Three days after the dismissal of VMar Ri Yong Ho as Chief of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] General Staff, Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) was named KPA Marshal. While the title establishes KJU as the DPRK military’s highest ranking officer and he has received one of the last titles left vacant by his father’s death, the rank is a first-among-equals honorific. Despite the title’s possible cosmetic qualities, it is an indication (along with Ri’s dismissal) that KJU’s leadership training wheels have been removed.
There are only two DPRK elites who hold the rank, both of whom served with KJU’s grandfather in the 88th Sniper Brigade: Ri Ul Sol (former chief of the Guard Command), Kim Chol Man (former Chairman of the Second Economy Commission). Kim Jong Il was appointed Marshal in April 1992.
With KJU’s elevation to Marshal, the central party and KPA staged a series of loyalty rallies and other public events. On 18 July (Wednesday) “a resolution meeting of officers and men of the KPA” was convened at the 25 April House of Culture. At the beginning of the meeting, VMar Choe Ryong Hae, director of the KPA General Political Department announced the decision of the Korean Workers’ Party [KWP] Central Committee, the Party Central Military Commission [CMC], the National Defense Commission [NDC] and the Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium (standing committee) on KJU’s new title.
According to DPRK state media, following an ovation, Choe’s announcement was “followed by a debate session.” The first speaker was VMar Hyon Yong Chol who was formally identified as the newly appointed Chief of the KPA General Staff. In his remarks Hyon said that KJU’s elevation was “a great event which powerfully displayed at home and abroad the rock-solid faith and will of our army and people.” Hyon also said “the people’s army should not only cherish the absolutely unchanging faith in the fact that the Great Comrade Kim Il Sung and the Great Comrade Kim Jong Il are eternally with us, but become a pure ideological body, a systematic monolith which shares the ideology, will and breath with the respected and beloved Comrade Supreme Commander, by defending to the last with its life the party Central Committee. . .further deepening and developing at a new higher level, the movement to win the title of O Jung Hup-led 7th Regiment, and continuing to thoroughly embody the juche-oriented military ideology and line of the party in military and political work.”
Hyon Yong Chol was followed by Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, VMar Kim Jong Gak. VMar Kim said that KJU’s elevation was “a noteworthy event in strengthening and developing of the revolutionary armed forces and a historic opportunity to give encouragement and hope to the DPRK’s soldier’s and people.” VMar Kim also said that KJU “has developed and enriched the juche-oriented military idea, strategy, and tactics of the great generalissimos with will to complete the cause of the juche revolution initiated on Mt. Paektu to the end with the gun barrel [and] a new golden age has opened up for strengthening and developing the people’s army.” VMar Kim was followed by Gen. Pak Jae Gyong, deputy director of the KPA General Political Department, who said “the awarding of the title is an expression of the DPRK soldiers’ and people’s boundless loyalty to Kim Jong Un.”
On Wednesday (18 July) the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces convened a similar rally to announce KJU’s new title at the Ministry of People’s Security Headquarters in Pyongyang. The rally was followed by a dancing party in the MPS’ assembly square. According to KCNA, ”all the KPISF service personnel will concentrate all efforts in their work for people’s security upon inheriting the tradition of devotedly defending the leader and more thoroughly establish the monolithic commanding system of the supreme commander in the whole army.” The rally’s speakers also said that “with Kim Jong Un held in high esteem at the highest post of the party, state and army, the Korean revolution could firmly ensure the purity and continuity despite the grim tempests of history, give full play to invincible might of Korean-style socialism and open a grand history of another 100 years of Juche era.”
On 19 July (Thursday), a “congratulatory meeting of Pyongyang” citizens took place at Pyongyang Indoor Stadium during the afternoon. This event was attended by three members of the KWP Political Bureau Presidium–SPA Presidium President Kim Yong Nam, DPRK Premier Choe Yong Rim and VMar Choe Ryong Hae–and was presided over by Pyongyang KWP Committee Chief Secretary Mun Kyong Dok. First to speak at the meeting was Kim Yong Nam who read the communique on KJU’s appointment as Marshal. Kim was followed by KWP Secretary Choe Tae Bok who said the decision “reflected the absolute support” for KJU’s leadership which had “helped strengthen the country’s defense and maintain its status as a nuclear state.” Choe was followed by Col. Gen. Yun Tong Hyon (representing the KPA), Hyon Sang Ju (representing workers in his capacity as Chairman of the Central Committee of the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea), Ri Myong Gil (representing agricultural employees his capacity as Chairman of the Central Committee of the Union of Agricultural Workers) and Jon Yong Nam (representing students and youths in his capacity as Chairman of the Central Committee of the Kim Il Sung Youth League).
Kim Jong Un’s promotion to Marshal was the subject of several essays and editorials in the pages of the KWP’s newspaper Rodong Sinmun. In addition to the unsigned collective efforts marking KJU’s elevation, there were several bylined pieces by members of the core elite. Publication of these essays conveys to both domestic and external audiences the “single-hearted unity” underlining KJU’s elevation and Ri Yong Ho’s dismissal from office. Writing for the 1st Revolutionary Generation, Mar. Ri Ul Sol described KJU as “the spitting image of the fatherly leader (KIS) and the great general (KJI).” Mar. Ri also vouched for KJU’s filial piety, writing, “Our respected and beloved Comrade Kim Jong Un is precisely the esteemed person who condescends to read the simple letters which we, the anti-Japanese fighters, respectfully offered, expresses his determination to devote his all to the revolution while saying that he is grateful to us and gives a thousand-fold and a hundred-fold strength and courage to us saying that he feels reassured only when we, the old fighters, are healthy.”
On behalf of the central party, KWP International Department Director Kim Yong Il wrote that “we shall make party organizations and party functionaries unreservedly display the might of their militant capabilities in faithfully upholding the military-first revolutionary leadership . . . highly enhance the spirit of death-defyingly safeguarding the revolution’s nerve center among functionaries, party members, and working people [and] further thoroughly materialize the Kim Jong Il patriotism in the march of great upswing.” Because Kim Yong Il is a key official in DPRK-China relations (among other responsibilities) his contribution to Rodong is targeted to DPRK citizens residing overseas, as well as official of foreign fraternal political parties with which his department regularly communicates and interacts.
The most interesting missive published in Rodong came from Gen. Kim Kyok Sik. Gen. Kim was Ri Yong Ho’s predecessor as Chief of the General Staff, a position he held from 2007 to 2009. Gen. Kim wrote, in part, “engraving in our hearts the teaching of the respected and beloved comrade supreme commander who said that we should always take the lead and should become forerunners also in inheriting the tradition of the anti-Japanese partisans and in strengthening the great unity between the army and the people like a rock, we will continue to advance, holding high the slogan, ‘Let us assist the people!’”–which was put forth by the great general–and will perform more good deeds for the people and will fully fulfill our duties as the army of the people with the spirit of working for our own parents and siblings for our own homes.”