again, amirite?

      Are you a North Korean apologist living in Japan perhaps? It’d be a shame if you had to go home and leave all that good food, broadcast TV, internet, working and punctual trains, etc behind right?

    4. read behind the curtain of mainstream ruling class propaganda

      Is this the kind of ‘reading’ tea bagegrs engage in where you pretty much just make up whatever statistics you need?

      Thankfully Cynical had the patience to humourously debunk your ridiculous claims (claims which I, as someone with very little knowledge of Korean history, knew were BS) but the cute signoff to your comment made me realise that you’re beyond hope.

    5. “hundreds of years”? You’re off by an order of magnitude, so you haven’t made your point.

  20. Our posture with respect to North Korea is dictated by the fact that China is very up front that they would be less than pleased by any attempt at regime change there. And by “less than pleased”, they mean “taken as act of war”. Indeed, China routinely uses North Korea as it’s “mad dog” gambit in international relations: “Oh, hey…you wouldn’t want those folks to our South to do anything *crazy*, now would you? For a small concession in negotiations, we could maybe talk them out of that…”. For China, a renegade, brinksmanship loving NK is a valuable asset. Keeps the US, SK, Japan and any number of other players in the region off-balance. Further, it’s pretty clear that China sees a unified, West looking Korea on it’s southern border as an actively bad thing.

    So, seriously, quit making the NK situation a Western, specifically a US, problem. You want a NK with a peaceful, fed, engaged populous? Talk to China. They could make it happen without a single shot fired.

  21. Reading @alphabetikal reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a Japanese colleague who commented that many of the forums he used to rely on had been rendered useless because of Chinese trolls who routinely carpet-bombed them with pro-Chinese, anti-Japanese nonsense. I noted that the intersection of gold-farming operations/mentality, government propaganda directives & search engines could one day mean that every comment made in public not aligned with a pro-Chinese message will be drowned out by scripted retaliation from an army state sponsored sock puppets. Thanks for the proof I’m probably right, alphabetikal.

    1. I seriously believe that in the not-too-distant future many sites will simply block access to Chinese visitors for that very reason: Irelevant target market & Too many moderation headaches.

      Oh yeah, and alphbetikal: I don’t suppose the Japanese guy who is teaching investigative journalism skills could possibly have been affected by NK’s kidnapping of Japanese nationals, could he?


      1. > I seriously believe that in the not-too-distant future many sites will simply block access to Chinese visitors for that very reason

        Turnabout is fair play, after all. The Chinese feel quite comfortable blocking anyone who doesn’t agree with them…

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