North Korea has ordered its armed forces to hold a day of appreciation for the country’s soldiers, complete with a feast of dog meat believed to boost their stamina, with military officials made to foot the bill, sources in the military told RFA.
With the country’s economy faltering under the combined weight of years of international nuclear sanctions and a near-complete suspension of imports due to the coronavirus pandemic, military units in North Korea are underequipped and poorly fed.
Even before the pandemic it was not uncommon for soldiers in rural areas to spend much of the year working on farms to grow corn, rice, and other staples to feed their units.
Soldiers’ Day is an annual event created by the country’s leader Kim Jong Un so that the country’s fighting men can enjoy a decent meal for a change. In some years, the military units can choose to hold it in the dead of winter and in other years in the hottest days of the summer.
But this year, Soldier’s Day literally be among the so-called dog days of summer.
“The General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army has issued an order to organize Soldiers’ Day during the hottest period of this summer,” a military source in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean Service.
“According to the order, all military officials have to provide one dog per two officials to feed the soldiers on Soldiers’ Day, and the officials are strongly opposing the order,” said the source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
Meat of any kind in North Korea is hard to come by, and dog meat, considered a summer delicacy with purported virility-enhancing properties, is expensive.
Though many officials in North Korea can use their authority to collect bribes from people, the many military officials with no interaction with the public cannot supplement their income with bribery, so buying dog meat is a major expense, according to the source.
“They have to use their own money to pay for dog meat at the market unless they have a dog at home,” the source said.
“If they don’t comply with the order, with the excuse that they have no money, the officials and even their families will face the humiliation of having to be publicly criticized for negligence in executing the Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un’s orders, so there are many military officials who are borrowing money to buy the dog meat,” the source said.
The source said that in past years, Soldiers’ Day had been a burden for military officials and their families because they had to prepare a feast for the soldiers, but this year the added requirement of providing dog meat is putting an even bigger strain on them and their families.
“The officials are resisting the authorities’ coercive order because these days, even military officials don’t get sufficient supply, and their families are suffering from hunger.”
Another military source, from the northwestern province of North Pyongan, told RFA that dog meat sellers there increased their prices after learning about the order.
“It was 15,000 won (U.S. $2.50) per kilogram (2.2 pounds), but now it is 20,000 won, and the price of a whole dog has risen to more than 200,000 won, so military officials are getting worried,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
The price of a kilogram of rice on the same day was about 6,200 won ($ 0.99), according to figures from Japan-based AsiaPress. The Korea Joongang Daily reported in 2018 that the average monthly salary provided by the government was 4,000 won at the time worth about $0.50.
The cost of complying with the dog meat order is so high that some officials are even risking their lives to comply with it.
“A few days ago, an accident happened to a non-commissioned officer of a unit under the 8th Corps while he was trying to climb aboard a train with beans in his backpack he got from his wife’s family, which he intended to use to buy a dog for Solder’s Day.” The second source said.
“He could not bear the weight of the backpack and fell off the train and died,” said the second source.
The order has military officials questioning why they are made to sacrifice everything for dog meat, when they are already struggling to eat, according to the source.
“The General Political Bureau did not consider the actual situation of the military units and are only using them to look good to the commander-in-chief” the second source said.
“The military officials are saying that they do not understand who the People’s Army is really for.”
Dog meat is available at marketplaces in both North and South Korea, but the dog meat trade has questionable legality in the South. In 2018 a South Korean court ruled that killing dogs for their meat was illegal, but the law did not specifically ban the sale or consumption of dog meat.
North Korea’s total military personnel of 1.47 million in 2018 ranked it third in the world that year, behind only China and India, and the country remains technically at war with South Korea and its ally the United States.
According to 2019 data from the CIA World Factbook, North Korea spent between 22 and 24 percent of its GDP on its military, or roughly U.S. $3.7 billion to $4.2 billion each year between 2007 and 2017.
Reported by Myung Chul Lee for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jinha Shin. Edited by Eugene Whong.