For­mer state poet pulls back cur­tain on North Korean dic­ta­tor

For­mer state poet pulls back cur­tain on North Korean dic­ta­tor

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Barry Craig Barry Craig is a re­tired jour­nal­ist.

TRUTH is like a weed grow­ing through the cracks in ce­ment: it al­ways finds a way out. This time it’s in a re­veal­ing book by Jang Jin­sung.

Dear Leader: Poet, Spy Es­capee — A Look In­side North Korea shines light on dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-il and his tac­i­turn and re­pres­sive regime. He ran (and ter­ror­ized) the coun­try from 1994 un­til his death in 2011.

The im­por­tance of this ex­posé is that it’s by the first de­fec­tor from North Korea to have been among the dic­ta­tor’s very exclusive in­ner po­lit­i­cal elite. Jang’s writ­ing could be dis­cred­ited as out­dated prima fa­cie be­cause he’s been out of the north for 10 years. How­ever, western re­portage since his es­cape points to the re­verse: that since Jongil’s baby-faced son Kim Jong-un took over, the her­mit king­dom continues to op­er­ate out­side the realm of hu­man de­cency. Jang’s ac­cu­sa­tions, then, are as rel­e­vant to­day as when he es­caped to ex­pose them.

With hair hint­ing of a blowdryer gone berserk, gi­ant shades, the pro­file of a pot-bel­lied stove and jump­suits even Value Vil­lage might refuse to take, the Dear Leader al­ways came across to most out­siders as a comedic mis­take in cloning, but Jang claims he was al­ways much smarter (and more mur­der­ous) than he looked.

North Korea was founded by Jong-il’s fa­ther 66 years ago. To the Kims, its 24 mil­lion people are more a fam­ily in­her­i­tance than a coun­try. All three grew up to be­lieve that if ego is a pa­rade, the Kim clan of so­ciopaths will al­ways lead it, which is what hap­pens when your pro­pa­ganda comes full cir­cle and you end up be­liev­ing your own bull.

Dear Leader’s be­lief in his in­fal­li­bil­ity and his lack of con­science is not dis­sected, but is dis­turbingly doc­u­mented in this im­por­tant ex­posé for North Korean watch­ers by Jang, a for­mer court poet and se­nior pro­pa­gan­dist.

It was the au­thor’s job to flim-flam his own people by pos­ing un­der­cover as a South Korean in­tel­lec­tual and prais­ing the Dear Leader in po­etry in or­der to con his sub­jects into be­liev­ing their leader was ad­mired in the south.

The au­thor-poet fled the coun­try in 2004 in fear; the friend who fled with him was caught and com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Jang claims the power be­hind the throne in North Korea is a se­cre­tive and ruth­less ma­chine called the rul­ing com­mu­nist party’s Or­ga­ni­za­tion and Guid­ance Depart­ment (OGD). Jang notes there was a govern­ment depart­ment to find and groom beau­ti­ful 13-year-old girls for the Dear Leader’s pri­vate en­joy­ment. Kim Jong-il also em­ployed a corps of 3,000 re­searchers to pre­pare medicines and foods to ex­tend his life, while famine killed hun­dreds of thou­sands around him. (He died any­way, at age 70.)

There are also nu­mer­ous bizarre es­pi­onage de­signs de­scribed by Jang. While it’s al­ready well-doc­u­mented that North Korea has kid­napped people, one plan in­volved kid­nap­ping chil­dren in for­eign coun­tries, brain­wash­ing them in North Korea and re­turn­ing them to their coun­try of birth to serve as sleeper agents. An­other in­volved kid­nap­ping for­eign women for breed­ing and cre­at­ing spies who looked for­eign, but were in fact North Korean.

Those who are suf­fer­ing the most in this rogue coun­try aren’t al­lowed to speak out. Jang is one voice valiantly try­ing to speak for them.


Kim Jong-il (cen­tre) died in 2011 and was re­placed by his son, Kim Jong-un.

Jang Jin-sung

Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Es­capee — A Look In­side North

Korea By Jang Jin-sung Si­mon and Schus­ter,

339 pages, $34

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