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The War Nerd February 6, 2003
Berserkers with Red Stars: North Korean Scenarios
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 2 of 3
The Burmese were sorta cheesed. They broke diplomatic relations with North Korea. But the North didn't seem to mind. Kim Jong Il doesn't play safe. He goes all out, and damn the consequences.

And he doesn't mind killing off a few civilians along the way, either. He's willing to break as many eggs as necessary to make the proverbial omelet. In 1987, North Korean agents planted a bomb on a Korean Air flight. 135 people were killed. Kimmy J., who supposedly ordered this operation himself, just decided blowing up a randomly-selected Korean Air flight would be a good way of scaring tourists off going to Seoul for the 1988 Olympics.

The bomb had been planted by two agents, a man and a woman. Both of them took their poison pills when they were caught. He died like he was supposed to, but her pill must've been stepped -- on cheap stuff, because she survived. She's practically the only one ever captured alive. North Korean agents are harder to keep alive in captivity than Great White Sharks.

These were small operations. But some of the North's operations have been really big, more like irregular warfare than terrorism. The biggest were in the sixties, around the time of the Tet Offensive, when the North Koreans were trying to copy the tactics that were working for the NVA/VC. In 1968, a team of thirty-one Northern elite troops in South Korean Army (ROK) uniforms almost bluffed their way into the Presidential palace in Seoul before they were spotted. Twenty-eight out of thirty-one died in the firefight that followed, either killed by ROK troops or by suicide.

That same year, the North landed a really big force, 120 men, on the East coast of S. Korea. The story is classic Korean stuff: dead serious, bloody as a slaughterhouse, and all the same, kind of comical. The North Korean infiltrators were trying to start a Vietnam-style uprising, but without any of the patience or finesse the VC had. They just herded all the local villagers together at gunpoint and announced that all the men would join the Korean Workers' Party and all the women would sign up for the Women's Union.

But the villagers were Korean too, which means they were natural-born extremists themselves -- and since they were from the South, they were natural-born anti-communists. So a ten-year-old boy announced that he hated commies. Naturally, the North Korean troops were offended, so they killed the kid. This did not help in their struggle to win the hearts & minds of the locals, a few of whom snuck off to tell the South Korean army about the new visitors. The ROK surrounded the village and the Northerners, naturally, fought to the death.

Out of 120 infiltrators, exactly seven were captured alive, probably because they were unconscious from wounds and unable to finish themselves off. There hasn't been an army so stubborn about not being taken alive since the Imperial Japanese Army went out of business.

No matter how many times it fails, the North still seems to like the coastal-infiltration technique. After all, Korea's a peninsula with a complicated rocky coastline -- lots of places to put men ashore without too many spectators. Who knows how often they're surfacing to drop off new agents? We only hear about a few of their failures.

The biggest recent one we know about was in 1996, when a Northern sub dropped off 26 men, some in ROK uniforms, some in civvies, and all lugging guns. They even brought rocket launchers, which might've been kind of a giveaway when these guys were trying to blend in with the locals. Just imagine some wild-eyed child of Kim Il Sung's regime, all got up in slacker clothes, trying to act casual walking in from the beach still sopping wet with a big RPG-7 over his shoulder. He runs into a South Korean fisherman and tries to do his best imitation of a harmless surfer: "Hey, dude, everything cool? GOUGE OUT THE EYES OF THE IMPERIALIST-Whoops, I mean hang loose, dude!"

That's what I mean about the North having focus but no finesse. The Vietnamese would've sent their men one at a time, unarmed, and given them a few months to get jobs and settle in. But those Kims -- they're just impulsive guys. They want it all now.

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Gary Brecher
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