To those who looked closely enough, it was possible to spot a single rocket on display at a 70th anniversary parade in the North Korean capital, where the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, presided over a national day event that has, in the past, included displays of the country’s most fearsome weaponry.
That it was a cartoon spaceship only underscored how much has changed in North Korea, as the latest evidence of the isolated nuclear-armed country’s sudden relinquishment of hostility crossed centre stage at Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Square on Sunday.
In keeping its deadliest weapons – including intercontinental missiles – from view, North Korea gave emphasis to the conciliatory posture the country has adopted this year. Not only has Mr. Kim emerged from isolation to pledge denuclearization at a series of high-profile leaders summits, but Pyongyang itself has been remade to reflect the changes, with militaristic propaganda removed from the city after Mr. Kim's summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.
The event, attended by China's third most-powerful man, Li Zhanshu, included processions of goose-stepping soldiers, tanks, and anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles. Yet, North Korea possesses far more formidable weapons, including missiles capable of striking deep into the continental United States. The display of such military hardware has in the past often allowed North Korea to give flesh to threats that it will visit bloody consequences on those who would threaten it.
But this year, instead of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) was a parade float depicting notable dates in the continuing detente with South Korea, under a giant red text proclaiming "Fatherland reunification through the strength of our nation." A group of children marched with sunflower signs in front of another float emblazoned with "Nothing to envy," a common education slogan. Beneath it was a drawing of a rocket with four portholes leaping upward on tongues of flame, decorated with a single word: "Future.” It was a spaceship, an image of scientific aspiration rather than belligerent weapons advancement.
The most militaristic message on display during the two-hour parade promoted an "All-out offensive on economic construction." Kim Yong-nam, the country's titular head of state, delivered a short speech in which he described a “new policy” that involves building "economic power by relying on science." Floats featured images of heavy industry, trains, renewable energy and computer numerical control machines.
The meaning was unmistakable to those watching the extraordinary spectacle – which at one point featured thousands of people thrusting pom-poms and chanting, "Kim Jong-un!"
"It is a symbol, a message to the Americans," said Kim Sa-jin, a North Korean living in Japan who watched the festivities under Sunday morning's blue skies in Pyongyang.
"I pray that the relationship between America and our country" – North Korea – “develops a lot. I felt a sense of peace just looking at the parade."
Mr. Trump tweeted about the parade, saying the lack of nuclear weapons on display was "a big and very positive statement from North Korea."
A capital city once festooned in vicious anti-U.S. imagery has been given a facelift. The previous propaganda has been removed from billboards and factory walls alike. And at least some of the militarism still on display has taken on a different flavour. In one university classroom visited by The Globe and Mail, a white Styrofoam ICBM was surrounded by doves and inscribed with the words “Happiness, our family."
After declaring its nuclear weapons program complete in April, North Korea's leadership has placed a renewed focus on economic development this year.
Foreign journalists invited to the 70th anniversary celebrations have been taken to a farm, factories and a university where locals have showed off distance-learning facilities and a more rigorous approach to both educating children and growing vegetables. At a cosmetics factory, one worker was shown to journalists studying English on a computer terminal. Another worker browsed an online shopping site through the country's internal internet, which officials call “The Network.”
A parade without ICBMs shows "that our government has made a decision for peace," said Kim Yong-nam, a technician who marched before the national leader of the same name on Sunday.
But while North Korea has repeatedly agreed to pursue denuclearization, officials here have emphasized that they see such a process as involving the entire Korean peninsula, an indication that Pyongyang will only give up nuclear weapons capabilities if the United States withdraws nuclear protections from South Korea.
And signs linger of the country's continued dedication to weapons achievements. Anti-American propaganda has disappeared from Pyongyang, but images of the longest-range missiles remain.
At one factory visited by The Globe, workers processed cosmetics in front a large poster of missiles arrayed before the Pyongyang skyline, under the text "Take hold of the nuclear sword of self-reliance." At a silk mill, another image of ICBMs urged "an innovative gun offensive" to socialist victory. At a teachers' college, the cover of a children's "Fun Map Study" book featured an ICBM flying on a rainbow flame studded with flowers.
"My view of the U.S. hasn't changed. It’s still an enemy state," said Kim Jong-nam, chief engineer at a communal farm. "But now there's talk of reconciliation."
It's such talk North Korea is suddenly very keen to promote. After Mr. Kim spoke, a government-appointed minder translated his comments this way: "I no longer have any hate" toward the United States.
"I have nothing to do with the old feelings."