The North Korean state has been ratcheting up its war threats for consumption by the external audience, but there is no special need to maintain a focus on war with regards to its domestic audience (see here for an example). This is because ordinary North Koreans are already busily engaged in a ‘war’ right at home, as they fight for victory in a ‘war of compost offerings’.
As the flow of aid from China decreases, North Korea’s compost situation is becoming dire. Fertilizer is a prerequisite for the start of the spring farming season, yet North Korea lacks the necessary chemicals. For this reason, ordinary North Koreans have been ordered by the state to turn in several hundred kilograms of compost per person.
Kim Ji-young, who left North Korea in 2011, tells us: “In the season of the ‘compost war’, relations between neighbours turn very sour. Everyone eyes other people’s compost. Families have to stand guard over their excrement at night in case someone comes in to steal it.”
War in North Korea is not restricted to excrement gathering and compost offerings. There are many other types of war that are waged all year round, as can be seen in the posters below.
The first poster reads: “Let’s fight the rice planting war!” The second poster reads: “Let’s fight the energetic war of winter-time fishing!” The third poster reads: “Everyone, let’s fight a war for 150 days! (in mining, farming, construction etc.) The final poster reads: “Everyone, let’s fight a war for 100 days, for a strong and prosperous nation!”
Oh Ji-heon, who left North Korean in 2010, tells us: “We were at war all the time, all year round. In spring, there was the ‘war of rice planting’. In summer was the ‘war of weeding’. Autumn was the ‘harvest war’ and in winter we fought the ‘fishing war’. Every season brought with it a new enemy for us to conquer.”
In addition, Ji-heon describes that propaganda activities too were not only likened to war, but were actually portrayed as ‘North Koreans at war’. She finishes by saying,”It’s hard enough putting food on the table. Yet they continued to keep us at war.”
Survival and state enforced ‘wars’ are not the only wars that must be fought by North Koreans – they are made to war with each other. Ji-young adds, “When a ‘war of copper collection’ was announced by the Party, all of us received a quota we had to fill. Actual fighting broke out among neighbours over scrap copper.”
The North Korean state may be threatening war abroad, but its people are not concerned with such rhetoric; they already fight many real wars at home.