June 03, 2020

Meeting Kim Il Sung in His Last Weeks

The first (non-communist) Americans to meet North Korea’s president Kim Il Sung likely were journalists Harrison Salisbury of The New York Times, and Selig Harrison, then of The Washington Post, in 1972. Congressman Stephen Solarz was the first U.S. public official to meet him in 1980, and Rev. Billy Graham later met him in 1992 and 1994. Little did I realize when I met Kim Il Sung on April 16, 1994, weeks before his death, I would be among a very small group of Americans ever to do so. On Sunday, April 15, North Korea celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of the “Eternal President,” perhaps the North’s biggest celebration ever. Kim ruled North Korea for nearly half a century, far outliving Stalin and Mao, and holding power from Truman through Clinton. More importantly, Kim Il Sung embodied North Korea, a country and people he molded in his image. His legacy is now carried on by the young Kim Jong Un, who, North Koreans are constantly reminded, resembles his grandfather.

*  *  *