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NORTH KOREA - Suspicious Minds, January 2003

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Synopsis of "Suspicious Minds"

Short History: U.S.-North Korea Conflict

Versions of the Truth

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Nuclear Weapons, Military History, Humanitarian Issues




North Korean and American flags 2002 1994 1991 1976 1968 1948

End of a Superpower

Moscow school children take a break on the toppled statue of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin

Moscow school children take a break on the toppled statue of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. In 1991, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, North Korea lost aid it had depended on for decades. (AP/Wide World Photos)

People all over the world watched in amazement in December 1991 as the Soviet Union broke into 15 separate countries. The disintegration signaled the end of the Cold War, which had kept the world on edge for nearly 50 years. The United States hailed the collapse of its enemy as a victory for freedom and a triumph of democracy. The breakup also led to reorganization of political, economic and military alliances around the globe.

For communist North Korea, the fall of the Soviet Union translated into greater insecurity about the future. Ever since the Japanese had surrendered to Soviet troops in North Korea in 1945, the country had grown dependent on receiving aid from the Soviet Union and China. Through the years, North Korea even played China and the Soviet Union against the other. With the collapse of the Soviets as a world superpower, however, the North Korean regime lost not only an important aid source, but also its main trading partner.

Bronze statue of Kim Il-sung (copyright BBC, 2003)

In the center of Pyongyang stands this colossal, bronze statue of Kim Il-sung. Every visitor to North Korea comes here to pay respect to the "Great Leader", bow to him and lay down flowers. Kim Il-sung ruled from 1948 until his death in 1994. (copyright BBC, 2003)

A food shortage in North Korea followed, and by the middle of the decade famine set in. (As many as three million North Koreans are believed to have died from starvation.)

But at the time of the Soviet collapse, North Korea leaders downplayed their own country's troubles. Amid a growing food crisis, communist leader Kim Il-sung sought new relations with the United States. Kim invited former President Jimmy Carter and evangelist Billy Graham to visit the country. Both declined the invitation, as instructed by the U.S. Department of State.

When this olive branch was turned aside, Kim Il-sung looked to establish a very different leverage with the West. He attracted consternation worldwide by openly continuing his nuclear development program.

2002: Nukes and the "Axis of Evil"
1994: Diplomacy With Pyongyang
• 1991: End of a Superpower
1976: An Axe Fight Nearly Triggers War
1968: Spy Ships and Infiltrators
1948: From Independence to War

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