North Korea’s “Victorious Fatherland War Museum”, famous for housing hundreds of relics from the 1950-53 Korean War that almost destroyed the entire peninsula, is part of the standard package of state-approved destinations when visiting the state as a tourist.
New conscripts to the Korean People’s Army (KPA) are also taken there shortly after they begin their national service, making it a key ideological tool in the war on history. The state is therefore keen to make sure the museum is up to date, and massive work has reportedly started on vastly expanding the museum in its busy central Pyongyang location.
“It seems that the structure is in place – almost like a mirror image version of the existing war museum. It is hard to say how it is inside though but there are always people working on it even though The Lunar New Year’s Day when everybody else had a holiday,” Hannah Barraclough, cultural attache at Koryo Tours said.
Last January, state newspaper Rodong Sinmun posted the above picture of the museum construction site, claiming that North Koreans were speeding working fast to prepare the museum in time for ‘Victory Day’, July 27 – Armistice Day for the Korean War.
“The 60th anniversary of the end of the war on the 27th of July this year and as it is a particularly momentous occasion they likely thought it was time the museum was updated,” said Barraclough.
The Rodong described the construction site as a battlefield, claiming that flooring work was being completed at rapid speed. With the picture above, The Rodong specifically emphasized that construction has been continuing uninterrupted: through Chinese New Year, and in the face of freezing temperatures.
North Korea might be using this new and expanded museum as a “salute” for the 60th anniversary of the Armistice Day. According to an article from the official state news mouthpiece the KCNA on July 9 last year, Kim Jong Un visited the museum and discussed a modernization plan for it, citing the “New Era” he argues the North Koreans are now facing.
Former American spy ship the USS Pueblo will be displayed at the newly expanded museum after moving from its mooring on the Taedong River last October, giving rise to much speculation about its whereabouts.
“I have heard two rumors from Koreans in Pyongyang about how it was done but please remember these are not facts and cannot be verified in any way. The first is that the boat was ‘cut up’ into sections and then transported by land. The other is that it was airlifted by helicopter – kind of a bizarre theory there but that’s what I heard,” Barraclough said.
On March 14, North Korean social media-orientated website Uriminzokkiri broadcast footage of work underway at the construction site, showing vast numbers of military builders breaking the ground and pouring concrete. Dotted with bright red flags, the narrator described the place as an “arena of warfare,” with all builders working hard to finish construction as soon as possible.
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“The Pueblo is being moved from the Taedong River to the Botong River,” a narrator says. The boat is also now repainted orange, although this is most likely a priming coat in anticipation of adding a complete new layer of battleship gray at a later date.
The video also reveals that they are working on the Pueblo’s interior, as sparks from a blowtorch jet out behind an officer in charge of the project, speaking to the camera.
“We are working hard, not just to show off the Pueblo itself, but to show the people every little detail of the Pueblo that demonstrates the U.S.’s ambition to invade us. Last February, Kim Jong Un visited the place and suggested many possible methods of how to better display the Pueblo,” the military officer says.
In an added surreal twist, the footage also shows a military brass band entertaining the troops as they mix concrete and pound nails.