Weird North Korea Stories That Are 100% True

North Korean life is a combination of poverty, presentation, propaganda, and intense militarism. As such, weird stories about what the country does to make it look like an actual country - as opposed to a corrupt dictatorship - are everywhere. Every time North Korea does something bizarre, it reminds the world how fragile the country is - held together by a cult of personality, and shared delusions.

Strange and crazy North Korean stories involve everything from Chinese "fans" hired to cheer for their World Cup team, to the lengths they go to to prove that they are the superior Korea, and incredibly graphic murals and propaganda children are exposed to. Ironically, Americans are also shown this same material, and can admire the unfinished luxury hotel in the country's capital, surf English-language homepage of the nation, and go to museums full of atrocities committed by Americans.

Here are some of the strangest things about North Korea - facts that go beyond the poverty and backwards nature of the people, to show how surreal a place it really is.
Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen / via Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

  • They Attacked South Korea with Poop Balloons

    They Attacked South Korea with Poop Balloons
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

    The 2016 "hydrogen bomb" test by North Korea prompted a salvo of propaganda balloons floated over the DMZ by the South. The North responded with their own fusillade of balloons, but these weren't filled with just propaganda, but with garbage. As in actual garbage, including cigarette butts and used toilet paper.

    When they popped over South Korea, their human waste-covered messaged floated down to earth. South Korean authorities were concerned it was some sort of biomedical attack, but it turned out to just be crappy propaganda.
  • They Published a Letter From "Abraham Lincoln" to Obama

    It's common for the North to throw operatic insults at the military and diplomatic skill of both South Korea and the US. In April 2016, they went one step further, conjuring a letter from deceased 16th president Abraham Lincoln to President Obama. The "Lincoln letter" was published on the internal state-run website DPRK Today, and was titled "Advice from Lincoln to Obama."

    Concern trolling Obama by saying that it looks like he has "a lot on his mind," the letter scolds him and the US for not reducing their nuclear weapons stockpile, while simultaneously demanding the DPRK reduce theirs. "Lincoln" even throws himself under the bus, saying the American people won't stand to be deceived the way he did back in the day.

  • They Built a Fake City to Intimidate South Korea

    The North Korean border village Kijong-dong sports rows of new houses and offices, a school, a massive radio tower, farm fields bursting with crops, maintenance works, and even a hospital. What it doesn't have, though, is people. It's entirely fake, likely built as a carrot to entice South Koreans to defect.

    Up until 2004, the North used it as a massive base for loudspeakers to blast propaganda at the South. Then both sides agreed to stop propaganda broadcasts, and the village simply sits there, empty.

  • Schools Are Filled with Incredibly Violent Propaganda

    North Korean tourists tell of the omnipresence of propaganda. From giant statutes to tiny red pins worn by Pyongyang residents, images of the Kim family and their glory are everywhere. The propaganda is especially virulent in schools, which are tasked with molding young minds to the North Korean philosophy of self-reliance.

    How do they do this? Through murals on the walls, some of which are of the standard scenes of the Dear Leader frolicking with his happy people. But others show insanely graphic war scenes, painting everything from adorable cartoon children killing US soldiers to fully realized adults standing victorious over heaps of bloody bodies.
  • They Once Nearly Went to War Over a Tree Stump

    The "Axe Murder Incident" of 1976 started as a simple operation and nearly turned into a shooting war. UN Checkpoint 3 had been the site of numerous North Korean attempts to kidnap US troops. But the view of it was partially blocked by a tree, so US troop went out to cut it down. They were ambushed by North Korean troops, who claimed the tree had been personally planted by Kim Il Sung. They attacked the lightly armed US troops with axes, killing two.

    The US responded by mobilizing massive force to remove the tree, sending hundreds of soldiers armed with machine guns and rocket launchers, moving tanks and attack helicopters into attack positions, and putting every American soldier in South Korea on alert. The tree was cut down without incident, but two North Korean observation posts were vandalized and the stump was left as a reminder of UN power.
  • They Hired Actors to Cheer for Their World Cup Team

    North Korea has draconian restrictions on who can leave the country - yet they had thousands of fans on hand in South Africa to watch the team play, including in a hard-fought loss to Brazil. Did the Kim family relax their travel restrictions? Nope, they sent thousands of paid Chinese actors instead.

    ESPN commentator Martin Tyler summed up his bafflement perfectly on the broadcast of the Brazil/North Korea match, saying, "We are told that the supporters of North Korea aren't North Koreans - they're handpicked actors from China who have been sent here to act out the part of North Korean fans. I haven't found one I can speak to, who can speak back to me to tell me whether that's the case - I doubt he'd tell me the truth if that is the case."