February 21, 2024

North Korea’s baffling personalized rank insignia, explained

The DPRK's complex ranking system says a lot about the ups and downs of Pyongyang politics

A sociologist can usually write something about the cultural symbolism of a uniform with relative ease, but the exception to this rule are uniforms of the highest-ranking elite members, who often hold special ranks awarded to a few.

The problem is that such uniforms are designed individually, with designs being approved, and sometimes even designed, by their users. A famous Western example would be America’s first General of the Armies - John Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary forces in World War I. A brilliant, if ill-tempered commander, Pershing designed his rank insignia (four gold stars) all by himself.