Dictator’s legacy defined by brutality, oppression

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Dictator’s legacy defined by brutality, oppression

Behind the caricature of an enigmatic playboy, Kim Jong-il cemented his status as one of modern history’s cruelest leaders, whose paranoia and desire to control all levers of power resulted themselves in horrifying acts of terror at home and abroad.

Over his 17-year rule, Kim oversaw the near deliberate starvation of millions of his own people and perpetuated a human rights record that, in journalist Jasper Becker’s words, was “akin to genocide.” His legacy will most likely be one of the world’s most repressive states, where people have no freedom of movement, expression, association or information.

Any list of the atrocities of Kim’s years is necessarily incomplete because of North Korea’s isolation. Here are some cited in Becker’s 2005 “Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea.”

As heir to his father, Kim Il Sung, and hoping to cement his power, he masterminded the 1983 bombing in Yangon, Myanmar, that killed 17 visiting South Korean government officials and almost killed then-president Chun Doo Hwan. In 1987, Kim ordered his agents to plant explosives on a Korean Air flight, killing 115.

A failed rationing system, in addition to natural disasters and a deteriorating agricultural industry, caused a devastating famine in the 1990s. Yet Kim dragged his feet, prioritizing food for his military (on which the North spends 25 percent of its GNP), refusing any private market activity and convincing his people to eat food substitutes with no caloric value. North Korea would ask for emergency aid only in 1995. Estimates of the total death toll from the famine vary wildly and range from 600,000 to three million people dead. There were even reports of cannibalism.

To prevent unrest or instability during the famine, Kim terrorized his people, cracking down on those the government deemed “disloyal” and pushing for more public executions, which became more and more horrifying, including making family members set their loved ones on fire in public. “Stealing” anything was punishable because everything is considered to be owned by the state.

Kim’s prison camps are believed to hold 200,000 to 300,000 prisoners. Filled with political prisoners and their families, over a million people may have died in these camps over the past half century.


By Brian No [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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