Although Kim Jong Il has
ruled North Korea for nearly a decade, little is known about the reclusive leader,
son of North Korea's "Eternal Leader" and first ruler, Kim Il Sung.
Outside North Korea, Kim is portrayed as erratic, impetuous and unpredictable,
with an appetite for fast cars, expensive liquor and beautiful women.
Kim does appear in public, he strikes an odd figure, almost always wearing sunglasses
and sporting a bouffant hairstyle and platform shoes to add height to his 5'3"
his life, Kim Jong Il has crafted his public image to maintain a tight grip on
North Korea and, some experts say, to manipulate the world opinion. Details on
his personal life are intentionally vague, and the DPRK government issues official
propaganda to feed Kim's cult of personality.
For example, North Korean
children are taught that Kim Jong Il's life began amid a spectacular lightning
storm on Feb. 16, 1942 in a secret anti-imperialist guerrilla camp near the Chinese-Manchuria
border atop of Mount Paektu, the highest mountain peak in the peninsula considered
the ancient birthplace of modern Korea.
By all other accounts, the leader
was born in 1941 in Khabarovsk, a Siberian town near the Korean border, where
his father, Kim Il Sung, then a revolutionary fighter, was hiding from the Japanese
who then controlled Korea.
While Kim led a privileged childhood as the
son of North Korea's "Eternal Leader," it was also a lonely one. Kim
Il Sung groomed him to become his successor, but he also "treated him like
a dog," according to James Lilley, former ambassador to South Korea.
Il Sung was a tough guerrilla fighter and a leader in the resistance against the
Japanese during World War II. On the other hand, his son enjoyed an elite lifestyle,
preferring musicals and the movies to the military, according to reports from
To compensate for their differences, Kim Jong Il "studied
issues of interest to his father, in attempts to attract attention from his father,"
says Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking official to defect from North Korea.
used his interests in make-believe to promote his father's image and his political
ideology, even producing revolutionary operettas, like "Sea of Blood"
and "A Flower Girl."
As a young child, Kim suffered the deaths
of his three-year old brother in 1948 in a drowning accident in Pyongyang, and
that of his mother, Kim Jong Suk, who died during childbirth in September 1949.
also appears devoted to his younger sister, Kim Kyung Hee, now head of the light
industry division of the Worker's Party Economic Policy Audit Department. Kim
Jong Il once remarked that "everyone should be as loyal as Kim Kyung Hee"
and demands that his sister be treated with the same respect and deference, according
to Hwang Jang-yop.
Rise to power
1971 and 1980, Kim Jong Il rose through the ranks of the Korean Worker's Party
hierarchy. As deputy minister of culture and art, Kim scored points with his father
by propagating his father's cult of personality and the official "juche,"
or self-reliance, political ideology.
In 1974, Kim Il Sung formally designated
his son as his heir, establishing the first-ever dynastic succession in a communist
Indulging his interest in becoming a movie director, the younger
Kim ordered the abductions of a South Korean movie director, Shin Sang-ok, and
his actress wife in 1978. He reportedly made six movies with his hostages until
the two escaped several years later, according to their tell-all account of the
ordeal. Kim Jong Il denies he had them kidnapped, saying Shin and his wife, Choi
En-hui, worked for him willingly.
the 1970s and 1980s, Kim authorized the abductions of at least 13 Japanese citizens
for the purposes of spying and terrorist training. Kim apologized for this in
Western and Russian intelligence sources also suspect Kim of authorizing
several other terrorist acts, including the 1983 bombing in Rangoon, Burma, that
killed 17 members of a South Korean delegation, including several cabinet members,
and the Nov. 29, 1987 bombing of a South Korean jet that killed 115 people. Intelligence
sources say Kim may have ordered the bombing in order to frighten people away
from the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
What ever his links to terrorist acts,
Kim effectively used intimidation and violence as he made his way to top positions
of the party, purging -- either through jailing, executing or sending to concentration
camps -- his opponents from the military and governmental ranks, according to
North Korean scholars and defectors.
"He has been known to dispense
with his sycophants in summary fashion at the slightest hint of disloyalty,"
Hwang Jang-yop, a former adviser to Kim Il Sung, says, referring to Kim Jong Il's
propensity to imprison or execute anyone who disagreed with him.
ruthless and will do anything he needs to in order to cling to power," Hwang
says, adding that Kim monitors and regularly wiretaps those close to him.
Kim's fate as future leader was sealed in December 1991 when
his father appointed him supreme commander of the Korean People's Army. The younger
Kim's subordinates began referring to him as "Dear Leader," in reference
to his father's title, "Great Leader."
his father died in 1994, Kim Jong Il became head of the armed forces, but refrained
from assuming his father's title of state president and general secretary of the
Korean Worker's Party for another three years.
Kim's hesitancy fueled speculation
that the Korean military would try to oust him, since he was widely seen as incapable
of holding together the impoverished communist state.
Finally, in October
1997, the official North Korean press reported the North Korean parliament appointed
Kim Jong Il as secretary-general of the North Korean Worker's Party, and that
he would now be called "Great Leader," the title his father held.
next year, Kim Jong Il announced his father would hold the presidency for "eternity,"
bestowing on Kim Il Sung the title "Eternal Leader."
Il is well aware of his complex reputation. During historic reunification meetings
with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung in June 2000 he told the press that he
is not the recluse the world thinks he is.
"Some Europeans say that
I'm reclusive, that this the first time I've appeared in public. In fact, I've
been to China and Indonesia. I've made many secret visits abroad. How can people
claim I'm reclusive?" Kim Jong Il joked to reporters.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the highest-ranking U.S. official
to visit the communist nation and to meet personally with Kim, dispelled rumors
about the North Korean ruler's competency, saying bluntly, "He's not a nut."
did seem informed. He also told me he had three computers in his office. He watches
a different television network, and stays informed. He says that he [watches]
CNN," Albright told the NewsHour on Oct. 30, 2000.
images (Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, 1995; Kim Jong Il at Memorial Service for
Kim Il Sung, 1999; Kim Jong Il and Jiang Zemin, 2001) courtesy of The People's