The news of North Korean “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-il resulted in the most bizarre performances since the hoodlums occupied Wall Street. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of North Koreans were televised weeping, wailing, and keening in the public square, presumably in Pyong-yang. What a performance! Either these people really are under the spell of a personality cult, or there are a lot of unemployed actors and actors in North Korea.
How else to account for the grief-stricken crowds mourning a man who was responsible for 3 million deaths? Only a fanatic or a starving actor (with a gun at his head) could put on such an act for such a monster. That death count almost puts him up in the Big Leagues with Mao, Stalin, and Hitler. But that North Korea is such a tiny country, he, too, might have been responsible for 23 million deaths.
According to Wikipedia, Kim Jong-il (born Yuri Irsenovich Kim on Feb. 16, 1941/42) was the supreme leader of North Korea. He was also the General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the ruling party since 1948, Chairman of the Nationa Defence Commission of North Korea, and the supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, the fourth-largest standing army in the world.
In April 2009, North Korea’s constitution was amended to refer to him implicitly as the “supreme leader.” He was also referred to as the “Dear Leader,” “Our Father,” “The General” and “Generalissimo.” His son King Jong-un was promoted to a senior position in the ruling Workers’ Party and has succeeded his father. In 2010, he was ranked 31st in Forbes Magazine’s List of The World’s Most Powerful People. The North Korean government announced his death on Dec. 19, 2011.
Details surrounding Kim Jong-il’s birth vary according to source. Soviet records show that he was born in the village of Vyatskoye, near Khaboarvosk, in 1941, where his father, Kim Il-Sung, commanded the 1st Battalion of the Soviet 88th Brigade, made up of Chinese and Korean exiles. Kim Jong-il’s mother, Kim Jong-suk, was Kim Il-sung’s first wife.
Kim Jong-il’s official biography states that he was born in a secret military camp on Baekdu Mountain in Japanese Korea on Feb. 16, 1942. Official biographers claim that his birth at Baekdu Mountain was foretold by a swallow, and heralded by the appearance of a double rainbow over the mountain and a new star in the heavens.
In 1945, Kim was three or four years old (depending on his birth year) when World War II ended and Korea regained independence from Japan. His father returned to Pyongyang that September, and in late November Kim returned to Korea via a Soviet ship, landing at Songbong. The family moved into a former Japanese officer’s mansion in Pyongyang, with a garden and pool. Kim Jong-il’s brother, “Shura” Kim (the first Kim Pyong-il, but known by his Russian nickname), drowned there in 1948. Unconfirmed reports suggest that five-year-old Kim Jong-il might have caused the accident. In 1949, his mother died in childbirth. Unconfirmed reports suggest that his mother might have been shot and left to bleed to death.
Throughout his schooling, which was said to have taken place in China for his safety, Kim was involved in politics. He was active in the Children’s Union and the Democratic Youth League (DYL), taking part in study groups of Marxist political theory and other literature. In September 1957, he became vice-chairman of his middle school’s DYL branch. He pursued a programme of anti-factionalism and attempted to encourage greater ideological education among his classmates.
Kim is also said to have received English language education at the University of Malta in the early 1970s, on his infrequent holidays in Malta as guest of Prime Minister Don Mintoff.
The elder Kim had meanwhile remarried and had another son, Kim Pyong-il (named after Kim Jong-il’s drowned brother). Since 1988, Kim Pyong-il has served in a series of North Korean embassies in Europe and is the North Korean ambassador to Poland. Foreign commentators suspect that Kim Pyong-il was sent to these distant posts by his father in order to avoid a power struggle between his two sons.
By the time of the Sixth Party Congress in October 1980, Kim Jong-il’s control of the Party operation was complete. He was given senior posts in the Politburo, the Military Commission and the party Secretariat. When he was made a member of the Seventh Supreme People’s Assembly in February 1982, international observers deemed him the heir apparent of North Korea.
At this time Kim assumed the title “Dear Leader.” The government began building a personality cult around him patterned after that of his father, the “Great Leader.” Kim Jong-il was regularly hailed by the media as the “fearless leader” and “the great successor to the revolutionary cause.” He emerged as the most powerful figure behind his father in North Korea.
On Dec. 24, 1991, Kim was also named supreme commander of the North Korean armed forces. Since the Army is the real foundation of power in North Korea, this was a vital step. Defense Minister Oh Jin-wu, one of Kim Il-sung’s most loyal subordinates, engineered Kim Jong-il’s acceptance by the Army as the next leader of North Korea, despite his lack of military service. The only other possible leadership candidate, Prime Minister Kim Il (no relation), was removed from his posts in 1976. In 1992, Kim Il-sung publicly stated that his son was in charge of all internal affairs in the Democratic People’s Republic.
In 1992, radio broadcasts started referring to him as the “Dear Father,” instead of the “Dear Leader,” suggesting either his own promotion or that of his son. His 50th birthday in February was the occasion for massive celebrations, exceeded only by those for the 80th birthday of Kim Il Sung himself on April 15 that same year.
According to defector Hwang Jang-yop, the North Korean government system became even more centralized and autocratic during the 1980s and 1990s under Kim Jong-il than it had been under his father. In one example explained by Hwang, although Kim Il-sung required his ministers to be loyal to him, he nonetheless and frequently sought their advice during decision-making. In contrast, Kim Jong-il demanded absolute obedience and agreement from his ministers and party officials with no advice or compromise, and he viewed any slight deviation from his thinking as a sign of disloyalty. According to Hwang, Kim Jong-il personally directed even minor details of state affairs, such as the size of houses for party secretaries and the delivery of gifts to his subordinates.
On July 8, 1994, Kim Jong-il’s father, Kim Il-sung, died, at the age of 82 from a heart attack. However, it took three years for Kim Jong-il to consolidate his power. He officially took the titles of General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea on October 8, 1997 and Chairman of the National Defence Commission on April 9, 1993. In 1998, his Defense Commission chairmanship was declared to be “the highest post of the state,” so Kim may be regarded as North Korea’s head of state from that date. Also in 1998, the Supreme People’s Assembly wrote the president’s post out of the constitution in memory of Kim Il-Sung, who was designated the country’s “Eternal President.” It can be argued, though, that he became the country’s leader when he became leader of the Workers’ Party; in most Communist countries the party leader is the most powerful person in the country.
Although Kim was not required to stand for popular election to his key offices, he was unanimously elected to the Supreme People’s Assembly every five years, representing a military constituency, due to his concurrent capacities as KPA Supreme Commander and Chairman of the DPRK NDC.
The state-controlled North Korean economy struggled throughout the 1990s, primarily due to mismanagement. In addition, North Korea experienced severe floods in the mid-1990s, exacerbated by poor land management. This, compounded with only 18 percent arable land and an inability to import the goods necessary to sustain industry, led to an immense famine that left 3 million dead and left North Korea in economic shambles. Faced with a country in decay, Kim adopted a “Military-First” policy to strengthen the country and reinforce the regime. Communists like to boast that, on the national scale, this policy has produced a positive growth rate for the country since 1996, and the implementation of “landmark socialist-type market economic practices” in 2002 kept the North afloat despite a continued dependency on foreign aid for food.
In the wake of the devastation of the 1990s, the government began formally approving some activity of small-scale bartering and trade. As observed by Daniel Sneider, associate director for research at the Stanford University Asia-Pacific Research Center, this flirtation with “capitalism” was “fairly limited, but — especially compared to the past — there are now remarkable markets that create the semblance of a free-market system.” In 2002, Kim Jong-il declared that “money should be capable of measuring the worth of all commodities.” These gestures toward economic reform mirror similar actions taken by China’s Deng Xiaoping in the late 1980s and early 90s. During a rare visit in 2006, Kim expressed admiration for China’s rapid economic progress.
North Korean voting booths often contained portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il under the national flag. Kim Jong-il was the center of an elaborate personality cult inherited from his father and founder of the DPRK, Kim Il-sung. Defectors have been quoted as saying that North Korean schools deify both father and son. He was often the center of attention throughout ordinary life in the DPRK. On his 60th birthday (based on his official date of birth), mass celebrations occurred throughout the country Many North Koreans believe that he has the “magical” ability to “control the weather” based on his mood. In 2010, the North Korean media reported that Kim’s distinctive clothing had set “worldwide” fashion trends.
One point of view is that Kim Jong Il’s cult of personality was solely out of respect for Kim Il-sung or out of fear of punishment for failure to pay homage. Media and government sources from outside of North Korea generally support this view, while North Korean government sources say that it was genuine hero worship. The song “No Motherland Without You”, sung by the KPA State Merited Choir, was created especially for Kim in 1992 and is frequently broadcasted on the radio and from loudspeakers on the streets of Pyongyang.
On June 2, 2009, it was reported that Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un, was to be North Korea’s next leader. Like his father and grandfather, he has also been given an official sobriquet, The Brilliant Comrade. Prior to his death, it had been reported that Kim Jong Il was expected to officially designate the son as his successor in 2012. However, there are reports that if leadership passes to one of the sons, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law, Chang Sung-taek, could attempt to take power from him.
Kim Jong-il died of a suspected heart attack on Dec. 17, and was succeeded by his youngest son Kim Jong Un, who was hailed by the Korean Central News Agency as the “Great Successor.”
The “Dear Leader” is dead; not so long live “The Great Succesor.”