The month of June has a far greater significance in North Korea than in other countries around the world.
Officially designated “Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism Month,” June provides an opportunity for the Kim regime to foment anti-American sentiment among the population, writes Eric Talmadge for The Associated Press. North Korean citizens can be found visiting war museums, meeting to denounce the U.S. and joining what at times appears to be a national festival of anti-Americanism.
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Korean War of huge importance to myth of Kim regime
This Thursday, the 65th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, the fervor reached its peak at a rally in Pyongyang which saw 100,000 people gather in the Kim Il Sung Stadium.
Although the 1950-53 Korean War receives little attention in the U.S., the opposite is true in North Korea. The Associated Press has been investigating just what information the Kim regime feeds the population about the war, and hearing how often North Koreans are told that they “can never trust the American imperialists.”
Both sides remember the high death toll of the war, with millions of Koreans, hundreds of thousands of Chinese and tens of thousands of Americans dead or missing. However its brutality is one of the few points on which the U.S. and North Koreans would agree.
Displays propagate alternative version of events
For starters, Pyongyang says that the war was started by the United States, a fact which is disputed by documents from its allies in China and the Soviet Union. However facts are not of paramount importance to Pyongyang, which prefers to talk about the moral of the story. According to the official version of events, the leadership of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong II and Kim Jong Un is the only thing which allows North Korea to survive in the face of U.S. aggression.
This week, commemorative sites displaying stories of atrocities, massacres and torture committed against North Korea were packed with soldiers, schoolchildren and groups of citizens. Displays showed horrific photographs of dead bodies, alongside oil paintings of evil-looking American soldiers and their Korean collaborators.
A middle-aged tour guide told her group of the 110 different tortures used by the U.S. on Korean prisoners, which she said were “worse than the methods of Hitler.” Those torture methods included the pulling of fingernails and toenails, pouring chili infused water down a prisoner’s nose and the pulling out of eyes.
The guide, identified as Choe Jong Suk, told the AP journalists that no Americans had never visited the site before, and she “very much did not like the idea” of the journalists’ visit. Under an image of a girl being crushed by a stone while a smiling American soldier looked on, she told the assembled crowd that “while forgetting their own atrocities, the United States is in no position to talk about human rights.”
North Korea points the finger at U.S.
It is a familiar refrain in North Korea, and one of its only responses to calls to bring Kim Jong Un before an international tribunal to answer for crimes against humanity. A recent United Nations report outlines human rights abuses in North Korea, including the denial of basic freedoms and the repression of opposition movements.
Another visit, this time to the Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities, revealed the extent of the misinformation which North Koreans are fed by their rulers.
Journalists report that the assembled crowd listened to patriotic speeches as they shouted “Defend! Defend! Defend!” and thrust clenched fists into the air. None of the public looked at the journalists or displayed any interest in their presence.
Regime successfully spreads anti-U.S. message
North Korea claims that the U.S. and its allies killed 35,000 people in Sinchon, although other historians believe that the U.S. was not directly involved in the killings, which were largely the work of local anti-communist vigilantes. An alleged survivor of the massacre told the reporters that he joined the army because he “wanted to kill Americans.”
“Every anniversary, my hatred only increases,” he said. “Our nation must have its revenge. Go tell that to your countrymen.”
This latest report appears to show that the Kim regime has successfully controlled the flow of information in and out of North Korea, to the extent that the authorities are free to tell their own fictional version of events in order to stir up anti-American sentiment and maintain their grip on power.
Maintaining the image of the heroism of Kim and his family is the only way that officials can maintain the status quo, and the U.S. is a convenient bogeyman.