Charting the Korean War’s Missing Troops

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, Policy & Politics, South Korea

I wrote recently about the effort to get North Korea to return some of the remains of United States troops who are still unaccounted for since the Korean War.

More than 7,000 troops — almost all presumed dead — never came home after the conflict, which ended with an armistice in 1953. There’s new hope that recent diplomacy between the United States and North Korea might allow some of those remains to come home.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, whose mission is to find these troops from several past conflicts and identify them, posts data on those from the Korean War.

My friend Bob Rudis graciously helped me free the data from its original PDF format (though the agency later released a spreadsheet in response to my requests). BTW: Bob did an excellent job documenting his process for cleaning the data and creating a chart.

I had to give some visualizations a try, too.

More than 30,000 United States troops died in the war, a brutal conflict dramatically changed by the involvement of Chinese forces after an initially strong advance into the North by the Americans early in the fighting.

Many of those who never came home were pilots, like one I profiled recently, or ground troops engaged in tough fighting at places like the Chosin Reservoir.

Here’s the timeline for when these “unaccounted for” troops were lost over the course of the war (the winter 1950 spikes represent the Chinese counterattack and the Chosin Reservoir battle):

Here are the days of the week in which those losses occurred. This could be random chance, but some 300 troops were reported lost on Dec. 2, 1950, as especially fierce fighting with the Chinese erupted during a battle around Yudam-ni. It was a Thursday:

Most of those lost were, of course, from the U.S. Army, which endured heavy casualties. The soldiers’ fates were made more perilous by the freezing weather conditions:

The most populous states, as you’d expect, lost the most troops. Those still missing came from all over the United States, though, and this map shows the rate of loss per 10,000 population (as of 1950). States such Alaska, Nevada and some in the Northeast and Mid Atlantic experienced a disproportionate loss.

You can get the data here and, again, check out Bob Rudis’ own documentation showing how the data were converted from PDF and visualized using R.

Who’s Competing at Pyeongchang? A Breakdown By Sports, Nations, Genders

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: South Korea, Sports

More than 2,900 athletes from 92 nations and territories are competing in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The event has 15 different sports (and many events within each). Which sports have the most athletes? Hockey, which requires a 23-person roster, leads the list, followed by largely individual sports, such as alpine and cross-country skiing:

Here’s how those sports break down by the number of competing countries. Again, alpine skiing is a main draw:

Here’s a breakdown of participation in each sport by gender:

And, finally, a look at how each continent is represented proportionally by sport:

Image courtesy South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism

Which Countries Sent the Most Athletes to Pyeongchang?

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, South Korea, Sports

Because I live in Seoul and work as a journalist, I’m paying close attention to the Winter Olympics as they open tonight in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

I don’t know much about the Winter Games’ history, so I decided first to research which countries are here. Europe dominates:

Here’s a world map (Russia has many athletes here, but they’re not eligible for medals because of a doping scheme):

And a table, so you can look up specific countries (there are 93 in total).

Visualizing Income Equality in Major World Economies

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, Economy & Finance, South Korea

Years after a global crisis, the world’s largest economies are again growing, The New York Times reported over the weekend.

Every major economy on earth is expanding at once, a synchronous wave of growth that is creating jobs, lifting fortunes and tempering fears of popular discontent.

A tweet on the subject prompted a friend to respond with a question about whether income inequality has grown — and that in turn prompted a quick exploration of data provided by the World Bank.

One of its many indicators is the GINI index, which measures income distribution by country and creates a score. A 0 score means absolute equality, and 100 represents absolute inequality.

These data, based on country-by-country surveys, are imperfect and incomplete, with most countries missing several years of data. The United States, for example, had only five annual estimates in the last two decades. South Korea, where I live now, had only four. Strangely, a few smaller countries had more complete data. Honduras had all but one year, for example.

Given these limits, I focused on the top-25 economies, some of which were missing scores. In these cases, I carried over the most-recent data to maintain a consistent, if imprecise, trend line.

The data are interesting in some cases. Here are the countries, listed in order of their gross national product rankings:

The Curious Case of South Korea’s Vanishing Washing Machine Exports

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Economy & Finance, South Korea

The Trump administration last week announced that it planned to impose higher fees, known as tariffs, to countries that export washing machines and solar panels the United States.

The tariffs, prompted by complaints from American companies who feel disadvantaged by global trade, were applied across the world — even though they seem primarily aimed at two nations who dominate the market: China and South Korea.

That’s in part because both countries have moved their manufacturing around to avoid such duties. In South Korea’s case, the change in strategy by companies like LG and Samsung seems remarkably obvious in trade data — on washing machines, in particular.

A bit of background: The U.S. Census Bureau keeps detailed data on specific product exports, by country, to the United States. The data reflect the total export value by year and national origin — where the ships came from, essentially — not by companies’ home countries. So Samsung products made in China and exported from China look like Chinese exports.

This graphic shows one possible scenario for how the strategy played out. Washing machine exports from South Korea to the United States dropped dramatically, for example, after a complaint filed in late 2011 by Whirlpool, an American manufacturer. A year later, exports from China increased significantly (and have since fallen, perhaps reflecting other shifts in manufacturing locations, such as Southeast Asia, Mexico and/or the United States itself).

The Times’ story noted the South Korean companies’ concerns:

Samsung and LG described Whirlpool’s case as a protectionist grab designed to shut out products that American consumers find more attractive, and argued that such restrictions on their products would hurt consumers by raising prices.

The export change appears to be because South Korean washing machine companies moved their operations to China during 2013 — and later the the United States — perhaps in an effort to avoid the complaints or looming tariffs. Or because the change was good business for the companies.

Anyway, the data seems pretty obvious:

Mapping the United States’ Korean Population

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: South Korea

I’ve often felt fortunate that I get to write about South Korea for the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper that’s still interested in stories related to life, politics and culture here — not just the strongman to the North.

That interest is in part because the Times remains a serious paper that’s trying to stay committed to foreign news, but also because a decent portion of its readers are Korean. The Los Angeles metro area, for example, has more than 340,000 people of Korean descent, about a fifth of the overall Korean population in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

I’ve written before about South Korean expatriates overseas. These maps, however, show the population of all ethnic Koreans who have settled in Los Angeles and across the United States.

Let’s start with Los Angeles and a caveat: I may write for the Times, but I don’t yet know its geography (especially not like these fine folks).

This map shows Los Angeles County, which has about 230,000 people of Korean ancestry, according to the 2010* Census. The deep teal colors in the center of the county reflect the population of Koreatown, a neighborhood inside the city of Los Angeles. This place is legit Korean. There’s even a Paris Baguette! There are several suburban areas, such as Glendale, north of Koreatown, that also have a relatively high proportion of Korean residents.

This map shows the Korean share across the country, by county. Most counties have tiny proportions of Koreans. (My home county in East Texas had a grand total of 194 Koreans, or about 0.16 percent of its population). Other areas, such as Southern California, the mid-Atlantic coast and the New York metro area have comparatively large Korean populations.  

This map uses the same data set but a different visualization technique — proportional symbols, not shaded county boundaries. Larger symbols, or bubbles, represent a higher number of Koreans in raw figures, not proportions.

And, finally, here are two tables with the top 25 counties by both measures — proportion and population:

* I chose this data set because it was the last hard count of all Americans by the Census Bureau. The agency also conducts large, quality surveys between each decennial census, but detailed questions, such as specific ancestral or ethnic origin, can come with high margins of error at smaller geography levels. The hard count also isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we have for national county-level maps until 2020.

Visualizing More Than a Decade of North Korean Defections

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, South Korea

Another North Korean soldier defected at the Demilitarized Zone on Thursday, causing a brief skirmish along the highly fortified border. He was the fourth solder to defect this year, including the one last month who was shot several times by his comrades before he made it to safety in South Korea.

There have been tens of thousands of defections from the communist regime since the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War. Most don’t occur at the DMZ, a 2.5-mile buffer zone filled with landmines, guard posts and barbed wire.

Here’s a look at some of the demographics of those North Koreans who defected over the years.

This first chart shows the numbers of defectors since 2001, by gender. You can see that women have been more likely to defect — and that there was a sharp drop-off in defections beginning in 2012. That’s the year that Kim Jong Un, the grandson of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, took power. Coincidence? Probably not.

This next bar chart shows the defector counts by age groups, again while breaking out gender. It’s easier to defect when you’re young, I suppose.

And, finally, a provincial map showing where known defectors came from, with darker shades representing more defections. North Hamgyong Province had the most (more than 18,000), probably because defectors can sneak across the Tumen River — which forms about a third of the border between China and North Korea.

Testing ai2html on a North Korean Defector

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, Policy & Politics, South Korea

A few weeks ago I wrote about the daring defection — and eventual rescue — of a North Korean soldier who barreled across the Demilitarized Zone in a truck and then ran as fellow troops fired on him. The story centers on a dramatic video of the ordeal released by United Nations command.

The video, shot the afternoon of Nov. 13, shows the soldier speeding down a road toward the Joint Security Area, a border outpost that’s been the site of military skirmishes and diplomatic talks between the Koreas, still technically at war, and the U.S.

The soldier can be seen driving in a green military-style vehicle past a North Korean checkpoint before wheeling past a monument inside the area, where soldiers from both sides of the conflict are posted in relatively close proximity. The footage is a series of videos taken from different cameras at different angle.

The video fascinated me, but I found myself wanting someone to explain the sequences more clearly, so I started crafting a graphic in my free time to annotate the defector’s journey. I tried this using the ai2html tools created by The New York Times that are built into NPR’s dailygraphics rig. After a visit to the location with United States forces last week, I’m confident the graphic is accurate. I’m less confident, unfortunately, in its storytelling, design or technical merit.

Oh, well. Your first try with a new tool is never perfect — especially when this work is just a hobby.

Try it on desktop, tablet and mobile — and let me know if you have thoughts.

Visualizing North Korean ‘Provocations’: A Timeline

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, South Korea

Until the recent incident involving a defecting soldier, tensions between the United States and North Korea had cool slightly, largely because the communist regime hasn’t committed any so-called “provocations” — ballistic missile and nuclear tests — in more than two months.

Under the North’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, such incidents have increased significantly as his nation seeks to improve its ability to strike targets with nuclear weapons. That effort has included dozens of ballistic missile tests and four underground nuclear detonations during his tenure, which began in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

This timeline, inspired by a graphic made by the NPR Visuals team, shows these provocations since 2006, when the regime tested its first nuclear weapon:

Common Ground Between North and South Korea: Aging and Shrinking Populations

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, North Korea, South Korea

The birth rate in South Korea, where I live and work, hit a record low this year, leading to concern about the impact an aging (and, eventually, shrinking) population might have on the nation’s society and economy.

These charts show the long-term trends, both in actual population and projected changes, according to United Nations data. I’ve added North Korea, which actually has a higher fertility rate today, for context.

First, let’s look at the populations of the two countries, which share an ethnic background and a (mostly) common language — despite the Korean War-era division of the peninsula.

South Korea has about 51 million residents, roughly twice the number of people in the North, which has 25 million. That’s the number of South Koreans who love in the Seoul metro area, by the way.

Both populations are expected to peak in two decades — and then begin to decline.

That downward trend, for now, is much more pronounced in South Korea because of the nation’s low birth rate. Having a large family in South Korea, where housing and education costs are pricey, isn’t possible or practical for many people. The nation also has relatively weak maternity leave policies (and stubbornly traditional gender roles in the home and workplace), leading women to postpone childbirth to pursue their careers.

South Korea is slightly smaller geographically (about the size of Indiana, in terms of area) than the North (roughly the area of Pennsylvania). So their respective population densities vary, too:

Here’s how South Korea has grown, in five-year-increments, since 1950 — when the Korean War began and ultimately changed the trajectories for both countries. South Korea saw relatively rapid growth rate immediately after the war, perhaps as refugees resettled. Projections show that rate declining by 2035:

The North experienced a rapid decline during the war, mostly likely from the death toll during the conflict, the political purges that followed — and the southern migration before the border was secured. Its growth rate soon recovered, however, but could begin declining again by 2045.

Here’s hoping the Korean fertility rate rebounds, or the two nation’s unify — or either becomes more welcoming and accommodating of immigrants. At things stand now, South Korea could become “extinct” by 2750 — a worrying (though simplistic and imperfect) simulation for a uniquely homogenous society that traces its roots back thousands of years.