Fury after North Korea tests hydrogen bomb

Warheads: North Korea claims that the silver device in this photo is a working H-bomb. © Getty

Why does this tiny socialist state hate America so much and would it help to understand? Yesterday, to global condemnation, North Korea carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

At first, it felt like an earthquake. But the tremor in North Korea’s Kilju County on Sunday morning was immediately suspicious. It was located near the country’s nuclear test site, for one thing. For another, it came just hours after images were released of leader Kim Jong-un inspecting a nuclear warhead.

Soon state media confirmed it: the country had carried out its sixth nuclear test, and it was a “perfect success”. It claims that it now has a hydrogen bomb small enough to fit onto one of its intercontinental missiles.

Although the news has not been independently confirmed, the message is clear: its nuclear weapons can now reach the USA.

The test was quickly condemned around the world. President Trump called it “hostile and dangerous”. China expressed “strong condemnation”, while South Korea warned that the North was “threatening world peace”.

The country’s anti-American hatred runs deep; children are taught to hate America from primary school age. Americans are constantly referred to as “imperialists” and “aggressors”. June is known as “Struggle Against US Imperialism Month”.

Why?

The answer is almost 70 years old. In June 1950, Kim’s grandfather Kim Il-sung invaded South Korea. He almost succeeded in winning power over the entire peninsula, until the US military arrived to defend its ally.

North Korea was driven back to the border, and for the next three years, it was devastated by US bombs. Towns were flattened. Around 20% of the population was killed, as 635,000 tonnes of explosives were dropped, plus 32,557 tonnes of napalm.

The US bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another,” said Dean Rusk, then an army colonel and later secretary of state.

Crucially, North Korea tells its people that the South started the war. And — as there was only ever a ceasefire — technically it is still ongoing.

War games

The USA must reckon with its actions during the Korean war, say some. It sees the North as crazy — but step into their shoes, and the fear of America starts to make some sense. The damage it inflicted on the country, both material and psychological, was horrific. In America, however, Korea is referred to as the “forgotten war”. Until it acknowledges what happened, the two will never find peace.

“So what?” respond others. Germany, Japan and Vietnam are on good terms with the USA, despite being at war around the same time. But North Korea has obsessed over the past, invented fake American massacres, and brainwashed children to live in perpetual fear of US invasion. In truth, its regime needs an outside enemy to distract people from the poverty and cruelty at home. Kim is not about to give up his best scapegoat.

You Decide

  1. Is America partly responsible for North Korea’s actions today?
  2. How should the rest of the world respond to North Korea’s latest nuclear test?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are the United Nations general secretary. Prepare a short 100 word statement in response to yesterday’s nuclear test.
  2. Create a timeline of North Korean history, starting with the country’s creation in 1945.

Some People Say...

“Leaving North Korea is not like leaving any other country. It is more like leaving another universe.”

Hyeonseo Lee, North Korean defector

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The “artificial earthquake” caused by the nuclear test yesterday morning registered at a 6.3 magnitude. Shockwaves were recorded as far away as Scotland and Argentina. North Korea has previously launched missiles which can travel around 7,400 miles, a range which includes London, Moscow and much of the USA.
What do we not know?
Whether North Korea has genuinely created a hydrogen bomb small enough to attach to its intercontinental missiles. North Korea claims this is the case, and has released photos of Kim Jong-un inspecting something which looks like a hydrogen bomb. But it will not be verified by more reliable sources until scientists detect the radioactive pollution that such a bomb would release.

Word Watch

Sixth nuclear test
The first test was conducted in 2006, but Kim Jong-un has increased the development and testing since coming to power. Yesterday's test was around ten times more powerful than the last, in September 2016.
Hydrogen bomb
Also known as an H-bomb, it can be up to 1,000 times more powerful than an atomic bomb, which was used by the USA against Japan in 1945. This is because a H-bomb gets its energy from nuclear fusion (combining the nuclei of atoms) rather than nuclear fission (splitting a nucleus).
Intercontinental missiles
North Korea has tested such missiles several times already this year, and now claims they can reach most of the US mainland.
Invaded
Korea was divided into two countries by the USA and Soviet Union at the end of the second world war.
635,000 tonnes
According to the historian Charles Armstrong. This is more than was used against Japan in the second world war.
Napalm
A liquid which causes severe burns and is very difficult to wash off.
Ceasefire
Signed on July 26th 1953. No peace treaty between North and South Korea has ever been signed since.

Subjects

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