Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"Sky, Land and Sea" (하늘과 땅, 바다): North Korea joins the space race

"Sky, Land and Sea" (Hanŭl gwa ddang, pada) is a short story by Chŏng Ki Jong that appeared in Chosŏn Munhak in 2015. The story depicts the events leading to the launch of the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 satellite/ICBM in April 2009.

Chŏng, author of the novel Ryŏksa ŭi Taeha reviewed previously in this blog, passed away in 2016. As one of North Korea's most famous chroniclers of the previous leaders' exploits, it was symbolically important that he was able to pen a story about the new leader before passing away. Chŏng never disappoints; this story features more fascinating glimpses of the U.S. leadership in action.

The Plot

The story opens as Kim Jong Un steps out of his car one early spring day to pick some azaleas blooming on a ridge by the roadside. The flowers remind him of his mother, who had always loved azaleas as a sign of spring. As the old children's song "Mother" runs through his head, KJU begins speaking to the azalea sprig as if it was his late mother.
Young KJU planting a tree with his mother. Src: Namu Wiki
"Mother! I was rushing to the front when I spotted these azaleas blooming, and I had to stop the car."
Whatever happens, happy or sad,
We always run to Mother first
"Mother, the enemy is stirring the clouds of war again, and the General gave me the task of firmly crushing any attempt to intercept our satellites. So I was just on my way with a cadre from the Supreme Command - oh, but you know him well, it's Kim Ha Chŏn - we're on our way to visit the Strategic Rocket Command."
Her children give their all for the Fatherland
And Mother is forever proud
"Oh mother! If the bastards fire even one shot on our satellite, I swear I will mercilessly crush their strongholds. And I'll be sure to tell you the good news of our victory. Just wait, Mother!"
Smiling, he carries the sprig down the hill and rejoins his companion, KPA Deputy Chief of Staff Kim Ha Chŏn [possibly Kim Kyŏk Shik or Kim Myŏng Kuk].

KJU confidently steers the car down a dangerous river road. A startled Kim Ha Chŏn asks where they're headed, and KJU casually replies, "Since we've come this far, I thought we'd drop by the 503rd Air Base and see comrade Han Se Woong." Kim Ha Chŏn's brow wrinkles in consternation. He has a long-standing beef with Han, whom he considers a cocksure show-off (멋따기나 좋아하는).

KJU grins at Kim Ha Chŏn's discomfited reaction to the name. "Surely a decorated officer can forgive something that happened so long ago!" He shifts gears up a steep grade.

Ha Chŏn replies, "I cannot. Respected general, no matter how much time has passed, some things can never be forgiven."

Flash back to years ago.
KIS Military University auditorium hall.
Src: People's Daily
   While studying at Kim Il Sung Military University, one day in class Han Se Woong complained loudly about the military history curriculum, saying it was all stuff they had already learned in revolutionary history lectures. It was just a flippant remark made without thinking, but Comrade Kim Jong Un could not let it pass.
   "Nothing new to learn?" He growled. "How much could you know of military history, to make such a statement? How can you spout off like that, when you clearly don't even know the meaning of the word?!" Then, glaring at Han Se Woong with blazing eyes, He told them that the General [KJI] had taught Him that military history must cover all aspects of the military arts: all the techniques of commanders for organizing, planning and leading armed conflict.
   He continued, "The tactics developed by our Great Leader [KIS] through long years on the battlefield are complete, exhaustive, independently developed tactics. Then the General [KJI] further developed the Juche Tactics (주체전법) created by the Great Leader. We must follow these Juche Tactics to fight and defeat our enemies. And then this novice who's just entered school acts like he already knows all the profound tactics of the Great Leader and the General?"
   At the end of this harsh speech, Han Se Woong was shaking like a leaf. Han Se Woong, who prided himself in his extraordinary intellect, who had effortlessly mastered Engels' thesis on violence, Lenin's thesis on armed conflict, Clausewitz' thesis on war and even the tactics of the American invasion commanders, now hung his head in shame and despair, fidgeting with the buttons on his uniform. "I was just boasting, I don't even know the first principles of military arts. Forgive me!"
KJU forgives him with a warning. However, upon hearing about the incident, Kim Ha Chŏn rushes to find Han Se Woong and berates him mercilessly, unloading a stream of classic North Korean imprecations. In the midst of this tirade we discover that Kim is Han's father-in-law.

Although he had cared deeply for his son-in-law and thought him a fine young man, after this incident he severed all ties with him. When his daughter came crying and begging forgiveness, he sent her away. But recently his daughter has been ailing; just two days ago, he learned that she had been hospitalized in serious condition at the KPA General Hospital and required heart surgery. She'd told her mother that if only her father would forgive her husband, she knew she would recover. But Kim Ha Chŏn held firm.

KJU touring airforce corps 1016 in March 2015
Src: Chosun Shinbo
KJI and Kim Ha Chŏn arrive at the 503rd Air Base and learn that Commander Han Se Woong is leading his team on a night flying drill. They are surprised that the commander himself is leading such a dangerous, high-precision exercise.

They watch the fighters land crisply in order; Han Se Woong disembarks and rushes to greet the leader. KJU inquires how they can possibly hit their targets in the dark and thick fog. True to his nature, Han cockily replies that his team could hit their target with their eyes closed. As Kim Ha Chŏn rolls his eyes, KJU responds "Confidence is very good, but your target can constantly change. It's not fixed. At times, your target won't be what you expected; you will need to be aware of not only your assigned target but everything in the sky, land and sea (하늘과 땅, 바다)."

The three men walk over to the command center. KJU listens as Han Se Woong gives a detailed report on the movements of the U.S. 7th Air Force 35th and 51st Wings at Osan, the 8th Wing at Kunsan, the USAF 5th in Osaka, and even the Japanese SDF's 6th (Komatsu), 3rd (Misawa), and 4th (Matsushima) Corps. Han's cocky self-assurance annoys Kim Ha Chŏn. Does the lad think they're playing a game of military trivia? They are preparing for war!

But KJU seems pleased at Han's report and praises him. Then he gives him a lecture on how, as a commander, it is not enough to just be brave and doughty; he must be prepared to "seize the opportunity" to strike the enemy when it counts most (적들에게 강타를 안길수 있는 타격의 기회).
   "You studied at Kim Il Sung Military University, so I'm sure you know it well already," He said, hands moving rapidly to indicate various points on the map. "But in a war, opportunity does not always present itself to you. See here, the Yanks and Japs and their south Korean puppet friends who are threatening to shoot down our satellites. Do you know how massive their forces are? What can we do to demolish such a massive force in a single blow (일격에 타격소멸)? Never forget, opportunity comes and goes in an instant. It's just one time in a thousand! Being decisive in the moment, evaluating all the surrounding conditions and seizing the opportunity - this is fundamental!  ...
KJU picking targets like a boss. Src: Sky News
   "Most of all, we must learn from how the Fatherly Leader (KIS) commanded our troops in the liberation of Taejŏn and other battles, and how, when our enemies were stirring up a nuclear ruckus (핵소동) and clamoring for war in the '90s, the Great General (KJI) declared a state of quasi-war (준전시상태) and withdrew from the NPT. They knew how to turn adversity to advantage (역경을 순경으로). All our commanders must be thoroughly steeped in Juche tactics so that they can instantly grasp any situation that arises and strike at the enemy's softest point."
Having finished this speech, KJU steps outside with Kim and Han. Changing the subject, he suddenly asks after Han's ailing wife. Kim is stunned that the Leader somehow knows of his daughter's hospitalization; hadn't he firmly instructed his family not to breathe a word of it?

KJU says he knows they think there's no time for family stuff, but they're wrong. "How can love of family be a minor detail? It's the most important thing. It's where love of country begins. Never forget - if we go to war, we must do it with great love in our hearts."

Reaching the car, KJU rummaged in a briefcase and pulled out a single X-ray chart. "I asked the surgeon for a copy... See here, the microvascular change in her aorta shows very clearly. The doctor is confident the surgery will go well.... Well, look at it!" But Han Se Woong cannot bear to look. Even Kim Ha Chŏn gets queasy at the sight of the turbulent channel carrying his daughter's life blood.

Later, at 11pm:

At a meeting of the Central Military Command, with KJI in attendance, KJU is giving a detailed analysis of political and military developments in the region. Saying they will shoot down any North Korean satellite, the enemy has moved a flotilla into open waters in the Korean East Sea, including two Aegis Destroyers of the U.S. 7th Fleet, two missile-equipped Japanese SDF destroyers the Kongō and the Chōkai, and the south Korean puppets' navy ship the King Sejong. KJU gives a detailed account of recent movements at all enemy bases in south Korea, Japan, Guam and Hawaii, as well as an analysis of the strategic and tactical tendencies of all the US top military minds, including the president and the secretary of defense.
   U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama.
   Yesterday, Obama crossed the Atlantic in his plane Air Force One. On this trip, most attention has been focused on his speech in Prague, Czech Republic, on the subject of "A world without nuclear weapons." But internally, he is more concerned with the urgent matter of North Korea's satellite launch. Just before leaving for Europe, he got a question about it from a Reuters reporter during a Rose Garden press conference.
   His reply: "No matter how great the threat from North Korea's missiles, our will to face them is stronger. No matter how grave the provocation from North Korea, our resolve to crush it is greater and more formidable."
   "What do you mean," An AFP reporter cut in, "when you say 'our resolve is greater and more formidable'? Are you talking about nukes?"
   Obama, who is renowned as an orator, carefully avoided the word "nuclear" in his reply: "We've already sent a clear message to North Korea. We will crush the North Korean missile launch by the fist of God [신의 주먹]." This phrase comes from one of Obama's favorite movies, "The Hurricane," when the black boxer Rubin says "I'll knock out the evil in the world with these iron fists." [note: I cannot find any quote like this in the actual movie]  Now the global media is all aflutter speculating that "fist of god" refers to nuclear weapons.
   U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
   When the Soviet Union collapsed, this man went to Russia and walked across Red Square thinking to himself, "I'm having my own private military parade." He has a reputation for jokes and rash acts. At a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, he proclaimed: "North Korea says they have already succeeded in putting a miniaturized nuclear warhead on an ICBM. This means the mainland U.S. is now within range of North Korea's nuclear missiles. This means we must do everything within our power to stop their missile launches, including a pre-emptive nuclear strike."
   U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Timothy Keating is a raging war-monger who calls himself the "God of War."
   "I've already passed the order to US PACOM Navy and Air Force commanders to go to 'DEFCON-3'. The moment North Korea launches its missiles, that order goes into effect."
   DEFCON-3 refers to the order to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike. The whole world already knows this, so it is hardly a secret.
   The Great General [KJI], who had been listening to the report in silence, quietly spoke.
   "So, they're determined to attack our satellite?"
   "Yes, that's right."
   "And they're preparing for war?"
   "Yes, they're desperate to avoid being defeated by us once again."
   "And once again, the worst of it's coming from the south Korean puppets and the Japs?"
   "Yes, but for all their yammering there's nothing worth repeating."
   The General chortled, and then the whole assembly burst into raucous laughter. Comrade Kim Jong Un's words clearly conveyed his contempt and mockery toward the southern puppets and the Japs, who were no more than dogs yapping about the skirts of their American mistress.
   "The question is," Comrade Kim Jong Un continued, "have the US president and top military brass finally decided to jump into the cauldron of nuclear war, or are they just threatening us? ... Even though our Joint Command declared that any interception of the missile will be considered an act of war, still they persist in their arrogance. So, we really have only one choice. As the General said, the enemy is not the only one with the option of a pre-emptive strike."
"The MiG-29 is North Korea’s most formidable and
modern aircraft, but Pyongyang has only a handful of jets."
Src: The National Interest
They decide to instruct all army, navy and AF units to make preparations to strike at enemy bases throughout region at a moment’s notice, if there is the slightest hint of a strike against the satellite launch. In addition, KJU proposes mobilizing the airforce to conduct an attack drill over the East Sea, where the enemy fleet is deployed. That way, if the enemy makes the slightest twitch toward an attack, the fighters will be in place and ready to sink the whole fleet into the sea.

(At this point in the story, it is worth noting that the North Korean air force's most advanced fighter is the MiG-29).

KJI thinks this is a fantastic plan and gives his approval. KJU suggests that Han Se Woong lead the squadron.

10:30 AM, April 5, 2009

It's a warm spring day without a cloud in the sky. KJU and KJI arrive at the launch command center. KJU holds his cellphone close at hand; from this one phone he can command all divisions of the KPA, including Han Se Woong's squadron that is even now hovering over the East Sea, ready to attack the enemy fleet at a moment's notice. He keeps a grim eye trained on the enemy's movements.
   The enemies were in an uproar.
   In Prague, U.S. President Obama stood before a great crowd gathered in the central square surrounded by stately old structures and delivered a speech proclaiming U.S. leadership in a grand epoch-making effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons. No sooner had his speech concluded than he was handed a dispatch on North Korea. The satellite launch was imminent. A squadron of North Korean fighter jets were conducting a very realistic attack drill in the airspace above the allied flotilla of destroyers in the Korean East Sea. What should be done? Should they shoot down the fighter jets first?
   Flustered, Obama rushed to the communications room at the U.S. Embassy and called up the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, asking them to send encrypted telegrams explaining what they thought North Korea was up to.
   Their answers:
   "North Korea already declared that any interception of their satellite will be considered an 'act of war'. They are demonstrating that that was not an idle threat." (Secretary of Defense)
   "They're watching for an opportunity. They may even want us to attempt an intercept. This aerial attack drill is their way of telling us that. Their missiles are ready and trained on our tactical assets. They may have submarines lurking underneath our fleet, awaiting orders to attack." (Chairman of Joint Chiefs)
   The telegram from the US PACOM commander was uncommonly belligerent: "Intercepting the satellite launch is practically impossible. Instead we should do a pre-emptive strike against their launch site, major cities and key military posts. We can fire hundreds of cruise missiles at once. And our nuclear submarines are already in the area, awaiting the DEFCON 3 order."
   Obama couldn't help gnashing his teeth at the stupidity of PACOM Commander Keating's response. "No, that's unacceptable! Unacceptable, I say!" he screamed at the embassy's CIA comms officer. "Order them to terminate the operation immediately. Our carriers and destroyers are to stand down and not interfere with the North Korean tactical attempt. If the missile launches, track it and report it without a fuss!"
  It was classic Obama expediency [역시 오바마다운 림기응변].
North Korea's Launch Control Center, April 2009.
Src: KCNA via Yonhap
KJI surveyed the command center, with its big screen at the front and neat rows of computers and communications equipment on each side. The  young scientists and technicians were brimming with excitement at the Leader's presence and anxiety over the possible enemy interception. KJI asked them many questions about the design, the solar panels, the materials, and the physics, even though of course he knew it all already.

Moving to a map of the region, KJI took a pointer and drew a circle over Japanese airspace. "This space here is what the Japs are most worried about. Right? That's why they're fussing and frittering about interceptions. But I've instructed the General here [KJU] to prepare a devastating counterattack if they make any attempt at an intercept. So don't worry, comrades, and just go about your duties."

At 11:19 AM,  KPA Vice Marshal Kim Kwang Hyŏk [probably Kim Yong Chun] appears on the small screen to announce that all is ready, and the Leader gives the order to launch. A moment later the countdown sounds over the sound system: "Five, four, three, two, one - Launch!" 
   With a great roar, the Unha-2 carrier rocket leaves the platform in a pillar of fire. The entire room, which had been holding its breath, erupts in ecstatic cheers. On the map screen, the red line of the rocket moves smoothly along its assigned path - and then stops abruptly.
   The General turns to Comrade Kim Jong Un in alarm. "What happened? Was it intercepted?" Comrade Kim Jong Un's eyes blaze with anger. He lifts his phone. If it's been intercepted, now is the moment to order the merciless counterstrike. Then it will be full-on war. A merciless war, that will set all of sky, land and sea ablaze at once!
   Just then a Science Ministry aide urgently whispers, "General!" and points at the screen. The red line has begun moving again. At the same instant, Vice Marshal Kim Kwang Hyŏk appears on the small screen.
Related image
The Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 launch at Musudan-ri, April 5, 2009.
Src: AP
   "General! We've just received a signal from our patrol boat out on the East Sea!"
   A sigh of relief sweeps the room.  The signal from the East Sea ship traveled to the Musudan receiver instantaneously!
   The red line of the rocket continues to travel along the control map's blue path, moving now across Japanese airspace. The first stage separation occurs, followed by the second stage. Finally the Kwangmyŏngsŏng satellite separates and enters orbit. The whole process took only 9 minutes and 2 seconds from the launch. Breathtaking joy! The strains of the revolutionary songs "Song of General Kim Il Sung" and "Song of General Kim Jong Il" sound over the loudspeaker.
   "Success!" Everyone leaps from their seat, crying "Manse! Manse! Manse!"
The Leader roundly congratulates everyone and honors the whole team with a commemorative group photo. Everyone wants KJU to be in the picture, but he humbly refuses.

KJI remarks, "What pleases me most is the fact that all the scientists and technicians who took part in building and launching this rocket are young, in their 20s to 40s." He adds that he feels certain that the Fatherly Leader (KIS) was watching over the launch from his resting place in Kŭmsusan Memorial Hall.

Official KCNA photo of KJI with officials and team at launch control on
April 5, 2009. Note KJU is conspicuously absent (perhaps he was the one
taking the picture?).
Src: Hangyoreh
A young cadre sheepishly remarks that he was too worried about a possible enemy intercept to think of the Fatherly Leader. KJI blithely replies, "If the enemy had tried to intercept our satellite, they would surely have been terrified by the merciless counterstrike our General (KJU) had planned. Truly, he displayed extraordinary military knowledge and tactical brilliance, not to mention guts and courage under fire. Truly a general among generals!"

KJU didn't hear this, as he was talking gravely with someone on his phone. Suddenly he broke into a smile. "I see. Thanks for telling me the good news."

No one could have known that at that moment he was receiving the news of the successful surgery on Kim Ha Chŏn's daughter, whose husband Han Se Woong had only moments before been staring down death in the skies over the East Sea.

The story ends with KJU once again clutching the azalea sprig and speaking to his late mother, telling her the good news of the successful launch.

April 2009 Missile Launch

It's been sort of lost in the sands of time after the endless stream of more successful launches in recent years, but the April 2009 missile launch was a big deal for North Korea. It was unusual in the degree to which the North announced and promoted the launch before it happened, hoping to attract foreign buyers for its missile technology. This left them vulnerable to greater embarrassment if the launch should fail - which it did. More recent launches have returned to the pattern of being conducted as stealthily as possible.

But the launch was effective in a different way - it established beyond doubt the toothlessness of all the regional powers, including the US and China, toward North Korea's missile development. The advance notice gave them all abundant time make their displeasure known and articulate dire consequences for North Korea, and yet the launch proceeded nonetheless. It was also the first big test from North Korea for the Obama administration.

Recall that at that time the Six-Party-Talks were freshly dead and there was still hope that they might be revived. So far North Korea had only doneN one nuclear test, the dud in 2006. It would conduct its second, far more successful, nuclear test one month later on May 25, 2009.

In April 2009, KJU was more than a year away from being formally designated successor, and it is impossible to know how much involvement he actually had in the launch operation. But it is interesting to note that, with this story, the Party has apparently chosen this failed launch as something to attach to his legacy. The North Korean media, of course, reported that the launch was successful and that the satellite is now in stable orbit, beaming patriotic songs across the universe.

The NYT has a good recap of the lead-up to and fallout from the launch. The names of the U.S., Japanese and ROK destroyers in the flotilla are listed accurately in the story. Needless to say, no North Korean fighter jets were reported in the skies over the fleet that day.

KJU's Mother Ko Yong Hŭi

This is the first story I've read that mentions KJU's late mother, Ko Yong Hŭi, who was KJI's third or fourth wife (depending on which marriages you count) and died of cancer in 2004.

Ko Yong Hŭi
According to Yonhap, a propaganda film about Ko was produced in North Korea in 2011 and aired in 2012, entitled "The Great Mother of Sŏngun, Ko Yong Hŭi." The azalea theme can be seen in this film as well. However, according to prominent defector Kang Myŏng-do, the film was probably intended for viewing only by upper level cadres and military officers, not the general public. I was unable to find it on North Korea's official Youtube channel. There is no record of her being officially mentioned or acknowledged as KJI's wife in North Korean media prior to her son's ascension, and notably this story does not mention her by name or offer any biographical details.

According to Kang, the main reasons why Ko is given a low profile are: 1) She was never formally married to KJI or approved by his father; 2) She was a famous dancer and some people might recognize her from old movies; 3) She was born in Japan.

Fast & Furious: Pyongyang Drift

KJU piloting a North Korean plane
This is the third time we've seen Kim Jong Un take the wheel when he feels the need for speed (he drove twice in A Promise of Fire). Each time, he is accompanied by a nervous cadre who clutches the handle and begs him to slow down. This seems to be a part of his unique hagiography, setting him apart from his father and grandfather. One of the earliest pieces of North Korean propaganda about him to find its way South was the claim that he could drive a car when he was three years old. North Korean state media has regularly shown him behind the wheel in tanks, fighter planes, boats and other vehicles.

For more details and adorable photos of young KJU see this YTN clip.

UPDATE: KAF pilot killed in maneuvers?

Several months after translating this story, I came across the following article: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2016/12/116_174525.html.
Apparently in March 2015, around the same time this story was written, North Korean media reported about KJU bestowing a posthumous honor on a fighter pilot who died in scouting reconnaissance maneuvers a day prior to the 2009 launch. At the same time, Kim also honored 13 surviving flyers of KAF Unit 447 with the title "Hero of the Republic" for their role in the launch. There is very little information about how the KAF was involved in the launch preparations or how the one pilot died. However, the timing of this report, six years after the event and coinciding with Chong's story, adds an interesting wrinkle. Why did KJU choose to honor the pilots six years after the event? And why did this story, published in the same year by North Korea's most famous living writer, devote so much attention to the Air Force pilot character? We can only speculate at what the connection might be.