Dictators as young men (continued)

For a long time, some Korea experts and Koreans gave credence to the rumor that the real Kim Il Sung – the Pochonbo hero – died around 1940, and another person assumed his name and identity. Given that a few guerilla commanders went by the name Kim Il Sung then, it was technically possible. Moreover, South Korean propaganda propped up this speculation. It would be so much easier to understand Kim Il Sung’s transgressions if the rumor had proved true; but the evidence against this theory is strong enough to put it to rest.

Like other defectors, Kim Il Sung was interned in a filtering camp for a while after his flight, but soon the Soviets made sure of his loyalty and assigned him to the 88th brigade of the Red Army, composed mostly of Chinese and Korean resistance fighters. Colonel Zhou Bao Zhong, a prominent Chinese guerilla (whose memoirs later helped establish Kim’s genuineness), was in command; Kim became a Red Army captain. Chinese was the language of communication in the 88th, and Kim iL Sung was better known by the Chinese reading of his nominal hieroglyphs. It is said that old Chinese novels remained his favorite read for the rest of his life.

A few months later, the 29-year-old officer started attending classes at the Khabarovsk Infantry School. At last, after ten years of guerilla life, he could enjoy relative safety. Kim was not even sent on the brief incursions into Manchuria to blow up bridges and trains — the Soviet response to Japan’s micro attacks. In 1942 (or 1941, some sources say), his wife gave birth to a baby whom they named Yuri; during their stay in the Russian Far East, the couple had two more children, Alexandr and Yelena. Apparently, going back home was not on Kim’s plans: he’d rather study at a military academy and move up the career ladder to command a regiment or even a division. Surely it was not by chance that he gave his children Russian names.

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