Skip to main content

North Korean defectors return rhetorical fire

By Kyung Lah, CNN
April 2, 2013 -- Updated 0926 GMT (1726 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • True war on Korean Peninsula being fought in whispers, secret phone lines and smuggled radios
  • S. Korean propagandist: Angry rhetoric product of Kim Jong Un's weak standing as a new leader
  • North Korean defectors work at Daily NK, a Seoul-based website monitoring North Korea
  • Many at the publication fear that poor decisions can be made in times of fear

Seoul (CNN) -- The world knows North Korea for its loud and over-the-top warmongering rhetoric about the U.S. But the true war is being fought in whispers, across secret phone lines and smuggled radios. And it's those whispers that reveal how close the peninsula may be to an actual war.

"North Koreans want to go to war soon and unite the country. They want to get out of their difficult lives through war," said Kim Seong Min, with Free North Korea Radio. "North Koreans are not getting any information from the outside world. They think they will win if a war breaks out."

Kim is a foot soldier in the propaganda war. He hopes to turn North Korea's people against the regime, broadcasting a message of democracy over the radio. He records commentaries and news bulletins that are blasted over a shortwave radio frequency. In his job, he speaks to paid sources who slip him information via Chinese mobile phones at the border. He also has sources within the elite Pyongyang military ranks.

Kim says the angry war rhetoric is a product of Kim Jong Un's weak standing as a new leader.

North Korea military 'ready to fight'
South Korea warns of 'strong response'
U.S. responds to N. Korea with warships
Business as usual in Korean econ zone

"Kim Jong Un is not even 30 years old and everyone in North Korea knows this. He also doesn't have a solid position within the army. North Koreans are also not sure how to handle the fact that their leader is so young."

That's similar to what defectors are telling the Daily NK, an online news site based in Seoul funded by a U.S. endowment. The Daily NK also has sources within the military elite and the general North Korean population.

"The sources we're hearing from are exhausted with the drills and the mobilization of the masses. Some feel nationalistic pride that comes with the rhetoric out of North Korea. At the same time, they're aware of the stagnant economy on the decline and the real need for change and opening," says Daily NK's Gregory Pence.

Pence is a Chicago native who came to Seoul as a Fulbright scholar. He stayed to work on the mission of opening up North Korea's human rights abuses to the international community.

Pence says opinions at the Daily NK, which is staffed with North Korean defectors, vary. But many at the publication fear that poor decisions can be made in times of fear. What will hold back war, Pence believes, is regime preservation.

"North Korea risks outright annihilation. If a war broke out and escalated, it would cost the peninsula, the world," Pence adds. "In the end, North Korea would not exist. And the leadership is aware of that."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 0135 GMT (0935 HKT)
Three Americans detained in North Korea spoke out about their conditions Monday in an exclusive interview with CNN.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0852 GMT (1652 HKT)
The crowd cheers as the stars make their way to the ring for first pro-wrestling bout North Korea has seen in almost 20 years.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0137 GMT (0937 HKT)
CNN's Will Ripley makes a rare live report from reclusive North Korea.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)
CNN's Will Ripley is given a rare look inside North Korea and tours Kim Jong Un's pet project, a waterpark.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Several South Korean "comfort woman" attended a Papal mass, but hope the Pope will do more. Erin McLaughlin reports.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0228 GMT (1028 HKT)
Pope Francis arrived in Seoul Thursday, marking the first papal visit to the country in 25 years.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
North Korea rejected an invitation to the Pope's Mass in Seoul. CNN's Paula Hancocks reports.
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
As diplomats discuss a string of unsolved kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korea, the families of those abducted anxiously wait.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
North Korea says it plans to prosecute two American tourists that it detained earlier this year, accusing them of "perpetrating hostile acts."
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 2338 GMT (0738 HKT)
North Korea proposed that "all hostile military activities" with South Korea be halted, but it attached conditions that Seoul is likely to reject.
June 27, 2014 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
North Korean state news is reporting the country test-launched "cutting-edge ultra precision tactical guided missiles."
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
James Franco won't be following Dennis Rodman into North Korea anytime soon.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Don't you hate it when the weatherman gets it wrong? Apparently, so does Kim Jong Un.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 2344 GMT (0744 HKT)
New signs show Russia and North Korea are developing a closer relationship.
May 22, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
Photographer Eric Lafforgue visited North Korea and shares his inside look at the most isolated country in the world.
May 13, 2014 -- Updated 0125 GMT (0925 HKT)
Many North Koreans listen to illegal broadcasts on homemade radios, some are convinced to defect.
May 8, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Jang Jin-Sung, a North Korean defector and former regime insider, speaks with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
ADVERTISEMENT