Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Isn’t That Nice: South Korea sends birthday balloons for North Korea’s Kim Jong Il

Yesterday was North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il’s birthday. And as they’ve done sporadically for years, a group of South Korean activists sent some birthday balloons.

Of course, those balloons carried about 100,000 anti-North Korea propaganda leaflets  to the North Korean people, but you know, we all get birthday presents we don’t fully appreciate.

Honestly, I’m fascinated by this low-tech psychological warfare. It’s so old school — sending propoganda by helium balloon to incite the masses.

Apparently, it actuallly works. In 2008, The Economist wrote a story profiling a North Korean nurse who came across one of these pamphlets dropped from a balloon. She says  it planted a seed in her mind for a better life and before long, she escaped to South Korea.

In fact, North Korea has been so bothered by these balloons that in the winter of 2008, it threatended military action if the balloons continued to flow across the border (they were bluffing, as usual). Although the South Korean government stopped its own balloon wars in 2004, but they wouldn’t take a stand against human rights activists releasing the balloons. Then, after the North Korean attack of a navy submarine and increased tensions, the South Korean defense ministry announced it would begin the propaganda war anew. When North Korea attacked the residential island of Yeonpyeong, the military immediately responded with 400,000 of its own propaganda balloons. The balloons released yesterday was openly supported by South Korea’s president, President Lee Myung-bak.

Balloons typically carry DVDs and leaflets about the uprisings in Egypt, anti-communist writings, dollar bills, transistor radios and plenty of insults against Kim Jong-Il, including calling North Korea “the Republic of Fat.”

But balloons aren’t all fun and games for South Korea. Last summer, the South Korean government panicked when residents of a small town near Seoul reported 40-50 objects resembling parachutes landing on a nearby mountain. When police and military personnel arrived, they found the objects were just balloons released by a nearby school.

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