This past Christmas, the people of North Korea were without their messiah. That is, their self-anointed messiah.
For a sense of just how bad was Kim Jong-Il, I thought I'd share a few anecdotes reflecting the singularly pernicious nature of this man and what he created in his own image.
Kim was truly a modern Stalin - in some ways, worse. His cult of personality began with the advent of his birth, which North Korea heralded as a second coming, eerily akin to the birth of Jesus Christ. Kim was born Feb. 16, 1941, a date accorded the status of a national holiday and treated like Christmas. On that date, all North Koreans are allowed off work for the grandest parade, the highlight of which is a float marked by a glorious double rainbow and star-indicative of the double rainbow and new star that miraculously appeared in the sky the moment of Kim's birth.
Speaking of miracles, the totalitarian state's propaganda machine churned out outrageous distortions, easily exceeding even Stalin standards. State media claimed that in the first round of golf Kim ever played, he broke the all-time world record for the best round of golf in history. The government press also reported that Kim composed more and better operas, and at a younger age, than anyone who ever existed. Songs like "Dear Leader Dispels Raging Storms" were karaoke hits in North Korea.
An eyewitness to the madness was Kang Chol-hwan, author of the frightening memoir, "Aquariums of Pyongyang." Kang recalled how as a child he and his wide-eyed classmates were taught that Kim and his late father were "Edenic" human beings, so perfect that neither man defecated or urinated. They were born without sin, if not purer.
My faith teaches that Christ was both 100 percent human and 100 percent divine. North Korea tipped the scales even higher.
Kang Chol-hwan remembered how North Korean children were told that Kim was a "kind of Father Christmas," because of whose benevolence every child was graciously entitled to a new pair of shoes.
The regime was hell-bent on this messiah complex. The consistent, dogged application of this divine narrative was unrelenting and sickening. I could give example after example that would make you cry. It was evil, just plain evil.
Compounding the obscenity is this tragic truth: no modern people have been so repressed and persecuted. North Koreans experienced a government-induced famine where two-to-three million people (10-15 percent of the population) starved to death from 1995-98. The place is a living, breathing (actually, dying) tragedy. At its apex sat Kim, whose omnipresent face and figure literally hovered above the masses in murals and statues and screens.
I recall one day watching a C-SPAN broadcast of U.S. senators returning from a fact-finding trip to this prison state. It was one of the first overseas trips of Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who had replaced Bob Dole. Roberts was asked what term he would use to classify the North Korean regime, perhaps "Stalinist," maybe "totalitarian," or simply "communist?" I'll never forget Roberts' response: He quickly said "theocracy."
Yes, very good. This viciously atheistic regime that pursued a classic communist war on religion was devoutly religious itself. Ironically, it had not banned religion; it had nationalized it, centralized it, redistributed it, all in the form of Kim Jong-Il. Just as North Korea's communist government had taken over all industry, all agriculture, and even all crime, it had also seized all faith.
When Whittaker Chambers once commented on the ultimate crime of communists, he explained that they had grossly repeated humanity's original mistake: "Ye shall be as Gods."
Ah, in that sense, Kim was indeed "Edenic."
Kim Jong-Il presented himself to his suffering people as their god and their salvation. Instead, he was their downfall. He was the worst embodiment of the fall of man, and he in turn felled a nation and a people in the ugly process.
Christmas is no time for false messiahs. The worst of them, Kim Jong-Il, spent this season no longer among the living. His people can rest in peace. I have a strong suspicion Kim is not. This Christmas time, little old Kim finally had some explaining to do. He is at long last accountable for his sins.
- Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values.