KCNA reported on Apr. 26 that a military parade was held in Pyongyang the previous day. (KCNA)

North Korea carried out its biggest night-time military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the military’s founding on Apr. 25, putting its new strategic weapons on full display. 

Rodong Sinmun ran a photo on Monday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un posing for a commemorative photo with Pyongyang university students and young workers who helped make the military parade a success. This suggests North Korea tried to promote unity and loyalty by demonstrating through the country’s unique “politics of commemorative photos with Kim” how the state prioritizes the younger generation.

How is North Korea’s “MZ generation” responding to all of this? Daily NK interviewed a man in his 20s from Pyongyang who took part in the military parade, along with a man in his 20s from Yanggang Province who watched the military parade on Korean Central Television.

People in their 20s give the parade rave reviews

Both Jang, a young worker from Pyongyang, and Kim, a university student from Hyesan, agreed that the event was the most spectacular and splendid night-time military parade they had ever seen. 

Jang said it was a shame he could not properly see the parade because, as he was marching in it, he was mainly paying attention to the light signalers (who ensure everyone marching stays in coordination) on top of the presidential platform. He said it was a great event equal to any foreign parade, and that it demonstrated “the nation grows younger if the leader is young.” He also said he felt North Korea was moving toward a “new kind of society.”

Jang did express sympathy for the soldiers who worked so hard to prepare for the parade, however. He said he would return home dead tired during the two months of rehearsals, and when he saw the soldiers up close, they looked really haggard.

Jang further said that when he looked at the soldiers who trained for almost a year to march just one minute and 40 seconds down Kim Il Sung Square, he could feel how their “blood and tears made the parade possible.”

Kim said that as he watched the event on TV, he felt the parade was as spectacular as commemorative military parades in China or Russia. He also said North Korea had grown younger because its leader is young.

Kim noted that many people also had high praise for the parade. In particular, he said North Korean authorities had ordered people to write their thoughts upon the end of North Korea’s holiday period, and that the letters reflected praise of the parade.

Many young people welcome Kim’s comments on the use of nukes

Currently, North Korea is showing its intent to continue developing nuclear weapons so it can bolster its ability to independently manage the country’s defense. In particular, the country is taking advantage of the gap in international solidarity over North Korean denuclearization that has emerged due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and hegemonic tensions between the US and China.

During the military parade, Kim Jong Un — dressed in a uniform reminiscent of his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung — said in his address that while the basic mission of his country’s nuclear arsenal is to deter war, he would also use nuclear weapons when enemies attempt to violate North Korea’s fundamental interests.

Many North Korean young people are responding ecstatically to Kim’s speech. The two young people interviewed by Daily NK said that many in the younger generation responded to Kim’s discussion of the preemptive use of nuclear weapons by saying, “Let’s bring it on.”

Jang from Pyongyang said he was glad to hear Kim’s remarks. He said the declaration to make active use of nuclear weapons — rather than to just deter war — once again demonstrated “confidence in victory.” Many young people in their 20s are apparently welcoming Kim’s statement that North Korea could use nuclear weapons in a preemptive way. Kim’s comments were essentially a “revolutionary” statement to turn young people into “loyal elements.”

Kim from Yanggang Province also said that everyone understands the North Korean leader’s speech to mean that the country can use its nuclear weapons not just for defense, but also to attack, if need be. He said he felt glad that the North Korean leader had the guts to declare before the world that North Korea would boldly make offensive use of its nuclear weapons.

Kim said he felt pride after hearing the North Korea’s leader’s first formal declaration that North Korea could also use its nuclear weapons, and that young people are saying, “Let’s have a go with our enemies using nukes.” He said many students at his university think like him.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s leadership is promoting the idea that dozens of years of belt-tightening amid US sanctions and external pressure allowed North Korea to become a nuclear power. The authorities have also tasked party organizations with researching how people of all walks of life feel about Kim’s comments regarding the preemptive use of nuclear weapons, and these findings are being reported to the government. 

“Young people don’t think about the tragedy of war…”

However, some young people reportedly worry that Kim’s comments could lead to warped views about war among the country’s younger generation. 

Jang said young people win praise for their “revolutionary statements” when they call for the nation to use the nuclear weapons “created as they tightened their belts,” or to “turn the entire world into a nuclear sea of fire if anyone touches us.” He said older people around him whisper that the youth of today do not take the tragedy of war seriously, and that this is due to state propaganda efforts that solely emphasize the power of nuclear weapons.

He said some North Koreans say ideological education must teach the younger generation from a “proper perspective” rather than encourage “warped patriotism and loyalty” through aggressive comments that instill belligerence in the youth.

Kim, for his part, said North Korea has never hurt any other country, even though there are food shortages and the economy is in bad shape. He said that Kim’s statements hinting at the preemptive use of nuclear weapons is an “opportunity to awaken people to the idea that we can destroy the world with nuclear weapons if anyone touches us.”

Jang said some people in their 20s think differently, however. He said skeptical young people say North Koreans would all die if Pyongyang initiates a nuclear war. According to him, young people critical of Kim’s speech say nobody wants to die, and that leaders should get permission from the next generation — i.e., them — before firing nuclear weapons.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean