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Motivations and Consequences of Fear in North Korea

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North Koreans, from childhood, are indoctrinated to idolize their leaders and to never doubt the system in which they live. This manipulation and brainwashing stems from insecurity and fear residing in the souls of North Korea’s dictators, making them believe that complete control is a necessity for their rule. They believe that for the government to maintain control, it must have complete submission from their people, which creates an atrocious environment for the population to experience every day of their lives with no escape. North Korea’s system of state-sponsored violence towards those that are incarcerated in its prisons, namely those who are considered to be enemies of the state, manifests from a place of fear on the government’s part and creates the space for abhorrent conditions in that society.

The influence of Soviet leadership and inspiration from Mao, in addition to isolation, quickly established fear within the government, especially of their citizens. Basic human rights and liberties were never taken into account by the North Korean leadership, establishing a cruel regime from the outset of the country’s history. After the World War II, Soviet government officials appointed Kim Il-Sung to assume the leadership responsibilities of North Korea, but the young country was quickly led into a bloody civil war. The Korean War allowed North Korea to retreat completely into its isolationist ideals, with the war doing little except taking countless lives and essentially wasting international funds. Once fully isolated from the remainder of the world, Kim pushed North Korea through unprecedented economic growth and development, but enforced his complete control over the people; he demanded total submission, set purges in place that rivaled Stalin’s during the Bolshevik Revolution, and brutally punished any dissent from his subjects. Taking inspiration from Stalin and Mao, Kim established a social hierarchy of sorts that determined every aspect of the citizen’s lives: education, housing, goods, jobs, and food access. This hierarchy divided society into three distinct groups, with some fifty-three subcategories. The group known as the core was unwaveringly dedicated to the regime, the public masses were called waverers, and those who were outwardly judgmental of the government were called hostile (‘A Chronic Protection Problem’). Kim Il-sung established the cruel regime, and decades later, Kim Jong-un is now the country’s dictator, but all of the ideals are exactly the same. The citizens of North Korea have zero freedom to do or say what they please; the government restricts all possible civil and political liberties of their people, including religion, personal expression, assembly, political opinion, and independent or foreign media (‘Human Rights Watch World Report’). North Korea’s dictatorship successfully constructed a truly hostile environment where the citizens are fearful of doing or saying anything at all, due to the leaders fearing the power of its people.

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A fearful and violent leadership will manipulate their citizens and avoid allowing them freedoms at any cost. The people crave freedom and a sense of autonomy, so many will choose to make themselves an enemy of the state and attempt to flee to a neighboring country. Thousands of citizens try to flee each year, but less than one out of every ten will succeed. Their best chance to make it out is to acquire enough money to bribe the guards at border stations or to be smuggled out, but as the majority of the country is living within the confines of extreme poverty, most attempt the harrowing run or swim across the border into a neighboring country. Crossing the borders safely, however, in no way means that someone is safe. China works closely with North Korea and will send a citizen back without blinking an eye. For this reason, many people who fled admit to carrying poison or a razor at all times in the case they are caught, because they would rather commit suicide on the spot than be sent back to North Korea and face the punishment waiting for them, which is likely life imprisonment or a horrible death (‘The Forgotten Genocide’). Allowing people to have freedoms will allow people to think freely, which is exactly what the government of North Korea is striving to avoid.

Free thought is never a reality in North Korea, due to the people being brainwashed and manipulated by the government from childhood throughout their lives. Children in kindergarten are told that their food and drink for lunch comes directly from Kim Jong-un and his hardworking self, taught that their leaders should be worshipped for everything, and that they exist merely to serve their country. When these children are told these things, they have reason to really question what’s coming from the adults in their lives, so they take it as the truth. This brainwashing doesn’t stop with young children, but extends throughout the education system as well as adulthood. According to South Korea’s KBS World Radio and the North Korean Education Committee’s ‘Compulsory Education Outline’, North Korean high school students must complete an 81-hour course over three years on Kim Jong-un’s life and history, a 160-hour course on Kim Il-sung, and 148 hours learning about Kim Jong-il (Washington Post). The citizens cannot escape this manipulation, even in their own homes. Each house has mandated portraits of North Korea’s leaders, and one must clean them with a specific cloth and keep them pristine. Failure to do so can be considered to be treasonous by the government, risking the lives of that family (Business Insider). Hyeonso Lee defected from North Korea at seventeen years old, and she reports that her family was required to thank “Respected Father Leader Kim Il-sung” for their food before being allowed to eat it. In her book, Hyeonseo Lee writes that “Leaving North Korea is not like leaving any other country. It is more like leaving another universe” (Business Insider) due to the high level of brainwashing and control that the government attempts to maintain over its citizens. This system of total indoctrination has been determined to act in the purpose of attaining to main goals: to promote total loyalty to the North Korean leaders and create a deep hatred toward other countries, especially South Korea, Japan, and the United States (‘Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’). Creating dedication and hatred all at once is essential in North Korea’s system, allowing a nature of fear to be further carried out throughout the already fear-ridden country.

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Motivations and Consequences of Fear in North Korea. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
“Motivations and Consequences of Fear in North Korea.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022,
Motivations and Consequences of Fear in North Korea. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].
Motivations and Consequences of Fear in North Korea [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from:
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