The Twin Faces of North Korean Nuclear Policy

Pyongyang, to commemorate the 64th anniversary of North Korea’s post-World War II independence on August 15th, has been trying to generate fervor among and revitalize the mentality of the citizens by holding a ceremony to announce plans for the construction of 100,000 households.

“Independence Day” in North Korea speaks of the day on which the Japanese army was defeated on the Korean peninsula as a result of Kim Il Sung’s anti-Japanese struggle, a day on which Kim Il Sung “freed” the Fatherland. As a result, August 15th is now an official day for extolling Kim Il Sung’s achievements, which naturally means that neither other important figures in the independence movement nor the achievements of the United Nations forces that liberated the Korean peninsula are mentioned at all.

Therefore, how do the North Korean authorities deal with the dropping of the atomic bombs by the U.S. which many analysts believe served as the decisive factor in Japan’s surrender?

The majority of North Korean people know only that the nuclear attacks were an event in which many people died due to the dropping of bombs by the U.S. Even this information has never been widely disseminated through education or propaganda put out by the North Korean authorities, only through stories handed down by older generations.

Most defectors say that, while in the North, they neither read materials nor heard in-depth details of the grave casualties suffered by the Japanese people after the bombings. Even defectors who graduated from high school in the North say they know little or nothing about the damage inflicted on Japan by the event.

The North Korean government itself only briefly mentions the bombings in a three or four sentence-paragraph in high school “World History” textbooks, while school teachers refrain from offering any explanation, even if they have any. Even to students majoring in history at university, nothing substantial is provided.

Moreover, North Korean propaganda on the aftermath of the atomic bombings has been extremely two-faced.

At the foreign policy level, North Korea’s assessment of the repercussions of the bombings has been relatively objective and, at times, used as material to threaten Japan and mount anti-American propaganda offensives.

Although infrequently mentioned, the North Korean position is clearly outlined in the 1992 version of a North Korean “Political Dictionary.”

In the dictionary, North Korea points out, “During World War II, at the point when Japan’s impending defeat was evident after the failure of the Sino-Japanese War and Germany’s surrender brought about UN forces’ entry into the Pacific War, the Americans carried out two atomic tests targeting Japanese civilians, atrocities which killed or injured several hundred thousand innocent people.”

It also emphasized the North Korean analytical position on the bombings, “This was their [the United States’] attempt to put a stop to the Socialist movement which has since expanded throughout the world, including Asia, and was a sign of their greedy ambition to reap greater rewards from the member states of the UN force by exaggerating their military might. However, the ambition was stymied by America’s crushing defeat in the Glorious Fatherland Liberation War (Korean War) and the success of the Soviet Union’s atomic test.”

Despite such a position being upheld by the North at the diplomatic level, there is a reason why they have not also alerted their citizens to the damage from the bombings or the inhumane action of using an atomic bomb against civilians.

First, North Korea had a painful experience of its own surrounding atomic bombs during the Korean War.

At the time of the War, when rumors of atomic bombs being used began to circulate after the entry of the Chinese forces and the retreat of the U.S. army, countless North Korean citizens advanced southwards. During this time, the North Korean authorities executed their own people whilst guarding southbound routes in order to prevent an exodus.

Second, there is the issue of North Korea’s own nuclear ambitions, which they have been attempting to realize for many years.

Kim Il Sung drew up a plan to obtain nuclear weapons with the support of the Soviet Union in the 1960s. It is highly likely that the North, which has insisted that it should be able to equip itself with nuclear weapons to counter U.S. nuclear power, has kept silent on the lethal and inhumane nature of atomic bombs in order to deflect the danger of the Workers’ Party policies appearing two-faced to the citizens.

Before their own nuclear tests, North Korea, in order to reduce the citizens’ fear of the U.S., claimed in propaganda, “In a place like our country (North Korea) which is mountainous, nuclear weapons cannot have any effect. As long as we make an attempt to possess accurate knowledge of and safety apparatus against nuclear weapons, we can avoid being harmed by them.”

To which end, North Korea teaches emergency measures to be used in case of an atomic bomb explosion to soldiers and citizens, and orders that raincoats, boots, gloves and hats covering faces, as well as baked mud to be used as relief against radiation, be prepared as part of individual safety measures.

Furthermore, the North Korean media speaks out often and harshly on the issue of comfort women, using it to confront the Japanese abduction issue, but keeps conspicuously silent on the subject of the atomic bombings.

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