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Kim Il-sung

North Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II (1939-45). When Kim Il Sung [born 15 April 1912], returned to North Korea from the Soviet Union where he and his guerrillas had been based from 1941-45, the Soviet occupation forces in the northern part of the country presented him to the North Korean people as a hero.

When Japan invaded and then annexed Manchuria in 193l, a strong guerrilla resistance embracing both Chinese and Koreans emerged. There were well over 200,000 guerrillas -- all loosely connected, and including bandits and secret societies -- fighting the Japanese in the early 1930s; after murderous but effective counterinsurgency campaigns, the numbers declined to a few thousand by the mid-1930s. It was from this milieu that Kim Il Sung (originally named Kim Sung Chu / Kim Sng-ju, born in 1912) emerged.

While fighting Japanese occupation forces in the 1930s, he adopted the name Kim Il Sung after a famous Korean guerrilla leader of the early 20th century. By the mid-1930s, he had become a significant guerrilla leader whom the Japanese considered one of the most effective and dangerous of guerrillas. They formed a special counterinsurgent unit to track Kim down and put Koreans in it as part of their divide-and-rule tactics.

Both Koreas have spawned myths about the guerrilla resistance: North Korea claims that Kim single-handedly defeated the Japanese, and South Korea claims that the present-day ruler of North Korea is an imposter who stole the name of a revered patriot. Nonetheless, the resistance is important for understanding postwar Korea. Resistance to Japan became the main legitimating doctrine of North Korea: North Koreans trace the origin of their army, leadership, and ideology back to this resistance. For the next five decades, the top North Korean leadership was dominated by a core group that had fought the Japanese in Manchuria. Kim Il Sung's tenure in a Russian reconnaissance brigade also would have had an influence.

Only thirty-four years old when he came to power, Kim was fortunate to emerge in the last decade of a forty-year resistance that had killed off many leaders of the older generation. North Korea claimed that Kim was the leader of all Korean resisters, when, in fact, there were many other leaders. But Kim won the support and firm loyalty of several hundred people like him: young, tough, nationalistic guerrillas who had fought in Manchuria.

Because the prime test of legitimacy in postwar Korea was one's record under the hated Japanese regime, Kim and his core allies possessed nationalist credentials superior to those of the South Korean leadership. Furthermore, Kim's backers had military force at their disposal and used it to their advantage against rivals with no military experience.

North Korea is a classic example of the "rule of man." Overall, political management was highly personalized and is based on loyalty to Kim Il Sung and the Korean Workers' Party (KWP). The cult of personality, the nepotism of the Kim family, and the strong influence of former anti-Japanese partisan veterans and military leaders are unique features of North Korean politics.

As of mid-1993, Kim Il Sung's wife, Kim Song-ae, was a member of the KWP Central Committee, a member of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly, a deputy to the assembly, and chairwoman of the Korean Democratic Women's Union Central Committee. Kim Il Sung's daughter, Kim Kyong-hui, was a member of the KWP Central Committee and deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), and his son-in-law, Chang Songtaek, was premier and a candidate member of the KWP Central Committee and deputy to the SPA. Kang Song-san, Kim Il Sung's cousin by marriage, was premier and a member of the KWP Central Committee and Political Bureau, deputy to the SPA, and member of the state Central People's Committee (CPC). Ho Tam, who died in 1991, was Kim Il Sung's brother-in-law, a member of the KWP Central Committee and Political Bureau, chairman of the SPA Foreign Affairs Committee, deputy to the SPA, and chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.

North Korea's idolization of Kim Il-sung continued even after his death in July 1994, as an attempt by Kim Jong-il's regime to bolster stability and legitimacy using the older Kim's charisma. A nationwide mourning ceremony was conducted immediately following Kim Il-sung's death on July 08, 1994. Kim Il-sung's birthday, April 15, was designated as the 'anniversary of the sun' in July of 1997, after the end of the three-year period of mourning. A new calendar beginning in 1912 (Kim Il-sung's year of birth) became official, with Juche as the reign title, and Kim Il-sung was hailed as the founder of the "Juche dynasty".

Kim Il-sung's charisma was maintained posthumously by government offices and corporations holding report sessions commemorating Kim Il-sung's on-the-spot inspections of their facilities and by events such as the April Arts Celebration, held in the same month the older Kim was born.

The presidential residence, Kumsusan Assembly Hall, was sanctified as the Kumsusan Memorial Palace. Also, over 3,200 "Eternal Life Towers" were erected throughout the country, beginning with the one in downtown Pyongyang, in memory of Kim Il-sung's passing and dedicated to his immortality, as well as monuments with inscription records of KIm Il-sung's past activities.

The constitution was revised during the 10th term of the 5th Supreme People's Assembly (held in September 1998) to include a new preface promulgating Kim Il-sung as the "Supreme Leader Eternal". The revised constitution was officially termed the 'Kim Il-sung Constitution', which became the epitome of the posthumous idolization process.

It is not difficult to conclude that the idolization has been undertaken by the current regime to add stability to the new political system by active incorporation and identification with the older Kim's past charisma.

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