A Few Facts on North Korea’s Army Day

We may be too far over the cliff to be bothered, but perhaps on the way down the satisfaction of having a fact or two straight will give some consolation.

There is, and will be more, a lot of loose talk thrown around about how the DPRK has reinstituted February 8 as Army Day this year, thus giving it an excuse for a military parade the day before the opening of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Why call this loose talk? Because the North actually started celebrating the anniversary again in 2015.

To untangle the dates, the DPRK used to have two anniversaries. First, April 25 (1932) was the anniversary of the founding of the anti-Japanese guerrilla force—the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army. The North’s official history says Kim Il Sung transformed the KPRA into a regular army on February 8, 1948, which became celebrated as Army Day. From then until 1978, February 8 was the larger of the two celebrations. In 1978, someone decided to do away with the 2/8 date, and just honor the founding of the KPRA. One might have suspected at the time that this didn’t sit well with everyone in the regular army, but if so, they swallowed their complaints.

Meeting of Defense Ministry in February 2015. (Photos: KCNA)

When Kim Jong Un revived the February 8 date in 2015, it seemed an important symbolic move, possibly an example of how he was putting his own stamp on things. The revived anniversary was celebrated with several activities, including wreath laying and a defense ministry meeting addressed by the head of the army’s General Political Bureau—all noting that this was the army’s 67th anniversary. Clearly, no one had lost count.

As usual, none of the annual Army Days from 2015-2017 were marked with parades. Big celebrations in the North are always reserved for decennial anniversaries. And as we all know by now, 2018 is the 70th anniversary. It may be that, as some have speculated, the North wants this to be a bristling show of its weaponry. At the same time, it is worth noting that Pyongyang has disinvited foreign media from attending the parade, meaning that the North’s own pictures will tell the story, and that the endless loops on Western broadcasts will be only what the North wants them to be.

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