TIME North Korea

No One Has Seen North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Three Weeks

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang, in this still image taken from video released by Kyodo on April 9, 2014 Kyodo/Reuters

Kim Jong Un's absence from an important parliamentary meeting fuels speculation about health problems

What has happened to Kim Jong Un?

That’s the question everyone seems to be asking, amid all kinds of rumors following the North Korean dictator’s uncharacteristic three-week absence from the public eye. Kim was last seen alongside his wife Ri Sol Ju at a concert in Pyongyang on Sept. 3, and several news outlets are speculating that the 31-year-old may be ill.

The rumors intensified on Thursday with the North Korean leader’s absence from an important parliament meeting. Reuters reported that state-television broadcast images of his empty chair at the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s highest sovereign body, the first such powwow he has missed since coming to power three years ago.

The Wall Street Journal speculated on Friday that Kim might be suffering from gout, a disease caused primarily by an excessive intake of meat, sugar and alcohol. A South Korean official told the Journal that gout runs in the tyrannical clan, starting with Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994 at age 82. Kim also suffers from obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, he added.

Such rumors have been fueled by reports that North Korean television showed the country’s Supreme Leader walking with a pronounced limp back in July.

Another theory about his condition, according to Agence France-Presse, is that he picked up an injury while providing “guidance” to North Korean athletes competing in the Asian Games, currently in progress at Incheon, South Korea.

TIME China

Chinese State Media Now Put Death Toll From Xinjiang Violence at 50

Uyghur Life Persists in Kashgar Amid Growing Tension in Restive Xinjiang Province
A veiled Muslim Uyghur woman walks passed a statue of Mao Zedong on July 31, 2014 in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. Kevin Frayer—Getty

Most of the dead are described as "rioters," killed in the aftermath of last week's explosions

Casualty figures from explosions and their aftermath in China’s restive Xinjiang region last weekend have been increased from two dead to about 50 dead, with some 50 injured, according to state media’s reporting of official figures on Friday.

The unverified numbers are a significant and belated revision to the authorities’ claim five days ago that two people had died in the unrest, the BBC reports.

State media now report that six people died on Sunday in what are described as terrorist bombings at two police stations, a market and a shop in southwestern Xinjiang, the BBC says.

The same official news portals say that security forces later shot and killed people described as “rioters.” In total, 50 people died, comprising 40 “rioters,” six civilians and four police officers, the reports said.

Radio Free Asia, which has Uighur reporters, gave different statistics, saying that about a dozen people were killed and 100 more injured in bomb blasts at three locations. Its report said the injured included 20 police officers.

Xinjiang – home to Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs — has become a hotbed of violence over the past year, with some 200 people dead in clashes there.

Beijing has blamed foreign-trained terrorist groups for the attacks, but human-rights observers put the responsibility for the escalating bloodshed on the central government, saying its discriminatory policies against Uighurs are fanning resentment in the region.

Earlier this week, a Chinese court sentenced a leading academic voice for Uighur rights, Ilham Tohti, to life in prison — a harsh sentence that appeared to signal China’s determination to crush even moderate dissent in its western region.

Some observers, however, say the widely condemned sentence will do just the opposite, silencing an influential and peaceful voice for reform and, in stoking outrage in Xinjiang, herald even more violence.

TIME indonesia

Indonesians Outraged by the Scrapping of Elections for Mayors and Governors

INDONESIA-POLITICS-ELECTION
Indonesian activists and students chant during a protest against a new bill on local elections outside the parliament building in Jakarta on Sept. 25, 2014 Adek Berry—AFP/Getty Images

The move by an outgoing parliament is seen as a blow to democracy and a bid to undermine President-elect Joko Widodo

The Indonesian parliament voted to scrap direct elections for regional office-bearers early Friday — a decision that critics say is a step backward for democracy in the world’s fourth most populous nation and biggest Muslim-majority country.

When Indonesians woke up to the news, many reacted with anger and fury. “A Democratic Betrayal,” read the Jakarta Globe headline on Friday.

It was former presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra Party, and his Red-White Coalition partners, that pushed to have district chiefs, mayors and governors indirectly voted in by local parliaments, as they were in 2005. Under the new legislation, governors from Prabowo’s coalition, which controls 31 out of 34 provincial legislatures, are expected to dominate the country.

The bill was passed just days before the current lawmakers end their term on Sept. 30, and weeks before Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is inaugurated as President on Oct. 20.

Supporters of the move say direct elections are expensive and rife with fraud — a point dismissed by opponents, including Corruption Eradication Commission officials, who say indirect elections invite even more corruption.

The initiative is seen not only as an attempt by Prabowo — who lost the July election to Jokowi but has yet to congratulate him — to undermine his rival even before he resumes office, but also as a bid by the widely distrusted political elite, of which Prabowo is a leading figure, to wrest power from ordinary people.

“Society will need to be prepared for leaders who are going to obey local parliaments more than they serve the people,” says Titi Anggraini, executive director of Perludem, an NGO focusing on elections-related advocacy.

Much of the anger is directed at outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, widely known by his initials SBY. He and his Democratic Party, which controls nearly a third of the parliamentary seats, said they would support direct elections. But, in the end, many Democrat lawmakers absented themselves from the voting when their demands for revisions were not meant, dealing a blow to Jokowi’s coalition and allowing the bill to pass.

The hashtag #ShameOnYouSBY was the top trending topic in Indonesia, and worldwide, on Friday. “Congratulations Pak @SBYudhoyono – now you have a legacy as the President who let democracy move backwards,” said Ima Abdulrahim, executive director of the Jakarta-based think tank the Habibie Center, on Twitter.

“Two generals have killed our democracy: Prabowo and SBY,” tweeted Luthfi Assyaukanie, of the Freedom Institute think tank, referring to the fact that both men are former military officers.

Yudhoyono later told journalists in Washington, D.C., where he is on a state visit, that he was “disappointed with the process and the result.”

Direct elections have been credited with the emergence of popular and untainted regional leaders who are not party oligarchs. It has given rise to humble politicians like Jokowi, who began his career as the mayor of the Javanese city of Solo; his deputy governor, Basuki T. Purnama; Ridwan Kamil, mayor of the nation’s third largest city, Bandung; Ganjar Pranowo, governor of Central Java; and Tri Rismaharini, mayor of Indonesia’s second city, Surabaya. All of them have opposed indirect elections, with Basuki even quitting Prabowo’s Gerindra Party over the issue.

“Do you know that with indirect elections, all of the regional leaders are practically under the instruction of the political elite in Jakarta?” tweeted Ridwan. He and other regional heads vow to challenge the legislation in the Constitutional Court. Perludem has promised the same.

TIME National Security

Khorasan: Behind the Mysterious Name of the Newest Terrorist Threat

William Mayville
Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Jr., Director of Operations J3, speaks about the operations in Syria, Sept. 23, 2014, during a news conference at the Pentagon. Cliff Owen—APe

The word Khorasan sheds important light on the grandiose, even apocalyptic vision that drives many Sunni radicals

It was six days after the Sept. 11 attacks, and with dark smoke still rising from lower Manhattan, Ali Soufan was face-to-face with the most senior al-Qaeda leader in American custody.

Soufan, an FBI counterterrorism agent, was inside a Yemen prison, interrogating a captured al-Qaeda operative named Abu Jandal, a former bodyguard and confidante to Osama bin Laden.

Abu Jandal was far from intimidated by his American interlocutor. To the contrary, he sought to menace him. “You can’t stop the mujahedin. We will be victorious,” he smugly told Soufan. “You want to know why?”

He continued with a grin: “The hadith says … ‘If you see the black banners coming from Khurasan, join that army, even if you have to crawl over ice; no power will be able to stop them.’”

Soufan recognized this Islamic saying immediately, and interrupted Abu Jandal to complete it: “And they will finally reach Baitul Maqdis [Jerusalem], where they will erect their flags,” he said.

The grin was gone. “‘You know the hadith?” Abu Jandal asked with surprise. “Do you really work for the FBI?’”

Abu Jandal had failed to appreciate that knowing the Khorasan hadith was part of the job of an Islamic terrorism expert like Soufan. As the former FBI agent explains in his 2013 book The Black Banners, the hadith of Khorasan — sometimes also spelled Khurasan — is fundamental to radical Islamist ideology. A prophecy describing a Muslim army from Central Asia storming across the Middle East and into Jerusalem has long inspired violent jihadists.

The hadith of Khorasan is newly relevant thanks to the disclosure by U.S. officials of a terrorist group by that name operating in Syria. The Khorasan Group was a surprise target of American air strikes in Syria on Monday night mostly aimed at the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

While America obsessed over ISIS in recent weeks, Khorasan remained unknown to the public until this month. President Obama had never publicly mentioned its name before Tuesday morning. But U.S. officials say they have tracked the group for two years.

Khorasan, they explain, consists of about two dozen members of al-Qaeda’s core leadership. Previously based in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, the men recently relocated to Syria. Unlike al-Qaeda operatives who fight the Syrian regime under the name of al-Nusra Front, the members of Khorasan reportedly took advantage of the country’s lawlessness exclusively to plot terrorist attacks against the West. (Officials are trying to confirm whether the group’s leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, was killed in Monday night’s strikes.)

Even as Americans try to understand this new threat, many terrorism analysts are skeptical of the moniker. They question whether Khorasan truly constitutes an independent group, or simply a clique within al-Qaeda.

“I’d certainly never heard of this group while working at the agency,” says Aki Peritz, a CIA counterterrorism analyst until 2009 and co-author of Find, Fix, Finish. Peritz wonders if the group is meaningfully different from bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. “If senior members from a company’s headquarters go work in a branch office, are they still part of the main office or a superempowered part of the branch?” Peritz says. “It’s not like al-Qaeda operatives carry business cards.”

Peritz isn’t alone in his skepticism. “We used the term [Khorasan] inside the government, we don’t know where it came from,” Robert Ford, who served until this spring as Obama’s ambassador to Syria, told al-Jazeera on Wednesday. “All I know is that they don’t call themselves that.” Two U.S. intelligence officials did not respond to requests for comment on the name’s origins.

Amid that confusion, however, it’s clear that the word Khorasan sheds important light on the grandiose, even apocalyptic vision that drives many Sunni radicals to terrorism.

The word itself refers to a historic region centered around modern Afghanistan and which spills into Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It was once an important part of the pre-Ottoman Islamic caliphate.

The prophecy cited by Abu Jandal — attributed to the Prophet Muhammad but which many experts call of dubious origin — imagines a Muslim army emerging from the region and conquering the Middle East, including Jerusalem, under their black flags. This great victory, Soufan writes, amounts to “the Islamic version of Armageddon.”

Soufan says many of the al-Qaeda operatives he has interviewed believed they were helping to fulfill the Khorasan prophecy.

Bin Laden was well aware of Khorasan. As former State Department counterterrorrism official Daniel Benjamin notes in the new issue of TIME, the founder of al-Qaeda announced from Afghanistan in 1996 that he had found “a safe base … in the high Hindu Kush mountains in Khorasan.” Bin Laden may have chosen al-Qaeda’s black flag as an homage to mythical black banner. The ISIS flag is also mostly black.

Several videos are available online telling the story the black-flag Islamic army. One of them, titled The Emergence of Prophecy: The Black Flags of Khorasan, was part of a YouTube playlist created by the slain 2013 Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

The 13-minute video, which depicts the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a sign of the prophecy’s fruition, summons Muslims to join the battle.

It is still available online.

TIME Syria

This Time, U.S. Goes to War Against Oil, Not For It

U.S. and allied warplanes attacked a dozen ISIS refineries in eastern Syria on Wednesday. DoD

Attacks on ISIS refineries are designed to choke off funding for terror group

Some maintain that the Pentagon is a self-licking ice cream cone, dedicated to its own preservation. If that’s true, it’s also worth noting that an expanding terrorist state is an oxymoron—one that will eventually collapse from its own internal contradictions.

The fact that the U.S. and its allies attacked a financial hub of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on Tuesday–the first day of strikes in Syria—and spent Wednesday and Thursday bombing its oil-production facilities, highlights ISIS’s predicament.

Unlike a smaller terrorist organization—al-Qaeda, for example—ISIS now occupies, and purports to govern, a wide swath of desert straddling the Syrian-Iraqi border. It needs the estimated $2 million a day it’s grossing by smuggling oil because many, if not most, of its 30,000 fighters are in it for the cash, not the ideology. But the refineries represent only a small slice of ISIS’s oil revenues. It makes most of its money from crude oil, and the U.S. has refrained so far from attacking oil fields in the region.

If the money eventually dries up, Pentagon officials believe, many ISIS fighters will head back home. The terrorists control about 60% of Syria’s total oil production, according to a Syrian opposition estimate.

“Substantial uncertainty pervades our understanding of the mechanics, volume, and revenue associated with the terrorist group’s black market petroleum operations,” the Senate Energy Committee said in a report released Wednesday. “Depriving ISIS of whatever dark revenue pool it generates from its sales of oil will put additional strain on an organization with little capacity to expand its oil field operations.”

The U.S. and its allies damaged a dozen small ISIS refineries in eastern Syria on Wednesday. DoD

Wednesday’s attacks by six U.S. and 10 Saudi and United Arab Emirate warplanes took all 12 targeted refineries offline, U.S. intelligence believes. “They’re not going to be using these refineries for some time,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said. “We’re trying to remove the means through which this organization sustains itself.”

Generating such revenue requires industrial-like facilities, which can go from money-makers to targets in the flash of GPS-guided bomb.

That highlights an edge the U.S. and its allies have on ISIS. Sure, the terror group’s recruits, armed with AK-47s and pickup trucks sporting machine guns, can take over small refineries sprinkled across eastern Syria. But once they have them, they can’t keep them running under aerial assault.

Pentagon officials acknowledge they don’t know how long it will take for the lack of oil money to begin having an effect. But they know what they are looking for. “We’ll know when they have to radically change their operations,” Kirby said. “We’ll know when we can see that they no longer are flowing quite as freely across that [Syrian-Iraq] border. We’ll know when we have evidence that it’s harder for them to recruit and train, or they just aren’t doing as much training and recruiting.”

That’s the conundrum ISIS faces as it tries to expand and become a functioning state: so long as the rest of the world isn’t willing to let that happen, ISIS eventually will have to revert to becoming a poorer and smaller—though still dangerous—group.

TIME National Security

FBI Says It Knows Identity of ISIS Executioner

FBI Director James Comey said Thursday he believes the bureau knows the identity of the masked executioner in ISIS propaganda videos. He declined to say who it is or where the man is from. In a question-and-answer session with reporters at bureau headquarters, he also said the FBI is working hard to identify two people in ISIS videos who appear to have American or Canadian accents.

“We have a big focus going on that right now,” Comey said. He said the FBI believes that ISIS is “looking to try to do something in the U.S.,” though he said he did not believe the group is capable of a sophisticated or complex attack…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Iran

Twitter Chief Trolls Iranian President on Twitter

Newest Innovations In Consumer Technology On Display At 2014 International CES
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo speaks during the Brand Matters keynote address at the 2014 International CES at The Las Vegas Hotel and Casino on Jan. 8, 2014 in Las Vegas. Ethan Miller—Getty Images

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo called out Hassan Rouhani over Iran's official Twitter ban

Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, has a bone to pick with Iran: you can’t use Twitter there.

And on Thursday, Costolo tweeted at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani—currently in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly—with a Twitter burn for the ages:

With access to Twitter and Facebook officially banned in the Islamic Republic, Iranians have to find other ways to bypass the state’s Internet filtering system. That’s if they’re not the country’s president, who is a prolific tweeter and apparently has unfettered access to the social network. But Costolo’s tweet isn’t just a muted form of digital social activism; it’s a pragmatic defense of his company’s business interests in Iran.

Rouhani doesn’t appear to have responded yet to Costolo’s tweet, which may be because it’s just too hard to come back from a tweet like that.

TIME Iraq

ISIS Plotting Subway Attacks in New York City and Paris, Iraqi PM Says

New York?s $201 Million Terror Net Halfway Done as Plots Mount
Peter Foley—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Claims come as news to U.S. officials, who say there's no evidence of a threat

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) plan to attack the subway systems in New York and Paris, Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday, but U.S. security officials said they had no evidence to back up the claim.

Haider al-Abadi told reporters at the United Nations General Assembly that information obtained from militants captured in Iraq yielded “credible” intelligence that the Islamist group is plotting attacks in New York and Paris, Reuters reports. “They plan to have attacks in the metros of Paris and the U.S.,” Abadi said. “I asked for more credible information. I asked for names. I asked for details, for cities, you know, dates. And from the details I have received, yes, it looks credible.”

Two senior U.S. security officials said they had no information to support the threat, and one unnamed U.S. official added there is no recent information about an imminent plan for ISIS to attack the United States. The New York Police Department said it was in contact with the FBI after al-Abadi’s statement. “We are aware of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s statements and we are in close contact with the FBI and other federal partners as we assess this particular threat stream.”

The United States and France have launched intensive airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to weaken and destroy the Sunni extremist group.

[Reuters]

 

TIME Infectious Disease

Meet the Most Feared People in Liberia

The Red Cross Dead Body Management Team in Liberia provides a service essential for stemming the transmission of Ebola but the workers are shunned and despised for doing a job no one else wants

The crowd was waiting — and angry. The minute the Liberian Red Cross convoy pulled in to a tin-roof shantytown huddled at the base of Monrovia’s St. Paul Bridge on the morning of Sept. 24, residents crowded the lead vehicle, clamoring to be heard. The five-vehicle convoy was there to pick up the body of a man who had died the night before with symptoms of Ebola. “Where were you two weeks ago when we called when he had a fever?” demanded one resident. “I’ve been calling every day for an ambulance,” shouted another, brandishing the call log on his mobile phone for proof. He turned to face the crowd: “No one comes when we are sick, only when we are dead.” The residents roared in agreement. One teenager turned his back on the Red Cross team, bent over, and grabbed his buttocks in a sign of contempt. The team supervisor, Friday Kiyee, sighed as he launched into an explanation polished by countless repetitions. “We are the Red Cross Body Management Team. Our job is to pick up dead bodies. We are not responsible for picking up patients and taking them to the hospital. We are only here to pick up the body.” He clapped his hands sharply, a signal for the men on his team to suit up and get to work.

All of the health care workers and other people involved in combatting the Ebola epidemic in Liberia face great risks on the job and the workers on the Red Cross Dead Body Management Team are no exception. The disease is at its most contagious in the hours after death when unprotected contact with the body and its fluids all but guarantees transmission of the deadly virus. Proper disposal of Ebola’s victims is one of the most essential factors in stemming the course of an outbreak that is killing hundreds of people a day in West Africa and threatens to infect up to 1.4 million in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January, according to a worst-case scenario predicted by the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But instead of gratitude, the men tasked with handling the dead acting as collectors, coroners and undertakers for the victims of Ebola face fear and revulsion. In the course of their work they are yelled at, spat at and threatened with rocks. At home, after a long day climbing into and out of stifling biohazard suits, hauling bodies, and bathing in pungent chlorine solution, many of them also face isolation from their friends, family members and neighbors. “No one wants to be near me,” says 29-year-old Nelson Sayon, who has been with the Dead Body Management Team since Ebola came to Monrovia, in June. “They are afraid. They refuse even to take our money if we want to buy something in the store, or eat in a restaurant.”

Each team, of which there are six in Liberia, works six days a week, from nine in the morning to around six at night. They rarely have time for lunch. A typical day starts at a Liberian Red Cross center in downtown Monrovia, where the teams are given their assignments for the day. Early in the morning of Sept. 24 the center was bustling with activity. Workers were mixing buckets of chlorine solution to fill up the backpack sprayers used by disinfectant teams. Others were hauling sacks of Tyvek biohazard suits, rubber gloves, goggles and masks — the foundation of a Body Management Team member’s wardrobe. One man walked by with a cardboard box labeled bodybags.com balanced on his head. Kiyee gathered his team and read out the assignment for the day: district 16, one of the most Ebola-impacted areas of Montserrado County, home to the capital Monrovia, and the epicenter of the outbreak. Before starting their rounds “we pray,” said Sayon, a member of Kiyee’s team. “We pray for guidance, protection, and for God to make Ebola go away.” He also prays for the bodies he is about to collect, he said, because once he starts, he won’t have time to be thinking about the dead. He will be too busy trying to stay alive, making sure that he, and his teammates, are properly covered and routinely disinfected.

The first stop was Babama Junction, where a man named Paul Taylor had succumbed to a high fever the night before. Taylor’s wife, fearful for her own health and terrified of the Ebola stigma, swore that her husband had only been sick a day, and that he couldn’t possibly have had the virus. There was no vomit, she said, when describing his symptoms to Kiyee. No diarrhea, no blood in the mouth — typical signs of Ebola. She begged the team not to take her husband away. She wanted to bury him herself. But there is no rapid test for Ebola, and with every dead body a potential viral bomb, the team can’t take any chances. “We can’t say for sure if a person has Ebola or not,” said Kiyee. “Any person who dies right now is considered a suspected Ebola case, and we have to take the body.” Even if they don’t have proof, the teams have enough experience by now to know the signs. “The people don’t want to accept that their father or mother or wife has Ebola, so they lie [about the symptoms],” said Sayon. “But when we come back again and again to the same house, the same community, we know it’s Ebola, and not asthma or malaria.”

In the early days of the outbreak, the Dead Body Management Teams would help families bury their dead – laying the body six feet deep, under layers of dirt soaked with chlorine spray. But as the numbers of dead increased exponentially, fearful communities began to reject the burials, and the government mandated that all bodies, no matter the cause of death, be cremated.

There were 10 members of Kiyee’s team at the Taylor family home: four men to handle the body, two to disinfect the house before and after the pickup, one to oversee the proper protective gear, and three to run interference with the community. Even as the moon-suited and chlorine-drenched collectors wrestled Taylor’s body into a body bag, Kiyee was out in front of the house, placating the gathered crowd and explaining, once again, his responsibilities. The collectors heaved the body bag into the back of a navy blue pick up while the crowd erupted into a collective howl of grief. The collectors disrobed in ritualized steps: the first layer of gloves, then the hood, the goggles, the face mask, the body suit, and finally the last layer of gloves, all interspersed by liberal sprays of chlorine solution. The convoy reassembled and sped through the community’s mud-slicked roads, chased by residents alternately bidding the body farewell, and cursing the team that had taken a beloved father, brother and husband away.

So it went, a relentless cycle of dressing up, collecting a corpse and undressing, until the pickup was weighed down with 20 bodies in all. So full was the truck that it could not even stop to pick up the body of a man who had died in a roadside market. “We will come back tomorrow,” one of the drivers yelled to the crowd. Then, accompanied by a police escort, the convoy tore down the highway towards a crematorium on the outskirts of town. There, the collected bodies would be burned, unmarked and unmourned, along with the scores of other corpses collected by the Red Cross that day.

TIME Japan

The High School Where Japan’s Kids Learn to Become Soldiers

A look inside the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's High Technical School

Playing soldier isn’t what many Japanese kids today grow up doing. After its brutal march across Asia was halted by the Allies in World War II, imperial Japan accepted a U.S.-written constitution that limited its armed forces from engaging in offensive action.

Despite these constraints, some young Japanese are eager to serve their country. Each year, 4,500 students apply to gain admission to the sole high school run by the nation’s army, which is known as the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. Only 300 applicants gain admission.

Nearly all of the JGSDF High Technical School’s students pursue army careers. They could well see more action. In July, Japan’s hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed a reinterpretation of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that would allow the nation to engage in what’s called collective self-defense, or the ability to defend allies that are under attack.

But all that war-gaming is in the future. As photographer Chris McGrath shows, life at the JGSDF High Technical School, which opened in 1955, is a mash-up of boot camp and science fair. Students build robots then retreat to bunks in Spartan dorms. There’s plenty of marching, plus the rigor of Japanese martial arts like judo. What could be more enticing for a patriotic young Japanese?

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