Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, page 1
UNDER THE LOVING CARE OF
THE FATHERLY LEADER
NORTH KOREA AND
THE KIM DYNASTY
BRADLEY K. MARTIN
Thomas Dunne Books
St. Martin’s Press New York
THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS.
An imprint of St. Martin’s Press.
UNDER THE LOVINGCARE OF THE FATHERLY LEADER. Copyright © 2004 by .Bradley K. Martin. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
First Edition: September 2004
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This book is dedicated to the memory of my parents,
Bradley K. Martin Sr. and Christine Logan Martin.
For them, loving care never became a propaganda slogan.
1. To the City of the God-King
2. Fighters and Psalmists
3. On Long Marches Through Blizzards
4. Heaven and Earth the Wise Leader Tamed
5. Iron-Willed Brilliant Commander
6. With the Leader Who Unfolded Paradise
7. When He Hugged Us Still Damp from the Sea
8. Flowers of His Great Love Are Blooming
9. He Gave Us Water and Sent Us Machines
10. Let’s Spread the Pollen of Love
12. Growing Pains
13. Take the Lead in World Conjuring
14. Eyes and Ears
15. From Generation to Generation
16. Our Earthly Paradise Free from Oppression
17. Two Women
18. Dazzling Ray of Guidance317
19. A Story to Tell to the Nations
20. Wherever You Go in My Homeland
21. If Your Brain Is Properly Oiled
22. Logging In and Logging Out
23. Do You Remember That Time?
24. Pickled Plum in a Lunch Box
25. I Die, You Die
26. Yen for the Motherland
27. Winds of Temptation May Blow
28. Sea of Fire
29. Without You There Is No Country
30. We Will Become Bullets and Bombs
31. Neither Land nor People at Peace
32. In a Ruined Country
33. Even the Traitors Who Live in Luxury
34. Though Alive, Worse Than Gutter Dogs
35. Sun of the Twenty-First Century
36. Fear and Loathing
37. Sing of Our Leader’s Favors for Thousands of Years
Here and there among the greenery were palace-like buildings. … “Communism,” said I to myself. … There were no hedges, no signs of proprietary rights, no agriculture. … The shop, the advertisement, traffic, all that commerce which constitutes the body of our world, was gone. It was natural on that golden evening that I should jump at the idea of a social paradise.
—H. G. WELLS, THE TIME MACHINE
Alas, as Wells’s time traveler soon discovered, man “had not remained one species, but had differentiated into two distinct animals.” The first Eloi specimen he encountered was “indescribably frail. His flushed face reminded me of the more beautiful kind of consumptive.”
The Eloi were a gentle, childlike people who stood “perhaps four feet high.” In their eyes the traveler detected “a certain lack of the interest I might have expected in them. … The question had come into my mind abruptly: were these creatures fools? … You see, I had always anticipated that the people of the year Eight Hundred and Two Thousand–odd would be incredibly in front of us in knowledge, art, everything. Then one of them suddenly asked me a question that showed him to be on the intellectual level of one of our five-year-old children.”
The Eloi proved to be descendants of the wealthier classes of humans. However, “all the activity, all the traditions, the complex organizations, the nations, languages, literatures, aspirations, even the mere memory of Man as I knew him, had been swept out of existence. Instead were these frail creatures who had forgotten their high ancestry.” Still, “[h]owever great their intellectual degradation, the Eloi had kept too much of the human form not to claim my sympathy, and to make me perforce a sharer in their degradation and their Fear.”
The dominant species, the Morlocks, had evolved from the working class. Morlocks lived and worked underground, where they kept the machinery that gave them their power. Clever, they treated the Eloi like domesticated herds and lived off them. They were carnivorous, nocturnal. “Beneath my feet then the earth must be tunneled enormously, and these tunnelings were the habitat of the New Race.”1
In Wells’s imagination it had taken 800 millennia for humanity to change so drastically. In North Korea a remarkably similar evolution took only a half-century The North Korean changes, not likely to be reversed quickly or easily, were largely the work of two men: Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il (whose gigantic personal movie library no doubt included both the 1960 and 2002 Hollywood versions of Wells’s classic).
This is the story of how they did it.
UNDER THE LOVING CARE OF
THE FATHERLY LEADER
To the City of the God-King
Reading about the personality cult of the North Korean leader had not fully prepared me for what I found when I arrived in Pyongyang in April 1979, as a member of the first large contingent of Americans to visit since the Korean War. Since I was encountering an economy and society almost unimaginably different from any I had known, the stay was full of surprises. But next to the astonishing all-pervasiveness of leader-worship the rest seemed mere detail.
Everyone sprinkled his speech with straight-faced references to “our Respected and Beloved Leader,” “our Great Leader,” “our Fatherly Leader.” Everyone wore a portrait of the round-faced, unsmiling Kim Il-sung on a gold-framed, enameled badge pinned to the left breast. Larger portraits and statues of the Leader were everywhere.
It gradually became apparent that this was a religion. To North Koreans, Kim Il-sung was more than just a leader. He showered his people with fatherly love. If I could believe what my ears were hearing he might even be immortal, able to provide his followers eternal life. The realization grew during my first few days in Pyongyang. It crystallized as I sat in the Mansudae Art Theater watching a performance of Song of Paradise, a musical drama lavishly staged on the scale of a grand opera or Broadway musical.
The curtain rises to reveal a nighttime view of downtown Pyongyang. Holiday crowds enjoy themselves as neon signs and fireworks light up the city’s impressive skyline of tall buildings and monuments. Son-hui, a journalist played by a buxom soprano, is about to depart on a trip around the country to gather material for a series of articles on the glories of the workers’ paradise. She is unaware that the Great Leader, meanwhile, has commissioned a search for the orphaned daughter of a Korean War hero. The crowd-chorus, overcome with joy at the wonders of socialist construction, unleashes a mighty, soaring, swelling hymn worthy of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: “With the Leader who unfolded this paradise, we shall live for generations to come.”
Paradise? To a first-tim
In the deeply dug, sparkling-clean Pyongyang Metro, with its glittering chandeliers and its imposing murals honoring Kim Il-sung, I saw “passengers” exit the station via the escalator and then turn around and go back in for another ride—their repetitive all-day assignment, I supposed1. Trains composed of only two cars each stopped for several minutes at each station, and the tracks showed enough rust to suggest that impressing visitors was a more important consideration than transporting people in a city where buses could glide quickly through nearly empty streets.
Still, who could be more qualified to unfold a paradise than Kim Il-sung? A partial listing of his talents would have aroused the envy of a Leonardo da Vinci or Thomas Jefferson. Kim was the country’s leading novelist, philosopher, historian, educator, designer, literary critic, architect, industrial management specialist, general, table tennis trainer (the Americans were in town for the world championship)—and agriculture experimenter. “Our Great Leader,” said my government-assigned interpreter, Han Yong, “has a small plot at his residence where he tests planting for a year or two.”
One officially propagated “legend” about Kim Il-sung’s days as an anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter in the 1930s and ’40s described him as a mighty general astride a white horse, “carrying an enormous sword, cutting a big tree down as if slicing soft bean curd.” Another had him walking on water: “Great Leader Comrade Kim Il-sung turned pine cones into bullets and grains of sand into rice, and crossed a large river riding on fallen leaves.” To hear the North Koreans talk, Kim must have made himself heir to the ancient Taoist magicians’ secrets for transcending time and space.
Now he was paying more than lip service to pursuing the goal of living with his people “for generations to come.” Kim by 1979 was girding up for a contest with the mortality tables. He celebrated, lavishly, his sixty-seventh birthday on April 15 of that year. During his more than three decades at the helm of the country, he had focused his considerable abilities and enormous power on ensuring that he would outlive his rivals one way or another.
The president smoked heavily and a large if nonmalignant tumor protruded from his neck, both negative signs for one who sought immortality. With little fanfare, however (I learned of this many years later), his government had established a longevity research institute in 1972 on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. Researchers there were hard at work to make sure Kim would see his seventieth birthday and his eightieth.
Son-hui joins factory girls who are making merry in a Pyongyang park, on their day off. They sing of “our happy life, which is always in a festive mood.” The heroine’s adoptive mother, who heads a work team on a farm, comes to the park and chants her gratitude to the Fatherly Leader, who has brought up the orphaned Son-hui to be a reporter. The two women sing a duet: “Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader.”
Solicitude toward “war orphans was an important aspect of the image of himself that Kim projected. A quarter of North Korea’s 1950 population of 10 million died in the Korean War.2 Afterward, Pyongyang says, the state raised youngsters who had lost their parents, teaching them to think of Kim Il-sung as their father, themselves as his children. Some of those, like the fictitious Son-hui, had grown up to become members of the elite corps of officials and intellectuals.
On a night train trip3 to the city of Kaesong, I shared a bottle of whiskey with a man who introduced himself as Bai Song-chul, an official of the Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries4. While other North Koreans I had met sounded totally rehearsed, Bai spoke spontaneously and directly through thin lips that often turned downward in a frown or into a sardonic smile. There was intelligence in his eyes, which seemed to try to peer over his dark-rimmed spectacles. Thick hair (black, of course) surmounted a high forehead and an oval yet strong-jawed face. At thirty-nine years old, he obviously was an up-and-coming member of the elite. Not very tall, he carried himself with something akin to a swagger. His forthrightness bespoke a confidence born of position and access to high levels. As the conversation progressed, I felt emboldened to tell him frankly that I could not help finding the Kim Il-sung cult ludicrous. Bai frowned and replied that such a reaction from an American, new to his country, did not surprise him—“but we feel bad when you talk that way ”
Bai said all North Koreans had personal experiences that inspired respect and affection for the Great Leader. Bai himself had been orphaned in the Korean War, he told me. “Kim Il-sung came to our village and asked how many orphans there were. He called us together and said: ‘You can stay here or you can go to orphans’ school. It’s up to you.’ We went to the orphans’ school. At New Year’s, Kim Il-sung came and told us: You have no parents, so think of me as your father.’” Bai told his story with force and feeling. It seemed to come from the heart, and I saw no reason to doubt that the filial love he expressed for Kim Il-sung was genuine.
The reporter Son-hui, visiting an orchard, recalls the Great Leader’s 1958 teaching that fruit trees should be planted on the hillsides. “Wherever you. go in my homeland, the flowers of His great love are blooming,” she sings. “We shall live forever in this land of bliss, with His love and care in our hearts.”
Dancing farm women take up the theme and sing: “Let’s spread the pollen of love. … The flowers bloom in the Leader’s sunlight.”
In North Korea, not just the arias and choruses in Song of Paradise but nearly all the songs we heard were about Kim Il-sung. Usually singers sang about him tenderly with that sense of exultant yet exquisitely agonizing groping upward toward the ineffable that marks the high-church Christian musical tradition. Television documentaries showed the president out among the people, giving “on-the-spot guidance” to farmers. Sweet, sad instrumental music began playing when his face became visible. A television news program showed a foreign visitor picking up a book from a display. The camera moved in for a close-up of the volume, which was one of many works by the Respected and Beloved Leader. Sweet, sad music played as the image lingered on the screen.
People, at least the ones foreign visitors could talk with, spoke about the Leader the same way they sang about him: solemnly but lovingly. Their eyes showed their sincerity, and there was no outward sign of cynicism.
The deputy manager of the fruit farm recalls the days when he fought alongside a soon-to-die Korean War hero—the man for whose orphaned daughter Kim Il-sung has now commissioned a search. As the scene shifts to a realistic-looking wartime battle, the farm leader and other war veterans sing: “For three years and three months I have been under arms. My song echoes home from the trenches when I smash U.S. invaders seeking to rob us of our happiness.”
Contrary to the understanding of most of the rest of the world, North Koreans generally believed that the South Koreans had invaded the North to start the Korean War and that North Korea then had gone on to win the war. They believed it as an article of faith because Kim Il-sung told them so. The regime worked successfully to keep at white-hot intensity the people’s hatred of American and South Korean invaders and Japanese imperialists. Those outsiders, described as forever hatching new schemes to undermine and attack the North, got the blame for any problems at home. Thus, there was no need for Kim’s subjects even to consider the heretical thought that the Great Leader and his system might have something to do with their problems.
Son-hui and the women of a fishing village welcome the fishe
Hearing of the fishermen’s return from the deep sea, the Great Leader has instructed that they and their families be sent to vacation at scenic Mount Kum-gang. The announcement moves the fishermen to tears and the audience to applause. “Oh, this is kindly love, a love much deeper than the deepest sea,” sings the fishermen’s chorus. “Our hearts throbbed with emotion profound when He hugged us still damp from the sea. By our Fatherly Leader’s love … even the wa-ters are touched, and quiver. We dedicate our youth to repaying His kindness. The boundless love of our Leader will last forever, like the sea.”
People were constantly telling me stories about Kim Il-sung’s benevolence. For example, he supposedly sent a team of doctors with medicine “worth the cost of a small factory” aboard his personal airplane when he heard that a resident of the mountains was critically ill.5