After seeing so many posts about North Korea following Kim Jong Un's barrage of threats, I thought I'd do another AMA in case there's any interest--my previous ones had a lukewarm reception to say the least. My background: I was a professor of literature in Seoul for three years, and I volunteered at an organization that supported North Korean defectors living in South Korea.

You can read about me here: http://chronicle.com/article/Growing-Pains-for-Foreign/136453/ (paywall) and here: http://thethreewisemonkeys.com/2013/02/11/lost-in-translation-the-case-of-the-medieval-professor-and-the-ivory-korean-tower/ (non-paywall).

While I don't know all the details about the North Korean military, their capabilities, or how real these current threats are, I do have some insight from what former soldiers told me and about Korean culture in general--both in the North and South.

Edit: Time for me to sign off--thanks for the questions; I hope I delivered!

Comments: 767 • Responses: 77  • Date: 

gizel8154 karma

What do they really think about their military strength?

P.S. how long ago did you meet them, just to gauge the relativity of information.

michaelfosterfromku226 karma

I met them in 2010-2011. And they know now how weak their military is--and had an idea of how much wealthier and more powerful the rest of the country was even before they left.

TheAmazingKoki114 karma

Obviously, the soldiers that you have talked to deserted. Is that something most soldiers over there want, or are they perfectly fine with their position?

michaelfosterfromku196 karma

It's difficult to know how many want to--the ones who can desert the most easily are the ones whose families are deep in North Korea and will be imprisoned/executed if the soldiers defect.

I was told that, from the mid-2000's onwards, senior military were looking the other way more and more at small transgressions. It used to be that if you weren't at your post on time you'd go to jail, but a lot of soldiers on the north border with China would have secret meeting places where they would pick up contraband from China (DVDs from South Korea, food, that kind of thing). Their supervisors allow them to get and disseminate this contraband more often, with of course a kickback in most cases.

matton20471 karma

the ones who can desert the most easily are the ones whose families are deep in North Korea and will be imprisoned/executed if the soldiers defect.

wouldn't that make it harder for them to defect ?

michaelfosterfromku168 karma

I mean, those who are on the borders with the least amount of supervision are the ones whose families are deep in NK.

AcidWorld92 karma

  • How does these soldiers feel about their own country, compared to the rest of the world (especially south korea) ?
  • Could you tell us the typical life story of a north korean soldier (was he forced to enroll in the army or did he follow propaganda, what did his family think, did he enjoy the life in the army...) ?
  • Edit : Since you're a litterature professor, how do you find their education level ? Thank you for the AMA !

michaelfosterfromku179 karma

  1. Well, I spoke to defectors who obvious see North Korea as being oppressed by a cruel, criminal government.

  2. All soldiers are conscripts; in North and South Korea all men are required to go to military service. In South Korea the term is (I think) 18 months. In North Korea, it's 10 years.

  3. They were well educated and intelligent, but I imagine the cream of the crop escape. The biggest problem was language; I don't speak Korean and their English was rudimentary at best.

dial_a_cliche105 karma

Ten years! Wow.

michaelfosterfromku80 karma

Vice has done some amazing work, but I don't like them because they won't hire me!

prankster50637 karma

In South Korea the term is (I think) 18 months.

2 years.

Source: I am Korean.

rsl121 karma

You were a professor of literature in Seoul for three years, but you don't speak Korean?

michaelfosterfromku16 karma

I taught in English.

solairebee82 karma

Was it difficult for them to adapt to the "outside world"? If so, what sorts of difficulties did they experience?

Also, what was the catalyst to them finding out that the DPRK wasn't as great of a place as they were made to believe?

michaelfosterfromku156 karma

Not as difficult as I'd have expected--there is sufficient support from groups in South Korea and, after experiencing the hell that is hiding in China, adapting to SK is pretty easy. Plus, I was surprised to find that a lot of the North Koreans said that South Korea wasn't really all that different from North Korea--yes, richer, and the pop culture is obviously very different, but deeper down a lot of the ideologies and attitudes were quite compatible.

gareth_the_jack56 karma

What ideologies and attitudes are the same?

I've spent time in South Korea, not as a tourist, and whilst I have never been to North Korea, South Korea wasn't AT ALL like I imagined the North to be.

michaelfosterfromku130 karma

The importance of family is similar in both. A belief that the Korean people are both unique and victims of history also unites the two. A belief in the importance of social hierarchy exists in both--I've actually had North Koreans complain that South Korea is TOO hierarchical!

Most clearly, the idea of the "cleanest race" that B.R. Myers discusses in his book of that name has been deeply planted in both countries.

solairebee33 karma

What do you mean by victims of history? Are you referring to the rivalry between SK and NK?

effthegreen214 karma

I recommend reading "This Kind of War" by Fehrenbach and "The Two Koreas" by Oberdorfer if you're truly interested.

Essentially, Taft approved the Japanese occupation of Korea prior to WW1 to protect the Phillipines. After WW2, the Russians marched to what is now the 38th parallel. The US, wanting to protect regional interests, among other things, devised a deal to create two temporary occupation zones, North and South Korea.

As the Cold War amped up, the two Koreas became increasingly antagonistic towards each other. After the US and Russia trained their respective regimes, they left and the two Koreas moved to gain military superiority. This led to the Korean War.

Tl; dr A few people created a situation that really fucked the Koreans.

Edit: This is the really short version because I'm on my mobile. I've lived in Korea and have done quite a bit of research on Korea and the Korean War.

Edit #2: Wow! Downvotes. Don't really get it for a bit of historical fact but I guess I'll never really understand reddit.

Edit: changed "we" to "a few people" so as to remove any perceived blame from any people not involved.

michaelfosterfromku109 karma

"We" didn't do anything. I don't remember Taft asking my advice.

And while the U.S. certainly used Korea as a pawn, I think the Kim dynasty has fucked the Koreans more than America ever did.

There comes a point where you have to stop the paternalistic historical narrative and let people take responsibility for their own actions.

michaelfosterfromku117 karma

No. South Korea doesn't really see North Korea as merely an enemy--they're a "crazy brother" as many of my students called them. They see themselves mainly as victims of Chinese, Japanese, and American aggression throughout history. This might be of interest: http://rokdrop.com/2011/06/27/south-korean-teenagers-rank-us-as-nations-third-greatest-enemy/

scaliacheese22 karma

"Cleanest race"? What does that mean?

michaelfosterfromku50 karma

Racially and ideologically purer than the rest of the world, tainted by barbarism, capitalism, perversion, etc.

Kallikanzarid2 karma

A belief that the Korean people are both unique and victims of history also unites the two.

Them and the rest of the world. Percieved victimhood is number one ingredient in conservative agenda everywhere. Edit: and, of course, everyone's a unique butterfly. A victimized unique butterfly.

michaelfosterfromku8 karma

No, it is very different in Korea compared to Japan, Israel, Eastern Europe, or Latin America.

tragic-waste-of-skin72 karma

How many of them do you think would surrender given the first possible opportunity?

michaelfosterfromku137 karma

That's a huge question in South Korea, and even defectors disagree. Some definitely would, but I wouldn't underestimate the power of the xenophobic racial propaganda that these people have been fed. Yes, they know they are poor, but they also think they are pure and superior and they think Americans are evil. It's a challenge to their identity to give all that up for the unknown.

tragic-waste-of-skin38 karma

Do they think they are pure and superior in relation to the South Koreans? How do they rationalize it when their South Korean cousins are healthier and better off? Surely they must want the same thing.

michaelfosterfromku87 karma

South and North Koreans both think the other side is innocent and misguided by evil. I think they rationalize that they are purer than the South Koreans--not tainted by the evil Americans. Hence racism is a crucial component to North Korean ideology, and since racism strikes a chord with people, it's very effective.

tragic-waste-of-skin39 karma

So if racism is a crucial component to their ideology, then how did they deal with a black evil American, Dennis Rodman, that visited them recently?

That must have confused them like hell, the fact that their glorious leader is mixing with their enemy.

michaelfosterfromku207 karma

Racism is always internally inconsistent.

hypermarv12321 karma

I wonder what North Koreans will think when they see Korean Americans..

michaelfosterfromku41 karma

South Koreans have a complex and confused relationship to Korean-Americans. I remember when there was mad cow beef hysteria about American beef a few years ago, and several left-wing extremists (in Korea, the left-wing is the more racist wing, opposite of the U.S.) said that Koreans were genetically more susceptible to mad cow, so would get sick from U.S. beef faster. Doubters pointed out that Korean-Americans have eaten U.S. beef for years...

TrustMeImALawStudent5 karma

Korean-American here. I love my In-N-Out.

michaelfosterfromku6 karma

A Korean-American at In-N-Out is about as rare as a Jew at a New York Deli. (Disclaimer: I'm a New York Jew.)

Dionnism49 karma

  • Does it seem that they are conscious about what they're fighting for?
  • Are they fighting for their country or for them selves to survive?

michaelfosterfromku115 karma

Both. Some truly believe in Juche, some are fighting because they want to protect their families, and a lot truly believe Americans are evil.

At this point, North Koreans in general disagree about whether North Korea is paradise or not. Some think it is, some think it isn't. And they disagree on whether communism is a good idea or not.

However, they all agree on one thing: America is evil.

estoesqueso46 karma

Even after relocating to South Korea, they still think America is evil? Do they still believe what they were taught in North Korea?

michaelfosterfromku298 karma

No, they don't. Defectors quickly come to love America and Americans, although one defector whom I met lived in Atlanta for a few months and said that he was terrified because there were so many black people.

AATroop25 karma

I wonder how long this mindset would last in Korea if it was liberated (by any nation).

michaelfosterfromku58 karma

Longer than you or I would like. There are still a lot of anti-American movements in South Korea, who believe America has kept them poor and divided from North Korea. It's a disconcerting undercurrent to the Korean drama "Iris", which I recommend--the idea there seems to be that the North and South Koreans are being kept away by a shadow group, and not by the North Korean government itself.

RedPanda92323 karma

[deleted]

michaelfosterfromku36 karma

I'm sorry to hear about your grandfather.

It was interesting to see South Korean propaganda at work. Two examples:

  1. In the recent election, the current president's father was praised in the Korean media for building up Korea's economy. This is historical revisionism at best (it was foreign investment by the U.S. and Japan, which her father strongly resisted). But it's largely inline with how Korean history is wrongly taught in South Korea.

  2. When the South Korean government buried 1 million pigs alive, the horrific pictures were freely available in the west. They were not published in the Korean media.

Edit: I'd say it isn't pride--it's a massive inferiority complex.

SmilesFTW9 karma

Why did they bury 1 million pigs alive? This seems weird, can you give me some background behind this?

Grolex48 karma

I saw somewhere, probably on reddit, that North Koreans are behind such a journalistic barrier that they truly believe they would win a war if one starts. I know that the soldiers that you've spoken with have all defected, but do most NK soldiers still believe they have a chance to win (via propaganda messages) or are they too scared to defect?

michaelfosterfromku95 karma

Yeah that's bullshit. It is well known in North Korea that they are poor--it is debated, but the idea is definitely there.

Sexy_Sasquatch42 karma

How do soliders' rations compare to civilian rations?

michaelfosterfromku81 karma

They're better. Larger, better quality. Soldiers get a lot of small perks, like better seats on trains and so on.

KKitty26 karma

Is that why so many people join the NK army, hence its large size? Because that's the only way they can improve their lives - even just a little bit?

EDIT: Conscripted. 10 years. Duly noted.

michaelfosterfromku54 karma

They don't join--they are conscripted.

kaptainkatfish42 karma

Do any of them ever feel as though they have made the wrong choice?

michaelfosterfromku141 karma

hahahaha no.

Gorvin24 karma

You mentioned that the families of deserters can face imprisonment or execution. Did any of the people you spoke to believe that this was the case with their family, and if so did they regret their decision at all?

michaelfosterfromku48 karma

I didn't talk to them about it--sensitive subject, obviously. However, one defector did tell me her family was alive and well in North Korea and she was allowed to call them occasionally.

Imwe37 karma

  • How is their health compared to other North Koreans? Do they get more and better food compared to everyone else?

  • What is their relationship to the police? I'm assuming the army is involved in law enforcement. Is the police considered just another arm of the military or are they separate?

  • How do you get promoted in the military? Is it just a question of knowing the right people?

Thank you for answering these questions.

michaelfosterfromku35 karma

  1. Yes. Working in the military is an opportunity to provide a little more for your family.
  2. Don't know.
  3. Don't know.

Imwe26 karma

  • Apologies if this has been asked before but what type of image do North Koreans have of Americans? You've said they are seen as evil but how exactly? I know that if somebody wanted me to describe evil I would picture a nazi. So somebody who believes in white supremacy with either his head shaven or a Hitler hairdo. He likes wearing uniforms with army boots and is constantly talking about jewish conspiracy theories. Obviously this image has been strongly influenced by the culture I grew up in so I'm wondering how they picture evil.

  • In what way are they afraid of black people? Is it a fear that black people are unpredictable and that they'll get attacked? Or is it something like a fear of being 'contaminated' by being around them?

michaelfosterfromku50 karma

  1. America raped, killed, maimed, etc. in the Korean war. They are evil imperialists who want to destroy North Korea and rape the women.

  2. They think black people are genetically inferior--it's part of the racial indoctrination they've been spoonfed.

PudgyChicken20 karma

... Do they know we have a black President? If so, does that make them think that Americans are even stupider/more inferior or does that make them think that Americans are more accepting and egalitarian?

michaelfosterfromku16 karma

Interesting question! I don't know how they responded to Obama, but, yes, I think they know he exists and is black.

tossinthisshit2 karma

do they think of whites and chinese as 'genetically inferior' as well?

michaelfosterfromku6 karma

Yes.

snidecomment6936 karma

Thanks for the AMA! I watched a documentary of where a camera crew sneaks into NK to follow a doctor who was performing eye surgeries as a humanitarian mission. After the doctor performed hundreds of eye surgeries in this one town, curing hundreds of people of blindness caused by malnourishment, all the people were brought into a large room to have their bandages removed. The doctor then proceeded to bring people one by one up on a stage to remove their bandages so that they can see for the first time (I assume because the NK's told him to). After the doctor removed the bandage, each patient would fall to their knees and cry while praising a giant mural of Kim Jung Il and thanking him for restoring their sight. To me it seemed like all the people had been coached because person after person had exactly the same reaction, never thanking the doctor. My question is, from what you have heard, do you think all those people were coerced in some way to react like that? Or do a majority of the worse off people (aka low education), actually believe in the divinity of their Great Leader?

michaelfosterfromku32 karma

I think a lot of them genuinely believe in the Kim dynasty mythology.

kozikow34 karma

Are there any organizations that try to help NK people escape the country?

michaelfosterfromku90 karma

Yes, most are Christian. If I can make a plug, http://pscore.org could use some donations and help. They're not Christian or affiliated with any religion.

angryku29 karma

Do any of the N. Korean soldiers have any ideas about what goes on in the prison camps? Is it common knowledge over there?

michaelfosterfromku34 karma

No, it isn't common knowledge.

SaltyMN28 karma

Thanks for doing this.

Did they say anything about the possibility of war with SK and the US?

Did they believe they could win?

Does their military still rely on 70's tech?

michaelfosterfromku51 karma

  1. There are constant rumors that NK is planning some kind of attack like Cheonan.
  2. Some do, some don't. Most probably don't, but it's difficult to get the pulse of the popular opinion when people face imprisonment for saying the wrong thing.
  3. Yes.

1llegalsm1le27 karma

What kind of training do the North Korean soldiers receive?

michaelfosterfromku75 karma

That's a good question. They used to joke about how terrible the training is--physical training consisted of laps and a pull-up bar.

Hootinger27 karma

[deleted]

michaelfosterfromku57 karma

B. R. Myers, The Cleanest Race. It isn't a novel, but it's a good introduction to the ideology behind a lot of what happens in the Korean peninsula. The plastic surgery trend in South Korea and the violent militarism in North Korea have the same bizarre root.

Rokusha26 karma

I heard a years ago that North Koreans living in South Korea are treated different or even looked down upon by South Koreans. How true is this? And secondly, did most experience cultural shock and were they able to adapt well?

michaelfosterfromku43 karma

Well, everyone is looked down upon by someone, and Koreans are very sensitive to hierarchy. Yes, some North Koreans are treated poorly by some South Koreans--and they're treated well by other South Koreans.

I spoke about adaptation in another answer: it's easier than you'd think. Yes, there was some culture shock, but not as much as you'd expect, since they gradually go from North Korea to China to South Korea and see greater and greater affluence along the way.

I've seen bigger culture shock from South Koreans in rural New York state.

berrysuttle22 karma

[deleted]

michaelfosterfromku31 karma

  1. Army generals mostly.

  2. I've answered this in several other posts--we don't really know. People are complicated.

  3. Regime change will be messy to say the least. The cost of modernizing North Korea, containing them, re-educating them--the problem is NK has gone far, far too far. Dialing the damage back will take a century at least.

WhiskeeZ21 karma

Do the soldiers have any kind of REAL respect for, Kim Jong Un?

michaelfosterfromku26 karma

I doubt it.

Willbennett4720 karma

Whats the strangest story to come out of North Korea?

michaelfosterfromku53 karma

I think the more famous ones are stranger than anything I heard, but there were definitely some things I heard that shocked and confused me. One defector told me she was still able to talk to her family, who are currently in North Korea and not imprisoned. I still struggle to understand this.

almosthandsome14 karma

[deleted]

michaelfosterfromku11 karma

That fear is always there on some level. This girl definitely was not, though.

eggieggi4 karma

How is that possible? Unless.....telepathy.

michaelfosterfromku6 karma

She was allowed to use a special phone line connected to the NK side at the DMZ.

ClutchCobra19 karma

Do you know how the N.K culture portrays women in society? Are they regarded as inferior? Thank you for this!

michaelfosterfromku32 karma

Yes, they're supposed to be subservient, but it's not like some Middle Eastern countries.

andrew41419 karma

Do you or the soldiers ever see a realistic chance of a war between north and south korea?

michaelfosterfromku25 karma

No one in Korea really expects such a war to happen.

GaikokuJohn18 karma

How does a defector get set up in SK? Like do through have to go screenings to be made citizens of SK?

michaelfosterfromku28 karma

Yes, there's a long interrogation process and government programs to help them acclimate to South Korea.

kjartan8717 karma

Maybe a bit off topic, but do you know if SK soldiers have defected to DPRK?

michaelfosterfromku24 karma

No, they haven't.

rapyde1416 karma

Are they as close-minded as they show they are?

michaelfosterfromku31 karma

I think there's a diversity of opinions amongst the North Korean army.

uchuskies0816 karma

What do they do for fun? What kind of jobs do they get? Is there large concern in SK about infiltration from NK double agents?

michaelfosterfromku11 karma

For fun? In SK, karaoke, hanging out with friends, going to bars. Jobs were all over the place--the ones I met were all retraining or in education, with a couple in NGOs, media, etc. The double agent thing was a big concern in the past but less so now--still an issue, though.

mberre15 karma

Could a coup d'etat ever happen in the North? I'd imagine that even the soldiers feel like they are being oppressed by their government. Might not be that hard to pull off something akin to the plot to bomb hitler.

michaelfosterfromku27 karma

The hope from defectors is that the North Koreans see how richer the rest of the world is and they get fed up and revolt. But with grandparents eating the corpses of their children to stay alive (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/cannibal-horror-as-10000-north-koreans-starve/story-fnb64oi6-1226563035481), I don't think a revolt is forthcoming.

paleoindian14 karma

Are they really as small as I've seen in some pictures? Are they malnourished?

michaelfosterfromku19 karma

Yes and yes.

HeyFunkyPianist14 karma

Do they have celebrities? Like, singers? Dancers?

Sorry for the weird question.

michaelfosterfromku25 karma

Yes. Kim Jong Il was a huge movie fan and they have their own industry.

penny_lyn6 karma

I watched this documentary that says he kidnapped a South Korean director to teach him film making.

michaelfosterfromku7 karma

Yes, I've heard that too. Shin Sang-ok.

FatTonyDaBoss14 karma

My questions are about the Korean language and how it developed since the creation of the DMZ / cessation of free travel on the peninsula:

1) Has a distinct dialect of Korean evolved in the North? Put another way - can you tell that someone is from the North based on the way they sound while speaking;

2) Does the North use different words to refer to things than the South? E.g. - in America, parts of the country refer to soda as pop;

3) Does the North's version (if there is one) omit specific words or radically re-define them to serve their political purpose. E.g. does the word for "liberty" mean something other than individual autonomy?

Thanks!

michaelfosterfromku8 karma

There's an accent and they use different words. Also, yes, some words have different meanings.

destinedkid1712 karma

Do you believe unification of both Koreas is even feasible?

michaelfosterfromku35 karma

I think most South Koreans deep down don't want it--they say they do, but when they think about how costly and difficult it would be, they quickly reconsider. Of course there'd be a great labor pool to work with, but there'd also be a huge drag on the overall economy.

The more I think about it, a NK/SK unification would probably benefit the wealthiest in South Korea and hurt the poorest the most.

revmike17 karma

when they think about how costly and difficult it would be, they quickly reconsider

If I had to guess, the best scenario for everyone in the region would be for the regime in Pyongyang to be replaced by one interested in following the Chinese model. If the regime was actually willing to pursue a policy of engagement with the rest of the world and economic modernization, there would be plenty of foreign aide available to get them started and the society could gradually be opened up.

michaelfosterfromku11 karma

There was hope that this is what Jong-Un would do.

TazedNConfused11 karma

Thanks for the AMA!

Did the soldiers ever participate in one of the giant military parades?

michaelfosterfromku16 karma

Doubt it--that's the most elite regime.

MrLongfield10 karma

What do the soldiers think of NK's dependence on China, and what is their general perception of China?

michaelfosterfromku12 karma

That's a complicated question--most North Koreans think that they're allies and not dependent upon China, and I think most also think both are together fighting for communism and a pure ideology against the evil American imperialists.

susannahmia9 karma

What about their families? How do they feel about them being punished for their defection?

michaelfosterfromku14 karma

I didn't ask about their families, considering it a sensitive topic. Many of the defectors I met had escaped with their families.

Cows877 karma

What was the biggest culture shock the soldiers faced when they defected?

michaelfosterfromku13 karma

The things they mentioned were so small and impressionistic, but mostly revolve around the prevalence of food and other items.

2Eyed6 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA.

I was wondering if the defectors ever discussed the possibility or likeliness of a revolution from within, or a coup by the military against current dictatorship.

michaelfosterfromku8 karma

Yes, it is discussed a lot and many defectors hope for it. However, it seems very unlikely to happen in our lifetimes.

Rage_On_Sir6 karma

How trained do you think the North Korean soldiers are compared to Canadian or American soldiers?

michaelfosterfromku10 karma

Not very well.

PhilipTheLion6 karma

You seem to talk a lot about how both Koreas still think that their racial purity unites the nations, and that they both think the other is led by evil. It has also be mentioned thatthat the united Korean peninsular sees America as the real enemy, do you think it is in the West's interest to keep them separate? (Particularly America)

michaelfosterfromku14 karma

Absolutely not. Korea is a hassle to America now, and of marginal strategic interest. With allies in Philippines and Japan, losing Korea entirely would be marginal at best.

But more importantly, a united Korea would bring American influence closer to China. It's in China's interest to keep Korea separate more than any other global superpower.

FatTonyDaBoss5 karma

Stories of famine in N. Korea are fairly common, and I have heard stories of groups of abandoned children running around savaging for food. My questions are related to the food stability in the North:

1) Are the food shortages that bad? Do you know if the problem is generally a lack of food or is it a lack of nutrition. To clarify, are people routinely hungry or are the people simply eating the same thing on a regular basis and are therefore missing out on vital nutrients;

2) Do the people, particularly those outside of Pyongyang, receive food assistance from the DPRK or aid groups;

3) Are NGOs / aid groups permitted to operate in the DPRK to provide food and basic assistance to the people;

4) If a war were to break out ~or~ if there was a disruption in the relationship between Pyongyang and the rural areas, how likely is it that people would starve en mass;

5) What is the relationship between Pyongyang and the rural parts of the country? Does the capital city pull resources from the rural parts (i.e. is it dependent on the agricultural labor and products of the rural parts)? Is it a one-sided relationship (does Pyongyang return any goods or services to the rural parts of the nation?

michaelfosterfromku6 karma

  1. Yes. The land is difficult to use and there are few supplies coming from the outside, most of which are siphoned off at the top.

  2. Some do, yes.

  3. Yes. I've met a number of NGO workers who routinely go to North Korea with medical supplies, food, etc. I used to support this; now I don't.

  4. Not very likely. There would probably be turmoil, but a war would last a week if that; then they'd have access to U.S. aid. Remember the stories of German and Japanese kids getting candy from Allies soldiers driving through the streets? Expect that, but more so.

  5. Pyongyang is where the elites get to live and they are relatively affluent compared to the rest of the country, except northern villages where the underground railroad of goods and supplies has made some rich near the Chinese border. For the most part, Pyongyang lives off the rural poor, whose life is worse off than you or I could ever imagine.

this-again5 karma

Can you get that soldier to do an AMA?

michaelfosterfromku12 karma

I have asked defectors to do an AMA, but they declined.

beardedrugby5 karma

Physically, did they seem fit to be soldiers? I know the military in Korea is better fed, but nationwide malnutrition has to be near totally pervasive.

michaelfosterfromku13 karma

Well, their soldiers are conscripts, so they ran the gamut. But they didn't seem impressive--not like U.S. soldiers, no.

joelx4 karma

What was the most horrifying story that soldier told you of life in North Korea? What about the greatest thing about living in North Korea?

michaelfosterfromku7 karma

The greatest thing about living in North Korea was being with their families on the land their families had lived on for centuries. They didn't tell me the truly horrific stories.

Chilla163 karma

Do you think, that they were afraid to tell you what they really think, because it wouldve caused them to get executed?

michaelfosterfromku16 karma

This happened in South Korea, so no.

VoRicebowl2 karma

What their opinion on the North Korean dictatorship?

michaelfosterfromku2 karma

Well, the defectors think it's a cruel thieving dictatorship obviously.

heroyi2 karma

How do the ex-soldiers feel about the new leader Kim Un?

michaelfosterfromku2 karma

I haven't seen them since Un got to power, so I don't know.

Udepreciatemypatienc1 karma

Have you ever tried to convince any of them that America isn't so bad if you did what were the results did they try to argue with you?

michaelfosterfromku1 karma

The ones I met were defectors who already knew America wasn't so bad.

FunkyDooDoo1 karma

As an American soldier, have they ever displayed their opinion towards the average American soldier? Have you ever seen them interact with Americans stationed in Korea? Did they live in some sort of constant fear of a possible invasion from the US or SK?

michaelfosterfromku1 karma

No, not really--I didn't see them interact with U.S. soldiers but they didn't seem to see them differently from other Americans.

SyrioForel1 karma

Why is no one asking for proof from OP? He just posted links to articles written about a certain guy, and his only proof is him saying, "That's me!"

michaelfosterfromku16 karma

I've been confirmed in my previous AMAs.

BettisBus0 karma

  • How many years behind is their technology?

  • How good is their military training?

  • Does it seem like some of the soldiers are eager for war?

michaelfosterfromku6 karma

  1. 40-50. It's all cold war stuff.

  2. Laughably bad--see my other response.

  3. Probably a small group, but mostly likely not many.