By the end of the Korean War (1953) Kim Il-sung had had enough of foreign imperialist intervention in the affairs of Korea. He had, with more than a little help from the Soviet Union, something, which now seems to have been forgotten about, managed to stem Japanese Imperialism and remove them from Korea in 1945. In 1953 he had defeated the United States in the Fatherland Liberation War (to outsiders the Korean War) though the US continued to occupy the southern part of the country as it does to this day.
What great leader, especially of the socialist ilk, doesn’t have his own philosophy? It was time for the Greater Leader to announce his. And so it was that his people and the world were first introduced to the Juche Idea in around 1955. This philosophy continues to permeate absolutely everything in North Korea and everything that is done is supported by Kim Il-sung’s Juche Idea.
In simple terms the Juche Idea has three basic components:
• The country should maintain its independence under the wise counsel of the Great Kim Il-sung (and, it would appear, his handpicked heirs and successors).
• The concept of self reliance is critical – was not every problem existing in North Korea created by wicked external imperialist intervention?
• Self defence in terms of military – this links nicely with Kim Jong-il’s Songun or Military First policy.
While not a specified component above, a key part of Juche is that it is “people” driven – driven by the people for the people. As a result of this, unlike centralist systems elsewhere, this system cannot fail – so says our guide.
The Juche philosophy is of such importance that it justified the setting up of a new calendar system for North Korea. Time is now measured in Juche years with Juche 1 equating to 1912 which is, surprise, surprise, the year of Kim Il-sung’s birth. Even within North Korea, the Juche year concept has not been universally adopted and the Juche and Gregorian year are often shown together.
In 1972, under the guidance of Kim Jong-il, the Tower of the Juche Idea (or the Juche Tower) was one of many grand edifices constructed to honour the 70th birthday of Kim Il-sung.
The tower stands on the east bank of the Taedong River directly opposite the Grand People’s Study House (built at the same time) and Kim Il-sung Square. It is a tapering, four sided, granite tower 170 metres high (very importantly, higher than the Washington Memorial in the United States – by less than a metre!). Note the symmetry of the buildings around the tower in my main picture.
The tower comprises 22,550 blocks of white granite, of for each day of Kim Il-sung’s life (ignoring the extra day in leap years) up to his 70th birthday. If you have read my review on the Arch of Triumph you will know that that monument also comprises 22,550 blocks of white granite. On top of the Juche tower is a 20 metre high red flame made of some form of “rare material” illuminated from within.
At the base of the tower is a 30 metres high bronze monument (picture 2) comprising three workers, one holding aloft a hammer, one a sickle and the other, a brush – the symbol of the Worker’s Party of Korea. The hammer and sickle will be recognised by those familiar with the same symbols used in the Soviet Union. The brush has been added as symbol of intellectualism – a key element for progress in North Korea. North Korean authorities are very careful to differentiate North Korea’s Juche philosophy from what is variously referred to as communism, Marxism, Leninism, socialism, etc and especially from those that have failed elsewhere.
Inset into the actual base of the tower (which itself is abundantly decorated with intricately carved flowers) is an alcove lined with small plaques of support received from Juche societies and similar from all over the world.
Our guide points to these plaques as evidence of how Kim Il-sung’s Juche Idea has been embraced worldwide. One either side (north and south) of the tower is a paved avenue of around 150 metres, lined on both sides by large soviet looking statures of people in typical revolutionary poses, smiling and happy to be living under the guidance of, and security provided by, the Great Kim Il-sung.
Note how an abundant harvest (provided, as everything good was, by Kim Il-sung) is celebrated by the figure on the left hand side of my picture above – rather ironic in a country famed for its failed harvests and famines.
The tower is beautifully lit up at night.
While we didn’t suffer any of the much talked about long electricity blackouts while we were in Pyongyang I am told that even when the lights go out everywhere else the lights never go out on the Juche Tower and consequently on the Juche Idea.
The Juche Tower provided a wonderful background for a fireworks display commemorating Kim Il-sungs 102nd birthday which we unexpectedly attended later during our visit to Pyongyang.
Time now to go up the Tower of Juche Idea for a look.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on my trip to Pyongyang. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Tower of the Juche Idea: The View from the Top – or to start the loop at the beginning go to – Pyongyang – A Capital City Unlike any Other.