North Korea's Picture-Perfect Fury at the United States

Propaganda wars aren't new. But with the thoroughness of a first-time B-movie director, Kim Jong-un has assembled the perfect image of a rogue state foil to the U.S. The JPEG War has begun.

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Propaganda wars aren't new. But with the thoroughness of a first-time B-movie director, Kim Jong-un has assembled the perfect image of a rogue state foil to the United States: the props, the photo ops, even images of a quixotic dictator in front of ambitious battle plans. The JPEG War has begun.

Last night, North Korea began preparing its rockets to fire at targets in South Korea and the United States. The country released this photo of Kim signing the order to prepare the rockets.

Image via Reuters.

It was accompanied by this photo of Kim and senior advisers studying the country's battle plans.

Image via Reuters.

For non-Korean speakers, the image is oddly bureaucratic and — besides much-improved lighting over past North Korea propaganda photos — nothing out of the ordinary. But the folks at explain what we're actually looking at.

In a photo published in the Korea Worker’s Party (KWP) paper the Rodong, plans for a strike on the U.S. mainland are clearly –and therefore probably deliberately– visible. The newspaper is widely distributed in cities, and often displayed in public places for easy viewing. …

In the version enlarged by NK NEWS, the text reads “U.S. Mainland Strike Plan”, and a larger map towards the back of the command centre appears to show the Western coast of the United States.

Here's the area of the second photo to which NKNews is referring; the large block titling is the "Strike Plan" wording mentioned. The black lines indicate presumed targets: DC, LA, Hawaii, somewhere in Texas.

Those black lines are deeply optimistic, if not magical. If North Korea's rockets worked perfectly (they don't) the maximum presumed strike distance is about 6,000 miles. That's barely enough to reach the West Coast of the United States; it is by no means enough to reach beyond that. (As noted by Twitter user BurritoJustice, offers a visualization of what's in Pyongyang's best-case range.)

But that's clearly not the point of the image. The point is to excite North Koreans and intimidate Americans.

It's the same theory that went into a series of photos released by the country earlier this week, showing hovercraft landing on a beach as part of a military drill.

Image via Reuters.

The Atlantic's own Alan Taylor noticed something about other photos in the series: additional hovercraft had been Photoshopped into the picture.

The hovercraft depicted inside the boxes in this image released by KCNA appear to be digital clones of each other, most evident in the blue boxes, where the leftmost hovercraft has apparently been copied, pasted and touched up to become a separate hovercraft at right. The leftmost vehicle, circled, does not appear to be a clone of any other craft in this photo, but its soft edges, lack of a visible wake, and color oddities make the image suspect.

It was a surreality in the same way that the map in the background of the images above is a surreality. The threat posed by North Korea is exaggerated.

This morning, a last fusillade. Thousands of North Koreans spontaneously took to the streets in demonstration. And, again, they did so with a bit of enhancement: signs. Some images, with AP translations of the placards the demonstrators are carrying.

Image via AP.

“Reunification of the motherland,” left, and “Let’s rip apart the puppet traitors,” center.

Image via AP.

“Rifles and bombs,” “Sledgehammers of revenge” and “Do-or-die battle.”

Image via AP.

The placard reads: "U.S. forces, get out!"

In a way, this is the most believable image North Korea presents: thousands of angry men in uniform, ready to engage with the enemy. It's still an obvious exaggeration, an angry crowd overlaid with the pre-printed words of the regime.

There's danger in North Korea's rhetoric, particularly for the South Koreans that live within actual range of its military. But the war so far is a digitally enhanced one. It is a pixel tiger with an MP3 roar.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.