North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), is the most repressive and isolated society in the world. Because it possesses nuclear weapons as well as a huge conventional military, and routinely threatens war against South Korea (Republic of Korea, ROK) in order to get food aid, it's often in the headlines. Most recently, the regime has taken great exception to The Interview, a Hollywood comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. Because of threats against those planning to attend the premiere - threats which may or may not have come from Pyongyang - Sony Pictures Entertainment, parent company of the movie's makers, has decided to cancel both the premiere and commercial distribution of The Interview.
The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) regularly issues bellicose statements on behalf of the DPRK's leadership, and the official English-language versions often contain phrases of memorable piquancy. These should be enjoyed by all who love the English language, and not only for their absurd beauty. Dictators hope to be adored, and often settle for being feared. What they hate most of all is being laughed at.
People and terms
Since the DPRK was founded in 1948, it has had just three leaders. Kim Il Sung (1912-1994, top picture) established the Communist regime in Pyongyang and led it until his death. By the late 1960s, the elder Kim had dropped much of the Marxist and Leninist terminology imported from Russia and China, replacing it with Juche, an ideology often translated as "self reliance."
Hwang Jang-yop (1923-2010), who worked with Kim to give Juche a theoretical foundation but found himself sidelined after the 1980s, defected to Seoul in 1997 - with predictably dire consequences for his immediate family. By that time, the North was being ruled by Kim Jong Il (1941-2011), Kim Il Sung's son and a former student of Hwang's. Just as the elder Kim remains DPRK president, Kim Jong Il is now, officially, Eternal General Secretary of the Worker's Party of Korea, and Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission. The middle Kim was succeeded by the youngest of his three sons, Kim Jong Un (born 1983), who may or may not have received some education in Switzerland and France.
'To make the flames of great upswing rage furiously across the country'
KCNA reports from the Kim Jong Il era often describe his field guidance sessions, in which he traveled throughout the DPRK to inspect, advise and inspire. According to one retrospective paean (from which the sub-heading above was extracted), the second Kim (pictured here), "wisely led the socialist construction by making the flames of the great revolutionary upswing rage furiously to give full play to the mental power of all the service personnel and people with his outstanding wisdom and organizing ability."
The article went on: "Thanks to his experienced and tested leadership a heyday of prosperity was ushered in." The middle Kim showed "far-sighted intention to kindle the flames of fresh revolutionary upsurge... saw to it that the Songgang torch rage furiously across the country, inspired by Kanggye spirit... [and] carried forward the tradition of ever-victory of the Juche revolution with the great history of great upsurge."
Songgang and Kanggye are places in North Korea.
DPRK propaganda writers sometimes struggle to come up with fresh adjectives with which to praise their leaders. Luckily, Pyongyang's outbursts against Seoul, Washington or enemies within allow them to let rip with colorful insults showing of what they're capable. The follow examples are from 2013 and 2014.
Washington's 'brigandish ambition for aggression'
Accusing the US of violating the DPRK's sovereignty and "encroach[ing] upon its supreme interests," KCNA said "the dear respected Marshal Kim Jong Un, brilliant commander... ratified a plan for firepower strike. The important decision made by him is the declaration of a do-or-die battle to provide an epochal occasion for putting an end to the history of the longstanding showdown with the US and opening a new era."
Saying the DPRK's citizens were "full of surging anger at the US imperialists' reckless war provocation moves" and showing "strong will to turn out as one in the death-defying battle with the enemies and achieve a final victory of the great war for national reunification true," KCNA described the US Air Force's moving of stealth bombers to South Korea in response to the North's ballistic-missile tests as "unpardonable and heinous provocation and an open challenge."
American actions clearly showed Washington's "brigandish ambition for aggression," and lamented that the "time when words could work has passed." Washington and Seoul "should clearly know that in the era of Marshal Kim Jong Un [pictured right], the greatest-ever commander, all things are different from what they used to be in the past. The hostile forces will clearly realize the iron will, matchless grit and extraordinary mettle of the brilliant commander of Mt. Paektu [the mountain in North Korea from which Kim Il Sung masterminded his guerilla war against the Japanese then occupying Korea, and an honorific title for all three Kims] that the earth cannot exist without Songun Korea."
Songun is the official name of the North's "military first" policy, under which the DPRK's armed forces enjoy priority in the allocation of resources. It can be said with some certainty that of the estimated 600,000 people who died during the famine which afflicted the North during the late 1990s, none were soldiers. That said, it was reported that rank-and-file military personnel were often hungry, and grew as much of their own food as they could.
"Time has come to stage a do-or-die final battle," the statement continued. "Inter-Korean relations have naturally entered the state of war. Accordingly, the DPRK will immediately punish any slightest provocation hurting its dignity and sovereignty with resolute and merciless physical actions."
Accusing Washington of "madcap DPRK-targeted nuclear war moves" and warning that any "military provocation... will not be limited to a local war, but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war," the KCNA promised the North's first strike will "reduce... to ashes at once" US military bases in Guam and Hawaii as well as those in South Korea, plus "the puppets' ruling institutions including Chongwadae." Better known to Westerners as The Blue House, Chongwadae is the official residence of the ROK's president.
"It will be a blitz war through which the KPA will occupy all areas of south Korea... not giving the US and the puppet warmongers time to come to their senses... This sacred war of justice will be a nationwide, all-people resistance involving all Koreans in the north and the south and overseas in which the traitors to the nation including heinous confrontation maniacs, warmongers and human scum will be mercilessly swept away."
"Holding in high esteem the peerlessly great men of Mt. Paektu," the statement concludes, "the Korean people will give vent to the pent-up grudge and realize their cherished desire and thus bring a bright day of national reunification and build the best power on this land without fail."
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Purging a 'traitor for all ages'
Jang Song Thaek, pictured here, was the younger Kim's uncle by virtue of being married to Kim Jong-il's sister. He was executed on December 13, 2013, less than a week after he was purged from the ruling party and accused of treachery. KCNA's 2,737-word English-language statement (available in its entirety on The Guardian's website) paints a vivid picture of Jang's wrongdoing and downfall. It doesn't say, however, if he was put to death by being stripped naked and fed to a pack of hungry dogs, as some media reports alleged.
"Every sentence of the decision [issued by the tribunal which tried Jang] served as sledgehammer blow brought down by our angry service personnel and people on the head of Jang, an anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional element and despicable political careerist and trickster."
"The accused is a traitor to the nation for all ages who perpetrated anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts... despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery."
The statement alleged Jang had showed "dirty political ambition," was "corrupt and degenerate" and had led "a dissolute, depraved life, squandering money wherever he went." Even worse, at the meeting at the end of 2011 which confirmed Kim Jong Un's accession, Jang was said to have been arrogant, insolent, unwilling to stand up, and guilty of "half-heartedly clapping, touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people." His behavior was in contrast to other participants, whose "enthusiastic cheers... shook the conference hall."
Jang seemingly failed to disrespect the personality cult which surrounds the three Kims: "He was so imprudent as to prevent [a factory] from erecting a mosaic depicting Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il... Moreover, Jang turned down the unanimous request of [a security unit] to have the autograph letter sent by Kim Jong Un to the unit carved on a natural granite and erected with good care in front of the building of its command. He was so reckless as to instruct the unit to erect it in a shaded corner." (Emphasis added.)
Kim Jong Un's uncle was "part of the group of renegades and traitors in the field of youth work bribed by enemies. Even after they were disclosed and purged by the resolute measure of the party, he patronized those cat's paws and let them hold important posts of the party and state."
Cat's paws are people manipulated by another to do an unpleasant or dangerous task.
KCNA branded Jang a "trickster and traitor for all ages... a thrice-cursed traitor without an equal in the world" who was guilty of "shuddering crimes." It's believed most of his extended family (but not his estranged wife) was purged and executed in the days that followed Jang's downfall, which is perhaps why the statement implies the plural when saying such people will never be pardoned, "and there will be no place for them to be buried even after their death."
'Sordid hackwork of rubbish media'
Responding to reports in Chinese media that Kim Jong Un had undergone plastic surgery so as to look more like his grandfather, DPRK founder Kim Il Sung, KCNA in January 2013 fulminated that such rumors were "sordid hackwork by rubbish media," and that it was "unimaginable" that the young Kim would alter his looks.
“Those hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the nation should not expect any mercy or leniency," the KCNA commentary stated. "The false report... released by enemies is a hideous criminal act which the party, state, army and people can never tolerate."
There's unlikely to be official confirmation of the surgery story anytime soon, but few Korea experts doubt that Kim Jong-Un has, at the very least, modeled his style of dress, haircut and body language on his grandfather's appearance. One possible reason why Pyongyang is so sensitive about the allegation is that in Korea's non-communist south, cosmetic surgery is exceptionally popular.
USA is a 'graveyard of human rights'
Responding to the controversial fatal shooting of a black youth by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, a spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry slammed Washington's record on human rights and race relations, describing the USA as a place "where people are subject to discrimination and humiliation due to their races [sic] and they are seized with such horror that they do not know when they are shot to death."
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Seoul wishes to 'escalate fascist suppression'
Not dwelling on the truth that the Seoul government can't be much of a fascist regime if it allows pro-DPRK groups to hold public meetings and meet journalists, KCNA often talks about "human rights abuses by the South Korean puppet authorities," such as arrests of such groups' leaders and searches of their homes by "fascist police."
When the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Koreans in China met in November 2013, they denounced what they saw as a bid to revive dictatorship in the South. KCNA editorialized: "Overseas compatriots still remember that the ill-famed Yushin dictatorial regime ran the whole gamut of illegal and cruel acts and atrocities against not only compatriots in south Korea but those overseas after stretching out its tentacles to them.
The Yushin period was the fourth (South) Korean republic, which lasted from 1972 to 1981. There was political repression and the violent quashing of a pro-democracy movement, but during the same period the South made tremendous economic progress. The South's GDP is around 40 times larger than the North's. Per capita GDP is 18 times greater in the South than the North. Southerners enjoy ten years' more life expectancy, and are on average three to seven cm taller than their northern compatriots.
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