Kim Jong Il Myths: A Prodigy With Superhuman Powers
From 1994 until his death on December 17, 2011, Kim Jong Il was the supreme leader of North Korea. Throughout his time as the hermit country's leader, he exhibited strange proclivities and acted out his wildest whims while his people were starved to death and forced to work until they dropped. For 17 years, he controlled one of the world's most secretive and repressive governments while promoting himself as a godlike figure. Let's see if we can sort out the Kim Jong-Il myths vs. facts.
His birth was foretold through Communist mythology
When was the last time a leader's ascent was foretold as if they were a Norse god? According to his official biography, when Kim Jong Il was born on Mount Paekdu on February 16, 1942, a double rainbow appeared over the mountain as winter became spring, a bright star rose in the sky, and a swan flew down to herald "a general who will rule the world." The child who arrived with such fanfare was said to have been a gifted genius who took his first steps at three weeks old and spoke his first words only five weeks later. Of course, none of that is true, up to and including the date and location of his birth. It was actually the previous year in the Soviet Union, and presumably, no large roles in it were played by swans, but that's not a very good story, now, is it?
The most interesting man in the world
According to his official biographer, Kim was more than a prodigy; he was a superhuman being whose abilities were merely hinted by the moment of his birth. He could, it was said, change the seasons at will, making trees bloom and snow melt if he felt like having an early summer. Kim was also allegedly a "genius of 10,000 talents" whose literary proliferation rivaled Stephen King, supposedly writing 1,500 books in the four years he spent at university. He didn't stop at the arts, either; he was a gifted athlete as well. The only time he played golf, legend has it, he hit 11 holes-in-one and called it a day.
He was a film buff
When he wasn't working his weather wizardry or writing thousands of books while scoring miraculous golf wins, Kim Jong Il also liked to watch movies. The well-rounded moviegoer loved movies starring Elizabeth Taylor, but he must have come into his own in the 1980s, because he had a particular love for Friday the 13th and Rambo. He was determined to make North Korea the new Hollywood, but nurturing local talent is for mortals, so instead, he kidnapped South Korean power couple Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee and forced them to direct films for the hermit country. After making a series of films for Kim, such as Love, Love, My Love and Salt, they managed to escape the country in 1986.
He imprisoned anyone he didn't like
Anyone who crossed Kim wasn’t just shunned, they were sent to kwanliso camps, penal labor colonies meant for enemies of the state. As of 2011, there were at least 200,000 North Koreans in these camps, where prisoners face starvation and abuse at the hands of their guards. To end up in one of these camps, the only thing a person has to do is be related to someone who's angered the North Korean government. Kim Jong Il was so supportive of this system that he even forced children who were born in these camps to toil alongside their parents.
Kim enjoyed food while his people starved
One of Kim's most well-known proclivities was his love of food. He used his considerable wealth to pay for foods from across the world and transport the world's best chefs to North Korea to prepare it, which wouldn't be that bad on the scale of things if it weren't for the famine that was actively killing millions of North Koreans.
While Kim reenacted the "Be Our Guest" scene from Beauty and the Beast, his constituents were given food via the government's public distribution system. They were instructed to only eat what they were given and told that it was "anti-socialist" to take part in any sales of rice, corn, or other culinary staples. Under his rule, North Koreans were only allowed modest kitchen gardens where they could grow a few vegetables if they were lucky.
Throughout his rule, market sweeps performed by government officials who took food from the people who needed it resulted in a disastrous food shortage. The neediest North Koreans were forced to forage for leaves and nettles to make soup or eat food that wasn't fit for human consumption. Former U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Andrew S. Natsios described a regular meal for North Koreans:
Corn husks, oak leaves, and grass are ground up into powder and passed through a noodle machine. The resulting noodles have little nutritional value, cannot be digested by the human system, and in fact cause severe gastrointestinal problems for those hungry enough to eat them ... In my decade of involvement in famine relief efforts, I had never seen such a bizarre manifestation of a hunger coping mechanism.
Malnutrition in North Korea was so bad in the '90s that those who defected to China during that time were, on average, five inches shorter than people of the same age in South Korea. Such was Kim's true legacy: A regime so brutal that it left a permanent physical mark on its people without ever touching them.
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