Few outsiders, and even fewer journalists ever get a chance to go to North Korea and see first-hand some of what is happening there. 60 Minutes correspondent Dan Rather got that chance recently.
And even though the 60 Minutes team couldn't go anywhere or do anything without two full-time official government guides, they saw people, things and events that sometimes frightened them and were always surprising.
The first thing that caught our attention in the capital, Pyongyang, was the traffic police. Well dressed and impeccably groomed, they display almost no emotion as they pirouette in a city that's so poor and so short on electricity there aren't any traffic lights most of the year. The police are in perpetual motion, working with an almost robotic precision. All of which is rather odd because there isn't much traffic. People can't afford cars.
And, unlike in China and Vietnam, they can't afford bikes, either. We saw only a few. Most people have to walk to their jobs. We weren't allowed to visit any offices or see anyone at home. You can be locked up in Pyongyang for letting a stranger into your home. We asked for, and were denied, permission to go to a food market. No reason was given, though the government is known to be very defensive about widely reported food shortages.
We could see that air pollution is becoming a problem because of factories and the power plant. One of the streets made us think for a moment we were in Paris. But there's nothing romantic about this city: everything seemed structured, organized and very clean. We never saw one scrap of paper on the sidewalks. The government assigns workers to keep them clean and also decrees who gets to live here. It's a privilege, reserved for strong supporters of the regime.
We saw some of the true believers erecting signs. The signs said "60." It wasn't a welcoming party for 60 Minutes - you can't watch our broadcast here. It's almost impossible to see any foreign TV broadcasts. As for the "60"? Well, we were there when the country was celebrating its 60th birthday.
In the main square, the government was eager to let us take all the pictures we wanted at the gigantic military parade and birthday party. Somehow North Korea, which is the size of Mississippi, manages to afford the third largest army in the world. The soldiers, men and women with their high stepping and their goose-stepping, seemed even more trained, motivated and robotic than the traffic police.
The big show went on for two hours, and it wasn't just for us. It's one of the few shows you can regularly see on television. The government, and three star generals like Ri Chan Bok, want the North Korean people to know they're ready for an American invasion, which the general insists is coming.
"Tell the American people that you met the general. If the United States invades our country and starts a war, the People's Army will fight to the death and defend ourselves, taking appropriate revenge," General Ri said.
Does the general think that the United States might attack North Korea?
"We firmly believe that the United States will carry out its policies on our country even if they have to use military means," the general said.
And if the United States does invade, the general says his country is ready to use the ultimate weapon. "What we can say to you definitely right now is that we currently have nuclear weapons."