North Korea, one of the only truly isolated countries in the world, is somewhat of an unknown fixation to those outside of its borders.
Much of what we know about life in the ‘hermit kingdom’ is gleaned from defectors who escape abroad, and highly-curated glimpses that the regime themselves allow to the outside world.
Indeed, the lack of a clear narrative of what goes on in the country has sparked much speculation, from late night TV hosts to Hollywood films painting an often exaggerated caricature.
One thing for certain, though, is that the Kim family sits atop the national hierarchy. The current scion in charge, Kim Jong Un, took power in late 2011, and has spent significant effort consolidating his position ever since.
Recently, a rare insight into the country came via a viral video clip which purportedly aired on the state-run broadcaster KCTV. In it, North Korean soldiers were shown conducting a strange, self-styled ‘self defence’ exhibition which is equal parts masculine and strange.
Watch it below:
This demonstration at the Defence Development Exhibition was bit intense. Video broadcast today on North Korean TV. pic.twitter.com/zehpI6EAEd
— Martyn Williams (@martyn_williams) October 12, 2021
Soundtracked by patriotic martial music, shirtless men were shown breaking bricks with their faces, sitting atop a bed of nails, and even bending an iron rod with their necks.
Perhaps most bizarrely, one set piece showed a soldier being beaten with sticks by multiple assailants, and fighting off a group of men armed with large clubs.
As you would expect, the Supreme Leader was in attendance, and gleefully applauded and cheered the spectacle on.
The exhibition was reportedly part of a larger event conducted in Pyongyang earlier this week, in which Kim showed off North Korea’s latest addition to its nuclear arsenal.
Hwasong-8, an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), is believed to be able to deliver a strike faster than the speed of sound at low-orbit, thus rendering most modern anti-missile defences useless against it.
In a speech addressing the attendees, Kim boldly claimed that the country will continue expanding their military arsenal, but strictly in the name of deterrence.
He then posed for pictures with uniformed personnel, including a man in a striking blue lycra onesie (believed to be part of an elite parachuting unit).
Despite the rarity of such peeks behind the curtain, the video should be taken with a pinch of salt. Though the country’s devotion towards Kim is a many-corroborated claim by locals and deserters alike, the strength of North Korea’s army is however less so.
Previous ICBM test launches have been an unequivocal failure, and many experts believe that the regime inflates the numbers of their active servicemen and equipment, as to project an image of strength.
The sabre-rattling between Washington and Pyongyang has receded into the background in the past few pandemic-stricken years, but it looks like region is about get noisy once again.