Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
April 20, 2017

North Korean Border Photos That Challenge Today’s War Hysteria

A North Korean soldier points his weapon at the photographer as he trains on the bank of the Yalu River in the North Korean town of Sinuiju, on December 19, 2006. Adam Dean / Reuters

It is completely expectable to see North Korean soldiers aiming their rifles at photographers across the South Korean or Chinese border. And that’s exactly what we see several of the photographs in The Atlantic’s “Along the North Korean Border” slideshow. Ultimately though, what is a lot more interesting about the photo edit is what is says about the current war hysteria.

It is no surprise how politicians and the media use fear to manipulate the public.  Playing up the hysteria in words and pictures also makes it hard to take in contrary evidence or more nuance.  Even if it is staring us in the face. That is why many of the pictures in the slideshow are so relieving.  These “outliers,” taken over the past decade, deem to contradict the prevailing war mania and propaganda.

A North Korean soldier waves as a Chinese river-cruise boat passes by on the Yalu River at the North Korean town of Sinuiju, on October 9, 2006. # Reinhard Krause / Reuters

Take this photo from 2006, for example. This soldier, waving at a passing Chinese river-cruise boat, takes simple exception to President Trump’s saber rattling and his vision of impending doom.

A rusty sign that reads "military demarcation line" is seen at the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commissions headquarters near the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea, on March 30, 2016. # Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

This sign reads: “Military Demarcation Line.” It is situated at the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commissions headquarters near the truce village at the North – South DMZ. The inference is that the crisis between the two countries has literally weathered tension for the past 64 years.

A North Korean soldier climbs trees on the banks of the Yalu River across the river from Dandong in northeast China's Liaoning province on November 25, 2010. # Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty

Finally, this long range photo of a soldier straddling branches is the perfect rejoinder to the Trump administration’s paranoia. It reminds me of that vivid scene in the famous anti-war novel, Catch-22. Caught between senselessness and nonsense, Yossarian, the protagonist, perches naked in a tree.

By the way, I’m not saying that North Korea isn’t a serious threat. Kim Jong Un is legitimately crazy, and the prospect of Trump and Un pushing each other’s buttons (if you’ll pardon the metaphor) is truly terrifying. At the same time, what has mostly changed since January is the tempest in Washington. What these lighter photos get at is the endurance of the stand-off and how much the Trump administration, gung-ho politicians and TV talking heads would have us cowering.

— Michael Shaw

(photo 1: Adam Dean / Reuters. caption: A North Korean soldier points his weapon at the photographer as he trains on the bank of the Yalu River in the North Korean town of Sinuiju, on December 19, 2006. photo 2: Reinhard Krause / Reuters caption: A North Korean soldier waves as a Chinese river-cruise boat passes by on the Yalu River at the North Korean town of Sinuiju, on October 9, 2006. photo 3: Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters . photo 4: Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty. caption: A North Korean soldier climbs trees on the banks of the Yalu River across the river from Dandong in northeast China’s Liaoning province on November 25, 2010.)

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