War

Renovated Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum And Pueblo

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Downed American aircraft at the new Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

In 2012 Marshall Kim Jong Un declared the need to renovate the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, as well as overhaul and move the American spy ship Pueblo for the 2013 commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Victory Day. Over this last year both sites were closed to tourism, and although I missed the grand opening and festivities for the 60th anniversary of Victory Day, I was able to visit both sites on my October 2013 DPRK trip.

Visitors now start their museum experience with a walk through the Monument to Victorious War statue park. Flanking these statues is a mock trench system leading the way to an outside gallery showcasing old American hardware: all the captured/destroyed tanks and downed airplanes which had been previously housed in the old museum basement.

Fresh from a dry dock overhaul, the Pueblo has been moved from the Taedong River into a dedicated basin adjacent the captured American hardware. The Pueblo visit includes a ship tour and a viewing of the standard propaganda video about the capture.

From the Pueblo visitors are taken to the new war museum; unfortunately no interior photos allowed. On entering visitors pay their respects and bow to a wax statue of Eternal President Kim Il Sung. The statue so remarkably resembles his grandson, Marshal Kim Jong Un, that local guides explain to visitors the distinction. The new museum is world class (although through a North Korean historical viewpoint) with modern galleries, displays, dioramas, and walkthrough environments of urban and countryside battle sites. After touring the new museum and a break at a modern cafe, visitors pass through a walkway gallery leading to the refurbished 360 degree revolving battlefield diorama. The diorama has been outfitted with a new light and video/lazer show overlay, effectively bringing the Battle of Taejon to life. The 360 degree battle diorama ends the visit.

Always an impressive site, the newly renovated Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum is now a true highlight to any visit to Pyongyang!

Pics of the new Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum and Pueblo:

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Is it Time to Defy Washington’s Logic on North Korea?

Wonsan, North Korea

Propaganda in Wonsan, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

Great analysis on the failed US “Strategic Patience” policy in regards to the North Korea problem by my friend, and  decorated Army Veteran, Michael Bassett.


Pueblo Being Moved to War Museum

The North Korean Economy Watch recently did some detective work to track down the missing USS Pueblo.

US Spy Ship Pueblo

USS Pueblo on the Taedong River April 2012 – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

As a Master Mariner Unlimited who has been on the Pueblo twice, my opinion is that this ship will never sail again under its own power. They may have knocked a little rust off the hull and given her a new paint job, but I’m with all my contacts in the North Korean tourism industry and believe she has been moved to the Homeland Liberation Museum.

The Homeland Liberation Museum is currently closed to tourists too. I’m bringing a big policy expert and war historian buff in on my May tour, his dream is to see the USS Pueblo – hopefully some “gifts” will get us in for a photo op even if the Pueblo and Homeland Liberation Museum are still closed.

The Pueblo and the Homeland Liberation Museum are due to be open for tours again in July.


War Museum and the USS Pueblo Currently Closed

For those making a trip to the DPRK in the near future please be aware that the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum and the USS Pueblo are currently closed. I only know that the Pueblo is being moved to a new location – it is advertised that both sites will be reopened this July.

USS Pueblo Guide

Touring the USS Puebo.

USS Pueblo Guide

Touring the USS Puebo.

Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Tour of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Tour of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Join up with my 2013 tours!

May 14th – May 23rd Mega Trip: Pyongyang, Nampo, Sariwan, Haeju, Kaesong, Wonsan, Kumgang, with possibility of a documentary film crew- spots available.

Late September/Early October: Mass Games tour with possibility of a documentary film crew – spots available.

I also expect to be helping out Young Pioneer Tours with their big November 2013 Eurasian Tour: Trans Siberian Express Beijing to Moscow, Minsk, Kiev, Chernobyl, Odessa, Transnistria, Moldova, and Romania.

For more info email me:
joseph@youngpioneertours.com
josephferris76@yahoo.com


The Current Round of North Korean Saber Rattling

Pyongyang, North Korea Soldiers

North Korean troops ready to punish their enemies with “unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style“.

Pyongyang was lit up 24 hours a day, traffic jams clogged the streets (even the retired traffic girls were mobilized), the hotels and bars were impressively stocked with foreign luxury goods, new statues, murals, and even entire neighborhoods were unveiled and gifted to the public. The citizens were in good cheer with smiles on their faces as they enjoyed the gigantic military parades, public holiday gatherings, and massive fireworks displays – all to commemorate the 100th birthday of ‘eternal president’ Kim Il-sung.

There was also a missile launch, the failure of which was not reported to the North Korean people…….but everyone knew.

And now with the party over there is a HUGE debt, and with the suspension of American food aid sadly there also will be empty stomachs.

So where will the DPRK go from here?  I’m not an expert, the focus of this blog is on my travel experiences, human interactions, and photography in North Korea, but I do have some on-the-ground observations and humble analysis I would like to share on the current saber rattling coming out of the DPRK.

While talking with our guides we freely discussed the topic of US food aid to the DPRK.  Our guides explained to us that they were fully aware that the American Government gave food aid in the late 90′s in response to the mass famines that afflicted the country.  When asked if this aid helped the USA to be regarded in a more favorable light by North Koreans, our guides said no, that the US did not give enough aid at that time for the average citizen to change their opinion on the US government – I’m sure ongoing anti American propaganda didn’t help either.  A more enlightening revelation was that our guides admitted to us that they were unaware of continuing food aid supplied from the USA to the DPRK throughout the 2000′s.

While the food situation is believed to be better than the late 90′s, it is generally believed that food shortages and reduced rations do exist outside Pyongyang.  People in the secondary cities we visited (Hamhung, Nampo, and Wonsan) looked to be in good health, but we did witness scavenging in the mountainous countryside in transit between these cities – our guides claimed not know what these people were doing when asked.

At the time when the DPRK government has proclaimed itself as achieving its goal of becoming a strong and prosperous nation, not only has it lost face with a failed missile launch – a costly blunder not only in the expense of research and development, but also in causing the loss of food aid – it is also faced with the tremendous expenses for the celebrations for the 100th birthday of Kim il-sung.

During my summer 2011 visit blackouts commenced in the city at 2100 hours with only the foreign hotel and the largest city monuments still lit by midnight.  I got a small peak at the expense and effort to light Pyongyang during this last celebratory period when during a trip to the Pyongyang outskirts for lunch at a mountain park, we passed the main road out to the port city of Nampo.  Here dump trucks full of coal for the Pyongyang power plant where lined up and stretched out as far as I could see towards Nampo.  This effort to light and power Pyongyang had to have been enormous, and ultimately I believe, unsustainable.

Kim Jong-un Pyongyang Subway

Kim Jong-un in the news at the Pyongyang Metro.

Kim Jong-un gave his first public speech to the North Korean people during the celebrations for his grandfather’s 100th birthday.  Witnessing this broadcast from inside the DPRK was an incredible experience.  The busy hotel lobby and bar hushed to a silence as North Koreans gathered around the bar television set. This was a big deal, remember that his father Kim Jong-il only publicly spoke once during his rule. Unfortunately to the eyes of us westerners Kim Jong-un’s speech looked terrible. He swayed and looked as if he was speaking without any kind of authority or self assurance. The North Koreans we met never talked about this speech so I assume it was viewed by them with some sense of unease.

Considering the situation the DPRK has gotten itself in (from my observations above), the current round of saber rattling is understandable, North Korea is desperately looking for attention and hopes to regain aid. Where could it all lead? Joshua Spodek, friend and travel buddy, argues in his book Understanding North Korea: Demystifying the World’s Most Misunderstood Country, that the North Korean leadership is quite rational and rather pleased to continue with the status quo – it ensures their survival. Hard times may be ahead but the safe bet would have the North Korean government continuing as before. Brash talk, saber rattling, perhaps a small scale border skirmish, but in general more of the same with the people suffering in what their propaganda claims is a righteous honor – something the South has given up in their race for economic prosperity – as the North Korean Government would tell you.

But the food crisis, debt, and failure in faith of the top leadership could be worse than I imagine, and the consequences could be far worse than a continuation of the statues quo.  Although I believe the leadership is rational, the possibility exists that if the hard liners believe their backs are truly against the wall they could follow their propaganda – 50 plus years of preaching to their military and people of a coming war to end all wars, and go for broke with a major military action.  It would be a suicidal gesture with millions of people dying in both the North and South, but I do believe such an action is a possibility if the situation deteriorates badly enough and the hard liners see no way out.

North Korean Soldiers in Pyongyang

Soldiers in Pyongyang walk home after a military parade.

While hard liners of the older generation maneuver to hold power, there are whispers that the younger generation is aware of the world outside the DPRK and that they desire change.  A cell phone revolution has taken over North Korea and familiarity with the outside world is continuously leaking in via smuggled DVD’s.  Western tourism is also helping to open eyes and change opinions.  If conditions deteriorate enough, a clash between the hard liners and the new generation will be inevitable.  The new and untested leader Kim Jong-un may find himself in the middle of this conflict, and with his own survival in mind, will probably back whatever faction seems to be winning out – that is if he survives that long.

It’s been an interesting time to have traveled to the DPRK, both before and after the death of Kim Jong-il, and no matter what happens there I wish the best of luck to the common people and hope they pull through the troubled times ahead with the least amount of suffering – the common people of North Korea are a good people and they deserve better than what they have been forced to endure.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


Tour of the US Spy Ship Pueblo

Still actively commissioned today, the USNS Pueblo currently remains the only captured ship in the US fleet.  The incident occurred Jan. 23, 1968, but on this day in 2011 our guide was one of the North Korean sailors who boarded and helped capture the Pueblo. Attractive young ladies in military uniforms usually give this tour but our western guide informed us that we were lucky to have this man as our guide – he normally only gives tours to dignitaries and foreign leaders.

Tour of the US Spy Ship Pueblo

I knew about the Pueblo incident before coming to the DPRK. I’m a Chief Mate of a US Navy ship (on long tern charter to UCSD), I know my history, and I did plenty of research pre-trip – so I was pretty amazed to learn that many people in my group were not even aware that North Korea holds a captured US ship.  But these guys were quick learners, and at the end of the trip many remarked that the visit to the Pueblo and interacting with our guide was the highlight of their trip.

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo

Young North Korean sailor on duty.

Tour of the US Spy Ship Pueblo

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo

Small arms damage clearly marked out on interior bulkheads.

Tour of the US Spy Ship Pueblo

Our North Korean Pueblo guide and myself – what a smile!


Peaceful Unification Propaganda at the Demilitarized Zone Northern Side

Peaceful Unification Kaesong Propaganda

“Let us pass on the united country to the next generation!”


Favorite Moments in North Korea

Joshua Spodek helps rekindle memories from our trip to North Korea with the following posts:

Toward the end of our week in North Korea I asked all my travel group-mates what they considered their favorite moment of our trip and why.

Part 2, Part 3

My favorite moment was learning that the sailor who led the tour of the USS Pueblo was a member of the original boarding party of the ship. I felt he had communicated a message to take what we had learned there and use it to help promote peace, a different message than most of the government-promoted messages. Learning his role made the message feel more genuine – Joshua Spodek

Tour of the US Spy Ship Pueblo

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo given by an original crew member that participated in its capture – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Our guide “love(s) American civilians!” at the North Korea Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

A required stop on any tour to North Korea is the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang. Here you will be ushered through room after room of displays showing off and explaining the great North Korean victory over American invaders during what we know as the Korean War (Forgotten War). What you see depends on your nationality, I have been told of three routes – perhaps there are more. North Korean visitors will see exhibits proclaiming the heroics of Kim Il-sung and the North Korean people and soldiers – little mention will be made of Chinese and Russian contributions. Separate exhibits for Chinese visitors celebrate their role in the war, while other exhibits for western foreigners focus on placing the blame for the conflict on the Americans and of telling of all the American war crimes and genocidal acts. 

Guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Our wonderful guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

We were shown war scene dioramas and 360 degree panoramas of Americans in defeat, DVD propaganda presentations, and led to a great basement warehouse housing captured tanks, wreaked airplanes, and all manner of  war trophies and captured memorabilia – but the most interesting thing about the War Museum was our guide.  We asked her who she thought had won the war, “we did of course because we defended our homeland against the great American invaders and forced a draw.”  Pretty good answer we thought, but then one of us asked what she thought would happen if there was another conflict, her eyes lit up and a diabolical smile spread across her face, “if we need to defend our homeland again we will take the opportunity to annihilate the Americans!”  WOW! – this was the first time on the trip we were exposed to such militaristic fanaticism – but I guess its pretty hard to get a job at the War Museum in North Korea if you are soft on Americans.

Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, Pyongyang

After being told of our impending annihilation we split our group between our trip guides and the local museum guide to fit into a small elevator to return to the museum entrance. Stuffed in the elevator between 5 big western men our guide asked us where we were from – Michigan, Maine, California, and so on.  The look on our guide’s face was priceless, she was stuck in an elevator with 5 arch enemy Americans just moments after she predicted our impending annihilation by North Korean troops. The look of shock on her face changed into a big smile as our guide declared “I love American civilians!” and together we all all broke out into laughter – one of the best moments of the trip!

Guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Our wonderful guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Defeated American Army in North Korea

Defeated American Army in North Korea

A portion of the giant 360 degree American defeat panorama painting.

Defeated American Army in North Korea

Americans in defeat, painting at the North Korea Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

War Trophies at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

War Trophies at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Wreak of an American plane form the Korean War.

War Trophies at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Captured American tank from the Korean War.

War Trophies from the US Spy Ship Pueblo

War trophies from the sailors of the captured USNS Pueblo – American spy ship.

Pueblo US Spy Ship Incident

Exhibit on the capture of the captured USNS Pueblo – American spy ship.


How Propaganda Works

By Contributing Writer Gabriel Mizrahi

Kim II Sung Statue

The Great Leader Kim Il Sung – Photo by Joseph A Ferris III

There was a point in my trip to North Korea when the gravitas and decorum of the country devolved into madness and hilarity. That point was the Train Museum.

Walk with me through a massive warehouse of Kim-family paraphernalia (the trains were just the opening attraction). Gaze at the cornucopia of paintings of the Great Leader providing crucial “on-the-spot guidance”—lots of smiling and pointing at things—for the construction of railways and bridges. Marvel at the orgy of industrial manufacturing that the Dear Leader thoroughly understands, and possibly invented, for the benefit of his people. Take note of the staples of everyday life that the father-son dream team bestowed upon its country, down to the Adidas running shoes graciously gifted—but then why are they here, in mint condition?—to the country’s grateful athletes.

In a corner room of the Train Museum, we happened upon a painting of the Dear Leader’s mother in a snowy battlefield clutching a baby Kim Jong Il and wielding a gun, which she is presumably pointing at a Japanese imperialist. That is the patriotic multi-tasking of a founding mother in North Korea. No battlefield is too dangerous to bring one’s infant along………….Continue reading this post at The North Korea Blog.


Little Kim Jong-II giving “on the spot battlefield guidance!”

Jordan Harbinger, fellow traveler on our trip to North Korea, poses the following question to our government guides and minders: “why did she bring the baby into the battle?”

Answer: Little Kim Jong-iI gives “on the spot battlefield guidance!”

Little Kim Jong-il in Battle

Painting of Kim Il-sung , Little Kim Jong-iI, and Kim Jong-Suk (Wife/Mother). If I remember correctly I took this picture (we visited a lot of strange museums – hard to keep them strait) at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, Pyongyang, DPRK, North Korea.

Check out all my North Korea pics at my Flickr Photostream