Kim Il Sung, the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was revered like a god in life — and after it. Two decades later, mythmaking is as important as ever for Kim’s grandson, dictator Kim Jong Un, who has just led the official memorial to the Great Leader.
North Korean propaganda casts the Kims as protectors of a country under siege. School children learn that Kim Il Sung was an exceptional warrior who, while camping at the base of Mount Paektu with his comrades, defeated a force of Japanese colonialists. He later repelled the imperialist Americans in the 1950–53 Korean War.
According to official history, his heir, Kim Jong Il, was born at the base of the same scared mountain, and the birth heralded by a rainbow. According to North Korean hagiography, Kim Jong Il grew up to become a master tactician, writer and filmmaker. Legend has it he shot 11 holes-in-one in his first ever round of golf.
Young Kim Jong Un prefers to bask in his grandfather’s, rather than his father’s, glow. South Korean analysts believe the young leader consciously emulates his grandfather’s look and public persona. Whereas his father avoided the public, Kim Jong Un, like his grandfather, is often photographed among, even touching, his subjects.
An actual conflict would almost certainly cost him his kingdom. But young Kim knows that for North Korea to survive he must convince his people that the enemy is at the gate — and that he, alone, can stop them. Grandad would have approved.