North Korean state media, the gift that keeps giving, has released a new official song to rally the country behind leader Kim Jong Un and his latest policy. The song, "Let's Go Forward," features standard tropes of North Korean propaganda, such as a shouting male chorus and an almost comically vibrato soprano intoning the latest glories of the nation.
Entertaining though it might be as a piece of unintentional kitsch, there is a serious point to be made about the song and video, which aggressively push a new policy known as byungjin, which translates as "progress in tandem" and refers to the simultaneous development of the economy and nuclear weapons.
Adopted in April, byungjin is new but not new: It conveys that North Korea is not choosing between further bolstering its massive military (the highest enlistment rate in the world) and growing its economy. Of course, North Korea is choosing to privilege its military over its economy, though a state-wide "military first" policy, but the idea is to link these two things in the minds of North Koreans. Nationalist militarism, economic growth, the glory of the nation: In byungjin thinking, these are all the same thing.
There are hints of this in the video, which blinks between images of artillery shells exploding, trains riding into the sunset (a symbol of the economy) and children playing. That sequence might seem strange or even a bit creepy to outsiders, but in the North Korean context it makes perfect sense. That's byungjin.
That comes through in the lyrics as well, which praise North Korea's nuclear weapons program and warn of hostile foreign powers. Here's a partial translation, courtesy of Shirley Lee at New Focus International, a news site that relays analysis and information from North Korean defectors and citizens still inside the country. (Note: "Chosun" is a traditional name for Korea, Baekdu is a reference to a supposedly mystical mountain in the North.)
Go forth Chosun, towards Byungjin
Blessed by the brilliant Sun Flag
Great Baekdu nation is on the attack
Go forth Chosun, on the orders of the Central Party
Towards the Byungjin
Byungjin of the economy and nuclear strength
As long as there is an enemy who can invade on this earth
There is only this road for us to follow
Go forth, Chosun!
On the faith of victory
Towards the Byungjin of economic and nuclear strength