Nuclear Nightmare: Understanding North Korea

Meet Kim Jong II, leader of North Korea - a nation imprisoned by poverty and with a population so hungry, people eat bugs and grass. Now this megalomaniacal dictator is holding the civilized world hostage with what many see as a cunning strategy of extortion, threatening to develop an arsenal of nuclear weapons. It’s a strategy by which the United States has indicated it cannot abide. In a joint production between the Discovery Channel and the New York Times, go behind the headlines to discover the little-understood origins and almost-stranger-than-truth facets of this dangerous confrontation. See a side of Kim Jong Il rarely revealed - his love of slasher flicks and his affinity for prostitutes - and learn why the United States may have no other palatable option than to play ball with Kim, allowing him to continue his weapons development program. It’s quite literally a race against time - if North Korea, as it promises, goes into nuclear production mode, giving Kim as many as 10 nuclear bombs within six months, it would create a destabilizing offensive nuclear capability that could touch off a regional arms race...and even nuclear war. It’s a game of international intrigue and high-stakes military strategy. But more importantly, it’s the story of destitute North Korea and its bizarre leader, and how he has brought the U.S. and the world face-to-face with the unimaginable. —Product Description from
Year Released
Running Time
50 min.
Discovery Channel
Average: 3 (1 vote)


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Reviewed by Gina Lombardi

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies
Posted On: 05/27/2011

9th Grade Social Studies Teacher
Plum Borough School District
Nuclear Nightmare: Understanding North Korea is a documentary based film that describes the nuclear threat North Korea poses to the rest of the world under their current leader, Kim Jong-il. The goal of the documentary is to inform students why North Korea poses such a threat to the world and how this completely isolated country has come to be so feared. The documentary begins by briefly outlining the long peaceful history of Korea as a united country. The peaceful history is soon interrupted when the Japanese occupy the country during World War II and commit terrible cruelties against the Korean people.
At the conclusion of World War II, the Korean people believe independence is around the corner. However, the people of Korea are surprised to learn that Communist Russia has occupied North Korea immediately following the war and once again their citizens are suppressed. With Russia now in control of North Korea, the viewer witnesses the rise of the nation's first dictator, Kim ll Sung. With the shift in power, the film outlines the events surrounding the Korean War and the impact it forever made on the people of North Korea. The viewer is exposed to the horrendous social, political and economic conditions in which the citizens of North Korea lived under during Kim ll Sung's years in office. Through skillful propaganda campaigns and brainwashing, students are able to understand how Kim ll Sung created an empire of adoring followers.
The second half of the documentary focuses on current world happenings involving North Korea, nuclear weapons and the threat to the rest of the world. The film describes to the viewer how and when Kim Jong-il, son of Kim ll Sung, took over as leader of North Korea. The viewer is once again exposed to the social, political and economic conditions in which the citizens of North Korea live under with Kim Jong-il in leadership. However, this portion of the film focuses more on the political encounters of the United States, North Korea and the issue of nuclear weapons by highlighting the foreign affairs of the Clinton and Bush administrations as well as providing a detailed briefing of just who Kim Jong-il truly is.
Age Appropriate
I would recommend the film for students in grades 9 through 12. The content and historical topics are more age appropriate for high school students. This film could be used in courses that study (but not limited to) United States History, World History, Current Events and/or Government.
Recommendations For The Classroom
I would recommend using this film a number of ways. This documentary can be used in its entirety or chunked to fit the educational needs of the course. If using the entire documentary, it could be used to teach students why Korea (North and South) is the way it is today. In conjunction with the film, classroom instruction could focus on a number of content related topics. Topics could include the reasons for Japanese occupation of Korea during WWII, the events that led to the Korean War in the 1950s as well as the two drastically different Koreas that formed following the war. A further breakdown of each of the topics previously stated could include an analysis of the vastly contrasting political, social and economic characteristics of the North Korea, the United States and/or South Korea.
This film could also be used to provide students with a greater understanding of present day foreign affairs and the threat of nuclear warfare. The one downfall of the film is that it stops at the Bush administration; therefore, students are left wondering what happened next. It is very important for the teacher to provide the students with present day content that the film does not cover. Much has happened between North Korea and the United States since 2003. A great activity to show students how the issues with North Korea have escalated over the years would be to have students compare and contrast the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations encounters with North Korea. Another idea for the classroom is to focus on the topic of nuclear weapons. Topics could include who has nuclear weapons, what are the threats involving nuclear weapons, what legislation has been created to address nuclear weapons as well as why is there a need to regulate nuclear weapons in North Korea.
The film does provide the viewer with a history of why relationships are the way they are between North Korea and the United States. However, the film's downfall is that it does not contain the most up-to-date information on this particular world happening.