Monday, August 24, 2015

More Cowbells Loudspeakers!

South Korean soldiers set up loudspeakers along the DMZ.
(source)

Dear Korean,

I was reading about the loudspeaker broadcasts being used by South Korea directed at North Korea and wondered if you had any thoughts regarding their effectiveness. Do these broadcasts really work to either encourage people to defect or allow the spread of news/information/propaganda to the north? I imagine that the soldiers who patrol the border are the most loyal the north have and less likely to spread the information. Are there regular citizens living within hearing range or do people sneak down to listen to the broadcasts and report back?

Or, is this all really an effort to simply antagonize the other side?

Louie


Tensions have been running fairly high in Korean Peninsula for the last few weeks. For those who had been missing out, here is the background:

Some people are surprised to find out that both South Korea and North Korea regularly send armed patrols through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), But that is true--DMZ does not mean there is nobody inside the zone. Both South Korean and North Korean military patrol inside the DMZ to detect any hint of invasion, although they usually keep close to their own sides for obvious reasons.

On August 4, two South Korean soldiers lost their legs after having stepped on land mines, which were buried right around the gate through which South Korean patrols would enter the DMZ.

Site of the land mine explosion. The mines were buried inside the red circles.
Lower portion of the picture is South Korea; across the fence is the DMZ.
(source)
On August 10, South Korean military announced that North Korea was behind the landmine attack, and began the loudspeaker broadcast as retaliation. This measure of retaliation caused some snickers. Really? Two South Korean soldiers lost their legs, and they retaliate by . . . shouting through the loudspeakers?

But here is the thing: North Korea really hates those loudspeakers. How much do they hate them? On August 20, North Korea fired several artillery shells toward South Korea. (Three in the southern end of the DMZ, and one past the DMZ.) The shelling was followed by an announcement that unless South Korea silenced the loudspeakers, North Korea would begin military action in 48 hours. (Military heads of South and North Korea met afterward and came to an agreement five days later, and South Korea did stop with the loudspeakers.)

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


So what exactly gets played on those loudspeakers? Mostly, regular news. Since the purpose of the loudspeakers is for propaganda, South Korean military also plays denunciation of the North Korean regime, the many crimes of Kim Jong Un, etc. But much of the broadcast is filled with world news, weather, and K-pop songs. South Korea's strategy is to broadcast reliable news so that North Koreans who hear the broadcast would come to trust the news. 

This appears to be the winning strategy. For example, the loudspeakers give weather advisory for the North Korean soldiers across the DMZ, telling them to get their clothes off the clothesline before the rain falls. Without fail, the North Korean soldiers bring the clothes indoors, indicating that they trust the broadcast. And it is not simply the soldiers who hear the broadcast, because the loudspeakers are really freakin' loud--during the day, the sound carries for over six miles, and at night, 15 miles--such that one could hear the broadcast from Gaeseong, one of North Korea's largest cities. 

Even simple news is enough to foster mistrust of the regime among North Koreans. In 2004 for example, there was a massive explosion in the train station in Yongcheon, North Korea, killing around 150 people and injuring some 1,300. True to form, North Korea tried to keep the explosion secret to the rest of the country, especially because there were rumors that the explosion was an assassination attempt of Kim Jong Il. But the news soon spread throughout North Korea: the South Korean loudspeakers reported the news matter-of-factly, and the word of mouth traveled from near the DMZ to the rest of North Korea. 

South Korean pop music is also popular, because North Korea has no pop culture to speak of. Many North Korean defectors who were from near DMZ have said they usually looked forward to hearing music from the loudspeakers. The song selection is also not overtly propagandist, but enough to cause small rustlings of heart. One defector reminisced fondly that he still chokes up when he hears Letter of a Private, a sentimental K-pop by Kim Gwang-seok that is sung from the perspective of a newly enlisted soldier.

What about North Korean propaganda? North Korea also has its own set of loudspeakers directed southward, but lack of electricity and old equipment mean the sound barely gets across the DMZ. (South Korean military speculates that North Korea is not really trying to broadcast propaganda, but to stop its soldiers from hearing the South Korean broadcast.) North Korea also has taken to Youtube for propaganda, but the attempt is more hilarious than convincing. The latest North Korean propaganda video following the artillery fire exchange claimed that South Koreans, fearing the might of North Korean military, are stockpiling supplies. The South Korean person in the video, however, was calmly picking out a number of fresh vegetables--the last thing that one would buy if one feared a war. (In a desperate attempt to make the person look like he is stockpiling, the North Korean video makers fast-forwarded the video of the man so that he looks like he is in a hurry.) The video also claimed that South Koreans are rushing to the airport to buy airline tickets out of Korea, which indicates that North Koreans don't know one wouldn't usually try to purchase an airplane ticket at the airport.

The propaganda race between South and North Korea clearly shows what we already know: that in the duel of ideologies between communist authoritarianism and capitalist democracy, North Korea is completely, utterly, indisputably defeated. To win the hearts and minds across the DMZ, South Korea only has to show the truth. On the other hand, North Korea does not even know enough truth to lie well.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

17 comments:

  1. I find the airplane bit the most amusing. They are basically rubbing in the fact that south koreans not only have money to buy plane tickets, but also allowed to leave the countr on their own free will on airplanes ready to take them. These three things simply are not possible for average north koreans and cements in the fact that South Korea is a better place to be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you honestly think the citizens of NK are smart enough to realize this? You're giving them too much credit.

      Delete
    2. Do you honestly think the citizens of NK are smart enough to realize this? You're giving them too much credit.

      Delete
    3. What's even more ironic is that many S, Koreans do massively travel abroad these days. Foreign countries have become more popular as holiday destinations...

      Delete
    4. And as for you, Unknown, you better not underestimate N. Korean citizens. They might be brainwashed and lied to, but they're intelligent human beings able to see, feel and conclude something's strange, at least.

      Delete
  2. If there weren't a danger of incoming fire, it would be cool of South Korea upped the ante on the broadcasts and did some full-on concerts. I want to see a guy with a flaming guitar shredding out Van Halen's Eruption.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'd been wondering about this lately. Thanks for the post!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Reminds me of an old story from a NK defector where the defector said that propaganda footage of a labor riot in South Korea led her to believe the South Koreans were well-off because it was winter and the South Koreans could be seen wearing coats . . . with zippers!

    ReplyDelete
  5. So at night, those amps go up to 15 . . .miles? ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. At night it can travel all the way to the city of Kaesong. Many North Koreans look forward to the broadcasts. They should continue to broadcast, or reset up the analogue broadcasts, just for the North Koreans. Since South Korea switched the TV broadcasts switched to digital, North Korean viewers and listeners have not been able to pick up the TV signals. South Korea should restart the analogue TV broadcasts to specifically target the North Korean viewers, even though such mediums like the DVD, USB players are a popular choices for North Korean viewers.

      Delete
    2. Yes. At night it can travel all the way to the city of Kaesong. Many North Koreans look forward to the broadcasts. They should continue to broadcast, or reset up the analogue broadcasts, just for the North Koreans. Since South Korea switched the TV broadcasts switched to digital, North Korean viewers and listeners have not been able to pick up the TV signals. South Korea should restart the analogue TV broadcasts to specifically target the North Korean viewers, even though such mediums like the DVD, USB players are a popular choices for North Korean viewers.

      Delete
    3. Ha Ha, I see what you did there.

      Delete
  6. When I visited DMZ one thing that came to my attention was that how relaxed North Korean soldier were. ROK soldiers were all in one stance, really serious and North Koreans were smoking cigarettes and chatting with peals of laughter. Waving at us (tourists and families of US soldiers there) and generally presenting a laid back attitude - especially in comparison to ROK soldiers.

    One of the funny things that my Japanese manager gave me strict warnings on not to leave the crowds and if I see a N. Korean soldier nearby not to stop. He thought they would forcefully take me across the border to their country!!!!!! (and he was not joking)

    ReplyDelete
  7. When I visited DMZ one thing that came to my attention was that how relaxed North Korean soldier were. ROK soldiers were all in one stance, really serious and North Koreans were smoking cigarettes and chatting with peals of laughter. Waving at us (tourists and families of US soldiers there) and generally presenting a laid back attitude - especially in comparison to ROK soldiers.

    One of the funny things that my Japanese manager gave me strict warnings on not to leave the crowds and if I see a N. Korean soldier nearby not to stop. He thought they would forcefully take me across the border to their country!!!!!! (and he was not joking)

    ReplyDelete
  8. When I visited DMZ one thing that came to my attention was that how relaxed North Korean soldier were. ROK soldiers were all in one stance, really serious and North Koreans were smoking cigarettes and chatting with peals of laughter. Waving at us (tourists and families of US soldiers there) and generally presenting a laid back attitude - especially in comparison to ROK soldiers.

    One of the funny things that my Japanese manager gave me strict warnings on not to leave the crowds and if I see a N. Korean soldier nearby not to stop. He thought they would forcefully take me across the border to their country!!!!!! (and he was not joking)

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm forever hopeful that one day the NK people will toss out Kimmy like last weeks poo.

    ReplyDelete

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