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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
North Korea's 'creative' history
By Sarah Buckley
BBC News Online

According to most history books, the 1950-53 Korean War ended in stalemate, after an unsuccessful attempt by the North to forcibly unify the peninsula.

But that is not what North Korean schoolchildren learn. They are taught that the war was started by the United States and ended in "glorious victory" for Pyongyang.

Excerpt from 'Modern History of Korea'
This history book refers to N Korea's attack as a 'counter-offensive'
North Korea's version not only rewrites the war, but also re-interprets facts in an effort to shore up the Pyongyang regime, which continues in power to this day.

For example, it is generally accepted that North Korea started the war by storming across the 38th parallel.

However, the North Korea claimed it was simply defending itself against an offensive launched by the South.

Leonid Petrov, a specialist in North Korean historiography, told BBC News Online the change was necessary to justify the attack.

"North Korea knew that South Korea would love to strike first but it was too weak at that time. That is why North Korea planned a blitzkrieg against South Korea... But to embellish their unprovoked attack, North Korea blamed South Korea for 'intrusion into [its] territory," said Mr Petrov, who works at The Academy of Korean Studies in South Korea.

As the North quickly occupied Seoul and then most of the rest of South Korea, Pyongyang relabelled the military action "The war of fatherland liberation and unification."

But after the UN intervened and the tide began to turn against the North, the North renamed it "A patriotic war against foreign aggressors".

Professional historians were abducted from the South to help the North re-write its history.

The historical manipulation not only pertained to the 1950-53 conflict, but was also extended to Korea's ancient history.

Scholars began rewriting accounts of ancient conflicts in order to highlight the national heroics of Korea's past, according to Mr Petrov.


The North also developed some original views of how the fighting ended.

On 27 July 1953, as UN and North Korean delegates signed an armistice to end two years of stalemate, the North Korean political mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun proclaimed a "glorious victory" in the war.

"Never before has there been an instance when the entire people united in strength to deal a decisive blow to a formidable enemy," the editorial said.

A North Korean attendant pointing to photographs from the Korean War
North Korea claims 400,000 US soldiers were killed

According to a history of the war on the official North Korean website, 405,000 US soldiers were killed in the war.

According to the US military, around 30,000 forces were lost.

The website makes no mention of the country's own casualties. Up to 1.5 million North Korean and Chinese troops are believed to have died.

Despite the valuable support 300,000 Chinese gave the North's forces, the site gives them only a cursory mention.

According to Mr Petrov, after the war Pyongyang mainly emphasised patriotism and independence in its presentation of the conflict.

"Korea is one, the Korean nation is homogenous, and Korea belongs to the Korean people," wrote North Korean leader Kim Il-sung.

As tensions continue to be felt on the Korean peninsula 50 years on, this mixture of isolationism and a desire for reunification underpins the mercurial rule in Pyongyang.

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