Last month, North Korea appeared to come within inches of engaging in a full-blown war with South Korea. The soaring tensions came after hundreds of thousands of balloons ventured into the North from the South. Each carried propaganda against the North’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, and were thought to have been launched by non-governmental activists.
Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, reacted furiously to the news, branding those responsible as “human scum”, calling the South “the enemy”.
A telecommunications line which had been in daily use between Pyongyang and Seoul was soon destroyed.
And, shortly after, the North blew up a joint liaison office with the South in the border city of Kaesong.
Tensions were made all the more intense after reports suggested some of the leaflets sent on balloons contained indecent photoshopped images of Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju.
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Alexander Matsegora, the Russian Ambassador to North Korea told Russian media outlet TASS: “The leaflets bore a special kind of dirty, insulting propaganda, aimed at the leader’s spouse.”
He said they were Photoshopped “in such a low-grade way” that they became the “last straw” for the Hermit Kingdom.
Yet, no more than two days later, Kim announced he would be scaling back military action against the South after having taken the “prevailing situation” into consideration.
North Korea has remained an enigma to the outside world for decades.
Only a handful of Westerners have been granted access to the secretive dictatorship – one unlikely figure to have made a friendship with Kim is Dennis Rodman, the former Chicago Bulls basketball star.
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Others, such as Bruce Bennett, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation, has spent decades studying North Korea, and has made “more than 100 trips to the Korean Peninsula and interviewed an array of North Korean defectors”.
In a 2018 report for Vox, Yochi Dreazen spoke to Mr Bennett about his experiences with the North.
Mr Bennett recounted the chilling time he discovered a secret, underground tunnel that went into North Korea itself.
On his behalf, Mr Dreazen explained: “He also jokes that he’s ‘kinda, sorta’ made it into North Korea itself, including once walking through a newly discovered tunnel that North Korean troops had dug beneath the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea.
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“He remembers that the walls were covered with graffiti praising Kim.”
Many experts claim the majority of the North’s population has been brainwashed into regarding the Kim family as deities.
This places the country in a unique position should it ever enter war.
Despite the North’s lacking in firepower when compared to the likes of the US, Mr Dreazen explained that Kim has a “different kind of weapon: 25million people”.
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The North’s man power includes 1.2million active-duty troops and several million reservists.
Retired South Korean, General In-Bum Chun, explained to Mr Dreazen how dangerous the North’s troops were given their living in a dictatorship.
He said the troops have been “indoctrinated since childhood with the belief that Kim and his family are literal gods whose government must be protected at all costs.”
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He continued: “You’re talking about people who have basically been brainwashed their entire lives.
“It would be like what you saw on Okinawa during World War II, where Japanese civilians and soldiers were all willing to fight to the death.
“This would be a hard and bloody war.”