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North Korea Lowers Height Requirements For Military Service

The famine that ravaged North Korea in the 1990s is having a tangible impact even 20 years later:

NORTH Korea has reduced the minimum height requirement for military conscripts because the current generation facing call-up was stunted by a deadly 1990s famine, a new report says.

Daily NK, a Seoul-based online newspaper run by North Korean defectors, said the military has cut the minimum height to 142 centimetres from 145 cm.

All able-bodied North Korean males aged 16-17 must begin mandatory service that lasts about a decade. Women deemed fit must also serve for a shorter period in the 1.2 million-strong military, the world’s fourth largest.

“There were too many short boys who don’t meet the previous height requirement… so the military is now accepting all who are taller than 142 cm,” said a North Korean source quoted by Daily NK.

The average height for South Korean boys of the same age is about 172 cm.

North Korean boys facing conscription this year were born in the mid-1990s – at the height of the famine that devastated the impoverished communist state and killed hundreds of thousands.

Child mortality during this period was high and the fertility rate low, causing an acute shortage of new conscripts, said the source.

“North Koreans say the country’s new generation is shrinking in size,” said the source, adding the army was still struggling to find enough new troops even after relaxing the physical requirements.

This is what happens when you starve a nation to death.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    Wow, that is short. At first, I thought I had made a mistake converting it to feet and inches.

    Yes, I have previously professed my love of the metric system, but I simply don’t know my height in cm off the top of my head (or even “of the top of my head”, har har).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. @Franklin:

    The Koreans have been one people for thousands of years, but 60 years of half of them being hidden behind the most repressive regime in the world seem to be causing them to have less and less in common, even physically. That’s going to make any eventual attempt at reunification much more difficult than what Germany went through I would imagine

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  3. One wonders how much of this is because they’re stunted due to malnutrition and how much is that small people, who need less food, can afford to have more children and thus there is a selective pressure for shortness genes.

    That is, if food supply suddenly became available, would subsequent children be full size again or not?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  4. merl says:

    It also makes infiltrators easier to spot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  5. Franklin says:

    @merl: Heh, reminds me of the giant they showed in Kim Jong Il’s funeral procession. Which guy doesn’t fit here?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. JKB says:

    4′ 8″ really. They’ll need shorter rifles, I think.

    Elevation -2, Windage, oh heck they keep blowing in the wind. Just fire close to the ground.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

  7. Ben Wolf says:

    We get a post on how the North Korean people are suffering terribly, and our resident warmonger, JKB, makes jokes about how to kill them more effectively.

    He’s a class act, that one is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

  8. JKB says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    We have a post about the North Korean military which has murdered many American service men along the DMZ and routinely kidnaps South Korean citizens. So yes, we need to be concerned how to more effectively kill them

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  9. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The Koreans have been one people for thousands of years, but 60 years of half of them being hidden behind the most repressive regime in the world seem to be causing them to have less and less in common, even physically. That’s going to make any eventual attempt at reunification much more difficult than what Germany went through I would imagine

    @Stormy Dragon:

    One wonders how much of this is because they’re stunted due to malnutrition and how much is that small people, who need less food, can afford to have more children and thus there is a selective pressure for shortness genes.

    That is, if food supply suddenly became available, would subsequent children be full size again or not?

    60 years is only 3 generations, this isn’t about genetics, this is about malnutrition.

    In the early 1970s, when anthropologist Barry Bogin first visited Guatemala, he observed that Mayan Indian men averaged only 1.575 m (5 ft 2 in) in height and the women averaged 1.422 m (4 ft 8 in). Bogin took another series of measurements after the Guatemalan Civil War had erupted, during which up to a million Guatemalans had fled to the United States. He discovered that Mayan refugees, who ranged from six to twelve years old, were significantly taller than their Guatemalan counterparts. By 2000, the American Maya were 10.24 cm (4.03 in) taller than the Guatemalan Maya of the same age, largely due to better nutrition and access to health care. Bogin also noted that American Maya children had a significantly lower sitting height ratio, (i.e., relatively longer legs, averaging 7.02 cm (2.76 in) longer) than the Guatemalan Maya.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. @PJ:

    It could be genetics. Looking around, our best estimate is that since the Korean War, the average North Korean family has had 2.5 children. If, at the end of the war, half the population had a “short” gene and half had a “tall” gene and the short couples have, on average, one more child than the tall couples, then in three generations, 78% of North Koreans would have the “short” gene.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  11. PJ says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    It could be genetics. Looking around, our best estimate is that since the Korean War, the average North Korean family has had 2.5 children. If, at the end of the war, half the population had a “short” gene and half had a “tall” gene and the short couples have, on average, one more child than the tall couples, then in three generations, 78% of North Koreans would have the “short” gene.

    That’s a lot of ifs and assumptions.
    My money is still on malnutrition.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  12. @PJ:

    My point is that even small changes in survivability can result in major shifts in the genetic pool over just a few generations. I suspect it’s a mix of malnutrition and genetics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  13. J-Dub says:

    The average height of North Koreans is converging with the average width of Americans. Nutrition is to blame for both.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1