North Koreans Reject Korean War Propaganda Claiming South Struck First

Citizens exposed to outside films and media freely discuss the actual history of the war.
2021-06-25
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North Koreans Reject Korean War Propaganda Claiming South Struck First Fireworks illuminate the sky to mark the 67th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 27, 2020.
Reuters

Every year in the run up to the anniversary of the June 25, 1950 North Korean invasion of South Korea that started the three-year conflict, residents of the North are bombarded with propaganda that falsely claims it was the South who set off the conflict.

Fewer and fewer North Koreans are buying the official line these days, sources in the North told RFA.

Seventy-one years ago Friday, North Korea invaded the South and overran the capital Seoul in three days, igniting what both Koreas call the 6.25 War, and quickly conquering the whole peninsula except for a small perimeter around Busan in the southeast, before a U.S.-led United Nations counterattack pushed them back.

North Korea officially maintains that it was the South that provoked the war and that the U.S. had a plan to conquer the whole peninsula as an aggressor. Pyongyang calls the conflict, which ended in an armistice, the “Fatherland Liberation War,” and claims it won a victory over the imperialist U.S.

A resident of the city of Hamhung in the eastern province of South Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean Service that propaganda broadcasts began in the city this week.

Broadcast vehicles from the Korean Workers’ Party Propaganda and Agitation Department lined up near a factory in the city and were “enthusiastically pushing class-consciousness education by saying that the Korean War in the 1950s was an armed invasion by South Korea and other imperialists trying to crush our Republic,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

The broadcasts tell how the North Korean invasion of the South was provoked by the enemy attacking first, the Hamhung resident added.

“The soldiers and people fought together with a fighting spirit to defend the country and our leader from the enemy, and through our fierce determination, we finally won,” the source quoted the propaganda as saying.

“Despite this obvious propaganda, most people know the actual history. Any factory worker who has heard a foreign broadcast about the Korean War knows full well that it wasn’t South Korea that attacked first. We actually prepared for the war and started it. They have been repeating the narrative that the war was started by provocations from the United States and South Korea,” said the source.

According to the source, people who are close to each other often talk about the actual history of the Korean War whenever the anniversary draws near.

“They’ll say, ‘If South Korea had started it, the South Korean army could have occupied Pyongyang within three days. How is it possible that the Korean People’s Army were able to take Seoul in three days instead?’” said the source.

“They all know that the propaganda trotted out by the authorities on war history is inconsistent historical distortion,” the source said.

Another source, a resident of South Pyongan province, north of Pyongyang, told RFA that each year as June 25 approaches, authorities repeat the propaganda saying that South Korea, backed by the United States, was trying to devour North Korea.

“They keep saying that we should not forget for a moment that the enemy caused the war, and we should go out to defend our homeland,” the second source said.

“The authorities this year emphasized that young people, who may have friendly feelings toward the culture of South Korea and the United States, should know that the Korean War was a battle of ideology and mental power with the imperialists who were trying to annihilate our country,” said the second source.

The authorities tell young people that they had a responsibility to continue the class struggle even if generations have passed since the war, according to the second source.

“But North Korea’s teens are already watching South Korean and American films stored on USB flash drives or SD cards… so they are well aware of how the Korean War actually began,” the second source said.

“They know full well that when Seoul fell in three days and South Korea was on the brink of disappearing completely from the peninsula, the U.S. and UN forces felt the need to step in, but the authorities are repeating obvious lies,” said the second source.

A college student in his 20s who escaped from Pyongyang in 2018 to settle in South Korea told RFA that a South Korean War movie helped him, and others find out about the true history of the war.

“The movie ‘Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War,’ which was released in South Korea in 2004, came to Pyongyang on video CD and it was a hot topic among young people,” the student said.

The film is about two brothers who are conscripted into the South Korean army unwillingly and it is highly critical of the South’s anti-communist fervor at the time.

“The movie depicts very well how the Korean War started and how a family suffered tragedies due to the war, so young North Koreans who secretly watched it were greatly shocked to know what it was really like,” the student said.

“Some of my high school friends borrowed it and I remember watching it on a USB stick. That’s when I first learned that it was not South Korea, but North Korea that started the war.”

Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jinha Shin. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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