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S3 E4. LAND PART IV – The Arduous March

 
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İçerik Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis tarafından sağlanmıştır. Bölümler, grafikler ve podcast açıklamaları dahil tüm podcast içeriği doğrudan Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis veya podcast platform ortağı tarafından yüklenir ve sağlanır. Birinin telif hakkıyla korunan çalışmanızı izniniz olmadan kullandığını düşünüyorsanız burada https://tr.player.fm/legal özetlenen süreci takip edebilirsiniz.

Another week, another famine. This episode, Alix looks at a modern case of famine-induced survival cannibalism in North Korea.

CREDITS

Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.

Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.

Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.

Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

TRANSCRIPT

Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?

Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.

A: I’m Alix.

C: I’m Carmella.

A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…

[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]

A: Welcome to Episode 4, the Arduous March: a look at famine in North Korea.

[Intro music continues]

A: How have I ended up with two back-to-back famines again this season? Oh well, let’s start as we mean to go on – scantily sourced yet depressingly detailed.

C: Yaaaaay.

A: Carmella, would you like to learn about our most modern famine induced survival cannibalism to date?

C: …. That sounds highly chilling and very unpleasant. Yes?

A: Let’s go. This episode is going to involve a lot of “rumours circulate” and “it is reported” because, well, we’re going to be looking at the ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,’ especially focusing on the famine of the 1990s and the varying micro-famines since. And there is, to say, a lack of transparency when it comes to international relations between North Korea and… the rest of the world.

C: Yeah, you could say that.

A: I do like a disclaimer don’t I?

C: Here we go.

A: Can’t think why this topic would ever be considered libellous or anything. But, the main way we (aka, the rest of the world, aka the West, aka the bit of London that Casting Lots does its research from) the way we get our hands on information about North Korea comes in three forms – North Korean Propaganda (unlikely to tell us a lot about famine induced survival cannibalism).

C: Probably not in there, no.

A: First-hand accounts from those inside the country or those who have left North Korea (very difficult to authenticate, mostly anecdotal, limited tangible evidence) and official reports from human rights focused organisations… There is however, a very loud voice in this discussion which comes from people who are just being racist.

C: Yes, I think anyone who’s been on the internet has encountered that voice.

A: And that’s especially prevalent today because of the Covid-19 epidemic and in our topic specifically, the general population of the world associates survival cannibalism with barbarism, as opposed to necessity.

C: Yup.

A: So, we have to take rumours and stories with a pinch of salt. Pardon the food-based analogy. But anecdotes are some of the best evidence that we have but this episode is very much based on second-hand claims. Most of the newspapers and articles that I’ve looked at while researching this have normally hidden somewhere in their conclusion, a ‘oh it’s just a rumour that’s been spread, there’s no actual evidence and we’re not the ones who said there was cannibalism, we’re just reporting on what other people have said’ and, I get it, like, firstly, see aforementioned racism point above but also as we have covered people are squeamish about survival cannibalism, they always have been, they don’t like the idea that it really could happen, if it did happen it certainly happened in the cast and doesn’t happen today. That would just be unbelievable.

C: It happens to other people and not to us, etc, etc.

A: It always happens to another group.

C: Yup, exactly.

A: Over three series now, Casting Lots has looked at these horrific situations and seen that humanity can, and will do the unimaginable to survive, and that doesn’t make them any less human. You may have noticed by now that this is not going to be one of the funny ones.

A: We’re going to take a look at the history, the stories and the rumours of survival cannibalism in North Korea and I hope that you, our audience, understand that when we’re using rumours as a sizable part of our evidence we’re basing our conclusions on a backlog of historical and international evidence detailing the consequences of famine.

C: And I would say one more thing on the rumours side, is that as we’ve covered in some other episodes that have had perhaps less tangible evidence behind them or in fact may just be fictional entirely in some of the ones that I’ve done. That even when survival cannibalism can’t be proved categorically to have happened it can still be very interesting and worthwhile to look at when it’s been said to have happened, or what people’s thoughts and responses are to the rumour of it.

A: The reaction to the possibility.

C: Yeah, exactly, and how it’s received and how the information is fed out into the world is interesting.

A: Fed out.

(Carmella huffs a laugh)

C: No!

A: And this is the framework of how we’ve been looking at these unsubstantiated cases of survival cannibalism. Pour one out for Douglas Mawson here lads.

(Carmella laughs)

A: I’ve got to lighten the tone somewhere.

C: You’re never going to Douglas Mawson go are you?

A: He’s never going to let you go.

(Carmella laughs)

A: We are seeing a chronological shift away from cases of survival cannibalism being publicly acknowledged – at least in their most authenticated form – people don’t tend to be rescued with handfuls of human bones cupped in their hands any more.

C: Alas!

A: I miss the Essex. There’s a reason that the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries cases are such a gold-mine and we’ve already seen historians in the Great Famine of 13-whatever episode in Season Two undermining sources saying that if it can’t be proved then it must be a metaphot – but why would they say that starving people ate dead bodies because that’s absurd… in this sort of ooh “the past is a foreign country” way.

But, we know what can happen in famine, we know how and when survival cannibalism is resorted to. It’s not unreasonable to make educated assumptions and calculated guesses about whether or not a situation could result in survival cannibalism. And if you add to that rumours, speculation or out-and-out reports of survival cannibalism. It all points in one direction.

C: Cannibalism direction.

A: Cannibalism direction. Welcome to North Korea.

A: While North Korea is officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea we all know that it is a totalitarian dictatorship led Kim Jong-un. Following the annexation and subsequent creation for North Korea after World War Two, North Korea has been an isolated, insular nation, with ties with the Soviet Union and an absolutely appalling human rights record. Now, some of these elements are going to sound very familiar from our episodes on Russia, China and Ireland.

We’re going to start with the famine itself – or rather its origins, the land. North Korea is not a nation that has ever been able to sustain itself independently, and at first, following the Second World War North Korea’s economy was supported via trading with the Soviet Union, however, by the 1990s debts are being called in, aid budgets are being cut and North Korea cannot necessarily pay up. By this time the Soviet Union is having their own problems, that they’ve helped to cause.

C: Yeah, their own problems are happening to them.

A: Is it not the consequences of my own actions?!

A: For a brief time China is able and willing to step in to support North Korea economically, but again by the 1990s they too are in economic turmoil and the aid budget is once again, one of the first things to go.

C: The ‘get your own house in order’ thing.

A: North Korea needs to modernise and quickly. Only approximately 20% of land in North Korea is arable, that’s a low number to start with, follow that up with the fact that due to the climate that there is only one crop harvest per year so modernising farming to try and increase the yield seems like it should be quite a useful thing to do…

C: Hmhmm, sounds like a priority.

A: We have however leant that modernising farming techniques don’t tend to go well when they’re done quicky.

C: Yeah, quickly and under force.

A: I did a lot of research from official humanitarian reports, and one ‘State-Induced Famine and Penal Starvation in North Korea’ points out quite succinctly that quote, “continuous cropping” unquote, and use of chemical fertilizers in the 1980s eroded the soil quality, the soil that had then been eroded in quality then suffered from erosion because the mass deforestation

C: Hmhmm.

A: And then quote, “when the floods came, terraced hillsides simply collapsed” –unquote. Bit of a Year 8 Geography lesson.

C: Yeah.

A: Add into this the fact that most farming was still being done by hand, as opposed to by agricultural machinery.

C: Really? In the 90s?

A: In the 90s. The 1990s aren’t looking good. The time known as ‘Arduous March’ begins. Normally with an episode like this I would go chronologically, but because of the nature of the survival cannibalism sources I’m coming to, we’re going to look at the 1990s as a whole, looking at the Arduous March as a sweeping concept and all the devastation that it brought.

C: Cool, sounds like a plan.

A: I may have mentioned. Not one of the funny ones. North Korea cycles through rapid droughts and flooding in the 1990s, up to 30% of the country is affected devastating floods in the summer of ‘95, then an incredible drought in ‘96.

But let’s start with the policies designed to help… There’s a ‘two meal a day’ policy introduced in 1991, with public distribution of food to those affected by famine. But not all food is created equal, and your ration depended on your loyalty and your utility – a privileged worker would be allocated 900 grams of cereal, including rice, per day, with that dropping to 700 grams for an ‘ordinary worker’, 300 grams for someone who’s retired, and a mere 200 grams for a toddler. This is further reduced as the famine continues, down to 128 grams per day in 1997.

I’m unclear, but I assume that these weights are dried cereal, as opposed to cooked.

C: And how many grams of rice is in an ordinary portion? How many grams of pasta would you eat in a portion?

A: Don’t ask me that on the record!

(Carmella laughs)

C: How many grams of pasta would one eat as a portion?

(Alix laughs)

A: A fact that I definitely know off the top of my head, is that, it is recommended between 50-75 grams of uncooked rice.

C: So if you were eating that amount of rice but then with other things, that sounds fine. But if all you’re eating is rice/cereal that probably is not very much food.

A: And while that would be your average, say, rice intake as a meal, that’s probably not going to cover all of the calories you need to survive.

What about foreign aid? Are other countries allowed to step in? Well, I think we can all guess the answer to that one.

C: It’s certainly not going to be a balanced diet that prevents various deficiencies. […] Scurvy.

A: Yeah, my head went to scurvy as well. What about foreign aid? Are other countries allowed to step in to help? I think we can guess the answer to that one.

C: Is it no?

A: It is mostly no. A report by the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea states that “International humanitarian agencies were subject to restrictions contravening humanitarian principles. Aid organizations were prevented from properly assessing humanitarian needs and monitoring the distribution of aid. The State denied humanitarian access to some of the most affected regions and groups, including homeless children.”

C: Aww.

A: And, I hate to say it, but remember about the existence of homeless, often orphaned and unaccounted for children. We can all guess what’s coming.

The expected outcomes of famine emerge; criminal activity, begging and stealing. Foraging for anything vaguely nutritious, the eating of ‘inferior’ food and then, cannibalism.

Reports come in from defectors, from anonymous escapees and strangely from official North Korean records of state executions.

C: Hmm, interesting.

A: There are rumours in the ‘90s regarding the murders of homeless children and the public sale of human meat. Children were warned not to be alone at night, street food vendors were avoided. As quoted in the book ‘Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea’ a defector was told to quote, “Don’t buy any meat if you don’t know where it comes from.”

Refuges reported witnessing the execution of a 28-year-old man accused of eating a four-year-old child.

And “special meat” being sold at farmers’ markets was alleged to be human flesh.

C: That’s pretty grus- I dunno the farmer’s market detail, that’s gruesome, don’t know why. But that to me, eugh.

A: Anonymous North Korean ‘Witness 10’ on the record to the International Federation for Human Rights quote “explained that during the famine, cases of cannibalism were common, especially of isolated children, including orphans. In 1995 an entire family was executed for eating a man they had killed.”

Miss Lee, not her real name, spoke to the Washington Post of the famine of the 90s:

“We started seeing cannibalism, You probably won’t understand. When one is very hungry, one can go crazy. One woman in my town killed her 7-month-old baby, and ate the baby with another woman. That woman’s son reported them both to the authorities. I can’t condemn cannibalism. Not that I wanted to eat human meat, but we were so hungry. It was common that people went to a fresh grave and dug up a body to eat meat. I witnessed a woman being questioned for cannibalism. She said it tasted good.”

C: I mean, better than nothing.

A: If you’ve not been eating. Yeah.

C: That sounds like the Washington Post wanted to put that little bit in right. You know when journalists like ask questions to push for things?

A: Yeah.

C: Like, I dunno sounds like that was a solicited question. I dunno, maybe not. But…

A: Doctors Without Borders in 1998 complied reports from interviews with North Korean escapees and refugees lending believability to these reports of cannibalism. They gave examples of people resorting to eating their own children, and “quoted the director of an orphanage in the Chinese border town of Yanji as saying she met an 18-year-old North Korean refugee who said her neighbour killed, salted and ate an uncared-for orphan.”

C: That’s a chain of ‘he said -she said’ but when you have so many of them they all come together to create a picture, right?

A: There’s a lot of hearsay but it does generally point in a direction that either this is happening or everyone believes the situation is so bad that this can be happening.

C: Yeah.

A: I will comment that the Executive Director of the World Food Program, in 1998 following this report from Doctors Without Borders stated that she had seen no sign of survival cannibalism during a four-day visit to North Korea.

C: I mean, four days, aint that long.

A: Yeah… Marcel Roux one of the French aid workers who conducted the interviews said that “Nobody can prove anything in North Korea today because no one has access to reality, with the exception of those who flee the country.”

C: Hmm.

A: Pastor Kim Seun-Eun, who has helped over 1,000 North Koreans escape the country spoke in 2013 that quote, “There are people in North Korea who are so hungry they have turned to cannibalism. One man was shot dead, executed because he ate half of another human being and sold the rest as meat. People are living like animals in that country. I do what I can to get as many out as possible but it is very, very dangerous, especially for the people on the inside who help me.”

One defected military officer said that: “People are going insane with hunger. They even kill and eat their own infants. This kind of thing is happening in many places.”

C: Is it going insane, or is it being pushed by sever necessity? I don’t think it’s an irrational thing to do, that you have to be out of your senses to do, if you see what I mean. If you’re desperate enough that is, as horrible as it is to say, the logical thing to do and the thing you have to do.

A: It’s a horrific thing to do but that doesn’t, as you say, mean that you can’t get there logically.

C: I think that in a lot of these cases where sources have claimed that so-and-so went insane and did this, it’s easier to believe that someone has to be of unsound mind to resort to survival cannibalism because it’s so horrific to believe that someone of sound mind could be pushed to do that because then it could happen to any of us? Right.

A: People don’t want to believe that it could possibly be something that you sit down and discuss.

C: Exactly.

A: Yeah. Perhaps conditions are being exaggerated by those escaping in order to seek further sympathy and support. But maybe they aren’t.

And then we have the acknowledged reports of cannibalism within North Korea – as evidenced by people who alongside their families, as from an ordinance in 1958 three generations of an imprisoned persons family also have to be incarcerated with them-

C: Oh wow, okay.

A: People who are imprisoned, or executed for the crime of cannibalism. While this could be regarded as either blatant falsehoods or well ‘it was ‘bad cannibalism and evil murder cannibalism’ rather than survival cannibalism, when the list of crimes includes “petty trade, cultivating small plots of land, hoarding food, foraging, traveling within the country in search of food, stealing food, smuggling, black market activities, and cannibalism” it does seem quite self-evident the context of the cannibalism taking place.

C: Yeah, this isn’t some serial killer who wants to do cannibalism because they’re evil, it’s people who have to do it, right?

A: Reports gathered from the 1960s onwards, include that quote, “Cannibalism as a charge was mentioned 20 times” […] “with most of the executions associated with this charge having been witnessed directly by the interviewee (i.e., not hearsay).” That comes from Killings and Burials in North Korea Killings and Burials in North Korea. I would say that over 60 years, 20 authenticated reports of survival cannibalism resulting in execution, across multiple famines, is believable.

C: Yep, it comes together to create a body of evidence, right?

A: Yeah. As many of 3 million people died as a result of the Arduous March, with the effects and the aftermath leading to further crises both economic and nutritional.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea states that quote “hunger and malnutrition [the North Korean people] experienced has resulted in long-lasting physical and psychological harm.” And remember when we discussed the impacts that the Great Famine of 13-whenevers had on the people of Europe in the decades before the Black Death…

C: Yeah, it weakens your immune system and everything else really.

A: And we are in another global pandemic.

C: Oh yeah.

A: North Korea is still plagued by chronic food shortages and micro-famines which threaten lives, and lead people to eat other humans to survive.

Reports from 2003 that following another poor harvest there was meat that quote, “people know where [it comes] from but they don’t talk about it” being available for sale. Mr Lee, not his real name, when interviewed by the North Korean Refugees Assistance Fund (set up in China to smuggle food and medicine into North Korea) he stated that he feared for the lives of his grandchildren, who had vanished near a market and after a police raid of a restaurant, body parts were found and the owners were shot.

Requests by the UN to access these markets, were, according to the Telegraph, were turned down by Pyongyang due to “security reasons.”

C: Right.

A: Hmm. Further reports from 2003 state that quote, “if a funeral takes place during the day and the burial is performed that evening, the grave may be dug open and the body stolen before morning.”

C: Makes sense.

A: Now, I have to be completely honest, I do not understand the precise impact of the currency change of North Korea in 2006.

C: I do not think it would be false for me to say that this is the first time I’ve heard of that.

A: From what I’ve been able to gather it did not stabilise the markets and made an already bad situation worse. Following this change, on from 2006 further cases of cannibalism have been reported.

Defector XXX testified to witnessing a shooting of a father and son for cannibalism in the November 2006.

C: Sorry, they were shot for having done cannibalism, or they were shot to be cannibalised?

A: Good question. I presumed from the nature of the source that it was they had been executed.

C: Okay right.

A: Or they had been put to death.

C: Yeah okay.

A: It may not have been a state execution, I may be wrong. Now, I think that the Korea Institute for National Unification labels all of their sources as ‘Defector XXX’

C: Right.

A: As another Defector XXX reported of a different rumour, of a man in Yanngang Province executed in 2009 for eating human flesh. The executed man had allegedly killed a 10 year-old who was passing by and ate her flesh because he had nothing to eat; and this happened soon after the currency reform. And still it continues, there are further emerging rumours of the consumption of human body parts in 2011. There was allegedly a deadly drought in 2012, which was accompanied by a cyclone it left 21,000 people homeless and led to state aid being accepted from South Korea for the first time in decades.

C: That’s how you know it must have been bad, huh?

A: In 2013, reported in the Asia Press, which is based on Osaka, Japan, credible reports were published which were then taken up by the Sunday Times and Independent that quote “a man who killed his own two children and tried to eat them was [then] executed by a firing squad. While his wife was away on business he killed his eldest daughter and, because his son saw what he had done, he killed his son as well. When the wife came home, he offered her food, saying: ‘We have meat.’

(Carmella sighs)

C: Yeah.

A: That story has all the elements of a sick horror, especially the further details that his wife was suspicious, and notified the Ministry of Public Security, and that house had to be searched and the children’s bodies under the eaves of their home.

C: Yeah that sounds very true crime-y.

A: Quite propagandist almost. Yet, Jiro Ishimaru, from Asia Press said: “Particularly shocking were the numerous testimonies that hit us about cannibalism.” These stories have not only been reported on across Asia but believed. Citizen journalists such as Gu Gwang-ho, said: “There was an incident when a man was arrested for digging up the grave of his grandchild and eating the remains.”

An official of the Korean Workers Party, in 2013 was reported as saying that “In a village in Chongdan county, a man who went mad with hunger boiled his own child, ate his flesh and was arrested.”

C: It’s a lot of children in this episode isn’t it?

A: I think we might stick a warning on this one.

C: Wow.

A: We have finally reached the point.

C: Wow. Okay.

A: Published in 2018, a “credible defector” provided further details of the 2012 famine in the North and South Hwanghae Provinces, which are known as North Korea’s breadbasket, and it’s famine which was policy-induced. This resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands from starvation and was accompanied by reports of cannibalism across the provinces during that period. 2012. I can remember watching the North Korean women’s fencing team at the Olympics in 2012.

C: Eugh, yeah.

A: The fact that these were happening concurrently is a lot.

C: Yeah, this one is mindbogglingly recent, right?

A: In a notable change of tone from the 1990s the World Food Programme representative Gerald Bourke has since acknowledged that reports of survival cannibalism in North Korea is something that quote, “as in any desperately poor country, it is something we might stumble upon.”

C: Yeah.

A: That quote is technically the end of the episode but as I started researching this, in the April of 2021, Kim Jong-Un compared the current situation in North Korea directly to the 1990s famine, with the summer heat wave, drought and coronavirus impact has only made things worse. We’re going to include in the show notes of this episode links to Amnesty International and Connect North Korea, and I’ve donated all of the money I would have I spent on research to Amnesty International. I think for the first time we’ve needed to do something quite direct.

C: Yeah.

A: You’ll be pleased to know that that episode is now over. I told you it wasn’t a funny one.

[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]

C: Thank you for listening to Episode 4 on the Arduous March. That was the last famine of the season, I promise.

A: Join us next time as we head further back in time than ever before.

[Outro music continues]

A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.

C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.

A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.

[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]

C: I went to try and say, I was trying to say ‘the Sweeney Todd’ thing, but, I was (laughs) just about to say ‘the Oliver thing!’

(Alix cackles)

C: Yes! Just like the plot of Oliver!

A: Oh dear, I need to laugh, I need to laugh.

C: The Sweeny Todd thing yeah.

A: The expected outcomes of famine- (cuts off laughing) Sorry, I’m the Oliver thing.

C: Please sir, can I have some more?!

(Alix laughs)

  continue reading

57 bölüm

Artwork
iconPaylaş
 
Manage episode 307563833 series 2659594
İçerik Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis tarafından sağlanmıştır. Bölümler, grafikler ve podcast açıklamaları dahil tüm podcast içeriği doğrudan Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis veya podcast platform ortağı tarafından yüklenir ve sağlanır. Birinin telif hakkıyla korunan çalışmanızı izniniz olmadan kullandığını düşünüyorsanız burada https://tr.player.fm/legal özetlenen süreci takip edebilirsiniz.

Another week, another famine. This episode, Alix looks at a modern case of famine-induced survival cannibalism in North Korea.

CREDITS

Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.

Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.

Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.

Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

TRANSCRIPT

Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?

Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.

A: I’m Alix.

C: I’m Carmella.

A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…

[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]

A: Welcome to Episode 4, the Arduous March: a look at famine in North Korea.

[Intro music continues]

A: How have I ended up with two back-to-back famines again this season? Oh well, let’s start as we mean to go on – scantily sourced yet depressingly detailed.

C: Yaaaaay.

A: Carmella, would you like to learn about our most modern famine induced survival cannibalism to date?

C: …. That sounds highly chilling and very unpleasant. Yes?

A: Let’s go. This episode is going to involve a lot of “rumours circulate” and “it is reported” because, well, we’re going to be looking at the ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,’ especially focusing on the famine of the 1990s and the varying micro-famines since. And there is, to say, a lack of transparency when it comes to international relations between North Korea and… the rest of the world.

C: Yeah, you could say that.

A: I do like a disclaimer don’t I?

C: Here we go.

A: Can’t think why this topic would ever be considered libellous or anything. But, the main way we (aka, the rest of the world, aka the West, aka the bit of London that Casting Lots does its research from) the way we get our hands on information about North Korea comes in three forms – North Korean Propaganda (unlikely to tell us a lot about famine induced survival cannibalism).

C: Probably not in there, no.

A: First-hand accounts from those inside the country or those who have left North Korea (very difficult to authenticate, mostly anecdotal, limited tangible evidence) and official reports from human rights focused organisations… There is however, a very loud voice in this discussion which comes from people who are just being racist.

C: Yes, I think anyone who’s been on the internet has encountered that voice.

A: And that’s especially prevalent today because of the Covid-19 epidemic and in our topic specifically, the general population of the world associates survival cannibalism with barbarism, as opposed to necessity.

C: Yup.

A: So, we have to take rumours and stories with a pinch of salt. Pardon the food-based analogy. But anecdotes are some of the best evidence that we have but this episode is very much based on second-hand claims. Most of the newspapers and articles that I’ve looked at while researching this have normally hidden somewhere in their conclusion, a ‘oh it’s just a rumour that’s been spread, there’s no actual evidence and we’re not the ones who said there was cannibalism, we’re just reporting on what other people have said’ and, I get it, like, firstly, see aforementioned racism point above but also as we have covered people are squeamish about survival cannibalism, they always have been, they don’t like the idea that it really could happen, if it did happen it certainly happened in the cast and doesn’t happen today. That would just be unbelievable.

C: It happens to other people and not to us, etc, etc.

A: It always happens to another group.

C: Yup, exactly.

A: Over three series now, Casting Lots has looked at these horrific situations and seen that humanity can, and will do the unimaginable to survive, and that doesn’t make them any less human. You may have noticed by now that this is not going to be one of the funny ones.

A: We’re going to take a look at the history, the stories and the rumours of survival cannibalism in North Korea and I hope that you, our audience, understand that when we’re using rumours as a sizable part of our evidence we’re basing our conclusions on a backlog of historical and international evidence detailing the consequences of famine.

C: And I would say one more thing on the rumours side, is that as we’ve covered in some other episodes that have had perhaps less tangible evidence behind them or in fact may just be fictional entirely in some of the ones that I’ve done. That even when survival cannibalism can’t be proved categorically to have happened it can still be very interesting and worthwhile to look at when it’s been said to have happened, or what people’s thoughts and responses are to the rumour of it.

A: The reaction to the possibility.

C: Yeah, exactly, and how it’s received and how the information is fed out into the world is interesting.

A: Fed out.

(Carmella huffs a laugh)

C: No!

A: And this is the framework of how we’ve been looking at these unsubstantiated cases of survival cannibalism. Pour one out for Douglas Mawson here lads.

(Carmella laughs)

A: I’ve got to lighten the tone somewhere.

C: You’re never going to Douglas Mawson go are you?

A: He’s never going to let you go.

(Carmella laughs)

A: We are seeing a chronological shift away from cases of survival cannibalism being publicly acknowledged – at least in their most authenticated form – people don’t tend to be rescued with handfuls of human bones cupped in their hands any more.

C: Alas!

A: I miss the Essex. There’s a reason that the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries cases are such a gold-mine and we’ve already seen historians in the Great Famine of 13-whatever episode in Season Two undermining sources saying that if it can’t be proved then it must be a metaphot – but why would they say that starving people ate dead bodies because that’s absurd… in this sort of ooh “the past is a foreign country” way.

But, we know what can happen in famine, we know how and when survival cannibalism is resorted to. It’s not unreasonable to make educated assumptions and calculated guesses about whether or not a situation could result in survival cannibalism. And if you add to that rumours, speculation or out-and-out reports of survival cannibalism. It all points in one direction.

C: Cannibalism direction.

A: Cannibalism direction. Welcome to North Korea.

A: While North Korea is officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea we all know that it is a totalitarian dictatorship led Kim Jong-un. Following the annexation and subsequent creation for North Korea after World War Two, North Korea has been an isolated, insular nation, with ties with the Soviet Union and an absolutely appalling human rights record. Now, some of these elements are going to sound very familiar from our episodes on Russia, China and Ireland.

We’re going to start with the famine itself – or rather its origins, the land. North Korea is not a nation that has ever been able to sustain itself independently, and at first, following the Second World War North Korea’s economy was supported via trading with the Soviet Union, however, by the 1990s debts are being called in, aid budgets are being cut and North Korea cannot necessarily pay up. By this time the Soviet Union is having their own problems, that they’ve helped to cause.

C: Yeah, their own problems are happening to them.

A: Is it not the consequences of my own actions?!

A: For a brief time China is able and willing to step in to support North Korea economically, but again by the 1990s they too are in economic turmoil and the aid budget is once again, one of the first things to go.

C: The ‘get your own house in order’ thing.

A: North Korea needs to modernise and quickly. Only approximately 20% of land in North Korea is arable, that’s a low number to start with, follow that up with the fact that due to the climate that there is only one crop harvest per year so modernising farming to try and increase the yield seems like it should be quite a useful thing to do…

C: Hmhmm, sounds like a priority.

A: We have however leant that modernising farming techniques don’t tend to go well when they’re done quicky.

C: Yeah, quickly and under force.

A: I did a lot of research from official humanitarian reports, and one ‘State-Induced Famine and Penal Starvation in North Korea’ points out quite succinctly that quote, “continuous cropping” unquote, and use of chemical fertilizers in the 1980s eroded the soil quality, the soil that had then been eroded in quality then suffered from erosion because the mass deforestation

C: Hmhmm.

A: And then quote, “when the floods came, terraced hillsides simply collapsed” –unquote. Bit of a Year 8 Geography lesson.

C: Yeah.

A: Add into this the fact that most farming was still being done by hand, as opposed to by agricultural machinery.

C: Really? In the 90s?

A: In the 90s. The 1990s aren’t looking good. The time known as ‘Arduous March’ begins. Normally with an episode like this I would go chronologically, but because of the nature of the survival cannibalism sources I’m coming to, we’re going to look at the 1990s as a whole, looking at the Arduous March as a sweeping concept and all the devastation that it brought.

C: Cool, sounds like a plan.

A: I may have mentioned. Not one of the funny ones. North Korea cycles through rapid droughts and flooding in the 1990s, up to 30% of the country is affected devastating floods in the summer of ‘95, then an incredible drought in ‘96.

But let’s start with the policies designed to help… There’s a ‘two meal a day’ policy introduced in 1991, with public distribution of food to those affected by famine. But not all food is created equal, and your ration depended on your loyalty and your utility – a privileged worker would be allocated 900 grams of cereal, including rice, per day, with that dropping to 700 grams for an ‘ordinary worker’, 300 grams for someone who’s retired, and a mere 200 grams for a toddler. This is further reduced as the famine continues, down to 128 grams per day in 1997.

I’m unclear, but I assume that these weights are dried cereal, as opposed to cooked.

C: And how many grams of rice is in an ordinary portion? How many grams of pasta would you eat in a portion?

A: Don’t ask me that on the record!

(Carmella laughs)

C: How many grams of pasta would one eat as a portion?

(Alix laughs)

A: A fact that I definitely know off the top of my head, is that, it is recommended between 50-75 grams of uncooked rice.

C: So if you were eating that amount of rice but then with other things, that sounds fine. But if all you’re eating is rice/cereal that probably is not very much food.

A: And while that would be your average, say, rice intake as a meal, that’s probably not going to cover all of the calories you need to survive.

What about foreign aid? Are other countries allowed to step in? Well, I think we can all guess the answer to that one.

C: It’s certainly not going to be a balanced diet that prevents various deficiencies. […] Scurvy.

A: Yeah, my head went to scurvy as well. What about foreign aid? Are other countries allowed to step in to help? I think we can guess the answer to that one.

C: Is it no?

A: It is mostly no. A report by the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea states that “International humanitarian agencies were subject to restrictions contravening humanitarian principles. Aid organizations were prevented from properly assessing humanitarian needs and monitoring the distribution of aid. The State denied humanitarian access to some of the most affected regions and groups, including homeless children.”

C: Aww.

A: And, I hate to say it, but remember about the existence of homeless, often orphaned and unaccounted for children. We can all guess what’s coming.

The expected outcomes of famine emerge; criminal activity, begging and stealing. Foraging for anything vaguely nutritious, the eating of ‘inferior’ food and then, cannibalism.

Reports come in from defectors, from anonymous escapees and strangely from official North Korean records of state executions.

C: Hmm, interesting.

A: There are rumours in the ‘90s regarding the murders of homeless children and the public sale of human meat. Children were warned not to be alone at night, street food vendors were avoided. As quoted in the book ‘Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea’ a defector was told to quote, “Don’t buy any meat if you don’t know where it comes from.”

Refuges reported witnessing the execution of a 28-year-old man accused of eating a four-year-old child.

And “special meat” being sold at farmers’ markets was alleged to be human flesh.

C: That’s pretty grus- I dunno the farmer’s market detail, that’s gruesome, don’t know why. But that to me, eugh.

A: Anonymous North Korean ‘Witness 10’ on the record to the International Federation for Human Rights quote “explained that during the famine, cases of cannibalism were common, especially of isolated children, including orphans. In 1995 an entire family was executed for eating a man they had killed.”

Miss Lee, not her real name, spoke to the Washington Post of the famine of the 90s:

“We started seeing cannibalism, You probably won’t understand. When one is very hungry, one can go crazy. One woman in my town killed her 7-month-old baby, and ate the baby with another woman. That woman’s son reported them both to the authorities. I can’t condemn cannibalism. Not that I wanted to eat human meat, but we were so hungry. It was common that people went to a fresh grave and dug up a body to eat meat. I witnessed a woman being questioned for cannibalism. She said it tasted good.”

C: I mean, better than nothing.

A: If you’ve not been eating. Yeah.

C: That sounds like the Washington Post wanted to put that little bit in right. You know when journalists like ask questions to push for things?

A: Yeah.

C: Like, I dunno sounds like that was a solicited question. I dunno, maybe not. But…

A: Doctors Without Borders in 1998 complied reports from interviews with North Korean escapees and refugees lending believability to these reports of cannibalism. They gave examples of people resorting to eating their own children, and “quoted the director of an orphanage in the Chinese border town of Yanji as saying she met an 18-year-old North Korean refugee who said her neighbour killed, salted and ate an uncared-for orphan.”

C: That’s a chain of ‘he said -she said’ but when you have so many of them they all come together to create a picture, right?

A: There’s a lot of hearsay but it does generally point in a direction that either this is happening or everyone believes the situation is so bad that this can be happening.

C: Yeah.

A: I will comment that the Executive Director of the World Food Program, in 1998 following this report from Doctors Without Borders stated that she had seen no sign of survival cannibalism during a four-day visit to North Korea.

C: I mean, four days, aint that long.

A: Yeah… Marcel Roux one of the French aid workers who conducted the interviews said that “Nobody can prove anything in North Korea today because no one has access to reality, with the exception of those who flee the country.”

C: Hmm.

A: Pastor Kim Seun-Eun, who has helped over 1,000 North Koreans escape the country spoke in 2013 that quote, “There are people in North Korea who are so hungry they have turned to cannibalism. One man was shot dead, executed because he ate half of another human being and sold the rest as meat. People are living like animals in that country. I do what I can to get as many out as possible but it is very, very dangerous, especially for the people on the inside who help me.”

One defected military officer said that: “People are going insane with hunger. They even kill and eat their own infants. This kind of thing is happening in many places.”

C: Is it going insane, or is it being pushed by sever necessity? I don’t think it’s an irrational thing to do, that you have to be out of your senses to do, if you see what I mean. If you’re desperate enough that is, as horrible as it is to say, the logical thing to do and the thing you have to do.

A: It’s a horrific thing to do but that doesn’t, as you say, mean that you can’t get there logically.

C: I think that in a lot of these cases where sources have claimed that so-and-so went insane and did this, it’s easier to believe that someone has to be of unsound mind to resort to survival cannibalism because it’s so horrific to believe that someone of sound mind could be pushed to do that because then it could happen to any of us? Right.

A: People don’t want to believe that it could possibly be something that you sit down and discuss.

C: Exactly.

A: Yeah. Perhaps conditions are being exaggerated by those escaping in order to seek further sympathy and support. But maybe they aren’t.

And then we have the acknowledged reports of cannibalism within North Korea – as evidenced by people who alongside their families, as from an ordinance in 1958 three generations of an imprisoned persons family also have to be incarcerated with them-

C: Oh wow, okay.

A: People who are imprisoned, or executed for the crime of cannibalism. While this could be regarded as either blatant falsehoods or well ‘it was ‘bad cannibalism and evil murder cannibalism’ rather than survival cannibalism, when the list of crimes includes “petty trade, cultivating small plots of land, hoarding food, foraging, traveling within the country in search of food, stealing food, smuggling, black market activities, and cannibalism” it does seem quite self-evident the context of the cannibalism taking place.

C: Yeah, this isn’t some serial killer who wants to do cannibalism because they’re evil, it’s people who have to do it, right?

A: Reports gathered from the 1960s onwards, include that quote, “Cannibalism as a charge was mentioned 20 times” […] “with most of the executions associated with this charge having been witnessed directly by the interviewee (i.e., not hearsay).” That comes from Killings and Burials in North Korea Killings and Burials in North Korea. I would say that over 60 years, 20 authenticated reports of survival cannibalism resulting in execution, across multiple famines, is believable.

C: Yep, it comes together to create a body of evidence, right?

A: Yeah. As many of 3 million people died as a result of the Arduous March, with the effects and the aftermath leading to further crises both economic and nutritional.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea states that quote “hunger and malnutrition [the North Korean people] experienced has resulted in long-lasting physical and psychological harm.” And remember when we discussed the impacts that the Great Famine of 13-whenevers had on the people of Europe in the decades before the Black Death…

C: Yeah, it weakens your immune system and everything else really.

A: And we are in another global pandemic.

C: Oh yeah.

A: North Korea is still plagued by chronic food shortages and micro-famines which threaten lives, and lead people to eat other humans to survive.

Reports from 2003 that following another poor harvest there was meat that quote, “people know where [it comes] from but they don’t talk about it” being available for sale. Mr Lee, not his real name, when interviewed by the North Korean Refugees Assistance Fund (set up in China to smuggle food and medicine into North Korea) he stated that he feared for the lives of his grandchildren, who had vanished near a market and after a police raid of a restaurant, body parts were found and the owners were shot.

Requests by the UN to access these markets, were, according to the Telegraph, were turned down by Pyongyang due to “security reasons.”

C: Right.

A: Hmm. Further reports from 2003 state that quote, “if a funeral takes place during the day and the burial is performed that evening, the grave may be dug open and the body stolen before morning.”

C: Makes sense.

A: Now, I have to be completely honest, I do not understand the precise impact of the currency change of North Korea in 2006.

C: I do not think it would be false for me to say that this is the first time I’ve heard of that.

A: From what I’ve been able to gather it did not stabilise the markets and made an already bad situation worse. Following this change, on from 2006 further cases of cannibalism have been reported.

Defector XXX testified to witnessing a shooting of a father and son for cannibalism in the November 2006.

C: Sorry, they were shot for having done cannibalism, or they were shot to be cannibalised?

A: Good question. I presumed from the nature of the source that it was they had been executed.

C: Okay right.

A: Or they had been put to death.

C: Yeah okay.

A: It may not have been a state execution, I may be wrong. Now, I think that the Korea Institute for National Unification labels all of their sources as ‘Defector XXX’

C: Right.

A: As another Defector XXX reported of a different rumour, of a man in Yanngang Province executed in 2009 for eating human flesh. The executed man had allegedly killed a 10 year-old who was passing by and ate her flesh because he had nothing to eat; and this happened soon after the currency reform. And still it continues, there are further emerging rumours of the consumption of human body parts in 2011. There was allegedly a deadly drought in 2012, which was accompanied by a cyclone it left 21,000 people homeless and led to state aid being accepted from South Korea for the first time in decades.

C: That’s how you know it must have been bad, huh?

A: In 2013, reported in the Asia Press, which is based on Osaka, Japan, credible reports were published which were then taken up by the Sunday Times and Independent that quote “a man who killed his own two children and tried to eat them was [then] executed by a firing squad. While his wife was away on business he killed his eldest daughter and, because his son saw what he had done, he killed his son as well. When the wife came home, he offered her food, saying: ‘We have meat.’

(Carmella sighs)

C: Yeah.

A: That story has all the elements of a sick horror, especially the further details that his wife was suspicious, and notified the Ministry of Public Security, and that house had to be searched and the children’s bodies under the eaves of their home.

C: Yeah that sounds very true crime-y.

A: Quite propagandist almost. Yet, Jiro Ishimaru, from Asia Press said: “Particularly shocking were the numerous testimonies that hit us about cannibalism.” These stories have not only been reported on across Asia but believed. Citizen journalists such as Gu Gwang-ho, said: “There was an incident when a man was arrested for digging up the grave of his grandchild and eating the remains.”

An official of the Korean Workers Party, in 2013 was reported as saying that “In a village in Chongdan county, a man who went mad with hunger boiled his own child, ate his flesh and was arrested.”

C: It’s a lot of children in this episode isn’t it?

A: I think we might stick a warning on this one.

C: Wow.

A: We have finally reached the point.

C: Wow. Okay.

A: Published in 2018, a “credible defector” provided further details of the 2012 famine in the North and South Hwanghae Provinces, which are known as North Korea’s breadbasket, and it’s famine which was policy-induced. This resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands from starvation and was accompanied by reports of cannibalism across the provinces during that period. 2012. I can remember watching the North Korean women’s fencing team at the Olympics in 2012.

C: Eugh, yeah.

A: The fact that these were happening concurrently is a lot.

C: Yeah, this one is mindbogglingly recent, right?

A: In a notable change of tone from the 1990s the World Food Programme representative Gerald Bourke has since acknowledged that reports of survival cannibalism in North Korea is something that quote, “as in any desperately poor country, it is something we might stumble upon.”

C: Yeah.

A: That quote is technically the end of the episode but as I started researching this, in the April of 2021, Kim Jong-Un compared the current situation in North Korea directly to the 1990s famine, with the summer heat wave, drought and coronavirus impact has only made things worse. We’re going to include in the show notes of this episode links to Amnesty International and Connect North Korea, and I’ve donated all of the money I would have I spent on research to Amnesty International. I think for the first time we’ve needed to do something quite direct.

C: Yeah.

A: You’ll be pleased to know that that episode is now over. I told you it wasn’t a funny one.

[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]

C: Thank you for listening to Episode 4 on the Arduous March. That was the last famine of the season, I promise.

A: Join us next time as we head further back in time than ever before.

[Outro music continues]

A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.

C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.

A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.

[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]

C: I went to try and say, I was trying to say ‘the Sweeney Todd’ thing, but, I was (laughs) just about to say ‘the Oliver thing!’

(Alix cackles)

C: Yes! Just like the plot of Oliver!

A: Oh dear, I need to laugh, I need to laugh.

C: The Sweeny Todd thing yeah.

A: The expected outcomes of famine- (cuts off laughing) Sorry, I’m the Oliver thing.

C: Please sir, can I have some more?!

(Alix laughs)

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