The Arirang Festival is not all dance and gymnastics, it is also a display of North Korea’s military might – although for this event this is confined to participation by the army’s infantry divisions (I expect they would have liked some tanks in the show too, but I imagine that would make a mess of the grass in the May Day stadium). Rather than just posting another wide shot of the show, I cropped this one quite hard to include just a few hundred of the infantrymen marching across the stadium lunging forward with the bayonets on their rifles every second step. I expected the backdrop to read something quite provocative, but when I had it translated it came out to be something much more subdued, namely “Strong military with determination (or will)”. In this cropped shot you can see the individual flash cards that are held up by 20,000 schoolchildren to form the backdrop.
These days North Korea seems to have toned down its rhetoric a lot towards the US. I had read that in years gone by it was quite common to see posters urging soldiers to kill the American enemy, but the only time I came across that sort of rhetoric was when I asked a question about the number of people who were suffering from malnutrition in the country. The answer I got from one of my guides was “Our people do not care if they are starving. They will gladly give up a meal if they know the money can be used to make one more bullet to kill one more American imperialist and free our country from occupation”.
Despite its dire economic situation, North Korea spends more than US$5 billion a year on its military which I was told was “necessary” because “the American imperialists have 1,000 nuclear warheads pointed at us ready to destroy us if we show signs of weakness”.
The write-up on North Korea on the Global Security website includes this paragraph about the DPRK’s military: “The military continues to grow in both conventional and asymmetrical forces with increasing emphasis on the latter. The military provides deterrence, defense, and a massive offensive threat, as well as leverage in international negotiations. The army is much more than just a military organization; it is North Korea's largest employer, purchaser, and consumer, the central unifying structure in the country, and the source of power for the regime.”