North Korea, officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a country in East Asia constituting the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.  North Korea’s population of 25.49 million people are governed by their supreme leader and totalitarian dictator, Kim Jong Un. Kim’s regime is all-powerful and unavoidable. But does this regime act more like a government or a gang? 

A gang can be “a group or society of associates, friends or members of a family with a defined leadership and internal organization that identifies with or claims control over territory in a community and engages, either individually or collectively, in illegal, and possibly violent, behavior”. North Korea parallels these gang ideals in a large-scale, organized way. 

The Korean government is strongly governed by the KWP, the Polibureau and the Politburo’’s Central Committee. These committees oversee the armed forces. North Korea has a very strong “military first” policy that was put into place under the rule of Kim Jong-il. Because of this policy, the Korean People’s Army, or KPA have a great reach of influence.”Political leaders play a dominant role in all aspects of North Korean life, and the change in the top leadership, even if it is a succession from father to son, is an important political change”. Now that Kim Jong Il has been in power for nearly a decade, it is possible to identify some of the distinguishing characteristics of his governance. A prominent one is the rise of the military in politics. Kim Jong Il has replaced the party with the military to govern the country by instituting “military-first” politics. Signs of the rise of the military are everywhere, and the military presence can be felt in all aspects of political and social life. ” The Kim family has evolved into gang leaders who have promoted the military as their gang members to enforce their power. 

North Korea prioritizes loyalty to the regime. They go so far as to have a caste system that treats people who are loyal to Kim Jong Un and his military to a luxurious standard of living. The implementation of this Songbun system  in the mid-1990s increased the role of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in daily life. The army began to participate even more in social and economic decision-making. Although military personnel are required to serve for ten years, they spend most of their service participating in different areas of the country’s socio-economic life. That way, the army is now not as heavy economic burden, and serves as an important resource and catalyst for developing the national economy. This philosophy of the Songbun not only prioritises the military, but it creates a great divide.  Kim created three groups of people in Songbun- the “core,” “wavering,” and “hostile” classes. Each of these contains a number of subcategories. The people closest to Kim, their relatives, military and anti-Japanese resistance fighters became North Korea’s core. “Peasants, laborers, and workers were lifted up from the bottom of the social order, their lowly position filled by those who had opposed Kim’s ascent to power or collaborated with South Korea or Japan. “This new lower stratum—the hostile class—also contained North Koreans who had enjoyed high status under Japanese rule, from landowners and intellectuals to religious leaders and aristocrats.” These people in the “hostile” classes also live a hostile life. They are banished to almost uninhabitable mountains and are left to fend for themselves. Like gangs the North Korean government has created a divide in their people and prioritized loyalty. Those who aren’t loyal or are not part of the military, you aren’t part of the gang.

In any case, gangs are known for being violent, brutal, and merciless. To tie it all together, look no further than North Korea’s labor camps. Remember the hostile class? Those who disrespect the regime? Those sent to these camps are subject to a living hell. Torture and beatings are not to be unexpected in prison camps. Some of the torture includes pigeon torture. Persons’ hands are tied behind their backs and they’re hung from a wall for hours, forcing out their chest. Prisoners are forced to hold their arms out either to their side or in front of them for hours. They collapse before their arms are allowed to fall. The worst form of torture is catogorized as sweatboxes. They are forced into a box where they crouch with their butts to their heels, which cuts off circulation and leaves them with immense bruising if they do not die first. Women are repeatedly raped as punishment and forced to have abortions. Many of this abortions are carried out though beatings. If the baby isn’t aborted, it is usually killed in front of its mother- or they’ll make the mother kill it herself. This is most likely to happen is a baby is “impure” or suspected to have a Chinese father. The North Korean government has instatutionalized torture and a government that selects a class of society for brutilization and exclusion resembles a gang. 

 While the similarities are subtle, and one may easily overlook them to label Kim’s regime as simply a totalitarian dictatorship. There’s no denying it. Gangs exist when people feel lost or misrepresented- Kim Jong Un created a gang to redirect his people to his government all while enhancing his control. 

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