What North Koreans fear more than Kim Jong Un
Losing just one bullet can cause quite a stir in any North Korean shooting exercise: even in South Korea, if one bullet goes missing, the exercise is paused until it is found, in case of any accidents.
Kim Jinhwan, who escaped North Korea in 2013, gave an example of the consequences of missing ammunition in the KPA. “While I was in North Korea, I was given the opportunity to participate in a shooting exercise, and one bullet went missing. The corpsmen told us to search every inch of our surroundings. When we finally found it, it was in the palm of another soldier’s hand. Our captain asked why he had it, and after some hesitation, the soldier finally confessed that he planned to use the bullet later on a soldier that he disliked. Since then, management of ammunition has become more meticulous,” he explained.
Kim elaborated, “If a bullet goes missing, we must continue looking for it, sometimes without sleeping for days. If it is still not found, the property will be searched, and even our private belongings. And if the bullet cannot be found even then, and rumors circulate among surrounding units, the unit that lost the bullet will suffer the consequences daily until it is found.”
Park Myungsoo, who escaped in the same year, said, “A unit that loses a bullet will never be categorized as a ‘loyal unit’. The units that Kim Jong Un visits are the ones that are referred as ‘loyal’, and to be part of a loyal unit is a great honour. Losing a bullet would mean ultimately that the safety of Kim Jong Un could be possibly undermined, so until that lost bullet is found, Kim Jong Un will never come close to visiting.”
Further, “Finding the bullet may be a problem, but higher-ranked commanders would also be nervous as they would consider the lost bullet as a barrier to future promotions. While loyalty may be an issue for the unit in question, the commanders of surrounding units also get nervous, and criticize the unit profusely. This is because surrounding units within 50km will also never be paid a visit by Kim Jong Un.”
Lee Keun-Chul, who escaped in 2014, emphasized that, “Even if the bullet is found, damage would be done to the unit’s reputation. This becomes worse the longer it takes to find. Because of this, there is a belief among soldiers that even if you lose the gun, you must never lose the bullet.”
In the end, it is not the systematic failures of Kim Jong Un’s regime that the North Korean people immediately recognize or fear, but rather, the plight of one missing bullet.
Reporting by Shin, Junshik