North Korea’s military is grumbling that supreme leader Kim Jong-un is giving his bodyguards and security forces preferential treatment, at a time when many soldiers in the nation’s 1 million man army are going hungry, former South Korean National Defense Committee Chairman Hwang Jin-ha told Borderless News Online in an interview.
In a bizarre and brutal dictatorship like North Korea, getting better treatment doesn’t mean simply getting a nicer office and a promotion. It means being allowed to avoid possible starvation — and such a privilege is usually reserved only for society’s elite.
“Kim Jong-un is treating his bodyguards and the security force as a first priority,” said Hwang, also a former general in South Korea’s army.
“What I’m hearing is that there is increasing blame (in the North Korean military), complaints (about) why Kim Jong-un isn’t treating military personnel properly. Why is his higher priority to support the security forces?” he said, speaking of complaints of the North’s military.
“I think the morale level of the military of North Korea is not that high,” Hwang said.
This is also happening as the regime pours its resources into its nuclear program, allowing the welfare of the nation’s troops to fall by the wayside.
Indeed, questions over the level of morale have been on the minds of many North Korea watchers in recent years, after several high profile defections of solders. In one instance in recent years, a North Korean soldier made his way across the DMZ and was found in a South Korean truck eating noodles and Choco pies he had found.
A dissatisfied military begs the question of whether the situation could spark instability in the Hermit Kingdom, although Hwang said a military coup is unlikely, as the system is strictly controlled from the top in a bid to prevent any such regime change.
“North Korea is not implementing the central supply system for the military,” he said, referring to the North’s socialist distribution system that is supposed to feed the nation, but which broke down a number of years ago.
Hwang explained that each military unit has to get its own food, from growing vegetables to hunting wild animals.
“They have to prepare and they have to get their own food by themselves, by respective units,” he said.
“We are hearing lots of information that there are many, very frequent instances of (the army) stealing civilians’ food, stealing animals, pigs, chickens from farmers,” he said.
He added that the 1990s famine in which 2 million North Koreans died of starvation or opportunistic diseases related to malnutrition showed that North Korea’s government cares very little about the nation’s citizens, and such feelings also extend to the military.
“It means they didn’t (care) that much about their public, their own people,” he said of the North Korean government’s attitude toward underfed soldiers.
“In terms of the human rights standpoint, they (the military) should be fully fed by the leadership, but they don’t implement the central supply system,” he said of the Kim regime.
“Only the citizens of Pyongyang and the loyal families are supplied,” he said, referring to the nation’s capital, where only the political elites and their families are permitted to live, and where they receive special treatment.
In order to plug the food gap, an underground capitalist system of trade is slowly spreading throughout the communist nation, as people realize they cannot depend on the government’s broken distribution system to feed them, Hwang said.
North Koreans who had survived the famine of the 1990s started their own small, underground businesses, selling or trading small food items. It was also at that time that prostitution began to emerge as an industry in the isolated country, according to defectors’ accounts told in the international media, as many women had no other means by which to feed themselves or their families.
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