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What do North Koreans think of nuclear tests?

February 12th, 2013
06:27 PM ET

By Samuel Burke, CNN

When the former British Ambassador to North Korea, John Everard, told acquaintances in that country that he was travelling to the United States, they asked him if he thought he would make it out alive.

Such is the view of America in the Hermit Kingdom. 

Following previous missile launches and nuclear tests, Ambassador Everard told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that some North Koreans were genuinely brimming with patriotic pride. But as the days passed after the various tests, some started asking how much money it cost the country. Then they started following up with questions about how much rice costs on the international market. North Korea, after all, is a country that suffers endemic food insecurity.

The nuclear tests are important issues of pride and “national sovereignty” for the North Koreans, Everard said. “They have calculated that having watched what’s happened in Libya and Iraq, that if you have nuclear weapons, you are safe from a military intervention by what they regard as hostile powers – meaning of course primarily the United States. So this is as much as anything, in their eyes, an act of self preservation.”

The nuclear tests are causing concern not only in South Korea, Japan, and the West, but also in China, which has long given its support to North Korea. Everard believes it is a mistake to think that China unconditionally supports North Korea.

RELATED: Christiane Amanpour's documentary on her trip to North Korea

There is a fierce argument within China about its policy toward North Korea, he said. Some in China say their support damages the country’s reputation and ability to build bridges to the West; others contend that it is important to hold allies close, as a bulwark against an imperialist blockade.

In Pyongyang, Everard said, North Koreans know are fully aware how poor and backward their country is compared to China and South Korea. Bootlegged South Korean soap operas are now widely available on DVD.

“I’m not suggesting that soap operas of any country are an accurate portrait of reality,” he said, “but at least they gave these people a vision of a completely lifestyle – a life where people were able to live in nice apartments, drive nice cars, and occasionally go out for meals.”

Those are, of course, things most North Koreans can only dream of having.

Everard has just written a book about his experiences in North Korea, called “Only Beautiful, Please.” The title, he says, comes from the experience of a British friend on a visit to North Korea, who had his camera confiscated by a military officer. The officer inspected the camera and then returned it, saying “Only beautiful, please.”

READ MORE: What next for North Korea after test?

Filed under:  Latest Episode • North Korea
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. raj

    North korea with his new terror tactics and testing capability need to show case some raw power well they say its never late to the show with the new regime young leader the country powers to some raw power and can destabalise the peace around as all countries are heading for a nuclear free zone some want to show case to join the race there is bit of hypocricy as few countries which are nuclear power dont want to shed off their power and aspiring countries are not shying away to showcase their power and be in the club...

    February 13, 2013 at 4:26 am | Reply
    • Canada

      I have no idea what you just wrote. but good on ya, I think you're on to something.....

      February 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Reply
      • raj

        ha ha really you didnt understand a word out of it omg never mind i didnt had that problem when i travelled through toronto though nice vibrant city i wonder how they manage to run streetcars buses cars cabs and cycles on the same road in downtown complex web of

        February 19, 2013 at 3:12 am |
    • NorthVanCan

      Dude, you are my hero .

      February 14, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Reply
  2. RL

    The north koreans are allowed to think?

    February 13, 2013 at 8:21 am | Reply
  3. doabitofhomework

    It's more about ego – and manliness – in N. Korea than anything else. And these attributes make a man a glutton for dominance and power. When the people are hungry, they'll crawl to him. When the rest of the world finds Mr. "Un" a bore, he throws a nuclear test or missile test party, to say, "Look at ME! See how manly I AM! NOTICE ME!"

    So we notice him doing those things, and it gets into the media, and Mr. "Un" is placated again. For now.

    The man is a pathetic, inadequate male, just like his dear old dad.

    February 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Reply
  4. Simon666

    News CNN won't report: no radiation found after North Korean "nuclear" test. Just like in 2009 and 2006. North Korea happy and US military industrial complex happy, billions to spend on ballistic missile defense.

    February 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Reply
    • Canada

      I'm not sure how much radiation would enter the atmosphere in an 'underground' nuclear test. probably acceptable levels.

      February 14, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Reply
    • Paul P.

      Well, since it was an UNDERGROUND test, which usually entails digging under a mountain or rock ridge and sealing the entrance, no discernible radiation would be picked up by foreign military surveillance, which mostly comprises of satellites, miles and miles above the surface.

      First off, if any leaked out, it would have to be at a very local (man walking with Geiger counter) level.
      Second, the remaining radiation is not the primary, overt power of the bomb, it's in the blast potential.
      Third, geologists and seismologists record these things thousands of miles away through the earth's crust. There are certain patterns in the seismic P- and S-waves that denote a massive explosion of a nuke, as compared to an earthquake, volcano, or comparatively "small" conventional blast.

      I understand your critical views of the press, believe me, I share them; but this isn't one of those topics you can fake.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:05 am | Reply
  5. Rick Wired

    China has since long left communism and is today an economically successful capitalist dictatorship ruled by a party that is communist by name. It seems decreasingly likely that China would support North Korea in the long run unless it switches to capitalism just like China and Vietnam. (This because the ideological divide has widened because of this difference.) Why hasn't North Korea embraced capitalism just like China and Vietnam, and thereby be able to start on a path of economic growth and development?

    February 13, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Reply
    • Canada

      Capitalism is the main force driving my country to do business more with China then America.

      February 14, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  6. Name*Darrel.D.Sons

    N.Korea could become a serious problem... not just to the United States,but also to the rest of the world.

    February 14, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  7. NorthVanCan

    I would love to visit NK.
    Maybe live there a while before I die.
    Possibly the most fun, ever!

    February 14, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Reply
  8. cyruskirkpatrick

    I am going to North Korea in about 6 weeks (my 2nd trip), it's a good opportunity for locals to learn how Americans are not the devil. Pyongyang is a nice city and North Koreans are really sweet. Many 'want' to believe their government is good because it gives meaning and purpose to lives of poverty.

    February 15, 2013 at 2:30 am | Reply
  9. Onno Legare

    North Korea is a tragic dynasty. I really feel sorry for countries that neighbour China and North Korea. Hope they have a functional plan to contain those two countries in case they decide to fight any of the neighbors. China's belligerance towards neighbours on disputed territory and support of North Korea might cause tensions to overflow with the resultant conflict damaging the world economy and potentially sucking in the USA, Iran,...etc. Add to that the high populations of countries in that region and their modern armies with a reputation for fanatic and intense fighting historically, then you realise war should not be allowed to break out in that part of the world.

    February 18, 2013 at 8:22 am | Reply
  10. raj

    every country wants to be powerful in this global age of developement they want to showcase their power and make they can dictate terms in the world economy hence i dont any reason why north koreans should not be proud of what their goverment has did but on the other hand are nuclear explosions and tests are justified in todays context when we have seen the calamity and the hardships of the bombings earlier why not set a common goal and optimum deterrant for defence weapons and not pile up the nuclear weapons which may wipe off the entire humanity.....

    February 19, 2013 at 3:20 am | Reply
  11. james

    Proofread much?

    "In Pyongyang, Everard said, North Koreans *know are fully aware how poor and backward their country is compared to China and South Korea."

    “I’m not suggesting that soap operas of any country are an accurate portrait of reality,” he said, “but at least they gave these people a vision of a completely* lifestyle – a life where people were able to live in nice apartments, drive nice cars, and occasionally go out for meals.”

    March 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Reply
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