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.

How Do We Solve North Korea? Yonsei University Students Have Ideas.

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

I gave a guest lecture today to an East Asian international relations course at Yonsei University in Seoul. As part of the class, the more than 40 students participated in an exercise by answering this question about North Korea:

How do we address the North Korea nuclear issue?
1. Accept as nuclear state
2. Strike known nuclear targets
3. International sanctions
4. Suspend U.S. military drills
5. Diplomacy
6. Two of above: __ & __

Here are the results:

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:

Visualizing North Korea’s Missile Launches

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

Despite international objections, North Korea has launched four ballistic missiles in the last week, including one that flew over Japan, raising regional tensions about the rogue state’s weapons development even higher.

For those of us who live in South Korea, such provocations have become commonplace, especially since the North’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, took over after his father’s death in late 2011. They interrupt Sunday breakfasts or even national holidays, but they haven’t yet seemed like a real threat.

(Of course, they can just use their ample artillery along the border to strike Seoul, where I live).

The missile testing pace and the North’s increasingly technically ability have increased significantly in the last years, however, causing more and more heartburn in the region.

This chart shows the pace of testing over the years, including missiles that “failed” in flight:

The North has over the years developed (and borrowed) its own set of missiles, each with varying capabilities. Lately they’ve grown more powerful, though not always reliable.

Here’s how often they’ve used them, by missile type:

Since 1984, there have been at least 115 missile launches. But those tests have come from a select group of locations around the North: airfields and testing sites. Here are those tests locations, aggregated, with larger bubbles representing more launches:

And this map shows each launch in time order, with a flurry beginning in 2013. Colors change based on the missile type:

This is just a quick post, created largely because I wanted to build another proportional symbols map with D3. For a more thorough analysis, check out this post.

Charting North Korean Provocations. A Case of ‘The Mondays’?

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: South Korea

As a newspaper reporter living in South Korea, I’m always aware that a “provocation” by our friends in the North — a missile launch, a nuclear test, or some other incident — could occur on any day.

A recent missile launch came on a Sunday morning, for example, disrupting our family plans. (That’s part of the job, of course).

But which days have been more likely for provocations, I wondered? Thanks to a handy database from the Center for Strategic & International Studies, we now know.

Since 2001, North Korean leaders seem to prefer … Mondays?

The trend is clear in the data: Compared with any other day, provocations have been twice as common on the first work day of the week.

The data also reveal some interesting tidbits about the North’s provocations. Thanks to a recent surge in missile tests, the number of provocations has increased substantially under the new leader, Kim Jong Un, who took power in late December 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il:

The Center categorizes the provocations by type, too (though I broke our “exchange of fire” incidents from “Other” in the data):

And here you can see the interest in missile tests. Roughly half of all provocations since 2001 have been missile launches or tests (again, propelled in part by Kim Jong Un’s recent interest):

You can explore the Center’s great work here.