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North Korea satellite imagery

North Korea 1945 – Present Day    /    The Korean War 1950-1953

Kim Il-sung 1912-1994  /  Kim Jong-il 1941-2011  /  Kim Jong-un 1983 – ? North Korean soldiers North Korea is a small hermit of a country with a big ego and a bad attitude. Ever since the Korean War, North Korea has become an enemy of nearly every civilized country on Earth, despite being roughly the size of Pennsylvania… The Korean DMZ

Regardless of it’s official name, there’s nothing democratic about “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, a communist regime ruled by a dictatorial monarchy that has quarantined itself from the rest of the world.

North Korea is a thoroughly brainwashed country that allows millions of children to starve in the streets while it pours all its resources into building one of the largest military forces on the planet, has completely outlawed all forms of free speech, and has sent a size-able percentage of it’s population to concentration camps, where thousands of political prisoners and their families have been tortured to death for nothing more than questioning their government or watching bootleg movies from pretty much anywhere outside North Korea. Their prisons make ‘Orange is the New Black’ look like ‘Sex in the City’.

North Korea’s “Great Leader”: Kim Jong-un is perhaps the worst dictator of all time, not only because he’s a truly terrible human being whose deplorable to his own people (which he definitely is), but because he’s really REALLY bad at BEING a despot! The latest model in a line of egocentric megalomaniacs with fever dreams of world domination… and an ironic obsession with American pop-culture.Kim Jong-un

Like an angry chihuahua taking on a grizzly, Kim Jong-Un threatens nations with nuclear war over movies that make fun of him, without the capability to back it up. Like his father and his grandfather before him, he maintains power through a propaganda machine of manipulation and deceit. He is worshiped as a savior while condemning his people to Hell on Earth, and what’s more, he has even assassinated multiple family members for really idiotic reasons. (see Part 2 for more)

So how did this petulant man child come into power?

Well, it’s a funny story actually… in that sad, bizarrely twisted, not so funny kinda way… Today, North Korea is the most isolated country in the world, a communist nation under a totalitarian dictatorship not so different from Nazi Germany. South Korea on the other-hand is a democratic republic, with one of the highest standards of living in Asia and a US ally. To best understand the current state of things, lets first look at how things came to be. North Korea map (ANCIENT) KOREAN HISTORY

North (and South) Korea borders China on the north/west, with Japan off the coast to the east.

Korean characters

I’ll have the Miso Soup please.

Prior to the division of North and South Korea, the Korean people have a long (LONG) history of being invaded every other century: the Mongols, the Chinese, and the Japanese. The Korean Peninsula was first founded by neolithic people a good 8,000 years or so ago. The Korean name comes from Koryŏ or Goryeonamed after a dynasty that once ruled the province. According to myth, Korea was founded by a dude called Dangun Wanggeom, the son of a demi-god and a bear-woman, but historians are 99% sure someone made that shit up.

During the Bronze Age, known as the Gojoseon period, the area was ruled by a series of kings who overthrew one another. Eventually this kingdom disintegrated as different fiefs moved out and started up their own villages and the Samhan confederacies sprung up. Then from 57 BCE till 668 CE is known as The Three Kingdoms period, where (as you can probably guess) three kingdoms ruled Korea: Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla.


A Mongol horde on horseback

When Mongols Attack

During the 7th century, Silla teamed up with the Chinese Tang dynasty to conquer the other two. Next, King Taejo took over establishing the Goryeo dynasty in 918, which ruled until 1392. In 1231, they were invaded by the Mongols led by Ögedei Khan aka Genghis Khan Jr. and temporarily ruled by the Mongol Empire until the Mongolian dictator,  Choe Ui was assassinated by Kim Jun. In 1392, General Yi Seong-gye took advantage of political strife, overthrew the government and killed the next three kings before finally usurping the throne himself. The Joseon Dynasty that followed incorporated the Chinese Confucian ideals and doctrines into their society. The kingdom became isolated and paranoid to the outside world after a series of attacks from the Qing Dynasty, Manchuria, and Japan. Much of modern Korea’s culture originated from this period, including its language. The Korean Empress

In 1894, Korea became the battleground for a war between the Chinese Qing Dynasty and Meiji Japan during the First Sino-Japanese War. During this time, Empress Myeongseong attempted to strengthen ties with Russia in an attempt to block Japanese influence leading to her (secret) assassination by the Japanese. In response, her husband, Emperor Gojong, proclaimed the Korean Empire’s independence in 1897 when they ceased to be subordinate to the Qin Dynasty. Korea began reforms in an attempt to modernize along with the Western powers of Europe, in the same way Japan had gone from a feudal society to an international military power, unfortunately Korea was a little late to the game.

THE JAPANESE OCCUPATIONBattle of Songhwan As if Korea didn’t have it bad enough as it was, the Russo-Japanese War broke out in 1904, a conflict which solely centered on Russia and Japan playing tug-of-war with Korea. You see, the Russian Tsar, Nicholas II wanted to conquer Korea for it’s warm water ports on the Pacific coastline, but Japan saw them first, so they basically fought over who could take over Korea. The Japanese Navy wiped the ocean floor with the ruskies and then to add insult to injury, US President Teddy Roosevelt signed the peace treaty which then allowed Japan to annex Korea as a colony through some clever political maneuvering and a forced treaty. WWII Samurai

It would be a gigantic understatement to say that Koreans were not pleased with this turn of events. Less than a decade after declaring their independence, they were once again being occupied and subjugated by outsiders. By 1910, Japanese troops marched through the streets of Seoul, Korea was now under complete control of the Japanese Empire. This lasted for 35 years, until the end of World War II in 1945.

You see, when the war broke out, Japan placed their bets on the wrong team, siding with the (obviously evil) Nazi Germany and Hitler’s best buddy Mussolini over in fascist Italy. Together they formed the Axis Powers! (insert dramatic echo) But as we all know, Germany was obliterated by the Allied Powers on the Western Front: the US, most of Europe and Soviet Russia. Leaving poor little Japan to fend off the entire world.

The fight against Japan in the Pacific theater was brutal. It all came to a swift end though when the US dropped not one, but TWO atomic bombs on the islands of Japan. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were vaporized off the map, along with nearly 2,000 casualties (mostly civilians, but whose counting). The fighting ceased immediately and treaties were signed without question, but out of the ashes of this globe spanning conflict was born a new threat to all life on the planet, the Cold War had begun…Go to the Winchester, have a pint, and wait for this all to blow over - 'Shaun of the Dead' NORTH vs SOUTH North and South Korea map As former allies, with the war over, the US and the USSR were now at odds with each other. Without a common enemy to unite against, they were now bitter rivals. They both had began amassing nuclear stockpiles behind each other’s backs and because of their diametrically opposing viewpoints (Democracy, Communism), saw each other as a very real threat to the existence of the other. Cold War cartoon - US vs Russia

In the midst of this global power struggle, the Soviet Union was spreading like an STD at an orgy while the US and their allies were doing everything in their power to stop the expansion of communism. At the end of WWII, Stalin’s troops had marched into the ruins of Germany and planted their flag, splitting the country 50/50 – dividing East and West Berlin. The same thing happened again in Korea after the fall of Japan: Russia claimed control of the north, with the south falling under the protection of the United States. Neither side could agree on a unified government, which left Korea divided along the 38th parallel.

Under an agreement with the UN, South Korea become a pro-western democracy, while North Korea went red, but animosity remained for foreign interference, on both sides, for many years to come. The division of Korea was always intended as a temporary solution, but it’s lasted for 70 years with no end in sight…North and South Korean flags THE KOREAN WAR

In 1948, Kim Il-Sung became the Prime Minister / dictator-for-life of the communist nation of North Korea, officially re-dubbed as The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a title that makes less sense than a dentist trying to have a conversation with their patients. Kim based his style of government on one of the worst role models history as to offer: Stalin, a man known for murdering a large fraction of his country’s population.

On the 25th of June, 1950 – North Korea, backed by Soviet and Chinese forces, led an invasion into South Korea. The result was kinda like soccer players trying to play basketball on ice skates. The response from the United Nations was something along the lines of “Aw hell nah!” and immediately sent troops in from 21 countries, led by the US. Bombers - Korean War

The result was one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history with over a million casualties. Planes, tanks, and artillery shells. At one point, UN forces beat back the North far into their own country. After some back and forth territorial gains and losses, most of the war was a stalemate. By the end of the conflict, not much had really changed, the border just got a little more permanent, leaving both sides more bitter than ever before.

On July 27th, 1953 – the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed, forcing a ceasefire and establishing a new border: The DMZ – a ‘demilitarized’ zone, yet despite it’s name it’s actually the most militarized zone on the entire planet. This 160 mile long, 2.5 mile wide, border is littered with landmines and riddled with electric fences with enough voltage to keep a T-Rex at bay.

Not exactly a walk in the park.

Despite the ceasefire agreement and the over-the-top border defenses, technically speaking, the Korean War never really ended…

To be continued – Next time on EPIK FAILS OF HISTORY: Part Two – The Legacy of the Kim Dynasty!

                                                                ERIK SLADER

Hope you enjoyed this edition of “Epik Fails of History!”, if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions let me know in the comments below! Also, be sure to ’Like’ EPiK FAILs on Facebook, or Follow on Twitter, and SHARE IT with your friends!

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—– More articles on Historic Failure:





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“Frontline: The Secret State of North Korea” – documentary (2014)

“National Geographic: Inside North Korea” – documentary (2006)

Erik Slader
Erik Slader
Erik Slader is the creator of “Epik Fails of History” a blog (and podcast) about the most epic fails… of history. With Ben Thompson, Erik is the co-author of the Epic Fails book series. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Media, once managed a comic book shop, has a weakness for fancy coffee and currently lives in Green Cove Springs, Florida with too many cats.


  1. […] The history of North Korea – Part One […]

  2. […] NORTH KOREA (Part One) […]

  3. […] Continued from Part One: The Origins of North Korea […]

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