Introduction: Kim Il-Sung (02:58)
North Korea’s dictator of nearly 40 years, Kim Il-Sung, died in 1994. Mourning citizens had seen him as a living god. Behind the façade was a brutal dictator who imprisoned, tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands. How did the man who once risked his life for the freedom of his people build one of the most repressive societies on Earth?
Foundation of Dictatorship (07:12)
Kim was born Kim Song-ju in 1912, two years after Japan annexed Korea. Kim eventually joined communist rebels in fighting the Japanese, becoming the country’s most wanted freedom fighter and earning the nickname Il-Sung. His revolutionary heroics were essential to building one of the most effective cults of personality in history.
Learning from the Masters (07:48)
The Japanese crushed the communist guerrilla movement, and rebels took refuge in the Soviet Union. Kim studied the tactics of Joseph Stalin while there. The Soviets and Americans drove the Japanese out of Korea but divided the country in two. Kim became the Soviets’ puppet leader in the north after he helped quell an anti-communist uprising in Sinuiju.
Gaining Consent "The Carrot and Stick" (10:39)
Kim announced gave 2.4 million acres of land to North Korean farmers, thus boosting his popularity. He established the Korean People’s Army and dreamt of a unified Korea after the Soviets left in 1948. He invaded South Korea in 1950, sparking the Korean War.
Crushing the Enemy (02:29)
The war ended with a ceasefire agreement in 1953. North Korea had been bombed into submission, a fifth of its population killed, leaving Kim in a weak position. He shifted blame to political rivals, accusing them of conspiring with American forces. Some went into exile, and others were executed.
Kim used a relentless stream of propaganda to create an alternate reality in which the U.S. was an imminent threat to his people. He insulated the country from outside media influence. Schoolchildren were taught the U.S. had started the war and been driven out. Listening to the radio and weekly “self-criticism sessions” became mandatory.
Creating a Culture of Fear (08:23)
Kim’s regime made fear and insecurity a part of daily life. Citizens spied on one another. Secret police gathered personal data that was used to reinforce a rigid caste system, placing citizens in categories based on loyalty. The worst “offenders” were sent to gulags where they experienced torture or were executed.
Succession, Death, and Legacy (08:44)
Kim groomed his eldest son, 33-year-old Kim Jong-il, to become his political heir, creating a divine myth that revolved around Mount Paektu. He set up the Longevity Research Institute, hoping to prolong his life to 120 years, but he died of a heart attack on July 8, 1994. However, his political dynasty has outlasted 12 U.S. presidents.
Credits: Kim-Il Sung (00:32)
Credits: Kim-Il Sung
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