Kim Il Sung


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(b. 15 Apr. 1912, d. 8 July 1994).

Premier of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) 1948–72; President 1972–94

Early career

Born of peasant stock near Pyongyang with the name Kim Song‐ju. He formed a local Marxist Young Communists' League in 1927, and was expelled from school for his political activities in 1929. He joined the Communist Party in 1931. He emigrated to Manchuria (Manchukuo) in 1932, where he became a leader of the North‐East Anti‐Japanese United Army, under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1941, Japanese military advances forced him to leave for the Soviet Union, where he fought with the Red Army.

 Together with the Soviet army, in which he had risen to the rank of major, Kim led his partisan Korean People's Revolutionary Army into Korea in the dying days of World War II, after the Soviet declaration of war against Japan on 8 August 1945. A consistent advocate of a united Korea, he nevertheless lost little time in consolidating his own power base in the Soviet‐occupied northern half of Korea. He established a North Korean Interim People's Committee, which set about instituting radical land reform, expropriating landowners and nationalizing industry. At the same time the North Korean Workers' Party was formed, with Kim as chairman.

In power

 Kim was declared Premier upon North Korean independence on 9 September 1948, which also marked the withdrawal of Soviet troops. However, this did not end his aspirations for Korean unity. As Commander‐in‐Chief of the Korean People's Army, now reinforced by Korean units returning from the Chinese Civil War, he launched an invasion of South Korea in 1950, thus precipitating the Korean War. He succeeded in using the war's disadvantageous outcome to clamp down on his internal enemies. In addition, he encouraged his own personality cult among his people, acquiring the status of a demi‐god over the decades. So complete was his control that from the 1970s he tried to ensure a dynastic succession after his death through his son, Kim Jong Il, the latter's shortcomings notwithstanding. Kim Il Sung continued to pay lip‐service to the ideal of Korean reunification, and even authorized talks between the two countries in the late 1980s. His death caused unparalleled mass hysteria among his people. Having embodied the regime and the country's political system during his long lifetime, he remained a crucial reference point for the country's raison d'être, in separation from South Korea, after his death.

Subjects: Warfare and Defence — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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