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Focus on North Korean celebrations

September 11, 2003|Mark Sachs | Times Staff Writer

On this date, of all dates, Americans don't need to be reminded of how festering foreign resentments can erupt with deadly domestic consequences. But tonight's edition of "Wide Angle" suggests that perhaps the most ominous threat may not be emanating from the deserts of the Middle East.

"A State of Mind" (9 p.m. on KCET) takes us to the streets of Pyongyang, the crowded, bustling capital of North Korea. As the U.S. somberly marks the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks, celebration is in the air in Pyongyang. It's been 55 years since this nation of 22 million people was founded, and the country is also marking the 50th anniversary of what it considers to be its victory over the U.S. in the Korean War.

Parades and an event with a cast of thousands called the Mass Games have riveted the citizenry, bolstered by a new surge of anti-American sentiment fueled by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. After being labeled by President Bush as part of the "Axis of Evil," North Koreans have been fed a "We could be next" mind-set from the government that has brought a new urgency and focus to their celebrations.

The program brings the situation down to a personal level by showing a pair of young girls preparing for the games, which look like something out of a film by the late Leni Riefenstahl. We see the teens spending hours practicing their gymnastic routines for the event, while at home, where the frequent power outages are blamed on "the damn Americans," the table talk is a real eye-opener. "We have to endlessly hate the U.S. and fight against the U.S. to the end," explains one girl.

The access granted the British film crew is remarkable, and in light of North Korea's nuclear saber-rattling, this is one cautionary tale not to miss.

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