The Korean People’s Army strips for body heat
Starvation doesn’t beat the unbearable cold for North Koreans. With firewood costing more than food, anything combustible becomes fuel. In the midst of the severity in the military as increasing number of soldiers suffer from frostbite every year, soldiers must take care to maintain their health.
28-year-old Lee Chul Ju, who arrived in South Korea in March 2015 after serving in the Korean People’s Army for 12 years, says, “Winter is the greatest fear above war to the North Korean soldiers. The incomparable cold is nothing like South Korea. Solders are put to endure the brutal weather where birch trees frost crack in minus 40 degrees. Apart from the training, soldiers also risk their lives in the woods to gather firewood to keep the officers’ rooms warm. Each soldier must meet his quota at all costs and yet, it is only used at officers’ official residences and their homes”.
North Korean refugee Kim Jung Min says, “North Korean soldiers do not wash their uniform in winter, as they cannot afford to stay undressed in the harsh weather. But keeping the winter uniform on after the evening roll call is only allowed to veteran soldiers. Lower rank soldiers obligingly sleep in underwear as they are told stripping produces more body heat. They also warm up seniors’ bed with their naked body”.
Having lower rank soldiers strip down to warm up the beds of more senior soldiers and officers with their body heat continues as a tradition in the Korean People’s Army, and it is more prevalent in units near Gangwon-do where the number of soldiers are highest. Some senior soldiers handpick able-bodied soldiers from squad and platoon to keep their bed warm overnight. They say this is more cruel than beating or assault, to have to lie right beside in nude to keep others warm with their body heat.
The tradition continues to pass down as junior soldiers continue to do what senior soldiers did do them, and justify the act to be a war game in overcoming severe winter weather. They emphasize it serves two ends as, “surviving thus through the lack of fuel strengthens mind, which, in turn, trains body”.
By Lee Cheol-mu.
Read in Korean.
Translated by Jinny Lee. Edited by Shirley Lee.