As you can imagine, North Korea has a plethora of public holidays and ceremonial days of a political significance. As a few examples there are: the Day of the Sun, Victory Day, Liberation Day, Grand National Day and so on. Another day however that sometimes features is what is described as the simple date of “April 25th“: sometimes referred to “as military foundation day“. This seems quite self-explanatory, one would imagine it to be quite simply the day North Korea’s army, named the “Korean People’s Army” (KPA) was established. But is that all there is to it? Not quite. The date April 25th has a lasting significance to the regime’s mythology as it marked the organisation of Kim’s guerrilla warfare efforts in Japanese occupied Manchuria, which is claimed to be what the KPA itself derives from. Thus, April 25th in North Korea becomes a foundation for the “story” of the DPRK in its self depiction of a revolutionary state and vanguard of all Koreans, built upon the legacy of Kim Il Sung’s liberation from Japan.
The political lifeblood of North Korea is built upon the story that Kim Il Sung liberated a country from the colonial rule of Japan and subsequently resisted its reimposition by the United States. In the late 1930s, Kim indeed was a guerrilla fighter whom led his own divsiion and cooperated with Chinese communists in a broader resistance to Japan’s occupation of Manchuria. It is claimed however that on April 25th, 1932, Kim established the organisation what would become the Korean People’s Army. There were some notable feats, including a success in what became known as the Battle of Pochonbo where Kim’s division raided and seized a Japanese occupied village in the North of Korea. Thus, Kim’s long participation in this theater of battle, including his future enlistment in the Soviet Army, have been taken to build the broader narrative of liberation in the formation of the North Korean state. Throughout various monuments, posters and displays such as the Mass Games. This message continues to be a core staple of the state’s self image, advocating independence, sovereignty, resistance and the country’s own self-reliant philosophy.
As a result, even though the DPRK did not exist as a state in 1932, April 25th in North Korea is commemorated as the official establishment date for the country’s military as it becomes pivotal to link the country’s foundations with the revolutionary legacy and narratives of Kim Il Sung. The individuals who are purported to have participated in this are also subsequently glorified. One may travel to the Revolutionary Martyr’s Cemetery outside Pyongyang, where the graves of all the revolutionary guerrilla fighters and thus the predecessors of the KPA are laid to rest. This also contains a glorified memorial to Kim Jong suk, Kim Il’s first wife, who is symbolized as “the mother” of the country’s military strategy. Thus, the legacy of April 25th adds powerful connotations all around to the representations and perceptions of North Korea’s leadership, both past and present.
Therefore within a simple date lies powerful political symbolism. April 25th in North Korea is certainly one to remember; for it is truly reflective of the country’s story as a whole, hence why there is even a football club anointed with that name!