Sunday, April 14, 2013

The North Korean Grandfather

As I've listened in recent days about North Korea and its "founder," the late unlamented Kim Il-sung, I have been struck by how little has been said about who the Communist dictator of that benighted nation actually was.

The following is a snippet from my forthcoming book, Unjust Blame?  The Korean War, the Chinese Intervention, and Douglas MacArthur. (Yes, that, book--which has been gestating now for some five years--will be published by my birthday.)



Beginning long before the Japanese surrender in 1945, Korean Communists and their Soviet and Chinese patrons made plans for the entire Korean peninsula to fall under control of a Kim Il-sung dictatorship. To understand what they had in mind it is necessary first to consider the early days of the Communist revolution in China.

The North Korean People’s Army[i] that would attack South Korea on June 25, 1950, had its origin in two groups that competed politically and militarily. One was the Yenan Group, the other the Kapson Group. 

The Yenan Group consisted of Koreans who, beginning in 1939, were led by Mao Zedong, and fought with him in World War II against the Japanese and then against Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists in the Chinese civil war. About 2,500 of these Koreans had been conscripted into the Japanese army, deserted, and joined the Chinese Communists. Some of them were then formed into the Korean Volunteer Army (KVA).

The Kapsan Group was made up mostly of Soviet citizens of Korean ancestry and anti-Japanese Korean partisans who had emigrated from Korea to the Soviet Union.  The most prominent leader of this group was Kim Il-sung.

Kim had left Korea in his youth, resided in China for many years, and was trained in revolution and war in the Soviet Union. During the mid-1930s, Kim led Korean guerillas who fought the Japanese in the northern regions of Korea and in Manchuria. In 1939 Kim and his force were driven out of their operational area and fled to the U.S.S.R. where he was recruited by Soviet intelligence and eventually given command of a battalion-strength formation consisting of Chinese, Koreans, and Soviets. Kim Il Sung’s troops’ mission was obtaining intelligence on the Japanese forces in Korea and Manchuria.

When in September 1945 the Soviets occupied Korea north of the 38th Parallel, Korean troops under Kim’s command were returned to Korea by ship. There, in North Korea, he soon established a Communist regime.

Early the next year, the North Koreans began to create the nucleus of their army, calling it the “Peace Preservation Officers’ Training Schools.[ii]

By late 1946, the Soviets were aggressively creating the NKPA and North Korean Communist internal security forces. Tables of organization were drawn up, officer training schools and centers were established, equipment was obtained. “With the establishment of these centers and schools, members of the Kapson . . . and KVA were systematically returned [to Korea], trained, equipped, and organized first into border and railroad constabularies and then into regular military units.”[iii]

The so-called “constabularies” in reality were infantry units led by officers who were members of the Kapsan, and they were mostly Communists.  But one way or another, the Soviets were in charge.

At the core of the NKPA were battle-hardened veterans from World War II and the Chinese Civil War who for years had fought the Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces.[iv]  

And their leader, the future dictator of North Korea, was The Grandfather, Kim Il-sung.


[i] Different names have been used to designate the North Korean Army, e.g., “Korean People’s Army, “In Min Gun.”  Throughout this book the designation NKPA has been used, except in quotations or if the context requires a different name.

[ii] See Sandler, xiv.

[iii] See Sandler, 181.

[iv] During the Chinese civil war the Soviet Union sent North Korean troops to fight with Communist forces against the Nationalists, which Professor Thornton claims to have “proved to be a critical component in the CCP’s victory in the civil war.”  Thornton, 27.  As T.R. Fehrenbach has noted, “[w]ith Chiang Kai-shek defeated and his Nationalist remnants exiled to Taiwan, Red China could release her Korean-speaking soldiers; by June 1950, they made up 30 percent of the [NKPA].”  Fehrenbach characterizes the North Korean officers as “all young, and hard, and most of their adult lives had been spent at war, with the Chinese, with the Soviets.  They had fought Japanese; they had fought Nationalists.  Now they would fight the running dogs of the American Imperialists, or whoever else got in their way.”  Fehrenbach, 4, 9.