Nearly two decades of North Korea’s infamous Songun (Military First) policy and many more under a military-centered rule have given birth to a range of traditions and ceremonies that, despite their frequent appearance in North Korean state media, are often overlooked by the international press. The military culture that comprises these traditions and ceremonies has its own ceremonial objects, which are now often shown off by recipients in propaganda footage.
The objects in question – in the true spirit of Songun – are of course guns. More specifically, they are chrome-plated and lavishly engraved arms, which come in a wide variety of types depending on the rank and accomplishments of the recipients. And in most cases, these chrome-plated weapons were awarded personally to soldiers by whichever member of the Kim family was in charge at the time, during visits to various military units throughout the country.
AWARDING THE WEAPONS
Such visits have been especially prominent since August 25, 1960 when Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il inspected the headquarters of the “Guards” 105th Armored Division, which was the first unit to enter Seoul during the Korean War.
Nowadays these inspections are almost always televised and covered extensively by state media. Their main purpose is to strengthen the bond between the ruling Kim family and the Korean People’s Army. Taking place an average of once every week, inspection visits usually see Kim Jong Un traveling to one of the many bases and military factories across the country to give guidance to local personnel.
The general procedure of such visits often starts with Kim inspecting a certain military unit or exercise, after which the ceremony is started. Usually just three objects are handed out, namely a chrome-plated Type 88 rifle, a chrome-plated Type 73 light machine gun and a pair of brass binoculars. After this, all unit personnel line up – often on a stage set up specifically for this purpose – for a group picture with the Supreme Leader in the middle and the recipients of the new shiny weaponry close by his side.
Usually just three objects are handed out, namely a chrome-plated Type 88 rifle, a chrome-plated Type 73 light machine gun and a pair of brass binoculars.
Aside from discerning soldiers that have distinguished themselves one way or another, the guns are also often seen in the hands of honorary guards during military parades and used by guards of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces (KPISF) at key places and during public events.
However, these are often of a different type (such as the North Korean copies of the AK-47, SKS and AKM, designated Type 58, Type 63 and Type 68 respectively), suggesting they were not awarded in a ceremony as described earlier on in this article, but rather issued to these personnel for aesthetic purposes.
TRADITION & SIGNIFICANCE
While it is uncertain when exactly the tradition of handing out chrome-plated weaponry arose, it is known that Kim Il Sung handed out chromed Baekdu San pistols to high-ranking officials as early as the 1980s.
Joseph Bermudez, a North Korea military expert and co-founder of AllSource Analysis, told NK News: “Initially KIS gave out nicely finish pistols in custom boxes. This later morphed into the chrome policy.”
It should be noted that the kind of weaponry awarded is heavily dependent on the rank of the person it is awarded to. While ordinary soldiers solely receive the Type 73 or Type 88, officers are usually seen sporting the Baekdu San pistol only.
Although the tradition of rewarding excelling soldiers with chromed or engraved weaponry is mostly unique to North Korea, the concept of shiny ornate guns certainly is not. Especially in socialist and Middle Eastern and North African nations, chromed or “golden” armaments are often found among high-ranking officials and government affiliates.
Handing out such relatively simple rewards is a cost-effective manner of improving morale and another testimony to the North Korean leadership’s ability to ensure the loyalty of the military.
Main photo: KCTV
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