Destroy New York: North Korea's creepy new propaganda video

The Kim dynasty just posted a low-budget video showing what it wants people to believe its nukes can do — to the dulcet strains of "We Are the World"

New York City
(Image credit: Thinkstock)

Unlike Iran, which says its nuclear program is just for civilian energy-generation, North Korea has almost refreshingly naked ambitions to be a world-class nuclear power. On Tuesday, South Korea said that its isolated northern neighbor is on the verge of conducting a third nuclear test, in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution. Even China, North Korea's only major ally and donor, is warning against a nuclear test; a leading Chinese newspaper, The Global Times, opined that Pyongyang should pay "a heavy price" if it follows through, including a cut in aid.

With the world against it, for some reason — maybe as a warning to its enemies, maybe to shore up support among its impoverished, mostly internet-free citizenry — North Korea posted a video on Sunday to its official YouTube channel, Uriminzokkiri, showing the dream of a young man. The dream starts out innocently enough, with a Korean-language caption informing us the man is imagining "soaring into space on board our Unha-9 rocket." But it soon takes "a more sinister turn... into the realms of Stalinist fantasy," as the man's shuttle rains missiles down on Manhattan, "setting fire to high-rise buildings in scenes reminiscent of the 9/11 terrorist attacks," says Justin McCurry at Britain's The Guardian. "Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing," the caption reads. "It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze." The most bizarre part, though, may be the soundtrack: A light-rock instrumental version of "We Are the World," the Michael Jackson–Lionel Ritchie "feel-good pop anthem."

Well, this "hilariously low-rent propaganda video" certainly seals North Korea's reputation as "the funniest nightmare starvation hell-state on the planet right now," says Max Read at Gawker. I guess we're all vloggers now, "even cruel totalitarian powers." Or maybe leader Kim Jong Un was "inspired by the international success of South Korean rapper PSY's YouTube video 'Gangnam Style,'" suggests Marc Theissen at the American Enterprise Institute. Seriously, "who knew North Korea had an official YouTube channel?"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

"This isn't the first time the U.S. has been the target of North Korean propaganda," of course, says Marya Hannun at Foreign Policy. The "chilling" scenes of America's destruction are pretty common in "some of the country's most popular cartoons." So it actually makes sense, sort of, that "this young man started dreaming about it." More to the point, "the cartoonish propaganda clip is one of a slew of recent videos that have been released by North Korea to promote the country's missile program," say Marc Santora and Choe Sang-Hun at The New York Times. Still, while "the video might make some observers laugh, the tension over North Korea's nuclear ambitions and missile program is deadly serious."

Yes, "the world tends to take notice when you depict an American metropolis under siege by a missile attack," says Paul Tassi at Forbes. And that was probably the point here. But while the video is a mixture of actual North Korean rocket launches and animated fantasy about space shuttles and nukes, the attack on New York "isn't from North Korea's assuredly excellent special effects team." It's from a scene in the Activision video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, originally starring Russian missiles. On the bright side, "the good news is that the U.S. government won't have to respond to this threat," says Doug Powers at Michelle Malkin's site. "The army of Activision lawyers who are about to mobilize against Kim Jong Un for copyright infringement is about to make D-Day look like a cub scout meeting." Watch a comparison of the New York attack scenes in the Korean video and Call of Duty:

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.