North Korean leader
Born: February 15, 1942; Khabarovsk, USSR
Kim Jong Il, leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, was born on February 15, 1942, in a Soviet Army camp near Khabarovsk, U.S.S.R. (however, some North Koreans assert that his birthplace is Mt. Paektu, North Korea). His father was Kim Il Sung, the Communist strongman who ruled North Korea from 1948 until his death in 1994.
Little is known about Kim Jong Il, or "Dear Leader" as he is known to North Koreans. According to the official North Korean biography, he was born in an anti-Japanese guerrilla camp in North Korea, and grew up sad and lonely because of his father's frequent absences owing to the duties of political leadership. Kim is said to have attended seven different schools, including two in China while a refugee during the Korean War. He graduated from Namsan Senior High School in 1960.
After his high school graduation, Kim became involved in government and with the ruling Worker's Party. He attended Kim Il Sung University in 1960, taking courses in the political/economic department, and graduated in 1964. Afterward, his rise in politics was predictably rapid. He was named as a member of the party politburo and party secretary, and by 1969 had been appointed deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department and the party's headquarters. In 1973, he was made Party secretary in charge of organization and propaganda.
For decades, Kim Il Sung (who was known as "Great Leader") groomed his son for the presidency, and remarked to others that the young Kim would carry out his father's political programs exactly as he wished. Kim Jong Il is said to have impressed his father by proposing that North Korea carry out a cultural revolution modeled on that of China.
Kim was officially designated heir to Kim Il Sung in 1974 and put in charge of party operations against South Korea. By 1980, he had become a member of the Central Committee, and his portrait hung beside his father's in the country's schools, homes and hospitals. In 1991, he was named leader of the party and supreme commander of North Korea's armed forces.
Analysts have linked Kim to acts of state-sponsored terrorism, especially toward South Korea. In 1983, a bomb killed 17 members of a South Korean delegation in Burma. In November 1987, North Korean agents placed a bomb on a Korean Airlines plane, killing all 115 on board.
Kim Jong Il ascended to the role of leader following the death of Kim Il Sung on July 8, 1994. Although reports claim that veteran party leaders or military leaders may be rejecting Kim as inexperienced, is expected that Kim will be appointed to succeed his late father as North Korea's president.
North Korea's governmental machinery continues to function, even through a number of international incidents. The North Korean military returned two U.S. helicopter pilots shot down over North Korea on December 17, 1994. North Korea pledged to honor the agreement with the United States to abandon its nuclear weapons program if the United States will give it two light-water nuclear reactors and a supply of crude oil.
In a bizarre incident, a North Korean submarine ran aground on the South Korean coast in September 1996, and armed North Koreans spread out in the hills where they were tracked down and shot by the South Koreans. North Korea at first insisted that the submarine had simply run aground. Later they apologized for the intrusion.
In October 1996, North Koreans arrested an American for spying. He turned out to be a self-styled clergyman who sneaked into their country to evangelize Christianity. He was returned to the United States. A high-ranking North Korean government official, Hwang Jang Yop, the Party's chief ideologue and a distant relative of Kim Il Sung, defected at the South Korean embassy in Beijing. He joined an increasingly large number of high-level defectors -- including Kim Jong Il's ex-wife -- who have been finding ways to get out of the North.
Although difficult to analyze, there is obviously instability in the North Korean government, and there are speculations about a power struggle at the top. North Korea is thought to be on the verge of starvation due to devastating floods and longtime economic mismanagement.