April 15, 2017, marks the 105th Day of the Sun celebration in North Korea. The country began celebrations with parades showcasing their military might in front of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s supreme leader. At the celebratory parade, the North Korean military put on a grandiose display featuring thousands of soldiers in formation, tanks, and most troubling, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and larger missiles believed to be intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
What is the Day of the Sun?
The Day of the Sun in North Korea is celebrated every April 15. It marks the anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-Sung, the founder and first president of North Korea. North Koreans consider it the most important annual holiday celebrated.
While Kim Il-Sung’s birthday has been an official holiday in North Korea since 1968. It gained prominence in 1974 when it was declared to be the most important holiday of the year. It wasn’t officially called the Day of the Sun until 1997, three years after Kim Il-Sung’s death. Il-Sung is Korean for “become the Sun,” which is where the holiday gets its name.
North Koreans celebrate the day by visiting one of thousands of statues around the country that bear Il-Sung’s likeness. Celebrants also take pilgrimages to his birthplace in Pyongyang. In Pyongyang itself, North Koreans often visit the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun where Kim Il-Sung’s body is interred.
The North Korean state fosters the holiday by providing extra food to its citizens. Children under the age of 12 are given gifts of candy that are attributed to the generosity of the president and leaders of North Korea. These one-kilogram bags of candy and cookies are given at the state schools. Following the gift, the children bow to portraits of Il-Sung and Jong-Il and recite the following liturgy.
“Thank you, the Great Leader Grandfather (Kim Il-Sung). And thank you Father (Kim Jong-Il)”
The entire holiday takes three days to celebrate; two days of rest follow the actual holiday.
Tensions Surrounding Nuclear Tests
One of the key things that nations around the world paid attention to during the Day of the Sun celebration was the military parade that takes place for Kim Jong-un. While none of the missiles that are put on parade are working – nobody in North Korea wants to risk something going wrong with a missile where it could harm Jong-un – the mockups that are put on display are an indication of what North Korea is working on.
The parade showed two new ICBMs for the first time, which surprised many analysts. In the past, the mockups on display in parades of these types have turned out to be shams. However, North Korea has been pushing hard on both their nuclear program and their ballistic missile capabilities. A full sized ICBM would give North Korea the ability to strike the United States mainland and targets in Europe.
The smaller submarine-launched ballistic missiles have a range of over 600 miles. They are capable of striking targets in Southeast Asia, which is of particular concern to South Korea and Japan.
It is believed that the new missiles on display are in response to the USS Carl Vinson-led carrier strike group that has been ordered to the region. This puts another step in an alarming progression of escalation in the Korean conflict.
It is important to note that North and South Korea are still technically in a state of war. The end of the Korean War in 1953 ended with an armistice and a cease-fire agreement. There was no actual peace treaty ever signed. According to Reuters, the United States conducted secret talks with North Korea in early 2016 to discuss terms of a peace treaty. The talks ended when North Korea refused to consider ending their nuclear program. In defiance, they conducted their fourth nuclear test just after talks broke down.
There has been no nuclear test as of 7:30 a.m. EST (GMT-5), but the eyes of almost every government in the world is currently watching North Korea to see what their next move will be.
[Featured Image by Ng Han Guan/AP Images]