As we know, the North Korea was created as a result of the Soviet-Japanese War, after the USSR declared war on the Empire of Japan in August 1945 and, according its agreement with other Allies, occupied the northern part of Korea, which was a colony of Japan up to that moment. On August 15, the Japanese Emperor Showa (also known as Hirohito) spoke to the nation, announcing their surrender – this day is now a holiday in both North and South Korea.
Over time, though, the North Korean propaganda has allowed for a smaller and smaller role for the Soviets in the liberation process – at times none at all.
For a few months after the end of the Second World War, the historians in northern Korea did recognize the role of all Allies in the defeat of Japan. On January 1, 1946, Kim Il Sung, who was just appointed the new leader of the North Korean proto-state, spoke to the nation and said: “World War II was a great victory for democratic nations: the USSR, the USA, China and Britain.” This is probably the only speech of Kim where he spoke positively about America. In later publications this quote was changed to read: “World War II ended in victory for the democratic camp led by the USSR.”
Starting from 1946, on every August 15 the North Korean press published an article about “The libration of Korea by the great Soviet army from the Japanese imperialism.” Such articles were published for two decades, but the fervor of gratitude was gradually lowering: from 1960, the Soviet Army was no longer mentioned in the title, while still being present in the text of the articles. Later, the photo of Kim Il Sung’s portrait, hanging next to the portrait of the Soviet leader decorated with flags of both countries, also vanished.
Still, in 1966 the Rodong Sinmun assured the readers that “we do not forget that the Soviet people and its great armed forces vanquished the Japanese imperialism and liberated our people.” However, the memory of the Rodong Sinmun was quite short: in August 1967, the victory over the Japanese was attributed solely to “the Korean partisan units.” This version became the official one for many years.
THE FORGOTTEN WATERSHED
What happened? In between this two articles being published, a document was created, and its publication had a truly historic meaning for North Korea. This document was the so-called “May 25th Instructions” – the speech given by Kim Il Sung on May 25, 1967. The full text of the speech was never published in any non-classified sources and it is not even included in any complete collection of Kim Il Sung’s works. I have managed to learn the name of the speech – it was called “About the Immediate Tasks in the Directions of the Party’s Propaganda Work”; only party members were allowed to access it.
North Korea purged libraries of ‘unwanted literature and started to combat foreign cultural influences, including the Soviet one
This document marked a turning point in North Korean history. After the “May 25th Instructions” were published, Kim’s personality cult, which was very weak after 1956, was reinstated – and the new variation made Stalin’s cult look pathetic by comparison. After publication of “About the Immediate Tasks in the Directions of the Party’s Propaganda Work,” the North Korean school curriculum was enriched through such scintillating subjects as the “Childhood Years of the Beloved and Respected Leader Marshal Kim Il Sung.” The infamous songbun system, which divided the North Korean society in several castes, took shape. The system of permissions to leave to neighboring countries was established. And, finally, North Korea purged libraries of “unwanted” literature and started to combat foreign cultural influences, including the Soviet one. For example, no Soviet songs were played in North Korea for several years.
From 1967, North Korea also intensified its falsification of history. According to the new version, the role of the Red Army in the defeat of the Japanese was minimal. Japan was mainly defeated by “the First Legendary Hero in the History of Korea – the Ever-Victorious Steel Commander, Fatherly Marshal, the Great Leader respected comrade Kim Il Sung.” From his very childhood, according to the new North Korean publications, Kim Il Sung was planning the liberation of his beloved homeland from the evil Japanese, while his parents were leading the national liberation movement of the Korean people.
‘The Beloved and Respected Leader, respected comrade Kim Il Sung, by organizing and leading the heroic 15-year anti-Japanese struggle of the Korean people, wrote his ever-shining immortal exploits into the annals of history and achieved a great victory’
In the 1920s, the Fatherly Leader moved to Manchuria and in a few years he created the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army, which was constantly attacking the Japanese occupants in Northeast China. After May 1945, when Nazi Germany collapsed, the Great Marshal understood that the time had come, and created the plan for the “final offensive for the liberation of the motherland.” Here is the quote from the “Short history of the Workers Party of Korea” (issued in 1979) about this alleged event:
On August 9 the Great Leader respected comrade Kim Il Sung issued the order to all units of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army about the final offensive for the liberation of the motherland. After the units of the KPRA received the order, they started the offensive, acting in close cooperation with the units of the Soviet Army, who also entered the war with Japan. Units of our army crossed the Tumen River and started their offensive in Kyonghung and Kyongwon (the northernmost part of Korea, near the Soviet border) and liberated a large territory. Some united landed in Ungi, Rajin and Chongjin and expanded the area of their operations. On August 15, 1945, less after a week of the beginning of the KPRA’s final offensive for the liberation of the motherland, the Japanese imperialism hurried to announce its unconditional surrender
Everywhere the fighters of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army and the liberated people were greeting each other. People were shouting loudly “Long live Commander Kim Il Sung!” “Long live the independence for Korea!” So vanquished was the Japanese imperialism and the Korean people were liberated from almost half a century (35 years, actually) of Japanese colonial rule. The Beloved and Respected Leader, respected comrade Kim Il Sung, by organizing and leading the heroic 15-year anti-Japanese struggle of the Korean people, wrote his ever-shining immortal exploits into the annals of history and achieved a great victory.
WHO CONTROLS THE PRESENT, CONTROLS THE PAST
Of course, these texts have zero connection to reality. No “Korean People’s Revolutionary Army” ever existed. War against the Imperial Army in Korea was waged solely by the Red Army. Kim Il Sung himself was merely a captain in the Soviet Army and spent all the war in the rear – back in the USSR. Moreover, the landings in Ungi, Rajin and Chongjin indeed took place – but they were carried by the Soviet Pacific Fleet. Kim Il Sung merely took the honor for himself.
The last alteration in propaganda motives took place in the 1990s after Kim Il Sung’s memoir, entitled With the Century was published. These is one thing with these dictators – they are the only people in the country whose publications are not subjected to the censorship – and who would dare to lecture Kim Il Sung what he should write and what he should not? An the Great Leader, to the great surprise of North Koreans, suddenly recognized himself spending some time in the Soviet Union. It did contradict the contemporary history texts – and so history texts had to be rewritten once again. However, the new version was not much closer to reality. Kim Il Sung wrote that after Germany had been defeated, but before the USSR had attacked Japan, Kim Il Sung had visited Moscow, where he had met representatives of the Soviet elite. For example, when he had spoken to Zhdanov, Kim Il Sung “remembered,” he said that the USSR could, if it wanted, help the KPRA to defeat the Japanese, but this was not at all necessary, since Koreans could manage it themselves. And they did: according to Kim Il Sung, “When the Soviet force landed at the city (Rajin), it had already been liberated.” This is, of course, another blatant lie. In reality, seven Soviet soldiers were killed during the battle for Rajin.
This is pretty much the state of the DPRK state historiography for today. Victory over Japan is described as a heroic operation of the Leader and his partisans, while the Soviet participation is mentioned very briefly – or not at all. And this is almost certainly the way it will stay, as reversing the history back to the Soviet version – to say nothing of speaking the complete truth – would undermine the ideological position of Kim Il Sung, whose figure is the cornerstone of the North Korean ideology.
So when you are dealing with the North Korean state – or with any other real dictatorship – never expect them to be grateful. They may take your help and then credit it all for themselves. This, however, does not apply to common people: there are North Koreans who remember the truth about the war and the subsequent economic assistance provided by the USSR and that is the main reason why the Soviet Union is still rather popular in the country.
Main picture: Wikimedia Commons
As we know, the North Korea was created as a result of the Soviet-Japanese War, after the USSR declared war on the Empire of Japan in August 1945 and, according its agreement with other Allies, occupied the northern part of Korea, which was a colony of Japan up to that moment. On August 15, the Japanese Emperor Showa (also known as Hirohito) spoke to the nation, announcing their surrender – this
Fyodor Tertitskiy is an expert in North Korean politics and the military and a contributor to NK News and NK Pro. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Seoul National University, and is author of "North Korea before Kim Il Sung," which you buy here.