March 15, 2004,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a week-long series of excerpts from Rogue State: How a Nuclear North Korea Threatens America by William C. Triplett, which is released today.
"There are two worlds in North Korea, one for the senior military and the elite and a living hell for the rest." German pediatrician Norbert Vollertsen, who spent eighteen months treating children in North Korea
It's like another planet." That was the only way one diplomat could describe North Korea. Consider a visit from the Great Leader to a foreign dignitary living in Pyongyang: It would first be determined which particular salon in the forty-room guest palace the Great Leader would visit. Next, just before the appointed meeting, an army truck would arrive. A specially trained team of soldiers would then strip the salon of all furniture, rugs, and wall hangings right down to the bare floor. A second truck would arrive with replacement furnishings. Among these would be the Great Leader's own desk as well as his personal items and baskets of flowers. In this salon, the Great Leader would exchange ten minutes of pleasantries with the foreign dignitary and then depart. Afterwards, the two trucks would come back in reverse order so that the salon would be returned to its original condition.
North Korean children are taught that Kim Jung Il, the Dear Leader, was born at a secret military base at the foot of a sacred mountain in North Korea and that double rainbows appeared at his birth. In fact, there never was such a secret military base; he was born at a dismal military post in Siberia where his father was then serving in the Soviet army. In order to make the father into a war hero, the Soviets produced a series of faked documents and even a legend of his exploits. The North Korean propagandists have expanded and extrapolated these lies to give the Great Leader the aura of a god.
According to a North Korean book published in the mid-1990s called Divine Stories About the Dear Leader, Kim Jung Il played his first round of golf and scored five holes-in-one. According to another tale, while inspecting the North Korean national pistol team, the Dear Leader took an old model pistol, fired ten shots and got ten bull's-eyes. There are equally fantastic tales of the Dear Leader's literary and scientific skills. The Dear Leader, who never served a day in the military, is called a "heaven-sent brilliant commander [who] will vent our bloody grudge and rage against the U.S. imperialists." He, too, is approaching a god-like stature. North Korean families have a special towel whose only purpose is to keep dust off the portraits of the two leaders.
The people of North Korea are taught to think that since gods lead North Korea, then it must be "paradise on earth." That is an illusion far from the truth. During a round of drinking in Beijing a PLA general bragged to an American diplomat that a number of KPA senior officers have defected to communist China. The general made the rhetorical remark, "Can you imagine what their society must be like if they defect to us?"
U.S. undersecretary of state John Bolton has described North Korea as a "hellish nightmare" and the Dear Leader as a "tyrannical dictator." A French reporter called North Korea a "Kafkaesque Universe," comparing it to absurdities of Franz Kafka's fiction. To a British reporter, a visit to North Korea was "A Journey to the Land that Time Forgot."
North Korea is worse off than the Soviet Union ever was during Stalin's reign. It is built on a foundation of lies about the country's leadership, North Korea itself, and the world beyond its borders. The cult of personality surrounding the Kims, father and son, seems to have no limits. In a country without enough resources even for children's school supplies, no expense is spared to glorify the Kims. The Great Leader's statue in front of his Memorial Hall is almost eighty feet tall, perhaps the tallest such structure in the world.
In order to keep themselves in power the Kims have consciously drawn on the propaganda techniques of other twentieth century dictatorships. There are unconfirmed stories suggesting that the Hitler regime has been a particular role model. Staged events in Pyongyang, involving tens of thousands of people, are similar to the ones seen in Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will. This is not surprising since Kim Jung Il has been in charge of North Korean filmmaking and propaganda since the late 1960s. A French reporter, witnessing such an event, described it as "a festival, which would have delighted the Nazis (it will mobilize 100,000 participants in a delirium of propaganda)." Hundreds of these events are done by torch light, making clear comparisons to Nazi Party rallies of the 1930s. According to one defector report, on the evening of September 9, 1988, North Korea's National Day, the Dear Leader arranged for 100,000 people to parade through Pyongyang using their torches to spell out the words "Let us become suicidal units to protect the party!"
Brainwashing begins at an early age. According to a foreign diplomat who visited the countryside, each school has a slogan or statement by one of the Kims written on the wall. Children learn to read by reciting this passage every morning. People are under intense pressure from frequent ideological campaigns. In the fall of 2003, Pyongyang began a new anti-American campaign.15 The North Korean people are often too battered from the indoctrination to dispute the will of the Kim dictatorship.
THE RED MONARCHYNepotism has certainly run rampant in all of the communist countries. But none of the communist regimes except North Korea has dared to turn its political system into a red monarchy. In the 1950s, after the end of the Korean War, the Great Leader purged nearly all of his old comrades, especially those with close ties to Beijing or Moscow. By the 1960s, only those who had demonstrated a fanatical loyalty to Kim himself survived. The question of a successor then became embroiled in family politics as the Great Leader began to lay the groundwork for a hereditary system of dictatorship.
The Dear Leader is the son of the Great Leader's first wife, who some say committed suicide when she found that she was being supplanted by a younger woman. In order to succeed to the throne, the Dear Leader had to defeat his uncle, the Great Leader's brother, as well as his younger half brother by the second wife. This he did through spreading rumors about his uncle, adroit isolation of his brother, and demonstrations of complete loyalty to his father. As the "Short Biography of the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il" notes, "In particular, the revolutionary activity of his father...made the filial piety to his father in Comrade Kim Jong Il's heart sublimate into loyalty to the leader."
The Dear Leader, now aged sixty-one, himself is thought to have had at least four wives and consorts in addition to uncounted short time liaisons. Most North Korea watchers believe that Kim Jung Il intends to appoint a family member as heir. There are at least three sons who are considered contenders for the throne. One of them, long thought to be the anointed successor, is in his thirties and is the son by an early wife now deceased. As his father before him, this son had been groomed by being put in party positions so that he may have a "monarchical" education. That is, he would have been moved from post to post, learning the ropes and how to govern. However, he seems to fallen out of favor when he was caught trying to sneak into Japan in 2001 on a false passport. The cover story claimed he was trying to take his mistress and their son (the Dear Leader's grandson) to visit Tokyo Disneyland. Informed rumors in Tokyo suggest that he was in town to launder the proceeds of North Korean WMD sales through Japanese banks. These days, this eldest son seems to be spending most of his time in Beijing and Moscow.
His competition for the throne comes in the form of two sons by a later consort of the Dear Leader. One of the boys is in his early twenties and the other in his late teens. Their mother is said to be the current favorite of the Dear Leader. According to one defector report, Kim has started to prepare the older of her two sons to succeed him. But no one outside of a small circle in Pyongyang would know for certain whom the Dear Leader will appoint as his successor. There exists an atmosphere of palace intrigue similar to the contest for successor to the Chinese Emperor or the Turkish Sultan. The winners live in luxury and but the losers have to flee for their lives, if they can.
LIFE OF LUXURYUntil the regime falls, we will not be able to directly compare the palaces and villas of the Kim family to those of Saddam Hussein. There are so many that the Dear Leader sometimes does not get around to visiting them from year to year. There is a family compound of palaces around an artificial lake in Pyongyang. A well-known seaside villa on the east coast is equipped with speedboats. In the northern mountains, Kim has a hunting lodge stocked with deer.
Some of the villas scattered around the country are for use by his official family and in other cases they seem to be hideaways for his passing fancy of the moment. During the time he was officially married to someone else, the Dear Leader stashed a famous actress in one of these villas, out of sight of his father. She bore a child, but it was several years before the Great Leader was told of his grandson, so the story goes. One high-ranking defector claims, "None of the retreats [villas] located throughout North Korea are without one of Kim Jung Il's women, and his children would number seventy in all."
One of the major palaces has a complete projection room for showing movies and a five-story garage filled with fancy cars, perhaps as many a hundred. The Dear Leader still has the two armored Cadillac limousines his father received from Colonel Khaddafi of Libya in the late 1980s. Describing just one of the villas, Kim's former bodyguard recalls, "Its interior is beyond imagination. Each floor is fully furnished with high-quality pure wool carpets, many entertainment facilities, workout equipment, shopping items, educational materials, video rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, and satellite communication facilities, which are all top-quality products made in Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway."
At least some of Kim's various palaces and offices are connected by underground tunnels. One foreign resident of Pyongyang described how the Dear Leader "disappeared" after a function at one of the palaces. According to a defector report, Kim is driven to and from his office in his Lincoln limousine through an underground tunnel that is almost ten miles long. While this may seem implausible, there are tunnels in Beijing that are even more extensive.
EDITOR'S NOTE: On Tuesday, Dear Leader's "Joy Brigades."
William C. Triplett, a national-security expert, is the author of Rogue State: How a Nuclear North Korea Threatens America.