North Korea
North Korea Screenshot3
Airdate October 25, 2018
Curriculum Social Studies
World History

North Korea is a BrainPOP Social Studies that launched on October 25, 2018.

Summary Edit

Moby plans to vacation in North Korea, and Tim answers a letter about North Korea, explaining the dangers of the country.

After this, Moby decides to have a "staycation", annoying Tim, who says, "You're whole life is a 'staycation'!"

Appearances Edit

Transcript and Quiz Edit

FYI Edit

In Depth Edit

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Although Korean War hostilities ceased in 1953, the people of the Korean peninsula have a grim reminder that they are still technically at war: the border between North Korea and South Korea. Officially referred to as the Demilitarized Zone (or DMZ), it’s a 2.5-mile-wide, 160-mile-long strip of land dividing Korea in half along the 38th parallel. It's the most heavily-armed border in the world. More than a million troops are deployed on each side, and the zone itself is packed with landmines.

Smack in the middle of the DMZ is the Joint Security Area (JSA), where representatives from the two nations can come together and negotiate. The JSA is overseen by the United Nations, and straddles the Military Demarcation Line—the official “line in the dirt” that represents the border. The JSA is also known as "Truce Village" or Panmunjom—actually the name of a nearby town that used to sit just north of the border, and where the 1953 armistice was signed. The original village has since been moved, but the name is still used as shorthand for the neutral area where talks are held.

Just outside the DMZ on the North Korean side lies Kijong-dong, which translates to "Peace Village." It appears to be a cheerful collection of buildings with bright blue roofs, plopped down in the middle of otherwise barren countryside. But South Koreans suspect it's just a front—an empty façade built to appeal to southerners, and convince them to abandon their country and defect to the North. They call it "Propaganda Village."

The North Korean government claims Kijong-dong is a working town, with a collective farm, hospital, and school. But South Korean troops who sweep the area with telescopes have seen no evidence of anyone living there. They claim that some of the buildings are no more than empty shells, with the windows painted on!

The DMZ has been the site of flare-ups between the warring nations—including some daring escape attempts by citizens fleeing North Korea—as well as efforts at peace. And the area is extraordinary in another, unexpected way. Left almost completely untouched by human activity for more than 60 years, the DMZ is an accidental wildlife sanctuary: It's home to a wide variety of ecosystems and about 100 vulnerable and endangered species! The most dangerous border in the world is also one of the few truly unspoiled wild spots on Earth.

Way Back When Edit

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During the Cold War—an era of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II—the two superpowers fought for dominance on the global stage. In addition to battles for influence, they were locked in a competition for military supremacy known as the arms race.

The conflict between the two nations never erupted into direct fighting. But each country viewed the other as a mortal enemy. Any inkling that the enemy had developed a new weapon led to panic. Each country was desperate to build the largest and most devastating arsenal—before their foe could do that same.

During the 1950s, both the United States and the Soviet Union developed thehydrogen bomb. This devastating device is hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in World War II. The two countries also developed intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, which could deliver these deadly bombs to any target on Earth.

The destructive capacity of the two superpowers quickly outpaced any possible military need. By the 1960s, each country had enough weapons to destroy the other many times over. And it became clear that any kind of nuclear attack could trigger a catastrophic global war—wiping out much, if not all, of humanity. Arising out of this stalemate was a new American justification for the arms race: nuclear deterrence. It was argued that sufficiently threatening weapons, in enormous quantities, would provide an effective deterrent, or discouragement, against a Soviet attack.

This idea prompted even more nuclear stockpiling. Only mutually assured destruction, the certain knowledge that a nuclear strike would cause a massive, world-ending retaliation, could prevent such a strike in the first place. So, the theory went, more weapons actually preserved the peace. As a result, by the end of the Cold War, both countries had around 57,000 warheads between them.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. and Russia signed arms controltreaties, agreeing to greatly reduce their nuclear arsenals. But the nuclear threat remains to this day. Both countries still possess enough firepower to destroy most of the world, multiple times over. And the Cold War arms race inspired other countries to stake their nuclear claim, too. France, China, the United Kingdom, Israel, India, and Pakistan are all nuclear powers now. Each country has its own concerns, treaties, and allies, as well as rules for deployment.

The Cold War left another frightening legacy. In the 1960s, the Soviet Union shared information and technology with North Korea, a close ally at the time. North Korea then started its own nuclear program and, when the Soviet Union collapsed, recruited newly-unemployed Soviet scientists to help. North Korea is now a confirmed nuclear power. Isolated from nearly every country in the world, North Korea is not a party to any nuclear treaties, and has demonstrated that it isn't interested in playing by other countries' rules. Some experts are worried that the country might sell nuclear technology to other nations, or even terrorist groups.

But leaders around the world are working together to find new paths to peace. The hope is that we have all learned the lessons of the Cold War: that more weapons makes the world more dangerous, not less.

Personalities Edit


Since its founding in 1950, North Korea has been ruled by a single family. The Kim dynasty has passed down power over three generations, beginning with North Korea's first dictator: Kim Il Sung.

Kim came to power right after the Korean War, when the devastated country was trying to rebuild. He took control of every aspect of governing, consolidating his personal power. He also built a cult of personality among his people, encouraging their fanatical devotion. He erected 30,000 monuments to himself, and required his countrymen to address him as “Great Leader.”

Kim’s guiding policy was juche, or “self-reliance." For the leader, self-reliance meant near-total isolation for his country. He cut off trade, travel, and cultural exchange with the rest of the world. And like everything else in the regime, juche was used to increase the Kim family's power.

Official North Korean juche emphasizes the independence of the nation, while demanding the submission of its citizens. It preaches that North Korea is superior to everywhere in the world, and requires absolute loyalty and gratitude to the Supreme Leader. In the 1980s, the regime added the "leader doctrine" to the official version of juche. It describes the Kim leaders as perfect beings, almost like gods. The doctrine is in the North Korean constitution and taught in every school.

When Kim died in 1994, power passed to his son, Kim Jong Il. The late leader's son also stepped into his father's shoes at the head of the national cult of personality. According to official North Korean propaganda, Kim Jon Il possessed extraordinary powers: Snows melted and trees bloomed when he passed by; the first time he picked up a golf club, he shot 11 holes-in-one.

When Kim Jong Il took power, North Korea was in desperate circumstances. Like everything else in North Korea, the food system is centralized, with the government distributing food according to its priorities. And despite juche, the country's farmers relied on fuel and fertilizer imported from the Soviet Union. So, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, so did North Korean farming.

Ill-timed natural disasters, including floods that transformed prime farmland into unusable swampland, worsened the crisis. The government's response was a slogan: "Let's eat only two meals a day."

As food shortages increased, Kim's regime sent what little food there was to government elites and the military. Rations to farmers and citizens were cut. International food aid was also stolen and hoarded for the powerful. Desperate farmers started hiding food, and starving Koreans began eating grass. Kim didn't seem to care.

Instead of improving the country's food system, he poured $5 billion per year—one-quarter of the country’s entire gross domestic product—into the military. The goal was to establish a nuclear weapons program that he could use to threaten the West.

The Great Famine finally ended in 1998, after more than one million people had died.

At his death, in 2011, Kim Jong Il was succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong Un. The current Kim leader has continued his predecessors' policies of human rights violations and brutal oppression of any opposition. However, some hope that Kim's historic meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2018 may lead to future reform.

Trivia Edit

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North Korea is a hermit kingdom, a country that's walled itself off from the rest of the world. But over the years, defectors, journalists, and diplomats have shed some light on the way things work in the world's most secretive country. Here are some interesting facts about life in North Korea.

  • The eternal leader of North Korea is dead. No, seriously. While the country's current dictator, Kim Jong Un, is known as its Supreme Leader, its first dictator, Kim Il Sung, was declared the "Eternal President" in 1998, four years after his death. When his son, Kim Jong Il, died, he was added to the ranks of the eternal leadership. His titles are "Eternal Chairman of the National Defense Commission" and "Eternal General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea."
  • The official calendar of North Korea is the Juche Calendar, as of the third anniversary of Kim Il Sung's death. Prior to 1997, the country used the Gregorian calendar, like most of the western world. The biggest change? 1912, the year of Kim Il Sung's birth, became "Year 1," or "Juche 1." So, while much of the world celebrated the turn of the millennium in the year 2000, to North Koreans it was just the year 89.
  • North Korea has elections. It may be a totalitarian dictatorship, with the government in the hands of a single, dynastic family, but every five years, citizens get the chance to vote. Of course, the ballots list just one choice.
  • The difference between the two Koreas is visible from space. South Korea is a prosperous country, with a growing economy and some of the fastest Internet in the world, while North Korea suffers from food and electricity shortages. Nighttime satellite images of the Korean peninsula (pictured) make the divide clear: South Korea blazes with light, while its northern neighbor is in near-total darkness.
  • North Koreans' haircuts are subject to government approval. There are 28 accepted styles, with further restrictions according to gender, age, and marital status. Everything is specified: Not only must men’s styles be short, the length is precisely prescribed—two inches long for young men, and up to five for older men. Sporting a hairdo that's not on the list can incur punishments ranging from fines to prison time. And Kim Jong Un's familiar haircut, which echoes his grandfather's style, is strictly off-limits to the general populace.
  • Kim Jong Il, a film buff, had a famous director kidnapped to help start the North Korean film industry. In 1978, Kim's agents kidnapped South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his actress ex-wife, Choi Eun-hee. They were given the task of making films to bring glory to the North. Over eight years in captivity, they made dozens of movies, including Pulgasari, a North Korean take on Godzilla. But Choi and Shin secretly recorded conversations with Kim Jong Il, to prove that they'd created the pro-northern propaganda under duress. They escaped in 1986, while on a trip to Vienna.

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