Grooming for Power

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Chapter 3
Grooming for Power

Jockeying for Power
Political Climate in North Korea
Captive Entertainment
Family and Relationships

According to a number of people who knew him, Kim Jong Il was extremely focused on his political future, even as a young man. He also did everything he could to impress his father with his earnestness and dedication to upholding his father's political beliefs. To some officials in the North Korean government at that time, he must have come across as a conceited upstart, especially when he lectured those who were supposed to be his superiors about how to do their jobs. There was little they could do about it, because Kim's father was the leader of the entire country. Despite the fact that he was his father's firstborn son, and a strong contender to be his political successor, Kim was by no means assured the job. In fact, there were several among his father's inner circle who were at least as qualified, or probably even more qualified, than Kim Jong Il to succeed Kim Il Sung as the leader of the country, when the time came. Being named his father's successor required careful planning and maneuvering on Kim's part.

Jockeying for Power

Kim Jong Il had been laying the groundwork to become his father's successor for years, traveling with his father, producing operas and motion pictures honoring his father, and promoting his father's political philosophies at every opportunity. In short,

Kim did everything he could to flatter his father and play to his ego

For instance, when Kim Il Sung turned sixty, Kim Jong Il planned and threw what was possibly the most opulent, lavish celebration in the country's history, complete with pageants and parades. No effort was too extreme to win his father's favor. He also established the Kim Il Sung Institute of Health and Longevity, a research program he created to prolong his father's life. Instead of laboratory rats, though, human beings served as test subjects for the experimental drugs and diets under research.

Kim's tireless, relentless promotion of his father developed into a near religion in North Korea, what is called a personality cult. This is when the leader of a country is raised to an almost mythic heroic image by individuals, the media, and the political party in power. In short, any time his father was praised and cheered, it was in Kim Jong Il's interest to be out in front, acting as the head cheerleader.

Despite being the son of the Great Leader, several people stood between Kim and his goal of becoming the next leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea. Among them were his father's brother, Kim Yong Ju; his own half-brother, Kim Pyong Il; and even his stepmother, Kim Song Ae, whom people said he despised. In fact, she is seldom, if ever, referred to in any of Kim's official biographies.

Rivalry developed with his uncle about the time Kim Jong Il graduated from college and began working for the Communist Party in his country. Before this, Kim Yong Ju appeared to be the first in line to be Kim Il Sung's successor. He had many supporters in influential places, including Kim Song Ae, Kim Il Sung's second wife. Most of the rivalry revolved around the Kim Il Sung personality cult. Kim Jong Il and Kim Yong Ju constantly tried to outdo each other, elevating Kim Sung Il to a higher and higher pedestal, almost to the point of raising Kim Sung Il to the status of a god-king.

Kim Il Sung was aware that his brother and his son often clashed. He tried to restore a measure of peace by having his son transferred for a short time from the Central Committee in Pyongyang to the party chapter in North Hamgyong Province, where Kim Jong Il worked with Kim Guk Tae. Kim Guk Tae was the local party boss and the son of a well-known anti-Japanese guerrilla general. Young Kim returned to Pyongyang in 1966, where he could better keep an eye on his prospects for succeeding his father. In 1973, through political maneuvering, he took the position of party organization secretary from his uncle.

He even went so far as to purge the memoirs written by some of his father's old comrades, memoirs that Kim Il Sung, himself, had originally encouraged his former comrades in arms to write about themselves. Kim Jong Il destroyed these books because he

felt they detracted from his father's personality cult. Not only did he eliminate writings, he also removed party leaders, like Baek Nam Woon, who was at one time a respected scholar and leader. Toward the end of the 1960s, it was reported that Kim Jong Il removed Baek from his job and imprisoned him in a concentration camp, where he later died. Such drastic action apparently did not require actual proof of disloyalty. Although he had never participated in any campaigns against Kim Il Sung, Baek was imprisoned based on less than flattering comments about the Great Leader that Baek may or may not have made.

Kim Jong Il's role as propagandist placed him in the perfect position for someone who wanted to climb the career ladder to the top. He promoted total, unwavering dedication to the rule of one man, his father. In fact, he elevated his father above the Workers' Party, which had put him in power. For example, he commissioned plaster busts to be made of his father, which he had placed in prominent locations throughout the country. He also changed the name of the Study Hall of the History of the Workers' Party of Korea to Study Hall of Comrade Kim Il Sung's Revolutionary History. No effort to extol his father was too great or too small to escape Kim's obsessive attention. For instance, he objected to the way a list of names of party officials, including his father's, had been typed. He had the list retyped, leaving a space between Kim Il Sung's name and the rest of the names on the list. He also had his father's name printed in larger type than the names of the other officials. He described his reason for doing this to one of the officials: “Think. It's because the sun shines that the planets shed their light, isn't it? As we could not draw the sun and the planets in the same size, so we would never write down the name of the leader and the names of his men in the same size.”10

Political Climate in North Korea

Ironically, Kim's efforts to promote the hero worship of his father overshadowed some of the original principles of juche, the political philosophy his father had set forth in North Korea. Basically,

the term, “juche,” means self-reliance or selfdependence—a self-sufficient economy, totally independent foreign policy, and a self-reliant defense position. According to Kim's interpretation of juche, to achieve this total self-reliance, the people had to be ready to make personal sacrifices, live a life without luxuries, and be totally united in patriotism. Evidently, the Kim political regime supported the intent in word rather than in deed. The officials in power did not set examples by denying themselves the finer things of life. In fact, they lived quite lavishly in large homes, ate the best food, and drove luxurious cars. In addition, according to Kim's interpretation, for juche to be successful, the people must have independence in both thought and politics, and the policies of the country should reflect the will of the people. Yet, at the same time, the people were expected to give absolute loyalty to the leader and to the party. In his country, Kim's interpretation of the juche system became a higher priority than education. This thought process has been ingrained into the people of North Korea in a number of ways, from speeches to the state-controlled media organizations.

Realistically, it did not appear that the people had many choices in how they thought or spoke. In fact, human rights organizations claim that the opinions of the citizens of North Korea have had no bearing on the decision-making process under the Kim regime. Additionally, the meaning of juche had been so changed by the Kim regime that the one-time top North Korean juche theorist, Hwang Jang Yop, defected to South Korea. He still believed in the principles of juche, but he felt that these principles were not being practiced by those in power in North Korea.

According to many sources, a heavy cloud of suspicion, distrust, and oppression has hung over the entire country for decades. The Kim regime has for years controlled all aspects of its citizens' lives. For example, the State Security Department keeps all citizens and government officials under strict surveillance through the use of informants. The government also monitors telephone and other communications systems. Furthermore, all media communications, including radio, television, and newspapers, are under government control. Additionally, although freedom of religion is guaranteed under the constitution of North

Cult of Personality

When the leader of a country is turned into a larger-than-life figure through the manipulation of mass media, the resulting pseudo-religious fervor is called a cult of personality, or personality cult. This phenomenon can sometimes occur in democracies, but is usually observed in dictatorships. Examples include Germany's Adolph Hitler, Italy's Benito Mussolini, and China's Chairman Mao. Historic film footage shows huge parades and ceremonies honoring these men who were literally worshipped by the people of their country. North Korea is generating a second-generation personality cult. Its first was that of Kim Il Sung. Since his death, his son, Kim Jong Il has been elevated to a similar god-king-like status.

Korea, it does not actually exist. Church groups are essentially underground operations, because church members and leaders know they may be imprisoned or killed for elevating any belief above the cult of personality or for having contact with overseas religious groups.

Under the younger Kim's direction, even some major points of North Korean official history appear to have been rewritten. This Kim-edited version of North Korean history further elevated Kim Il Sung's stature and the greatness of North Korea while downplaying the actual roles of other nations that had been allies of the country. For instance, rather than granting China recognition for its service to North Korea during the Korean War, the official interpretation is that a few volunteers from China assisted North Korea. Needless to say, these actions did not improve the relationship between the governments of China and North Korea.

As if these maneuvers were not enough, Kim went even further in isolating his country and its people from surrounding countries. At one time, visitors from communist countries, such as China or the Soviet Bloc countries, could travel freely in North Korea. By the mid-1960s and early 1970s, though, visitors from formerly friendly communist countries were restricted as to where they could go within North Korea and were allowed very little contact with the people. Additionally, any North Korean officials who were thought to have pro-Chinese or pro-Soviet beliefs were removed from positions of power.

As more time passed under the guidance of the Kim regime, North Korea moved further away politically from its Chinese and Soviet mentors, on whom the country had previously depended for trade. According to official government policy, Marxism and Leninism were useful doctrines of communism in their day, but their day had passed, and juche, or Kim's interpretation of juche, was the only effective means of enhancing the future of communist society. Beyond that, Kim Jong Il suggested that the juche ideology be renamed Kim Il Sungism. According to Kim, this philosophy was superior to all other thought systems, including Leninism and Marxism. Though denied other religions, the citizens of North Korea were essentially expected to worship Kim Il Sung.


Juche is a national belief in self-reliance. According to Kim Il Sung, the late North Korean dictator who died in 1994, juche, or chuch'é, “…means the independent stance of rejecting dependence on others and of using one's own powers, believing in one's own strength, and displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance.”

During the first ten years following North Korean liberation from Japan, the country was governed according to Marxism and Leninism, the political doctrines of the Soviet Union and China. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Kim Il Sung began promoting the principle of juche. By the mid-1970s, Kim Il Sung had declared Marxism and Leninism outdated and obsolete, and juche was North Korea's political ideology. His son, Kim Jong Il, changed the term juche to Kim Il Sungism, in honor of his father.

Source:, “Juche: Self-Reliance or Self-Dependence,” April 27, 2005.</SB>

In addition to the Kim regime isolating North Korea and its people from former allies, the former allies were dealing with problems of their own, which had an economic impact on North Korea. China and the Soviet Bloc countries were experiencing internal problems. The Soviet Bloc countries included the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Albania. They were providing fewer and fewer exports to North Korea. Despite its official policy of self-sufficiency, North Korea needed those exports. While elite government officials still had favorite foods and luxury items flown in for themselves, because the wealth of the country was in their hands and at their disposal, the working class people of North Korea, who often could not afford basic necessities, suffered hardships.

Captive Entertainment

Despite the hardships endured by the citizens of North Korea, Kim Jong Il denied himself nothing. He enjoyed special foods, expensive cars, a huge library of motion pictures, and he owned a number of mansions. Whatever he wanted, he had it imported from other countries. Sometimes, this included people; people who were brought into North Korea, whether they wanted to be there or not. One such story concerns a famous South Korean actress. According to some sources, Kim ordered his agents stationed in South Korea to kidnap popular actress, Choi Eun Hee, and her ex-husband, film director Shin Sang Ok. To do this, they first lured the actress to Hong Kong, supposedly to discuss a film role. She was kidnapped and taken to North Korea by boat, an eight-day ordeal. When she arrived, Kim Jong Il supposedly met her on the dock to welcome her to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Choi was afraid to ask why she had been brought to his country by force. Although a virtual prisoner, Choi was provided with luxurious surroundings.

What Kim wanted from Choi was her talent and her knowledge of the motion picture industry. She was made to study Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and the revolution as interpreted by Kim Jong Il. Despite the fact he had had her taken by force, Kim attempted to win Choi's favor by taking her to movies, musicals, and operas. He had her watch films and asked her opinion of them. For reading material, he provided her with a three-volume biography of Kim Hong Jik, Kim Il Sung's father. She also watched Kim's movies, Sea of Blood and The Flower Girl. She was impressed by the films, but not altogether sure how much Kim actually had to do with their making.

In the meantime, Shin, who had remained on friendly terms with his ex-wife, tried to learn what had happened to her. Six months after her disappearance, he went to Hong Kong, where she had last been seen, to get information about her disappearance. Like Choi, Shin was shanghaied by Kim's operatives, who slipped a bag over his head and hustled him off to North Korea. First, he was taken to Pyongyang, where he, too, was provided with luxury accommodations. However, no one would tell him

where Choi was or what had happened to her. During his earliest years of captivity in North Korea, Shin attempted to escape twice. These attempts angered Kim, and Shin was put in prison for his disobedience to Kim's wishes. During his time in jail, he endured physical suffering and other hardships. For instance, after waking in the morning, he was made to hold his arms over his head until breakfast time. He also had to sit in uncomfortable positions for

hours at a time and could not speak with other prisoners. Finally, Shin wrote a letter that convinced Kim that he had seen the error of his ways. Shin was released from jail.

Five years after they were first kidnapped, Shin and Choi were reunited. Surprisingly to both Shin and Choi, Kim apologized for keeping them away from each other. In fact, Kim encouraged them to remarry. Kim also announced that he was appointing Shin as his film advisor. After the wedding celebration, Shin and Choi were set to work, watching and critiquing films. Most of the films were from communist countries, but a few had been made in the United States. Kim would phone the couple daily to see if they were in good health or needed anything. This was a considerable turnaround from Shin's time in jail.

Additionally, Shin was provided with a 2.5 million dollar Swiss bank account to finance filmmaking projects. He made twenty films, many of them propaganda-inspired, while a captive guest of Kim Jong Il. Over time, Shin came to respect Kim's knowledge of films, however, there remained the issue that Shin and Choi had been kidnapped and were being forced to stay in North Korea, seldom allowed to communicate with people from outside the country. In his own way, Kim reasoned with them about the necessity of their isolation. “It is not propitious to talk about it truthfully,”11 he said of the kidnapping. He concocted a script for Shin and Choi to use with people outside of North Korea. They were to say that they had no freedom or democracy in South Korea, so they had come to North Korea to have real freedom to pursue their artistic endeavors. Eventually, they were allowed to leave country, but only one at a time, and that person was closely guarded. Because of this, both Shin and Choi stuck to Kim's prepared script. They said that they had gone to North Korea voluntarily.

The pair finally won Kim's confidence, though, and were allowed to leave the country together to travel to special events. They were still closely watched, however. Their escape from Kim and North Korea was as dramatic as a scene from any action film. In 1986 they traveled to a film festival in Vienna, Austria. While on a taxi ride to the festival, their cab got several car lengths ahead of the taxi in which their guards were traveling. They reached an

intersection. Instead of turning right, toward the location of the festival, they had their taxi turn left and drive them to the United States Embassy. When the guards arrived at the festival site and realized that Choi and Shin were not there, they radioed the taxi driver and asked him where he was taking the pair. Choi and Shin had bribed their driver not to tell their guards where they were. Unable to find a place to stop, the taxi dropped them down the road from the embassy. “We tried to run as fast as we could, but it felt like we were in some sort of slow motion movie. Finally, we burst through the embassy's doors and asked for asylum,”12

Shin said. For the first time since their abduction, they were able to speak truthfully of their years as forced guests of North Korea and Kim Jong Il.

Family and Relationships

The abductions of a famous Korean film star and director were not the only issues Kim tried to keep quiet. According to sources, he has always been secretive about his personal life. However, due to intelligence sources and the reports of North Koreans who have defected, bits and pieces of information about his private life have come to light. For instance, depending on the source of information, Kim has somewhere between eleven and thirteen children by his various wives and girlfriends. Since family information is so heavily guarded, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to determine how many of Kim's children are sons and how many are daughters.

Following his earlier marriages and subsequent relationships, Kim entered into a relationship with a well-known North Korean dancer, Koh Young Hui. She was much favored by Kim Jong Il and, for a time, actually took over the role of first lady of North Korea. She reportedly died in 2004 of cancer. According to reports, Kim was deeply saddened by her death. After a time, though, Kim became involved with his personal secretary, Kim Ok.

Little, if any, public information exists on some of his children, and, of those whose names are known, few details are available.

As previously described, Kim reportedly had a daughter with Kim Young Sook, Kim Sol Song, who stays out of the public eye. Kim's first son, Kim Jong Nam, was born to actress, Sung Hae Rim, who reportedly died in Moscow sometime in 2002. Kim Jong Nam was thought to be his father's favorite and was a frontrunner to succeed him in power until Japanese officials caught him trying to enter Japan on a fake passport. Supposedly, he was attempting to visit Tokyo Disneyland. This incident caused North Korea a great deal of embarrassment, because it made Kim's son and heir apparent look silly and irresponsible.

Kim had two sons, both born in the 1980s, by Koh Young Hui. They are Kim Jong Chol and Kim Jong Un. The few known facts about Kim Jong Chol include his love of professional basketball, a trait he appears to have inherited from his father, and that, at one time, he went to school in Switzerland. Kim Johng Un, the younger of the two, looks much like his father, and some sources indicate that, since Kim Jong Nam's fall from favor, Kim Jong Un might someday become his father's successor. Before Kim Jong Il needed a successor, though, he first needed to attain the top political position in North Korea. Though elderly and in frail health, his father was still the leader of the country.