PUBLISHED SEP 7, 2017

North Korea's history and its nuclear weapons

dmz

The story

You’ve heard North Korea's history is effing crazy. This is your Skimm on how it got that way.

Gimme the background.

Once upon a time, there was only one Korea. Then in the early 1900s, Japan claimed it. Until the end of WWII when Japan (spoiler alert) surrendered to the Allied forces. The US and Russia – WWII allies – took it upon themselves to split the Korean peninsula between North and South along the 38th parallel, aka the 38° N latitude line that divides the two. The US took the South. Russia took the North. And it was all supposed to be temporary...

And then?

The North – backed by the Soviet Union and Communist China – wanted more influence in the region. So in 1950, they invaded South Korea. The US came to South Korea’s defense. And this turned into the years-long Korean War, which is considered the only real ‘hot’ part of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Millions of people died in the conflict. The two sides eventually shook on a ceasefire and created a new border that’s not too different from the 38th parallel. But they never signed a peace treaty. Fast forward to now, and the North and South are still technically at war.

So who are the Kims?

North Korea’s first family. They’ve been in control of North Korea since after WWII. It all started with Kim Il Sung, a Korean fighter who trained with the Soviet army. The Soviets tapped him to create a gov in the North. He ended up ruling for decades, adding ‘Supreme Leader’ to his resume. He’s responsible for NK’s isolationist vibe. He also reworked the country’s entire history around...himself. The country uses a calendar that started the year he was born, and school lessons focus on the family’s achievements. When he died in the ‘90s, his son Kim Jong Il took over. At the time, the country was suffering from famine and economic crisis. So, naturally, he spent most of the budget creating a nuclear program. This landed the country on the international community’s sh*t list.

Then what?

When Kim Jong Il died in 2011, his son Kim Jong Un stepped in. Call him Lil’ Kim. You know him for his snazzy haircut. And for carrying on family traditions...like human rights abuses and aggressively building out the country’s missile arsenal and nuclear weapons.

What's it like to live there?

Millions live in poverty, and basics like food are either in short supply or too expensive for many. The gov controls everything from where people live, to what they do for a living, to the haircuts they can get. There are reports that for some extra cash, the gov sends its citizens off as slaves to Russia and China and then pockets their wages. Most people don’t have access to the Internet, and if they do they’ll mostly find government propaganda. Everything from apparently watching a foreign movie to trying to flee the country are considered crimes. These can get people thrown into labor camps, where they’re often tortured and starved. The UN estimates that there are tens of thousands of people stuck in these kinds of prisons. Oh, and public executions are normal. This is based on first person accounts from people who’ve managed to escape and from info gathered from human rights orgs.

Ok...so tell me more about the country's weapons.

Missiles are like deadly carrier pigeons – they carry warheads to their targets. Warheads are the part of the missile that goes ‘boom.’ Warheads can be anything from simple explosives to nuclear bombs. Without a warhead, a missile is pretty useless. North Korea’s been focusing most of its efforts on nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles. They’re the kind that follow a predetermined arc to their target and are pulled back down by gravity. They come in short, medium, intermediate, and intercontinental ranges, based on how far they can go.