How North Korea Turned Kim Jong Un’s Baby Photos Into Propaganda

Kim Jong Un was adorable as a child. He had big puffy cheeks, a funny smile, and made military salutes from an early age. His parents -- or perhaps his caretakers -- liked to dress him up in military uniforms. And that's how he's portrayed in baby pictures released this week by North Korean state television.

Clothed in military uniforms complete with shoulder boards, collar insignias, and an officers cap, Kim appears to be between the ages of four and six. He is pictured drawing. In another photograph, he is pictured saluting someone off camera.

The photographs, which were displayed during a performance of the Moranbong Band girl group, appear aimed at reinforcing North Korea's cult of racial purity. North Korea's national ideology is built on the notion that Koreans, as a people, are far more pure and innocent than any other race. As a result, they require a strong, paternal leader to guide them through a wicked world that is far too cruel for for ordinary Koreans.

These photographs of Kim play on both notions: presenting the country's future dictator as a wholly innocent, quite adorable child while also casting him as a military leader from birth. That notion of Korean purity and vulnerability -- inspired in part by the country's long history of foreign invasions -- serves as the basis for the North's constant wartime footing.

Because history has made the vulnerability of the Korean nation all too obvious, the rule of the Kim family and the military state they oversee comes to be seen as a historical necessity. It's an argument made popular by B.R. Myers in his book The Cleanest Race.

It's important to note that there is no way to verify that these photographs are in fact of Kim Jong Un. They could very well be doctored. Regardless, they are part of a cynical attempt to perpetuate a national myth that has helped prop up a murderous regime. A United Nations report from earlier this year described a mechanism of repression that made torture, execution, and forced starvation a matter of North Korean state policy.

North Korea of course gears its propaganda efforts toward attempting to justify such policies. And a constant threat of war is central to that effort. In a series of images released along with and shortly after the publishing of Kim's baby pictures, the country's supreme leader is seen inspecting the country's military forces.

He is of course met by adoring, tearful crowds:

Here, Kim inspects a firing drill carried out by a female artillery unit, probably the women belonging to the unit above:

Here, he visits with an aviation unit:

The message? That adorable baby has grown to be a man tough enough to keep North Korea safe in a hostile world.



Hey Justin Bieber, We Made You a Travel Itinerary!

Tattooed pop star Justin Bieber is a Canadian, but you'd be forgiven for assuming that he's a millennial version of the stereotypical "ugly American."

In Brazil, he raised eyebrows by allegedly visiting a brothel and leaving with two prostitutes in tow. In Australia, he riled a local mayor by vandalizing a hotel with some less than inspired graffiti.

And now, Bieber's at it again, courting controversy by visiting Japan's infamous Yasukuni Shrine, a controversial monument that commemorates the country's war dead, including more than 1,000 soldiers later accused of war crimes. On Instagram, he posted photos of himself at the shrine, affecting reverence, but was soon lambasted by Chinese and South Korean fans who pointed out that Yasukuni is regarded by Japan's neighbors as a symbol of the country's wartime aggression. Oops.

Soon after realizing his mistake, he posted an apology, saying he was "misled" to believe that the shrine was simply a place of prayer. Lesson learned? We hope not. Bieber has far too many people left to offend to stop now.

Here's FP's guide to the geopolitically and historically fraught destinations Bieber might consider for future expeditions:

Mount Everest

On the heels of a deadly avalanche that killed at least 13 guides and provoked a Sherpa boycott, Everest is a prime setting for Bieber's inadvertently offensive antics. Last year, when Bieber visited the Great Wall of China, he had his hired help carry him up the steps. Who needs Sherpas when you already have a couple sets of broad shoulders to carry your precious tuchis up the world's highest peak?

Kumsusan Palace of the Sun

After hitting the peak, Bieber might head to Pyongyang -- in particular, to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, the stately mausoleum of Kim Il-sung, the eternal president of North Korea, whose body is encased there in a glass sarcophagus. Kim's son and successor, Kim Jong-Il is also interred within the massive monument, an extravagant building that stands in stark contrast to the extreme poverty of most of North Korea's citizens. In other words: a place for Bieber to really elevate his selfie game.

The West Bank

The genius of Bieber's ability to offend seems to lie in his complete lack of knowledge that he's engaging in behavior that isn't quite appropriate. So we can only hope he heads for the West Bank as soon as humanly possible. A frequent flashpoint of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the West Bank would obviously provide Instagram fodder for the Biebs. But who knows what will ensue? Someone seems sure to be offended. Perhaps he can innocently tour a SodaStream factory that happens to be controversially located near an Israeli settlement, a la Scarlett Johansson.

Simferopol, Crimea

Finally, Bieber's got to make a stop in Crimea, if only to see what all the fuss is about. Officially part of Ukraine but recently annexed by Russia, Crimea has a lot going on: There are Russian paramilitaries, combat dolphins, and lots of crowds wearing these really cool orange and black ribbons. Here at FP we can only dream of Bieber unknowingly performing before a crowd of Russian Spetsnaz.

Photo by Miami Beach Police Department via Getty Images