Don't look now, but the birthday of Kim Jong-un's grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, is right around the corner, on Monday, with absurd celebrations and marathons and magic horses all weekend. But nothing would do more poetic justice to North Korea's warped version of history and its "unacceptable" war-mongering rhetoric than to drown one of its oldest enemies in a sea of nuclear flames. Which absurdity will win out?
"North Korea warned Japan Friday that Tokyo would be the first target in the event of a war on the Korean Peninsula if it continues to maintain its hostile posture," reports South Korea's Yonhap News Agency this morning in America, by way of a report from the DPRK's state-run Korean Central News Agency. "Japan always remains a target of the DPRK's revolutionary armed forces. Once Japan makes even a slight provocation against the DPRK, the former will be hard hit before any others," the report adds.
That's pretty scary, especially since things had been calming down for a few days there — and especially considering the Pentagon can't even make up its mind about what, exactly, Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities look like right now. And there are red-tipped missiles at flower shows in Pyongyang. But there's sort of a loophole in today's news. Notice how the warning reads: "if it" — as in Japan — "continues to maintain its hostile posture." What the North Korean propaganda machine appears to be referring to is Tuesday's action out of Japan, when it set up a slew of interceptor missiles in Tokyo as a precaution against North Korea's declarations of war. And there have been plenty of precautionary measures from around the globe of late after what Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday called "unacceptable" rhetoric from the all too excitable Kim dynasty.
(North Korea issued postage stamps this week featuring the disputed islets also claimed by Japan, in a bid to bolster Korean claims to them, complete with an 18th century map. Photo via AP.)
But there is a deeper, more immediate layer of trouble: By the time Sunday afternoon strikes in the U.S., so will the 101st birthday of Kim Il-Sung, the autocrat who formalized the dynasty's way of rule in the 1960s and '70s and who, according to the history of North Korea, was responsible for single-handedly defeating the Japanese. Just yesterday KCNA, the state-run news agency, pumped out a story about a painting of Kim Il-Sung's white horse, which supposedly saved his life by spotting that North Korea's Supreme Leader was on fire:
And, according to some stories, of course, the horse was magic:
That sort of gives you an impression of how ridiculous — and ridiculously important — this occasion will be in Pyongyang, and particularly to Kim Jong-un and his family history. For showing off. For history. For might. And some experts have long voiced legitimate fears that the Kim might actually do something to mark that occasion, such as sending — or threatening to send — a medium-range missile into the territory of the grandfather of absurdity's favorite enemy.
So what's giving peace a chance? Well, mostly that North Korea has an actual history of making threats it never fulfills. But, at least for planning purposes, nuclear provocations might get in the way of North Korea's big national marathon Sunday to celebrate Kim Il-Sung. "Despite warnings of pre-emptive nuclear strikes and imminent war, ahead of the marathon state TV showed a calm scene in Pyongyang yesterday, with North Koreans holding open air dances in preparation for their April 15 national holiday," reported NK News, which adds, "Held every year on the streets of North Korea’s capital city, the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon will take place this Sunday as part of a broader multiple-day sports tournament held to commemorate the April 15 birthday of North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung." There's no way all that open-air dancing would be all for naught, right? Here's a video of last year's marathon:
North Korea's threat against Japan also comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke in Seoul on Friday. He offered, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon did yesterday, some very practical analysis that North Korea probably doesn't want to hear — a lot of which revolved around not backing down (via the BBC):
The rhetoric that we're hearing from North Korea is simply unacceptable - by any standard - and I am here to make it clear today on behalf of President Obama and the citizens of the United States and our bilateral security agreement, that the United States will, if needed, defend our allies and defend ourselves.
Here's video of Kerry's speech in Seoul on Friday, within the hour of his landing in the South Korean capital:
The "possibilities of peace" message is one Kerry has been pushing since last week, when he met with South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se. "The bottom line is very simply that what Kim Jong-un has been choosing to do is provocative, it is dangerous, reckless and the US will not accept the DPRK as a nuclear state," Kerry said at the time. "And I reiterate again the US will do what is necessary to defend ourselves and defend our allies, Korea and Japan. We are fully prepared and capable of doing that and the DPRK understands that."
Kerry will be travelling to China on Saturday to seek Beijing's help in talking down North Korea. And then comes the marathon.
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