[FOUNTAIN]Feeding children little but ideologyThe symbol of the Sonyondan ― the Boys’ Band of North Korea ― is the red kerchief. North Korean boys from age seven to 13 take this oath: “As part of the faithful reserve troops to build communism, I swear before the Sonyondan to grow up to be a strong person.” This ceremony is pathetic to see on North Korean television. It becomes even worse when the screen is filled with a close-up of the eyes of one of these boys, who should be growing up free but are shouting for revolution.
The Sonyondan has a long history. Founded in June of 1946, the organization is about to turn 60. But its origins go further back. It is known that around 1930, when Kim Il Sung was a guerrilla fighter against Japan, a form of Sonyondan existed at Milmyeong, a secret guerilla camp at Mount Baekdu.
Lee Jong-san, a North Korean representative to next week’s commemoration in Russia of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, was a Sonyondan member. At the age of 11, Mr. Lee served as adjutant for Kim Il Sung at Milmyeong. Even the girls who helped prepare meals for the guerrillas were later honored as the “Cook Squad” (jaksik). These young people, dubbed the first revolutionary generation, have been at the center of power for decades.
The legend of the Sonyondan continues. Its more than three million members are trained to be “devotees and dutiful sons of general Kim Jong-il.” It’s sometimes said that children are kings in North Korea. When Kim Il Sung was alive, he ordered “children’s palaces” built all over the country, saying, “If children are king, wherever they play and study is the palace.”
But the reality is quite different. Childhood in the North has fallen apart as surely as the dream of eating rice with a decent bowl of meat soup. There are children in clothes worse than rags, fainting from hunger. This is not what North Korea promised its wearers of the red kerchief.
The South Korean government has begun a five-year plan to help North Korean infants and women in labor. North Korea now has to face the reality of getting outside help to protect its children. Pyongyang should be thinking about more than its nuclear plant at Yongbyon, because children are its hope and its future.
by Lee Young-jong
The writer is a reporter for the JoongAng Ilbo.