[March 3, 2017] The use of mankind’s propaganda goes back in time well before written records were kept. Its practical use is undeniable. For those us who study it, we know that the idea of keeping people accurately informed is often blurred with propaganda, depending upon the intent of those wielding power. Architectural propaganda is a variant of political expression in the physical attributes of structures.
In my first visits to South Korea years ago, during the winter, I was visited American and Korean units in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ); a 150-mile long strip separating the two Koreas. While there with the South Korean 1st Infantry Division, I was introduced to “Peace Village;” a North Korean town within the DMZ that acts as a propaganda tool by their government.
Not unlike the Potemkin Village built to impress Empress Catherine II during her journey to Crimea in 1787, Peace Village (Kijong-dong) looks like any other town; brightly painted houses, schools, streets, hospitals … built to impress. But on a closer look, it’s not as it seems. It is believed to be a decoy for luring South Korean defectors. In other words, the village is a fake.1
It is common for socialist and communist governments to use architectural propaganda. Examples are Hitler’s Cathedral of Lights, drug cartels use of large houses called mansión narco, and the Moscow Metro. Grand architecture does not automatically make it a propaganda piece but the idea behind socialist architectural propaganda is the unapologetic glorification of the totalitarian state through colossal scale of its structures.
Peace Village was to display the communist state’s grand progress over capitalism, its modernity, superiority to all other forms of social and economic progress, and an in-your-face insult to everyone not part of their system.
Architectural propaganda is another tool in the box of leadership and one that can augment their ability to be successful.
As we peered across the frozen ground with binoculars, we could see men and women sweeping the streets of Peace Village with brooms. They were keeping up the image but the luster of North Korea faded long ago.
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- As part of the North Korean government’s idea not to be outdone by anyone, they built a 525-foot tall flagpole; at the time, the tallest in the world (pictured in the thumbnail to this article). They installed massive loudspeakers to deliver North Korean propaganda broadcasts to urge disgruntled soldiers and farmers to walk across the border; it failed to entice anyone. To this day, the North Korean government officially claims Kijong-dong to be a typical village.