Last week, North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party organized a “Self-Defense Exhibition” attended by President Kim Jong Un, his sister Kim Yo Jong and four or five dozen of their closest, high-ranking, synchronized, hand-clapping friends from the Korean People’s Army.
A highlights clip of the show released by North Korea’s official state television network appeared on a few U.S. news outlets.
The Self-Defense Exhibition featured the kind of martial pageantry and showmanship that would have charmed a certain former U.S. president, had he not been busy stating his shower preferences while hitting up his party’s faithful for campaign funds.
The show began with a flyover formation of North Korean fighter jets, to be expected at such an event. What I didn’t expect to see were the contrails of red, white and blue vapor inexplicably streaming from the aircraft as they passed overhead, while modest fireworks displays sparkled over their canopies.
Next, things got more up front, personal and weird. A series of bare-chested soldiers energetically broke bricks and tiles with their hands, feet and faces or lay atop shattered glass bottles and beds of nails while sledgehammer-wielding colleagues shattered huge concrete blocks perched on their chests.
Other soldiers somersaulted over cars, kick-shattered pottery vessels perched atop their comrades’ heads or subjected themselves to blows from long wooden poles delivered by colleagues who didn’t appear to be holding back, only to emerge grinning and invigorated.
Kim Jong Un appeared distracted and disinterested during the early part of the performance. But as the intensity of the demonstration increased, culminating with a screaming soldier running headlong into a cement block held by a burly pair of comrades and shattering it with his face, the North Korean president began to grin and nod in appreciation.
The video was apparently intended to show the rest of the world how tough, resilient and dedicated the Korean People’s Army is. But my takeaway was that it showcased an army well-prepared to endure coming in contact with shattered concrete, nails, broken glass and collapsing beams — you know, a scenario replicating a cruise missile striking a defensive bunker.
While the People’s Army may be able to defeat enemies armed with sledgehammers, cement blocks and wooden poles, you don’t want to take a nail bed to a thermonuclear war.