North Korea


Overt Operations: The North Korean Seizure of the USS Pueblo Exacerbates Flaws in U.S. Naval Intelligence

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As President Trump prepares for a landmark summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, it’s worthwhile to recall an actual landmark in that country’s capital, Pyongyang. Moored on the Potong River in the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, the USS Pueblo is still listed by the U.S. Navy as in active military service since it was seized by the North Koreans on January 23, 1968. One crew member was killed during the assault, and the 82 survivors were imprisoned and tortured by the North Koreans for nearly a year.

Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, America’s suspicions of communism and deployments against the Russians remained largely unchanged. If President Trump expects dramatic shifts in North Korean or American strategic interests to result from a single summit, history has shown that deadly games of cat-and-mouse are persistent motifs of international relations despite diplomatic initiatives to the contrary.

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Overt Operations: The North Korean Seizure of the USS Pueblo Exacerbates Flaws in U.S. Naval Intelligence

If a Tree Falls in the Demilitarized Zone: Operation Paul Bunyan Pits a Poplar against Pyongyang

The “Bridge of No Return” doesn’t look like much today: four waist-high blue bollards at the eastern end stand guard over grass growing through the cracked roadway. A weathered sign reads, “Military Demarcation Line” in English and Korean. The bridge’s railings are surely inadequate to prevent some desperate soul from leaping into the shallow river below. At the western end a low concrete wall hints that the last pedestrian or vehicle passed over the span long ago.

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As often happens in real estate, location is everything. This bridge spans the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) in Panmunjom, the United Nations Joint Security Area between North and South Korea, in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The DMZ is a heavily fortified and closely monitored strip of land 151 miles long and 2.5 miles wide that approximates the 38th parallel of latitude. The MDL represents the cease-fire line of a war that has been unresolved since 1953. Those who were repatriated across this bridge acknowledged that they could never go back whence they came; theirs was a one-way trip.

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In 1993, protected by a heavily armed Secret Service escort, President Bill Clinton walked over this bridge to within about ten feet of the MDL, scrutinized all the while by North Korean soldiers armed with AK-47s. Obviously President Clinton lived to record this excursion in his memoirs, but on August 18, 1976, two American servicemen supervising a landscaping detail nearby were not so fortunate.

If a Tree Falls in the Demilitarized Zone: Operation Paul Bunyan Pits a Poplar against Pyongyang

Han Sorya: North Korea’s Literary Lion

North_Korea-Pyongyang-Grand_People's_Study_House-Books-01 sm.jpgIf you could choose a single novelist to represent the legacy and aspirations of twentieth century America, who would it be? F. Scott Fitzgerald? William Faulkner? Toni Morrison? John Steinbeck? Admittedly, the choice is artificial; there are no wrong answers here, only degrees of emphasis.

For a North Korean confronting a similar question, one name would readily spring to mind: Han Sorya (1900-1976). And further, there is one particular work, a short story, with which Han is especially identified: Sungynangi [Jackals] (1951), one of the few North Korean works of literature available in English translation.

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Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, includes two reports of literary criticism of Han Sorya’s work: Modern Korean Literature and Han Sor-ya (JPRS 5745); and Han Sol-ya and his Literature (JPRS 5874). Translated directly from original North Korean sources, they convey a sense of how Han’s work is viewed in his native cultural context.

Han occupied a prominent place in Korean cultural and political life. He was born in the north of Korea during the period of Japanese occupation, and he studied sociology in Tokyo before returning to Korea in the 1920s. In 1925 he joined the Korean Artists Proletarian Federation and integrated themes of socialist class consciousness into his writing.

Han Sorya: North Korea’s Literary Lion

Pivot to the East: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Pyongyang_Arch_of_Triumph.jpgPresident Obama's 2011 “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region refocused American foreign policy away from the intractable conflicts in the Middle/Near East towards the challenge of Chinese hegemony. In this month's highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, as President Trump rebalances U.S. strategic assets to East Asia and seeks to consolidate his diplomatic credibility with China, well turn our attention in that direction as well.


On Party Leadership, Training, and Policy Implementation in North Korea

Inmin Kyoyuk (National Education), Pyongyang, No. 11, November 1959.

Tang Kanbudulege Chunun Chamgo Charyo (Reference Materials for Party Cadres), Pyonyang, Nos. 10-12, October-December 1959. 101 pages

This topical report (multiple authors/sources) touches on industrial development, agriculture, education, and of course, political orthodoxy. Whatever the drawbacks of life in North Korea, one can admire the consistency and perseverance with which they pursue their particular take on the socialist project.


Eulogy on Ho Chi Minh on his 70th Birthday

Lao Dong (Labor) [n.p.] Nos. 746-747, May 1960.

Thoi Moi (Modern Times), Hanoi, No. 2298, 19 May 1960. 30 pages

Pivot to the East: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

New and Improved: Personal and Political Reform in Socialist States

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-L0822-0026,_XX__Olympiade,_DDR-Turnerinnen,_Training Caption Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L0822-0026. Gahlbeck, Friedrich. CC-BY-SA 3.0.jpgEast and West, self-improvement is a human project in which the state has a vested interest. In the West, the idea of a liberal education resulting in conscientious, informed citizens has been the goal. In socialist states, the tendency has been to link the personal with the political taken collectively rather than individually.

In this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we offer a selection of best practices drawn from countries in which the U.S. government had a healthy interest.


Residues of the Islamic Religion and Methods for Eliminating them

Voprosy Filosofii (Problems in Philosophy) No. 5, May 1961

The United States is just the latest nation where Islam has become a political issue. Communism has always had an argument with organized religion as leading to “false consciousness” and inhibiting adherence to proletarian goals and identity.

This report relates the proceedings of a conference in Dagestan wherein the rationale and methodology is laid-out for eliminating the Islamic religion from the Soviet population. And they don’t mince words:

New and Improved: Personal and Political Reform in Socialist States

Suburbia and Surveillance: Political and Social Development in the Soviet Union and North Korea

In this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we consider suburban development in the Soviet Union, the means by which that development is accomplished, and what happens to those who fail to sustain that development, or seek to escape from it.  


Satellite Towns

State Publishing House of Geographical Literature, Moscow, 1961 

A few years after Nixon and Khrushchev’s 1959 “Kitchen Debate,” which took place in a model single-family American house created in Moscow for a cultural exhibition, the Soviet people experienced their own version of the American post-war suburban movement. In the Soviet case, however, the wholesale resettlement of millions of people was proposed. This was admitted to be an “acute and extremely complex” problem. And in place of the prototypical tract-home development common in America at the time, the Soviets envisioned higher densities in four-to-five-story residential complexes. 

This report considers suburban development throughout the Soviet Union and provides a fascinating look into aspects of central planning that touched the daily lives of many Soviet citizens. 

Suburbia and Surveillance: Political and Social Development in the Soviet Union and North Korea

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