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SEOUL — Temporarily deploying U.S. stealth fighters to South Korea? Prelude to war. Restarting the anthrax and smallpox vaccines for U.S. servicemembers on the peninsula? Prelude to war. Shipping off 3,600 2nd Infantry Division soldiers to Iraq, or even permanently removing 12,500 U.S. servicemembers from South Korea? Definitely a prelude to war.

It’s North Korea’s ubiquitous reply to almost anything the U.S. military announces, and it’s usually accompanied by florid and painstakingly over-the-top prose indicting the “warmongering aggressors.”

“The U.S. imperialists are now seeking to make a preemptive attack on the DPRK after listing it as a ‘terrorism sponsor’ and part of the ‘axis of evil.’ They are now busy relocating the U.S. troops … south of Seoul as a military measure to round off the preparations for the second Korean War,” trumpeted one recent, typical dispatch by a state-controlled North Korean newspaper.

“The U.S. intention to stifle the DPRK by force is a day-dream,” the article continued, using the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The U.S. attempt to mount an armed attack on the DPRK, seized by war hysteria, is little short of inviting a disaster. If the U.S. imperialists ignite another war in Korea, oblivious of the historical lesson, they will get nothing but a bitter defeat and death.”

U.S. military analysts here say it’s become almost a reassuring mantra from the North.

“It’s funny, but we joke with one another that if we heard any different kind of response to what we were doing, we’d get worried,” said one American intelligence analyst, who requested anonymity.

“It’s kind of comforting in a way, if they keep saying the things you’d expect them to say. If someday they came out with a really nuanced, complex reaction to something we’d done, you’d probably hear all kinds of bells going off.”

So, the analyst said, it’s no problem to read rants such as this:

“If the U.S. ignited a war in Korea, it would not be beneficial to the U.S. either. It is the temperament of the Korean People’s Army and people never to beg for peace, though they do not want a war, and to show no mercy to the aggressors. Boundless is their might built up with matchless arms of Songun and there is no place out of the reach of its strike.”

The responses from North Korea have even been sparked by video games. Earlier this month, when a French gaming firm debuted a war-scenario game involving the United States, North Korea and China, the reaction was swift.

“This may be just a game to them now,” the Tongil newspaper reported, “but a war will not be a game for them later. In war, they will only face miserable defeat and gruesome deaths.”

But the threats are not always joked away. U.S. intelligence estimates the North Koreans possess at least two nuclear weapons — at least two good reasons to the take the North seriously.

“You can laugh about it but at the end of the day, you have to remember that there’s something very real behind all of this,” the U.S. analyst said.


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