North Korea



Tensions between North Korea, the United States, and much of the East Asian region continue to escalate without any clear path for resolution. Join Active Minds for a discussion of recent developments as well as a review of North Korean history. We will cover the dynastic leadership of the Kim family as well as the country’s ongoing development of nuclear weapons. North Korea’s place in the world relative to global issues such as international trade and human rights issues will also be addressed as well as what the future may hold as this situation continues to unfold.

Key Lecture Points

  • North Korea is the world’s most secretive country.  It is also the world’s only communist hereditary dictatorship and is considered a threat to the rest of the world because of its massive military, the 4th largest in the world, and its defiant development of nuclear weapons and the long-range missiles needed to deliver them.
  • The Kim dynasty began with Kim Il-Sung who fought the Japanese as a guerilla during the Japanese colonial period and continued with his son, Kim Jong-Il who died in December 2011.  His youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, the “Great Successor,” replaced him. Kim Jong-Un continues his father’s “Military First” policy which includes the country’s nuclear weapons program.
  • Food shortages continue, exacerbated by drought.  International food aid has helped the North Korean people avoid the widespread famine of the 1990s even though this help was frequently refused during the Kim Jong-Il years.
  • North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, followed by 5 more, the most recent in 2017, drawing repeated protests from the US.  Kim Jong-Il has built his nuclear program at the expense of his impoverished nation.
  • North Korea’s nuclear weapon program has been a frustrating challenge to the US and the international community for decades.  Years of “stop and go” negotiations that have included China, North Korea’s closest ally, and escalating international sanctions have been ineffective in stopping the country’s nuclear activity.  Like the Bush and Obama Administrations, President Trump struggles with how to dissuade a sovereign nation from pursing an unwanted course.

Exploration Questions

  • How has Korea’s proximity to Japan and China influenced North Korea’s history and current political situation?
  • What are the driving factors that underlie the North Korean nuclear crisis? What options does the US have to contain the North Korean threat?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you think Kim Jong-un can continue the political dynasty created by his grandfather? Why? Why Not?
  • Can you think of a time when you felt threatened and reacted to that threat? Does North Korea’s behavior seem similar or different to this?
  • Have you ever been to Korea? What do you remember the most?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Harden, Blaine. Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West. Viking Adult, 2012. 224 pages. Tells the story of Shin Donghyuk who was born in a North Korean prison camp and what his life was like until he was able to escape from the camp.
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  • Demick, Barbara. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Speigel & Grau, 2010. 336 pages. Follows the lives of 6 North Korean citizens and describes what it is like to live in North Korea.
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  • Cha, Victor. The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future. Ecco Press, 2012. 530 pages. Examines North Korea’s past, its culture and its uncertain future.
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  • Tudor, Daniel, James Pearson.  North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors.  Tuttle Publishing, 2015. 224 pages.  These two journalists provide an insider’s view of today’s North Korean society and what life is like for the “ordinary man and woman.”
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  • Kim, Byung-Yeon.  Unveiling the North Korean Economy.  Cambridge University Press, 2017. 340 pages.  The author offers a comprehensive and systematic analysis of the North Korean economy to include what is really happening now, explaining past failures and describing what it will take to transition to a full market economy.
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