Let the propaganda wars (re)begin. South Korea's birthday gift to North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un, who is believed to have turned 33 today, was to turn its loudspeakers back on and denigrate his wife.
In an angry response to the latest nuclear test by the North, one of South Korea's 11 banks of high-power speakers set up along the border began pumping out a mix of K-pop, scathing commentary on Pyongyang's nuclear program, and derision of the ruling family's penchant for costly clothes and luxury handbags.
"Clothes for Kim Jong-un and Ri Sol-ju cost tens of thousands dollars each and her purse is worth thousands of dollars too," a male announcer said. Ri is Kim's wife.
The broadcast can travel 15 miles at night and 6 miles in daylight, because sound travels farther at night. At any time of day it's far enough to reach beyond soldiers at the border to civilians further north.
Early in the broadcast, the South criticized the North's claim on Wednesday to have conducted its first hydrogen bomb test. The US government and other experts doubt that the North has achieved such a technological advance since its last nuclear test in 2013.
"The nuclear test is making North Korea more isolated and turning it into the land of death," an announcer said. Another said Kim's signature policy of jointly boosting the economy and nuclear capability "has no realistic value."
The South Korean military's psychological department produces content for the FM radio station Voice of Freedom, which from noon local time on Friday (10pm Thursday ET) was channeled to the speakers randomly for up to six hours a day.
To the outside world, the idea that broadcasts that also showcase freedom and democracy, and how people are allowed to enjoy love and life, can anger a country enough to risk going to war might seem preposterous.
But North Korea sees them as an attack on the dignity of its leader and political system, going so far as to call them "an open act of war." Last time the South broadcast its messages, in August, North Korea launched an artillery strike across the border.
South Korean officials said stopping the broadcasts was the main reason the North agreed at that time to end an armed standoff and express regret over a landmine explosion that injured South Korean soldiers.
North Korean defectors have said the broadcasts had left a lasting impression that there were songs without an ideological message, that spoke only of love.
Commentary, news, and weather from around the world are mixed in with such K-pop hits as Let Us Love Each Other and South Korean boy band Big Bang's megahit Bang Bang Bang.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, on a visit to Japan, urged the South and other countries in the region to show restraint. "We have to be bigger than the North Koreans… We know that responding in this way is rising to the bait." The right way to go was effective sanctions, he said.
Watch the VICE News documentary: Launching Balloons into North Korea: Propaganda Over Pyongyang
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