North Korean Traffic Cop Wins Nation’s Highest Military Honor

Today’s installment of “Weird Things About North Korea” is particularly strange:

North Korea caused even more bafflement than usual when, on Wednesday, it announced that a lowly traffic cop would receive the state’s highest honor, a medal called “The Hero of the Republic.” The award is typically reserved for military derring-do or nuclear scientists. More confusing still was the official announcement, which stated with conspicuous vagueness that the “traffic girl,” as they’re typically called, was being honored for “safeguarding the security of the headquarters of the revolution in an unexpected circumstance.” What circumstance? What does “safeguarding” mean?

An official state video showed the traffic cop, a young woman name Ri Kong Sim, convulsing with emotion as she received her award.

The conspiracy theories flowed quickly, with a North Korean defector organization suggesting that she may have saved leader Kim Jong Un from an assassination attempt. According to some thinly sourced reports, North Korean agents may have staged car accidents in the past to kill their targets.

It turns out, though, that the explanation may be considerably more modest. New Focus International, a North Korean news organization that sources from defectors and from volunteer citizens within the country, says that its sources in Pyongyang indicate that Ri “received the award for putting out a fire that broke out near a propaganda poster.” The poster allegedly bore the name of leader Kim Jong Un.

This explanation might sound absurd, but it’s not implausible. I suggested this could be the case in my original post on Ri’s mysterious award, noting that North Korea often grants high honors to people who simply save official portraits of its national rulers. Those omnipresent portraits, like the Eucharist at a Catholic mass, are considered quasi-holy symbols of everything that’s supposed to matter in the North Korean state ideology.

At some point, the veil is going to be lifted on this bizarre family dictatorship of a nation. At that point, I’m sure we’re going to learn things that are going to make this sound perfectly normal.

FILED UNDER: Asia, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mark Ivey says:

    ““received the award for putting out a fire that broke out near a propaganda poster.”


  2. gVOR08 says:

    Would salacious suggestions as to how the girl earned her medal violate commenting guidelines?

  3. john personna says:

    Might I suggest ladies …. North Korean Traffic Cop for Halloween? It could work.

  4. Matt says: