The ticking time bombIn late March 1950, three months before the June 25 invasion, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung flew to Moscow in a private plane. He was accompanied by his cabinet deputy and foreign minister, Pak Hon-yong. Upon meeting Joseph Stalin, general secretary of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, Kim shared his plans for invading the South. He had already alerted leaders in Moscow that the people of the South had confidence in him and desired armed liberation by the North, asking for Soviet guidance and endorsement of the plan.
Kim was assured the war would be over in four days. Pak, who had founded the Communist Party in the South before moving to the North, seconded the idea that once war started, over 200,000 remaining Communists in the South would raise a revolt and help the North’s invasion.
But he had been misinformed. The Communist cell was nonexistent after Pak fled to the North. When the liberalization campaign ended in failure — the war lasted three years and ended with a cease-fire — Kim Il Sung scapegoated Pak and arrested him in August 1953. Two years later, he was charged with antiparty and spying allegations and was executed.
Kim lambasted Pak, calling him a liar in February 1968 at an event celebrating the 15th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Army.
But the tragedy was already done. A miscalculation by Pak and blind confidence in him by Kim led to a war between members of the same race, and the division remains today.
Sixty-six years have passed since the invasion, and the North remains under the rule of another blind leader. Kim Jong-un commands the dynasty started by his grandfather. Kim emulated his grandfather to cement his hold over the last five years. He used all the personality cult techniques to feign a charisma he lacks. He took pains to copy the heavy physique, hairstyle, glasses and even speaking style of his grandfather.
He made himself a spitting image of the eternal leader.
Kim Jong-un looked on as North Korea conducted back-to-back tests of Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles from Wonsan, a port city east of Pyongyang on Wednesday. U.S. and South Korean military admit that one of the missiles might not have been a failure.
The North has been testing the same missile, which it claims has the capacity to reach as far as a military base in Guam, five times since mid-April. Propaganda outlets in North Korea reported that Kim ordered reinforcements to nuclear deterrent capacity to be able to strike enemies whenever. He claimed the North now has the ability to strike American forces in “an overall and practical way” in their Pacific operations, as the 3,500-kilometer (2,180-mile) range of the missile places much of Asia and the Pacific within reach. He posed in front of a nuclear warhead in March to demonstrate he owns a bomb that can be fired at the United States.
Kim’s contempt for the South was even more blatant. Pyongyang suddenly reversed its violent outburst and saber-rattling, threatening to turn Seoul into “a sea of fire” since its fourth nuclear test in January. Kim proposed military talks between the two Koreas during a Workers’ Party congress early last month. When Seoul responded coolly, it returned to provocative mode. In a joint statement by the government and party, Pyongyang threatened it would start a “grand confrontation for unification” unless Seoul complies with its demands. The so-called unification confrontation is what Kim refers to as another invasion. He appears to believe he has the fate of South Korea at his fingertips.
Kim spent his teenage years in a Swiss international school. There were expectations that the young leader could be different from his forefathers. What panned out was the opposite. He obsessively resorts to a “reign of terror.” In mentions in the state media, he is more belligerent than his father or grandfather. He is unrestrained in his arrogance and hostility toward Seoul and deluded in his assertiveness toward Washington.
Yet he seems unstoppable. Although the regime on the surface pursues a dual policy of economic and nuclear development, Pyongyang is engrossed with nuclear. UN and other international sanctions have not worked so far. Moreover, party and military aides have all turned docile under his reign of terror. They kowtow to the merciless leader to save themselves and their families. Even veteran aides have given up trying to knock some sense into the young leader and instead just fan Kim’s ego.
Kim Il Sung was 38 when he invaded the South. North Korea is now under the rule of a 32-year-old. Eagerness can overrule reason at that age. That is why the ambitious leader with hostile genes inherited from his grandfather is a ticking time bomb.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 24, Page 32
*The author is head of the JoongAng Ilbo Unification Research Institute and a unification specialist for the JoongAng Ilbo.