The Secret History of Social Control Through Haircuts

Listen up, depraved youth of North Korea: Your long-haired revolution is officially over.

According to Radio Free Asia, the North Korean government has introduced guidelines mandating all male university students get the same haircut as Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un -- a tight fade on the sides and an awkward middle part on a floppy cut up top. The decree was reportedly issued in the capital, Pyongyang, two weeks ago and is now being implemented nationwide.

As with most stories out of the Hermit Kingdom, these latest claims about North Korean fashion come thinly sourced. The story may very well be false -- its veracity has already been called into question. But if true, it wouldn't be the first time the government has sought to impose restrictions on hairstyles. Last year, the regime outlined 28 acceptable cuts -- 10 for men and 18 for women -- that were showcased in framed photos in hair salons in Pyongyang. And in 2005, North Korea launched a crusade against long hair. A media campaign declaring "let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle" urged men to shear based on "the demands of the military-first era." Hair, wrote Minju Choson, a government daily, is a "very important issue that shows the people's cultural standards and mental and moral state."

In the magnitude of its depression and deplorable human rights record, North Korea is unique; in its alleged strategy of social control by buzzcut, it is not. In fact, authoritarian regimes around the world have for centuries imposed their political will by regulating men's locks.

After the Manchus conquered China in the 1640s, the empire's new rulers issued an edict forcing all adult men to shave the front of their head and tie the remaining hair in a queue, a long braided ponytail. The rule was imposed under penalty of death. The edict, former American diplomat Edward Earl Rice writes in his book, Mao's Way, reminded the "Chinese of their subordination to Manchu rule." From the conquerors' perspective, "the command to cut one's hair or lose one's head not only brought rulers and subjects together into a single physical resemblance; it also provided them with a perfect loyalty test," the historian Frederic Wakeman notes in The Great Enterprise, his book about the Manchu conquest.

Around the same time in Russia, Peter the Great attempted to stamp out beards, which he viewed as a hopeless relic of his country's past. Hoping to modernize Russia in the mold of the West, he imposed a beard tax. Individuals who paid the tariff were given a copper token inscribed with the motto: "The beard is a useless burden."

Several centuries later, during the 1970s, Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha did away with such free-market methods and outlawed beards all together. Saparmurat Niyazov, the former president of Turkmenistan, mimicked this crackdown on personal freedom when he appeared on television in February 2004 to decree that young men could no longer grow out their hair or beards.

Elsewhere in the world, decrees governing grooming have often been issued in the name of Islam. After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996, they required men to wear beards in accordance with with the militants' harsh interpretation of Sharia law. In 2010, Islamic militants in Somalia ordered men in the capital of Mogadishu to leave beards untrimmed.

Iran's clerics imposed their own brand of religiously-motivated restrictions in 2010: Ponytails and mullets were out, in favor of tightly-coiffed crew-cuts and side-parts. "The proposed styles are inspired by Iranians' complexion, culture and religion, and Islamic law," said Jaleh Khodayar, the director of Iran's Veil and Chastity Day festival. Hair gel was permitted, but only in modest quantities.

Regardless of religion, authoritarians don't seem to have much love for hippies. After overthrowing Greece's elected government in a 1967 military coup, strongman Georgios Papadopoulos banned "decadent" long hair for men and mini-skirts for women. During the 1970's, Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew denied some foreigners entry into Singapore if their hair was too long. Young people without a clean cut, as Alex Josey writes in his book Lee Kuan Yew: The Crucial Years, "are not employed as caddies at the golf courses where Lee swings his clubs."

Power: Sometimes it grows from a barber's clippers.



Meet Russia's Newest Recruits: Ukraine's Combat Dolphins

The Ukrainian military is promising to one day reclaim its former bases in Crimea, but one unit has been lost forever: Ukraine's combat dolphins, who are now swimming for Russia.

The dolphins, stationed in a Ukrainian navy oceanarium in Sevastopol, will now attack enemy scuba divers, attach buoys to sea-floor mines, and patrol open waters at the behest of Moscow, according to Russian news service RIA Novosti. The program had been set to shut down, but Russia's invasion of Ukraine has apparently given Sevastopol's combat dolphins another crack at navy life. "Our experts have developed new devices, which convert the detection of objects by the dolphins' underwater sonar to a signal on an operator's monitor," an oceanarium employee told the news service in an overt attempt to curry favor with his new bosses. "But the Ukrainian navy lacked the funds for such know-how, and some projects had to be shuttered."

Ukraine's dolphin program dates back to the 1960s, right around the time the United States launched a similar effort to enlist them in the fight against the Soviet Union. Though less is known about their Ukrainian counterparts, America's dolphins guarded military boats against enemy scuba divers in Vietnam, though the Navy denied rumors at the time that the dolphins had also been trained to kill Viet Cong divers. In the late 1980s, the United States used dolphins to help protect its ships in the Persian Gulf, where an animal named Skippy died of bacterial infection while serving his country.

At the conclusion of the Cold War, both Ukraine and the United States thinned their ranks of combat dolphins. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian combat dolphins were re-purposed for civilian programs, namely to provide therapy to autistic and emotionally disturbed children.

The Ukrainian Navy re-launched the combat training in 2011, though the program was slated to be shut down in April. Thanks to Mother Russia, though, the dolphins will keep fighting.

U.S. Navy/Getty Images