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North Korea in the atom age

For months now, rockets and atoms have been depicted on posters deployed every hundred meters on Pyongyang’s main avenues

North Korea in the atom age

This file photo shows a North Korean honour guard at a cemetery in Pyongyang. (Photo by AFP) 

Dorian Malovic, Pyongyang
North Korea

November 1, 2017

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UCAN’s partner, the French Catholic daily La Croix International has just published a three-part series on North Korea, part of the "hermit kingdom" by their reporter Dorian Malovic. In his second article, Malovic reports that the regime feels stronger than ever and the population has embraced the idea that nuclear weapons could be used.

 

"For as long as the world does not see our atomic mushroom explode, we shall not be taken seriously."

The former North Korean diplomat, today retired, whom we met in the cafe of a hotel in Pyongyang is unblinking. His expression is severe. He looks his interlocutor straight in the eye. 

He has just declared, quite normally, that his country is preparing to do an atmospheric nuclear test one day, just as China did in 1980 in Lop Nor Desert in its northwestern province of Xinjiang. That was the last test of its kind in the world.

"For decades we have been more prepared than ever for a conventional war with the enemy," he says just as calmly. "But that age has ended because we’ve now entered the era of the next nuclear war."

The message is clear. These are not empty words. For months now, rockets, missiles, satellites, and atoms have been depicted on the propaganda posters you see deployed every hundred meters on Pyongyang’s main avenues and pasted onto the windows of all the country’s stores.

They are flashed across television screens in every home, restaurant or office, and even on the huge screen set up outside the main train station in Pyongyang so that no-one misses them. Since the young leader, Kim Jong-Un came to power in 2012, North Korea has entered the atom age, the priority of national priorities.

 

"Our rocket has its eye on the target"

Built barely a year ago in the heart of Pyongyang on the orders of Kim Jong-Un, the Museum of Science and Technology attests to this new reality that has taken the world by surprise. After carrying out six underground nuclear tests and launching more than a hundred ballistic missiles in the last five years, North Korea bluffed the world’s greatest nuclear specialists. 

The architecture of this ultra-modern museum is patterned after an atom, with its protons and neutrons at its center and its electrons moving all around it.

In the entry hall, hostess-guide Jo Bok-Il, a 30-year-old graduate of the Pyongyang University of Foreign Languages, authorizes you to take a photograph of the superb mural that welcomes the 3,000 daily visitors.

Kim Il-Sung, founder of the nation, and his son, Kim Jong-Il, father of the current president, stand out at its center, against the background of a planisphere centered on the Korean peninsula and a crystal blue sky in which satellites gravitate on the left and a rocket is launched on the right.  

Presenting the model of the museum in flawless English, Jo Bok-Il explains the logo symbolizing the museum. "You see, it’s an atom at whose core is the eye of Korea. Her explanation reminds us of a remark made a few days earlier by the former diplomat: "Our rocket has its eye on the target."

 

Transmit the desire to sacrifice oneself for the nation

If there is still a need to convince the Western visitor of North Korea’s determination regarding outer space and the atom, Jo Bok-Il presents a large amphitheater. At its center is a screen in the form of a planet presenting images of the countdown of the recent launch and takeoff of a missile. 

She savors the surprise effect as she does so. Then she moves to the heart of the museum, which features a copy of the UNHA 3 rocket — measuring over 50 meters in length — that sent the first North Korean satellite into space in 2012. "You can film it, but you’ll see it better from the top floor." The message needs to be passed on to the Western media.

On that day of Chuseok, the Festival of the Dead, going to the cemetery of the martyrs of the Korean War (1950-1953)  only reinforces one’s sense of a Korean people more determined than ever to fight and give its life, until its last breath if necessary. The cemetery was created in 2016 in the middle of the city on the orders of young Kim Jong-Un.

The remains of the "571 heroes who sacrificed themselves to destroy the enemy" lie there. North Korea is a real military and mental fortress. Soldiers and entire families come and gather there among the tombs decked with many bouquets of flowers.

A little further, a small unit of young female soldiers in brown uniforms doing their six years of military service listen to the story of an old grandfather in front of a tomb. "He is surely taking about his soldier friend who must have been in the same unit as the young girls," explains the official guide, Ri Il Sun. "He thus transmits to them the desire to sacrifice oneself also for the joy and prosperity of the nation." 

 

The American enemy

As we leave the cemetery hundreds of people are still pouring in. A simple question on the identity of the potential enemy draws a pithy response: "Our leader Kim Jong-Un has told us that we shall have a war against the American enemy and our goal is to turn this American president into a floor mat.". 

A smile lights up her angelic face. "Our country has the hydrogen bomb now," she says. "We are sure of victory."

For decades now, the American enemy has occupied the minds of all North Koreans from early childhood, as one sees in the kindergarten school in Pyongyang’s Gyongsang neighborhood, which focuses on music education and has produced many virtuosos.

Along the quiet corridors, pastel colors beautify the walls. Characters from Korean cartoons, but also from Walt Disney, are painted on them. Songs and piano notes waft out of small rooms, some of them equipped with a grand or medium-grand piano manufactured in Japan - Yamaha.

A beautiful mural of the city of Pyongyang, drawn by the children, appears, with its flag, Juche Tower, modern buildings, a peaceful city. However, to the right of the mural are drawings of North Korean tanks, trucks, planes, missiles ready to defend the peace.

North Korea is a veritable ecosystem based on this specter of an American invasion. As in all the posters, the Government disseminates on the American threat and the country’s power to respond with bombs, the message is simple enough for all to understand. 

All the energy of the country and its people is focused on that single objective: "We have nothing to envy the world for, we only wish to defend ourselves and live in peace."

 

"An unshakeable will to punish the United States"

For the North Koreans and their leader, Kim Jong-Un, this peace is priceless. Moreover, Donald Trump threatened at the United Nations in September to "completely destroy North Korea". This is "a real declaration of war," says Ri Tok-Son, director of the Europe Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whom we met in Pyongyang. 

"That reinforces the unshakeable will of our people and our armed forces to punish the United States, the country of evil, at all cost, by fire," he adds.

Ri stresses that his country "has acquired nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles" which "will never be up for discussion as long as the United States continues the subversive maneuvers and nuclear threats against our Republic".

Faced with Donald Trump, North Korea pursues its march towards the total, tested mastery of nuclear power. Its scientists are just about an inch away from attaching a miniature nuclear warhead onto a missile and ensure that it gets back into the atmosphere.

"We must now finalize things quickly," says the ex-diplomat. "We’ll carry out the final tests we need to be able to use our nuclear weapons if we are attacked. 

"We have not manufactured them just to look at them in the event of aggression. We shall not die with our nuclear weapons. What is certain is that we have to go all the way."

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