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.
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.