September 11, 2001 is a date which will not be forgotten soon. The terrorist attack on the United States took almost 3000 lives and had a defining influence on the world’s politics for the next decade and arguably beyond.
It is quite understandable that at the time people did not really care about how this tragedy was covered in North Korea as there were more important things to deal with.
But for those interested, here is the story of how they did.
The initial message
North Korea reacted immediately to the attacks. On September 12, Rodong Sinmun published the following message on the last page where international events are normally covered, in an article titled “There has been an attack on the United States. The entire country is in chaos.”:
According to CNN television broadcast of the United States, Voice of America and other foreign media, on September 11th, an attack of unprecedented scale has been launched against the United States, throwing the country into chaos.
On that day, at approximately 9 o’clock, two planes crashed through the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Because of this, huge holes appeared at the upper part of the two buildings. Fire and black fumes enveloped the building and reached up to the sky.
Another plane collided with the headquarters of the American Department of Defense. Several cars exploded in front of the building and fire broke out in it; some buildings in Washington were attacked.
And another plane collided with the Presidential residence in Camp David. Due to the attacks, all personnel of the White House and of the Capitol have been evacuated, access to the buildings is restricted.
In Chicago and other cities across the nations, large buildings are closed and the New York Stock Exchange has been closed. Airport traffic has also been stopped.
There are restrictions on the access of civilians and cars to the city of Washington. University lectures have been canceled. Schoolchildren from elementary, middle, and high schools have been evacuated.
President Bush of the United States said about these events that “America is facing a national crisis” and announced an emergency meeting of the country’s National Security Council. He also issued instructions to relevant organizations to find causes of these events and to start restoration works.
The United States Army, stationed in the country and around the world, were put on emergency alert.
As one can see, the message was written in a neutral style.
One of the four attacks was also clearly misreported: the Camp David residence in Maryland was very much intact. But by the time the English version of the story was prepared by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), however, the mistake had been corrected to say that “one plane crashed in a rural area of the state of Pennsylvania.”
“As a UN member, the DPRK is opposed to all forms of terrorism and whatever support to it and this stance will remain unchanged.”
Another article was released by KCNA on the same day titled “DPRK stance towards terrorist attacks on U.S.” In this, a spokesperson for the DPRK Foreign Ministry called the attacks a “very regretful and tragic incident [which] reminds once again of the gravity of terrorism.”
The statement did not outright support the U.S., but instead took its side merely against terrorism, saying, “As a UN member, the DPRK is opposed to all forms of terrorism and whatever support to it and this stance will remain unchanged.”
The following days
On September 14, KCNA reported in more detail on the events of the 11th, saying the “entire area of the World Trade Center was totally destroyed” and that the New York City mayor (Rudy Giuliani) “estimated 6000 deaths” in the incident. It even quoted VOA News as saying “this attack was a major blow to American security” and that “Bush’s leadership will be tested.”
On September 18, Rodong Sinmun published a piece titled “The United States attempts a military retribution.” Quoting “foreign media,” the newspaper described George Bush’s ultimatum to the Taliban regime, in which they mentioned al-Qaeda’s head.
Interestingly, the terrorist was called “Laden”(라덴), with his name being butchered and transliterated from English, not Arabic – like the DPRK usually does. His Arabic name is bin Ladin (بن لادن) and would have probably been correctly spelled differently – 빈라딘 not 라덴 in Korean. This shows that at the time, people working in the Rodong Sinmun office in Pyongyang probably had little, if any, idea about who Osama was. (The Rodong was still using the same spelling as of this April, but has since added the “bin” to the name.)
The article ended with a statement: “The international community is greatly concerned with the severe results that may result from an American military retribution.” The message was sort of ambivalent: on one hand, the attack was called “retribution,” not “aggression;” on the other hand, the newspaper also started to point out the negative implications of the situation as well.
The state discourse forms
Inside the country, the state soon started a campaign explaining to people that if some anti-American forces managed to strike the United States, this means that we, a small country, can too – standing against this menacing superpower.
The official state view on the attacks was finalized in an article in the Big Korean Encyclopedia titled “The 9-11 Event,” published in the 2000s:
A huge-scale attack on the American cities of New York and Washington, perpetrated on September 11, 2001. On that day, four Boeing 757 and Boeing 767-planes, operated by American Airlines and United Airlines, were used for attacks on important objects in New York and Washington.
This attack completely destroyed the twin 110-floor towers of the World Trade Center, called “the symbol of America’s economic power,” with a colossal explosion. In 7 hours, another 47-floor building, adjacent to the Center, was engulfed in flames and also collapsed.
Not only Americans, but traders from various other nations and other employees worked in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. There were 50,000 people working there and 150,000 came in and out every day.
In the capital of Washington, the plane collided with the western side of the headquarters of the American Department of Defense, called “the nucleus of the United States’ military power.” A fire broke out and the fifth floor collapsed entirely. Before that, this plane was headed for the White House, but at the last moment turned 270 degrees and collided with the headquarters.
This shocking attack on New York and Washington led to the deaths of approximately 2800 people from about 80 nations. Dollar and stock markets drastically fell, and the United States’ losses are estimated at 200 billion U.S. dollars. This attack had a negative impact on the world economy as well, estimated at 100 billion U.S. dollars.
The Washington Post and other American newspapers announced that due to enforcement of missile defense programs and other arrogant policies, the United States brought isolation on themselves, and that the reason behind this event was the unilateral foreign policy of the Bush administration, concerned only with America’s profit.
Afghanistan was not the last target of the United States’ “War on Terror,” as under this nonsensical roar, they expanded the war to the disobedient nations.
The Bush administration declared the attack “an act of war against the United States,” branded bin Laden, native to Saudi Arabia, the main perpetrator of the crime, and passed down a three-day ultimatum to the Taliban government of Afghanistan to hand over Laden.
The Taliban government rejected it and on October 8, the United States assembled a vast military force and started military operations against Afghanistan. The United Kingdom also participated in them.
Forces led by the United States subjected cities and villages to indiscriminate bombardment and organized search operations to arrest bin Laden. They overthrew the Taliban government.
Many of the world’s people voiced their criticism that the war in Afghanistan was not a “War on terror” to liquidate bin Laden and his organization “al-Qaeda,” but a war to grab regions that are rich with oil.
Afghanistan was not the last target of the United States’ “War on Terror,” as under this nonsensical roar, they expanded the war to the disobedient nations. Following their low ambitions, ignoring the United Nations and international law, they started a war of aggression against Iraq, thus committing a tyrannical act of state terror.
Thus we can surmise that the North Korean discourse on Islamist terrorism was closest to that of the American far-left: that while some aspects of the initial response were justified, this was just another act of unjustified aggression in the bloody history of American imperialism. You may have heard things like this from people like Noam Chomsky, and largely the same discourse was reiterated in North Korea.
It should also be noted that there was no gloating about the fate of the victims of the 9/11 attacks in the available records of North Korean media.
Even such a tragedy as September 11 did not persuade North Korea to offer at least some compassion to the victims living in the enemy state. Instead, all they did was indirectly condemn the attack.
Yet, I know one North Korean woman to whom September 11 was the day when she started to change her attitude about America for the better. She was quite young when the attack happened, and on the day it was announced, she talked to her father about it and eventually developed an interest in the United States and its role in the world in general. Despite all that they were teaching in the North, she thought that such a big and important country just cannot be pure evil. Surely there must be some things people like and cherish about America.
These days, she lives in South Korea – and soon she will be visiting the United States for the first time in her life. You really never know how life may turn out.
Featured image: Front page of Newsday after September 11 attack
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 1719 words of this article.
Featured Image: Newsday, New York, NY by cliff1066™ on 2010-08-12 02:48:33