How Kim Jong Il kept 24 million people in the dark

A satellite photo reveals that power shortages in North Korea were a part of daily life.
Written by Tuan Nguyen, Contributor

The Kim Jong Il era in North Korea will be best remembered as perhaps one of the country's darkest -- literally.

A satellite photo making the rounds on the internet revealed that the only region where there was any semblance of the lights being on at night was the capital city of Pyongyang. In contrast, much of the population in South Korea were shown to have a much healthier glow as well as surrounding areas in China. The image provides a telling glimpse into one of the world's most secretive dictatorships, though not a very surprising one.

Throughout the "Dear leader's" 13 year reign, the communist regime instilled and enforced a policy of "Juche," which roughly translates to "spirit of self-reliance." It's a principle that was originally popularized by Jong Il's father,  Kim Il-sung, who asserted that the Republic must use its own domestic resources and strength to become independent of external sources from other countries. In practice, however, the North Korean leadership often sought assistance from Russia and China as the nation has been stricken by widespread famine and power shortages, even as they continued to invest heavily in building and sustaining a military that would eventually become the world's fifth largest.

Under the tutelage of the ruling Kim family, North Korean society is among the world's poorest and most malnourished. Men in North Korea are on average almost 3 inches shorter than those living just across the demilitarized zone. Women are 1.6 inches shorter. By comparison, Costa Rica, a developing country which abolished its military in 1959, and maintains positive bilateral relations with other nations has since enjoyed the highest standard of living in Latin America.

Consequently, the striking imagery and what it implies also falls in line with an earlier study suggesting that, at least with developing countries, there was a strong link between nighttime luminosity and economic wealth. Yet despite how 'Juche' has panned out so far, it appears likely that the late dictator's son Kim Jong Un will carry forth what has been a legacy of suffering, isolation and, above all, distrust.

Photo: NASA

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