Oh damn, I don't have internet and I'm stealing wireless from someone who lives too far away. So unfortunately, I wrote one of those essays. Bad habits are hard to break.
Warning: I am not a professional historian or even an amateur historian. All this information is gleaned from the notoriously unreliable internet and for entertainment purposes only.
Yes, I'm deliberately going with 'courier.' For that retro dictator-blast-from-the-past feel.
This week's dictator: Kim Il Sung (1912-1994)
Kim Il Sung is Kim Jong Il’s daddy. Kim Jong Il is the guy making all the trouble right now. Although, it is unclear whether it is he who is in charge at this point or some shadowy committee. If it is a committee, this belies the conventional wisdom that committees can't get things done.
Like a lot of father-son dictatorships, the son is simply a pale facsimile of the father. The father is the real innovator, the truly entrepreneurial dictator.
I'm sure you are wondering: How do these crazy dictators do it? How do they manage to acquire and wield absolute power and to create a state structure that perpetuates it even after their death? You gotta give them some credit. Absolute power ain't easy. Part of their success is obvious: They bring in quite a large group of power-wielding people into the circle of wealth, power, privilege and those people have very motivated to maintain the system. And they do it with force.
This makes me think of the movie ‘A Bug’s Life.’ The grasshoppers have to make sure the ants don’t know that, if they unite, they are more powerful than the grasshoppers. So of course, you make sure ordinary communication between people is disrupted by planting secret police everywhere and then dragging people off in the middle of the night.
That's Dictatorship 101, basically.
But there’s the rub. Major problem with the necessity of giving some power to some people, a wrinkle that made Stalin/Hitler/Hussein and virtually ever crazy dictator kill a lot of people to smooth out: Any one of those people is potentially your enemy, potentially a rival. And Kim did this: He purged his rivals at many crucial points.
So personality tip 1 for the aspiring dictator: You can’t be too paranoid or too ruthless.
Clearly, the management problems are huge.
Really, it’s a bit of a shame that none of these guys ever got their books out of the religio-philosophico-self-justifying-rant genre and into the self-help section of Barnes and Noble.
Kim Il Sung may have been the most successful dictator in history at utilizing the cult of personality. Such a cult happens when a person sets himself (rarely herself--with the possible exception of Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great) up as a ruler who also prompts a kind of devoted ardor akin to worship in their subjects.
(I should probably google a scholarly definition of cult of personality. Because I am stealing some random person’s wifi and the connection is damn unreliable I’m afraid I cannot vouch for the truth any of the shit I’m writing here. I’m using Word now and making shit up based on this unsubstantiated website.)
Big question about the cult of personality is whether it only works in certain cultures. Although African dictators often try to establish one, to my knowledge, they have never been fully successful. Aside from Kim, the most successful cult of personalities were probably Stalin, Hitler and Mao. (Franco?) I wonder if this is an accident of history or if there has to be some sort of prior aristocratic/monarchic/authoritarian state structure for cult of personality to map onto.
Except terrorist groups and guerilla movements also stray into the cult of personality mode. (Abmael Guzman of the Shining Path is a great example.) Making people worship you but also identify with you in a deep emotional way is a great motivator. But the question for all you would-be dictators is: How do you do this?
Maybe it is like being popular in the fifth grade: You either have it or you don't. It will always be mysterious to me why girls would almost cut one another just to sit at Lindsay Young's table.
Besides the mystery of charisma, it helps to make sure that you are in charge of the army during a period of political chaos.
For a place like North Korea
So tip 2: Be generous. But first deprive people of everything and then generously give to them only what they need to survive. Don’t be too generous though--you don’t need all those people. Depending on population, you can let go of a few million here and there. Keep almost everyone else on the edge of survival.Except for your lackeys, who know they are expendable.
Even the starting point of the cult of personality and the way people grab hold of others’ minds is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps it is a latent desire many have (all have?) to give over our will to someone else, to have an all-powerful parent to take care of things, to think that someone, somewhere, has all the answers.
I am pretty sure that dictators lack self-doubt.They must have some way of making people want to put faith in them. One weird thing about many violent personality-cult types is that they are often lauded for their humility, for being down-to-earth in some way. They must be uber-politicians in some fashion.
There’s got to more to it than that. Read 1984 for a more nuanced picture.
Another of my guesses is that trauma can play a role in ripening up a populace for dictatorship. Without the trauma of WWI and the poverty caused partly by the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler would probably not have gotten too far. Kim il Sung may have been helped by the trauma of years of Japanese colonial rule, two Sino-Japanese wars and WWII.
lot to the history of North Korea I am leaving out. The USSR OK’d Kim’s attack on South Korea
In some restaurant years ago I found this
Korean/English magazine with a story about a man who had escaped from North Korea
That’s a bit of an indicator how good a cult Kim Il Sung managed to create.
But he did not merely rely upon the huge statues and the
creation of complete dependence on himself for survival. He also created a whole religion called Juche. Juche seems to be a combination
of worship of Kim, strong requirements on personal behavior, particularly patriotic
behavior, personal sacrifice in support of the revolution and so forth. A
variety of Messianic elements were used to describe Kim. He was described as
born in a mountain cabin on the slopes of the highest mountain in Korea
The dictatorial excesses have to mentioned. The millions killed is one excess most dictators have trouble avoiding.
There’s the Juche tower, with 25,500 blocks of granite, one for each day of the 70 year old Kim’s life.
There’s the 100,000 seat Kim Il Sung Stadium.
There’s the three years of required mourning when Kim finally dies.
The 900 million dollar mausoleum.
A song plays at 7 a.m. every morning. The translation of the title: ’10 million human bombs for Kim Il Sung.’
Alas, things got much worse after Kim’s death. As many as three million people died of starvation in a famine caused by excess rains and mismanagement. At least a half million died in concentration camps during Kim I’s reign.
Enter Kim Jong Il. At Kim Il Sung's death a declaration stated that Kim Il Sung was Kim Jong Il. According to the website I'm plagiarizing all this information from, he is suspected of killing his father. When it comes to complete lack of human moral feeling, the apple never falls far from the tree!
Here's a really weird clip about an American soldier who defected during the Korean War and is still living there.