Monday, March 09, 2009
North Korea's Satellites of Love
One of the more bizarre "attractions" that I visited in Pyongyang was the planetarium at the Electronics Industry Hall of the Three-Revolution Exhibition. The official guide pamphlet revels in some apparently impressive statistics:
The "globe-shaped object" representing Saturn is 48 metres in diameter! The Three-Revolution Exhibition has a floor space of 80,000 square metres! The halls are arranged symmetrically on both sides of a main road that is over 100 metres wide! The exhibition features 230,000 items of over 23,000 kinds of products and materials!
The planetarium's show itself was a disorienting experience. Perhaps due to something I had eaten for breakfast I was already feeling a little lightheaded before the lights went out and some hypnotic faux-futuristic moog music began to play. The show wasn't much different to those in planetariums elsewhere (as far as I remember there were also "Courtesy of NASA" labels below each of the planets) except the woman narrating the show had unusually flat intonation which combined with the music, the darkness and almost empty cavern we were sitting in made the experience slightly eerie. Remembering the fact that we were also at the mercy of the world's most isolated country didn't help the anxiety very much either. At one point I was disconcerted to hear what sounded like escaping gas which made me think of the way in which Goldfinger had killed his criminal accomplices (what more fitting way for the Kim Jong-il regime to dispense with some foreign visitors just for the hell of it?). The finale even looked like that of a James Bond film in which an illuminated outline of a Taepodong missile took off and flew across the interior wall until out popped a little blob of light which spun round the room at increasingly dizzying speeds and pinging a message in Morse code.
The little blob of light was the Kwangmyongsong No.1 satellite that supposedly circles the Earth to this day playing the "Song of General Kim Il-sung". The 1998 launch is a point of pride in North Korea and features heavily in propaganda, on stamps and at the Mass Games but in Japan, and internationally, it is remembered as a sabre-rattling act of provocation with the Taepodong flying across Japan landing in the Pacific Ocean (the planetarium showed a different trajectory with the rocket completely missing the Japanese archipelago). If the satellite ever had existed it seems likely that it either never made it into space and/or probably plopped into the sea.
With the expected launch of another North Korean missile (and, indeed, the Kwangmyongsong No.2!) Japan has warned North Korea that a missile flying into Japanese airspace will be shot down.
North Korea's Central News Agency has been particularly bellicose in its response:
We will retaliate any act of intercepting our satellite for peaceful purposes with prompt counter strikes by the most powerful military means.
If the enemies recklessly opt for intercepting our satellite, our revolutionary armed forces will launch without hesitation a just retaliatory strike operation not only against all the interceptor means involved but against the strongholds of the U.S. and Japanese aggressors and the south Korean puppets who hatched plots to intercept it.
Shooting our satellite for peaceful purposes will precisely mean a war.