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[Opinion] Tall South, Short North

Posted November. 22, 2006 06:55,   


Napoleon was standing on a chair to take out a book from a shelf. One of the soldiers standing nearby approached him and said, “Excuse me, but allow me to help you.” Napoleon frowned and said, “It’s not that you are taller than I. It’s just that your back is higher than mine.” Napoleon was not well nourished as a child and grew up a member of a poor family in Corsica, which was a colony of France. It is said that he was afflicted by a sense of inferiority throughout his life because of his lack of height.

Unlike us, who work out for the sake of health and leisure, people in North Korea exercise in order to become “communist human beings who will contribute to revolution, construction, and national defense.” This includes doing “exercises for growing tall.” Senior middle school students are obliged to play volleyball and basketball and do bar, rope, and vaulting horse exercises. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has even set up the national standard of average height at age 16 as 165cm for males and 160cm for females. Nevertheless, the effects of such a measure are never mentioned. On the reverse, they even lowered the height of males to join the army from “above 150cm” to “above 148cm” from the mid 1990s. In South Korea, it is 159-195cm.

As of 2005, the average height of residents aged between 20 and 39 in North Korea is 154.9cm for females and 165.6cm for males. These numbers are much lower than those of South Korea where the average height is 159.1cm for females and 172.5cm for males. Records of the 1930s, the Japanese colonial era, say that the height of male in Northern Joseon was 166cm, which was 3.5cm higher than that in Southern Joseon, 162.5cm. North Koreans have maintained the same height while South Koreans have grown by 10cm. How big would the gap grow 10-20 years from now? We really might become two “different races.”

Being incapable of feeding its own people the minimum amount of food required for survival, the North Korean regime is the biggest blame for the shortness of North Koreans. The right to live is the most basic right of human beings. Human beings would be no better than beasts if we were unable to eat. The rights to liberty and peace we enjoy in South Korea are luxury items for them. The regime will be able to live up to its name, “Democratic People`s Republic of Korea,” only when it sells off weapons in exchange for food with which to feed its people. Would “utopia” be realized by developing nuclear weapons while the people starve to death?

Yuk Jeong Soo, Editorial Writer, sooya@donga.com