Two Sides of Kim
Two Sides of Kim
Many changes took place in Kim Jong Il's life from the time he was born until he became a young man. The greatest change occurred when his father rose from guerrilla warrior in exile to leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. For Kim, whose early childhood was spent in military encampments, his life became one of vast wealth and many privileges. Despite the glowing praise heaped on the young man by state-controlled media, the way Kim Jong Il actually lived and conducted himself might not have been as inspirational as portrayed. For example, with his lavish lifestyle, he could have whatever type of car he wanted and any kind of food he preferred, regardless of cost. Additionally, servants, government employees, and even the professors at the university went out of their way to attend to his every need and fulfill his every wish.
According to official records, Kim Jong Il entered the Political/ Economic Department of the College of Economics at Kim Il Sung University in September 1960. According to these same records, the accounts provided by the state-run television, press, and official government press releases, Kim was a busy and dedicated
student. These sources also state that Kim spent time working at the Puongyang Textile Machine Works, was involved in leading his fellow students in work on the expansion of a major highway, and took part in military camping and exercises. Supposedly, he took part in these military training exercises on the same level as other students, kept to a strict schedule, and ate the same meals
as the other students. He was portrayed as an inspirational leader among the other students; one who led his peers to work hard, to think of themselves as revolutionaries, and to prepare themselves accordingly.
In addition to his academic and extracurricular pursuits, several sources credit him with writing 1,500 books, speeches, and other works during his university days. This particular report appears extremely unlikely, because he would have needed to average more than one written work a day for the years he was at the university. Most college students, with all of their academic responsibilities, do not have time to read at that rate, let alone do that much actual writing.
Other accounts are far different than those from official channels, such as reports that Kim spent a fair amount of time during his university years drinking, chasing girls, and partying. Additionally, several sources indicate that, from the time he entered the university, which had been named for his father, Kim Jong Il was not even addressed by his own name. He was called Premier's Son. Special agents were assigned to protect him, and he received special tutoring in all his subjects, from economics and politics to history, philosophy, and languages.
His tutors were not other students or teaching assistants. Kim was tutored by some of the most outstanding professors in their fields. It is rumored that many of his college papers were either revised by his tutors before they were turned in or actually written by his tutors. Official and unofficial sources differ over Kim's undergraduate dissertation. Officially, Kim managed to write this paper in a little over one month. However, some sources credit Jeon Yong Shik, Ph.D., Kim's economics advisor, with ghostwriting this paper.
One important event that occurred in Kim's family during his university years was his father's remarriage in 1963. This marriage resulted in several half-siblings for Kim. Privately, he complained that his father was so busy living up to being the Great Leader that he had little time left for him. The elder Kim's involvement with his new family probably left him with even less time for his firstborn son. Nevertheless, Kim Jong Il worked to gain his
Pyongyang, North Korea
Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea and the home of Kim Jong Il, the leader of the country. With a population of about four million, it is the largest city in North Korea. It lies on the Taedong River in the south central region of North Korea. Legend has it the city was founded in 2333 B.C. Over the centuries, Pyongyang has been known by several names. According to some sources, it was founded as Wanggomsong and later may have been called Sogyong. The city has also been called Ryugyong, Capital of Willows, because of its numerous willow trees. Pyongyang has been completely rebuilt since the Korean Conflict. It is divided into four counties and nineteen wards.
father's attention and to please him. On vacations from school, Kim often accompanied his father on government tours and, according to official sources, wrote his thesis about his father's socialist agriculture program.
It was also during his university years that Kim first became interested in motion pictures. He was so fascinated by them that nearly every day he went to the Central Film Distribution Center in downtown Pyongyang. The premier's son was in the center so frequently that the company set up a special viewing room for Kim and his friends. The North Korean film industry was very poor up to the 1960s. Most of its films were about patriots from ordinary life, like nurses and steel workers, reciting dull speeches about their dedication to the Communist Party. These were the films the general public was allowed to see. Kim found these boring. Instead, he watched Soviet movies and movies from Europe and the United States, movies other Koreans were not allowed to see. In fact, had Kim not been in training to become his father's political successor, many believe he would have become a movie producer. However, that choice was not his to make. Kim's father already had his son's political future planned down to the last detail.
In either 1963 or 1964, depending on the source, Kim graduated from Kim Il Sung University with a degree in political economy. His first job after university was with the central committee of the Korean Workers Party, first as a ministerial assistant, and later as a senior official in the propaganda and agitation department. One of his duties was to ensure party activities did not stray from the ideals set by his father.
Some of Kim's duties brought him into contact with the Central Radio and TV Broadcasting Committee. Through this association, Kim met a cameraman. The man had been a war orphan and was a recent newlywed. Prompted by either generosity or to gain favor with his father though positive publicity, Kim took the man to a nice-looking apartment building and gifted him and his new bride with the keys and legal documents to a new apartment: “Now, take it, it is the occupation certificate. I could not allow myself to give you an old house because yours is a new family… Go in and see whether you like it.”6
Due to the secrecy that surrounds much of Kim's personal life, actual dates and relationships are somewhat conflicting and muddled. According to some sources, Kim married his first wife, Hong Il Chun, in 1966. She later became vice minister of education. The two are believed to have divorced in 1971.
About this same time, Kim became reacquainted with Sung Hae Rim, a young woman he had first met in high school. She
was now a popular movie actress in the North Korean film industry, and he met her again while on a tour of a movie studio. Some say Kim fell in love with the young woman even though she was already married and had a child. By some accounts, Kim forced her to leave her husband to live with him, but other sources say she was genuinely fond of Kim and left her husband willingly. However, despite Kim's privileged status, they could not be seen in public as a couple. Since she was six years his senior and had been previously married, their relationship had to remain a quiet, private one. Even though he was an adult, Kim Jong Il feared his father's reaction if he found out about the relationship. He knew he had to stay in his father's favor if he hoped to be the next leader of his country. According to Sung's sister, to keep the relationship a secret, Kim moved her to one of his more secluded homes. In 1971 she bore him a son. He was named Kim Jong Nam. Ultimately, Sung suffered from a number of nervous disorders and was sent to Moscow for treatment. Her condition grew worse, and she finally died in Russia in 2002.
Despite Kim's efforts to hide this relationship, in the early 1970s, his father found out. As expected, he strongly disapproved and made plans of his own to put an end to this relationship. The elder Kim ordered his son to marry the daughter of one of his senior military officials. Her name was Kim Young Sook. She became his “official” wife and bore him a daughter, Kim Sol Song. Little is known about this daughter, who is not involved in politics.
The late 1960s were apparently a very busy time for Kim Jong Il. One of his duties was providing propaganda on the doctrines and principles of his father's regime for the people of North Korea. He wrote several papers about economics. In some of these papers, he cautioned against making money and other material gains—the main focus of economic growth and development of the country. He also traveled the country, giving speeches about making changes in Korean industries of that time. These were not his
only responsibilities. He believed some people in key positions of authority involved with his country's military were deliberately misinterpreting state orders and his father's directives, and these people were a threat to the Workers’ Party's influence over the military. He had the officers he believed responsible for these supposed infractions removed from their positions. Additionally, he took an active role in the construction of military facilities, such as the headquarters of the Fifth Corps and the Pyongyang garrison, an underground bunker with state-of-the-art lighting, water and ventilation systems, and living quarters for the military personnel.
He also made use of his interest in the cinema and the fine arts. He believed that improving the Korean film industry would help improve other art forms in his country. He encouraged artists to develop new works, outside of traditional Korean art forms. Some of his own earlier efforts included taking some of his father's writings from the World War II era and turning them into films. The first such film, produced in 1967, when Kim was still in his mid-twenties, was Five Guerrilla Brothers. This was the first of a number of films to focus on Kim Il Sung's leadership in the anti-Japanese movement.
However, Kim's direction of Korea's film industry came with specific guidelines. He demanded that all films promote and develop his father's ideals. To do this, he decreed that films should fall into one of three categories: (1) the anti-Japanese efforts of Kim Il Sung, such as the film, Five Guerrilla Brothers; (2) the Korean War, for example the film, Unsung Heroes; and (3) films to inspire people to work enthusiastically for the good of the party, such as The Path to Awakening. Through this form of propaganda, Kim intended to improve the movie industry while keeping it strictly in line with the government policy of honoring Kim Sung Il and the unity of the Workers’ Party.
Producers and directors who followed these guidelines stayed on Kim Jong Il's good side. Those who suggested anything that deviated from Kim's orders faced severe consequences. For instance if a director in the North Korean film industry suggested using the methods of European directors, this person risked being labeled an anti-party counterrevolutionary and an enemy of the state. At the very least, this label cost him his job.
The writers who wrote the screenplays for Kim Jong Il's movies also had to contend with demanding working conditions. Several stories from official channels recount Kim Jong Il's dedication to his father and to his own work in the film industry. For instance, while working on the screenplay for the movie, Sea of Blood, based on one of Kim Il Sung's writings, the writers sometimes worked far into the night. Very late one evening when they were about to lay aside their work and go to bed, Kim Jong Il sent for them and asked for any other manuscripts they had. Because it was nearly three o’clock in the morning, one of the writers suggested that Kim should get at least a few hours’ rest.
Kim supposedly responded:
…You know, the President [Kim Il Sung] wrote this celebrated work, sitting up all night for several nights, taking time off in the intervals of the grim, bloody struggle against the Japanese. In that case, how can we allow ourselves to write the screen version of that masterpiece, taking as much rest and sleep as we want, satisfied with our comfortable conditions? I prefer to work in the peaceful, small hours. Give me the manuscripts you’ve written, please.7
The writers were so inspired by his words that they remained at their desks, writing many more hours, before finally falling asleep over their work. Awakened by the sound of splashing, one of the writers walked to the restroom, where he observed Kim Jong Il splashing his face with cold water to revive himself. According to the story, the writers were totally awed by this degree of dedication.
Sea of Blood premiered in 1969, followed by The Fate of a Self-defense Corps Man in 1970. Another official story, demonstrating Kim's kindness and consideration toward those working in the film industry, centers around the filming of the latter movie. This story was filmed on location in the Pochonbo Mountains, the far northern part of the country where the weather was quite cold. He sent enough warm clothing, blankets, food, and medicine to take care of every person involved in the filming. The propaganda department made certain that Kim Jong Il's acts of generosity were well publicized.
Kim, however, also placed enormous pressure on the film crews by pushing these films quickly through production. For instance, a movie that would normally require a year to film and edit was completed in about forty days. This required extremely long workdays on the part of the film crews. Kim believed that high-quality films could be produced in shorter periods of time. Despite the stress this inflicted on the film crews, these efforts paid off. Even people outside the country noticed the improvement in the quality of North Korean films.
The Korean Workers' Party
Officially founded in August 1948, the North Korean Workers’ Party is the controlling political party in North Korea. Numbering more than three million members as of 1990, the decision-making body of the party is called the Central Committee. From this committee is chosen the thirty-member Political Bureau, or Politbureau. The next rung up the political ladder is the five-member standing committee. The top position is that of Secretary General of the Central Committee. This position is currently held by Kim Jong Il. The Workers’ Party controls the government, the military, and all media, including television, newspapers, and radio.
About this same time, Kim took on an active role in opera productions in his country, starting with an opera version of the film, Sea of Blood. Supposedly, he studied more than 150 songs in order to select the music for this three-act opera. The opera opened in Pyongyang in July 1971. Even a former insider of the Kim regime who later defected to South Korea spoke highly of the production: “Everyone in the audience became deeply moved and stood to applaud Kim Jong Il.”8
Kim Jong Il's propaganda goals extended beyond movies and opera into dance, plays, orchestra, and other art forms as well. “Works which do not cater to the Party's requirements are of no use at all,”9 he stated.
From the time he completed college and entered government service, official government and party-approved biographical sources portrayed Kim Jong Il as a brilliant, gifted, inspiring, and benevolent young man—all excellent traits for a future leader. Some reports outside official government sources, however, have been far less flattering. Milder reports allude to Kim as being self-protecting and a self-promoter. Reports of his conceit and arrogance as a young man clash strongly with official reports of his modesty and humility. For instance, in the mid-1960s, Kim worked in his father's military bodyguard organization, with the rank of major. Apparently, he had frequent clashes and disagreements with the head of the Bodyguard Bureau. Some say he was so impressed with himself that he gave out advice unrequested to hear himself talk.
Others are considerably more direct in their descriptions of some of the North Korean dictator's personal habits. For instance, some of Kim's former bodyguards describe him as both a heavy drinker and a heavy smoker, a man prone to excesses, even at the risk of his health. Early in his life, these excesses also extended to gourmet foods and fast cars. At least one account claims Kim was injured in an automobile accident as a young man. Supposedly, he had been driving at the time of the accident. Following the accident, he disappeared from public view for a time. Because of his disappearance, rumors flew. According to some stories, the collision, caused by his reckless driving, had left him a vegetable. Other rumors suggested that he was dead. Finally, gossip was dispelled, because by 1979, he again appeared in public.
In addition to enjoying the excesses made possible by being the son of the most powerful man in North Korea, some indicate that by the time he was a young adult, Kim had already developed
a reputation for ruthlessness and something of a cruel streak. Other observers describe him as an extremely ambitious young man, but not especially bloodthirsty. Some sources, however, say he was not above looking on as brutal interrogations were conducted.
Accounts vary on this degree of cruelty. From bullying behavior as a child, some detractors say Kim, though not dirtying his own hands, did not hesitate to order others to do away with his rivals or others who had fallen from his favor. A former confidant of Kim's who later left North Korea told an especially gruesome story. A government secretary told his wife of Kim's drunken, immoral behavior. Being a person of high moral standards, the secretary's wife sent a letter to Kim's father, asking him to discipline his son for such behavior. Kim Il Sung never received the letter; instead, it fell into the hands of Kim Jong Il, who had the woman brought before him, condemned her as a counterrevolutionary, and had her shot. This was meant as a warning to others who might be tempted to speak publicly of his private activities or criticize him in any way.
Despite these alleged traits, though, Kim worked to develop a number of habits that would be useful to any future leader, whether of a dictatorship or a democracy. Unlike people in positions of authority in many dictatorships, who isolate themselves from news of other nations, Kim made efforts to become well informed about the world outside of his country. He watched news programs to learn what was happening in other countries and stay up-to-date on current events around the world. He could also, if it would benefit him, display charming social skills to visitors from other countries. In short, depending on the source of information, young Kim Jong Il had not one reputation, but several. Whichever reputation represented the real Kim Jong Il, though, people in his inner circle knew to watch what they said not only in his presence, but also away from him.