Take Cover! It’s NoKo New Year

North Korea's cult of personality explains the latest provocations from Pyongyang

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KCNA / REUTERS

Rockets are carried by military vehicles during a parade to celebrate the centenary of the birth of North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.

When North Korea‘s founder Kim Il Sung was alive, he’d celebrate his birthday by imprisoning hundreds of thousands of “ideological offenders” or unveiling a blueprint for a “communist paradise.” His son and heir, Kim Jong Il, turned his father’s April 15 birthday into the closest thing to a religious holiday that an atheist, communist regime can have, resetting the calendar to Kim time by calculating the official date from his father’s birth day and year.

But the biggest birthday celebrations for Kim-the-first and Kim-the-second became shows of military force. And now the latest in the line has taken up the tradition. Last year, after his father Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011, Kim Jong Un tested long-range missiles on April 8. This year, he’s going all out. Marking what would have been his grandfather’s 101st birthday, he’s tested a nuclear weapon and long-range missies, ripped up the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War, threatened nuclear war against the United States, and warned foreigners in both North and South Korea to leave the peninsula or risk getting caught in the crossfire.

(MORE: In the Shadow of North Korean Threats, South Korea Shrugs)

Below is a selection of the most provocative North Korean actions in the first two weeks of April leading up to Kim Il Sung’s birthday.

1912: Kim Il Sung is born.

[1948: Kim Il Sung becomes the leader of North Korea upon its founding]

April 1, 1984: North Korea tests its first ballistic, Scud-type missile.

April 14, 1992: North Korea broadcasts a video of its nuclear sites.

April 4, 1994: North Korea announces it’s stepping up its nuclear program, refusing United Nations inspectors access.

[July 1994: Kim Il Sung dies, son Kim Jong Il succeeds him.]

March 30-31, 1995: North Korea conducts a surface-to-ship missile test of four missiles.

April 14-16, 1997: North Korea promotes 123 generals; opens an estimated  $120 million dollar renovated mausoleum for Kim Il Sung; announces a new calendar based off Kim Il Sung’s birth – so the “New Year’s” celebrations on April 15 marked year 86 versus 1997.

April 4, 2001: North Korea accuses the U.S. of pushing South Korea to go to war with the North; celebrates Kim Il Sung’s birthday with American pop music and soda pop.

April 15-16, 2003: Under the shadow of U.S. accusations that North Korea is rushing to build a nuclear bomb, Pyongyang holds two days of celebrations including a marathon and a film festival in Kim Il Sung’s honor.

April 14, 2005: North Korea, now in possession of an atomic bomb, vows to make more to protect against its enemies.

April 14, 2006: In almost identical terms, Pyongyang repeats its threat to increase its nuclear deterrent against its enemies. Kim Il Jong threatens a nuclear test, which he carries out in October.

April 5-16, 2009: North Korea launches what it calls a “satellite” but western intelligence agencies believe it to be a long-range missile test; announces it would restart its nuclear program; quits disarmament talks; expels United Nations nuclear inspectors and removes all seals and surveillance cameras from its Yongbon nuclear plant.

[December 2011, Kim Jong Il died, son Kim Jong Un succeeds him.]

April 6, 2012: Marking what would’ve have been Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday, Pyongyang launches another “satellite,” or long-range missile.

February 12 – present day, 2013: Kim Jong Un conducts a nuclear test; declares null and void the 1953 armistice ending the Korean war; moves two missiles across North Korea towards the U.S.; threatens the U.S. with nuclear war; closes a joint industrial park with the South, one of its few sources of hard currency; warns foreigners in both North and South Korea to leave the peninsula by April 10 to avoid getting dragged into a “thermonuclear war.”

No one knows exactly what Kim-the-third plans on doing or if his threats are pure bluster. While the Pentagon has moved to bolster U.S. missile defense, the State Department has greeted Kim’s threats with not much more than a yawn given the Kim family’s long history of hostile April anniversaries. “[T]hese sort of provocative statements have come out on a routine basis,” Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman told reporters on Tuesday. “We’re very much capable of defending ourselves and our ally… Our analysis remains the same as it was last week, that] we’re not discouraging U.S. citizens from traveling to South Korea or encouraging them to take any special travel precautions.” Nothing says Happy Birthday like thermonuclear war.

PHOTOS: North Korea Ratchets Up Tensions on the Peninsula
MORE: China’s Long, Fruitless History of Irritation With North Korea

30 comments
carterpeterson24
carterpeterson24

Although we cannot say with certainty who actually rules North Korea, if it is indeed Kim Jong Un I suspect he is determined to impress the generals with his audacity. Unlike his father and grandfather, Un is probably foolhardy enough to do something stupid that will result in catastrophe. 

melonheadx13
melonheadx13

call it panic or precaution but how much is li'l un's drama costing us for our military's extra deployments?

iluv2soar
iluv2soar

Looks an aweful lot like a military rally in 1939 Nazi Germany. Has history taught us nothing?

fitty_three
fitty_three

In the US, Kim Jung Ow would be a Law Abiding Gun Owner.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's off to work I go.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Jay, thanks for your overseas swamp work, as always, though in this case for your safety I'm glad you're NOT reporting from the field (that is, North Korea). I doubt reporting from NK would be a "blast." I wonder how often Kerry (an previously Clinton) exchanges gifts with each country's officials. In this case, when Kerry's in China he can give X-Box's loaded with latest cool games ...and deliver an extra one for Chinese officials to give to Kim JU. This way, he can spend all day blowing up stuff on a video screen instead of for real, and thus stay alive (and his soldiers and poor citizens stay alive too).

notsacredh
notsacredh

Nothing says Happy Birthday like thermonuclear war."

We'll meet again. Don't know where, don't know when.



bobell
bobell

Well, we have federal holidays on two birthdays (more or less). And we celebrate the nation's birthday with fireworks.  We have huge parades in various cities on various holidays. And we certainly know how to threaten other countries -- consider what the Bushies were saying before we invaded Iraq in 2003. But surely we'd never allow unhinged paranoia about imagined threats to cause us to go to war.

Who could imagine the son of our head of state succeeding his father? We insisted on an eight-year interregnum. And now we're contemplating electing the wife our a prior ruler to succeed him, again after an interregnum.  We would never invade a neighboring country and effectively take it over. After all, there are several countries between us and Panama.

I mean, North Korea is an armed camp.  What other country has as many firearms as citizens?  What other country puts so many of its citizens to death by official government action?  What country has had four heads of state assassinated and several others subjected to attempted assassinations? 

Maybe we're not as incapable of understanding North Korea as we like to think.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Thanks for the article JNS. Instead of firing off missiles, I wish he'd just light a fart and have some cake.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Kim Jong Il is so modest. I wonder if he prays? Our father, who art in hell...

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

"Kim Jong Un can't keep it up:"

Well that would explain his belligerence...

notsacredh
notsacredh

I'm thinking Chinese take-out. The Chinese take him out.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@bobell 

At least our congress meet more then once a year; although with the current GOP the result (nada) is pretty much the same.

notsacredh
notsacredh

If Hillary gets elected, maybe she should reset the calendar for Bill? The national celebration would be a wonder to behold. Pizza, cigars...

notsacredh
notsacredh

I'm not limping much at all. At least I wasn't until my work-out without my brace. NOW, it's sore.

roknsteve
roknsteve

The trucks hauling the rockets look like World War II surplus. 

fitty_three
fitty_three

@forgottenlord @bobell  

A good consolation prize would be the fact that we're the most incarceration-happy country in the world.  Will that work?

bobell
bobell

@forgottenlord Well, okay. But we've got a fantastic incarceration rate. And no one comes close to us in gun deaths.

Here and there I hear that the US is in danger of becoming a banana republic.  But rarely does anyone seem to reflect that that might be an improvement.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Bill could parade our heat seeking moisture missiles for the public. On second thought...maybe not.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@bobell 

There is a strong argument that the US is a banana republic.  On a gigantic number of statistics with clear distinctions between the industrialized and non-industrialized nations, the US is the only industrialized nation out of whack.