SEOUL: South Korea’s resumption of anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts from mammoth speakers in retaliation for the North’s fourth nuclear test is a return to old-fashioned, Cold War-era psychological warfare — something the two Koreas, locked in a standoff over the world’s most heavily armed border, specialize in.
Many in Seoul believe the broadcasts will sting in Pyongyang because the rigidly controlled, authoritarian country worries that the broadcasts will demoralize frontline troops and residents and eventually weaken the grip of absolute leader Kim Jong Un.
Here is a look at the history of propaganda warfare between the rival Koreas:
PSYCOLOGICAL BATTLES BEGIN
The war of words across the Korean border dates back to at least the 1950-53 Korean War, whose fragile armistice has yet to be replaced by a permanent peace treaty, leaving the peninsula in a technical state of war.
Hundreds of millions of propaganda leaflets were believed dropped during the three-year war. Leaflets by the American-led U.N. forces typically urged North Korean and Chinese troops to surrender, while North Korean leaflets criticized the U.N. forces and tried to make them homesick by posting pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Thanksgiving Day turkeys, according to South Korean media reports.
BILLBOARDS AND LOUDSPEAKERS
During the Cold War, the South used towering electronic billboards, reminiscent of the “Hollywood” sign near Los Angeles, to beam weather reports, world news and salutations to its communist neighbor. The North had signboards of its own to relay such messages as, “Let’s Establish a Confederate Nation!”
The two Koreas also used loudspeakers to exchange ear-piercing propaganda messages extolling their own systems and ridiculing the other’s across the 4-kilometer (2 1/2-mile)-wide Demilitarized Zone, which forms the border and is littered with land mines, barbed wire and tank traps. They also used balloons to float leaflets toward each other.
The rhetorical battle eased after historic summit talks in 2000 between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un, and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, but it didn’t stop. In 2002, South Korea used loudspeakers to relay the news of their national soccer team’s storybook run to the semifinals of the World Cup soccer tournament, which was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.
In 2004, the two Koreas settled landmark agreements aimed at easing animosity, including the suspension of propaganda warfare.
In 2010, South Korea restarted radio broadcasts and restored loudspeakers as part of retaliatory measures after a warship sinking blamed on North Korea that killed 46 South Korean sailors. But Seoul ended up calling off the loudspeaker campaign.
In August 2015, South Korea briefly resumed propaganda broadcasts after accusing North Korea of planting land mines that exploded and maimed two South Korean soldiers. North Korea denied the mine planting and threatened to attack South Korean loudspeakers.
South Korea halted the broadcasts later in August when it agreed with the North on a set of tension-easing measures.
North Korea considers propaganda broadcasts a direct provocation of war.
Kim Jong Un, the third generation of his family to rule North Korea, tolerates no independent news media or public Internet access. Most of the North’s 24 million people are only allowed to watch state TV and listen to radio stations that broadcast programs full of praise of Kim and criticism of South Korea and the U.S. Analysts say this information control helps buttress Kim’s totalitarian rule, and that Pyongyang worries South Korean broadcasts could destabilize its political system.
Many North Korean defectors living in South Korea have said their departures were motivated by radio broadcasts or leaflets from South Korea. Some defectors, who had served as front-line soldiers while in the North, have said they enjoyed South Korean broadcasts that contained pop songs and sometimes forecast rain and recommended gathering up laundry hung on outdoor clotheslines.
In October 2014, North Korean troops opened fire after South Korean activists launched balloons carrying propaganda leaflets. South Korea returned fire, but there were no reports of casualties.
K-POP AND HUMAN RIGHTS
The broadcasts include criticism about the North’s systemic human rights abuses, its struggling economy and latest nuclear test. Korean pop songs, world news and weather forecasts are also in the broadcasts.
Among the singers whose songs are played are the young singer IU, who is famous for her sweet, girlish voice; popular female group Apink; idol boy band Big Bang; and middle-aged singer Lee Ae-ran, who rose from obscurity last year with a song about living for 100 years.