Kim Il Sung was the pseudonym of Kim Song Ju
, the paramount leader of North Korea
. He was a swashbuckling revolutionary
, a personality cult
, and by many accounts a bit of of an idiot
, but left a larger mark on Korea
as a whole than any other individual in history. Much of his self-told life story is said to be legend, fabricated by Pyongyang
's propaganda machines: this node will skip over what he says about himself, and instead examine what is known about his life.
He was born in 1912 outside of P'yongi, back when the Japanese Empire controlled Korea and called it "Chosen." While he was still quite young, his family emigrated to Manchuria, where many Koreans were going to work for the Japanese occupation authorities. At the tender age of fifteen, young Kim was arrested for the first time, after the Chinese discovered that he had helped to found a communist youth league. Three years later, though, he was out of prison, and he went to the mountains to become a guerrilla fighter for the Chinese Communist Army.
Back then, Kim's cell, like the cells of Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, was fighting the Japanese occupation. His new name, Kim Il Sung, came from a then-famous leader of the resistance. Eventually, in 1941, Kim realized that the Japanese were about to clamp down on dissenters in Manchukuo, and so he fled to the Soviet Union, where he stayed until 1945. According to many reports, Kim's guerrillas were trained by the Soviets in anticipation of an eventual war with Japan: at that time, the USSR was only fighting Germany and Italy. It was during this time (1942) that Kim Il Sung married fellow partisan Kim Chong Suk, and fathered their first son, Kim Jong Il. Two years later, they had a second son named Kim Pyong Il, who died at the age of three.
The Kim family returned to Korea following the defeat of the Japanese in 1945. Kim Il Sung was unknown to most Koreans back then, despite his exploits in China: many thought that he was supposed to be the older Kim Il Sung, and were disappointed when they discovered that this Il Sung was only in his thirties. The Soviets, however, decided that a tested revolutionary leader loyal to the USSR would be the best figurehead for a satellite state in Korea, and so they set Kim Il Sung up for the position. At first, Kim was made vice-chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, under the leadership of South Korea's New Democratic Party chairman Kim Tu Bong, but it was known to everyone that only Il Sung had the support of the Soviets as Communist Korea's first leader.
Kim envisioned all of Korea, North and South, unified under communist rule, despite the fact that the United States-backed administration in South Korea was just as anti-communist as the North was pro-communist. He unified a squabbling North-South rivalry in the Party in 1946, and was almost instantly propelled to its head. When the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed on 9 September 1948, it claimed jurisdiction over all of Korea, and Kim Il Sung was its premier. One year later, Chong Suk died while carrying Il Sung's fourth, stillborn child.
In 1953, after the Korean War had ended, Kim traveled to the Soviet Union and China, seeking aid and expressing his appreciation for their support. Around this time, he began to develop his first serious line of political philosophy, the concept known as "juche." Juche was a blend of Marxism, Leninism, self-reliance, and self-reflection that Kim believed would allow North Korea to develop as a communist state independent of the USSR and PRC, maintaining the essence of the Korean people and their shared culture. In 1955, he first articulated this philosophy in a speech blasting North Korea's tendency to copy Soviet institutions and practices. However, juche was not completely developed or implemented until a speech Kim Il Sung delivered in Indonesia in 1965, when the North's relations with its two communist neigbors were beginning to sour.
Kim Il Sung, suryeong ("supreme leader") of North Korea, was legally bound to a single four-year term as president, barring "unavoidable circumstances." However, he was so mind-numbingly popular, and so powerful within the system, that every election cycle brought with it some sort of "unavoidable circumstance" to keep Kim in power. In 1972, on Kim's 60th birthday, 300,000 North Koreans attended the opening of a revolutionary museum on the hill of Mansudae in Pyongyang, where deified emperors of Japan had been worshipped during the occupation: it featured a seventy-foot bronze statue of Kim in front. Then, for Kim's 70th in 1982, the Juche Tower and Arch of Triumph, larger Pyongyang versions of the Washington Monument and Arc de Triomphe, were unveiled: the former featured 25,550 blocks of granite, one for each day of the 70 years of Kim's life, and the latter featured seventy bas relief azaleas. On the same day, a 100,000-seat Kim Il Sung Stadium was opened. And like Mao, Kim's likeness became a symbol of the North Korean people, often carried alongside the flag.
During the 1970's, Kim tried to expand the juche philosophy beyond North Korea. He didn't manage this, however, and had to settle for being a missile dealer.
Anyway, after the USSR collapsed and the PRC began to liberalize, North Korea saw itself in a deteriorating international position. They tried to get out by developing nuclear weapons, but in 1993, when Bill Clinton's administration found out and began threatening World War III, Kim Il Sung decided it was time to bury the hatchet with America. He entered negotiations with Jimmy Carter in 1994 to do just that, but before anything could be finalized, Kim died. His spectacular state funeral was followed by a three-year-long national period of mourning. His birthday is now called "National Sun's Day," and as the North Korean propaganda puts it today,
Having Kim Jong Il as the top leader of the party, the state and the army, the revolutionary cause of Juche will make a victorious advance till it is finally accomplished and Kim Il Sung will live forever as the sun of Juche.