Monday, December 2, 2019

Eternal Life (Part 2): Kim Il Sung and Jimmy Carter at the table

This entry continues my summary of select chapters of Eternal Life

Eternal Life is the final novel of the Immortal History series, which chronicles Kim Il Sung's life from his days as a guerrilla fighter through the country's founding, war and reconstruction, and on through his later years.  It was published in 1997 and co-authored by Baek Bo Hŭm (who later contributed the short story "Green Land" to the first anthology of stories about Kim Jong Un) and Song Sang Wŏn. The novel covers the events of the last seven months of KIS' life, including his 1994 summit meeting with former US President Jimmy Carter.

Devoted readers of this blog might recall that this same summit was also the subject of the short story "Enchantment" (매혹), covered in one of this blog's earliest entries. That story took the point of view of First Lady Rosalynn Carter. This novel was written earlier, and the summit chapters alternate between the perspectives of KIS and President Carter.

In Chapter 16, the  formal summit between Kim Il Sung and former US President Jimmy Carter begins. Carter is shown as a sincere but weak-willed negotiator floundering with the difficult task his president has given him. KIS comes to his rescue and comes up with a solution for all. 

Chapter 16 Summary 

The morning of the summit, Carter wakes from a fitful sleep and preps for the 10am meeting with his aide, Dr. Marion Creekmore. Both Carter and Creekmore are pessimistic. Carter instructs Creekmore to phone the State Department from the secure phone line at the DMZ to tell them not to get their hopes up. 

Meanwhile KIS moves from his offices in Kumsusan Palace to the summit room. Passing the area where the American reporters are busily setting up their live broadcast equipment, he exchanges pleasantries with CNN VP Eason Jordan, who had visited Pyongyang several times before. Jordan is stunned that the Leader not only knows his name but graciously invites him to come back with his whole family for a holiday trip to Kŭmgangsan or Myohyangsan.

President Carter and his retinue walk in on this scene and are also amazed by the warmth and unaffected charm of the Great Leader. The two leaders spontaneously embrace and then take their seats around the summit table, flanked by their aides. KIS speaks first, with Carter’s aide and newly appointed State Department Deputy Director for Korean Affairs Christenson translating.

They exchange formal greetings, both expressing regret that they could not have met sooner, when Carter was still US president. Carter is amazed by KIS' kind and easygoing manner, so at odds with what he's been told to expect. 

Carter reads a personal message from President Clinton, laying out the sequence of events as the US sees it: First, the US asked for a 3-stage process to resolve the nuclear issue; second, NK completed its core replacement last April too quickly for the inspectors to check it, leading to UN sanctions; third, NK threatened to withdraw from the IAEA. The letter makes it sound like everything is NK’s fault. KIS responds with his own side's view of events [the story gives no details].

Carter struggles to bring up the US' true objective, which is to stop NK from expelling the two IAEA inspectors and to postpone NK’s withdrawal from the IAEA. KIS jokes "I think your friend gave you a tough job," referring to Clinton, and Carter bashfully agrees. 

Finally KIS breaks the impasse: 

  “Okay, let’s speak freely. The issue of the IAEA delegation that you struggle to speak of, right now it’s just a Korea-US problem. I’m sure you understand this. It was reported to me that you brought this up with our side at yesterday’s meeting. I can completely understand your feelings on this.”
   “Thank you.” Carter sighed. Ever since his arrival he’d gotten the impression from various meetings that they had no chance of movement on this issue. He had struggled with how to bring it up before Comrade Kim Il Sung,  but now He had just kindly introduced it. So thinking, he let the discussion be pulled along by Comrade Kim Il Sung.
   “But there’s another issue I’d like to discuss with you first.... Our move to expel the two inspectors was on account of the unfairness of the IAEA. It’s no secret that the Agency is backed by the US. This unfairness has extended to ‘special inspections’ of two of our military assets. That’s what I’d like to discuss first.” 
   Comrade Kim Il Sung went on to explain how this perverse insistence on "special inspections," going against international law and the IAEA’s own rules, represented the hidden ambition of a certain class in America to put "pressure" on our Republic.
   Then, raising His voice, He went on, “Mr. Carter, if we were to ask to see inside ‘Hwinsŏn’ (referring to the secret US military base), would you show it to us? When you return home, I’d like you to pass that on to President Clinton.”
    “What you say makes sense, Premier Kim.”


KSI agrees to allow the inspectors remain, preserving the IAEA status quo, as long as they keep out of the two military facilities. Carter is happy with this as it can be interpreted as "continuing limited inspections.” 

While KIS' aides are inwardly rejoicing that this issue is resolved so easily, the interpreter Christenson is cringing. He had been instructed by the State Department to use those two facilities as a pressure point and their main bargaining card. But now his boss has conceded so quickly that he can only sit back dumbfounded. 

KIS says the US is stuck on the issue of inspecting the two nuclear facilities, but there is a deeper problem that they must overcome first - the lack of trust.

   “The whole problem between our two countries originated from your mistrust of us. We’ve told you time and again that we are not trying to get nuclear weapons, nor do we have the capacity to do so, nor have we given any indication of doing so. The US already has thousands of nuclear warheads, so what would we do if we even managed to get a few? The US has planes, submarines and ICBMs capable of delivering nuclear bombs; we have nothing like that. And we certainly have no intention of slaughtering our own fellow Koreans with such weapons. Let me state our position clearly once again today.
   "We will never engage in double-dealing (일구이언). If you cannot trust the leader of a country, who can you trust? If you really cannot trust my word, I’ll put my seal on it.
   "We must tackle these issues from a point of mutual trust. If you don’t trust us, we can’t trust you, and the problem will not be resolved for a billion years. If you really think about it, the fundamental Korea-US problem is a lack of trust. The US is a big country; I want to see it act like one (나는 미국이라는 큰 나라가 명실공히 큰 나라로 되여주기를 바랍니다).”

I have to admit, that last line is pretty bad-ass.

Anyway, Carter is completely won over by this speech. Then KIS throws in the kicker: he proposes that the US provide North Korea with a light-water reactor to replace their graphite reactor. He explains that it is more difficult to extract plutonium from a light-water reactor for use in weapons, so this should resolve any concerns. 

Carter is unprepared to answer this and thus they reach an impasse. KIS then suggests they go to lunch. 

In the banquet hall, Carter admires the flower arrangements and is informed that these are "Kimjongilia," a new breed of begonia named after Kim Jong Il. Carter seizes the opportunity to ask if the stories he's heard about KJI are true, like how he personally tore up and redesigned the plans for Mangyongdae Youth Palace and also helped design Kwangbok Street, which Carter was greatly impressed with on his earlier tour. KIS says it's all true. Carter says he'd very much like to meet with KJI during this summit, but KIS replies that that won't be possible - he's off inspecting an army outpost.

Then they sit down to a lunch that features rainbow trout. KIS regales his guests with the story of how these trout came to be in North Korea:

    “It’s an interesting story. Early in this century, before our country was liberated, some Americans operated a mine in Woonsan County, and they brought in some rainbow trout. Until that time, rainbow trout did not exist anywhere in China or Korea. Then the Americans were ordered out by Japan, and the Japanese took over the mine. The local Koreans were not aware that the Americans had brought the rainbow trout; they thought they came from Japan. After liberation, the locals despised the Japanese so much that they didn’t even care for the trout. By the time I visited the area on some business, only five were still alive. I told the locals: no matter how much you hate the Japanese, you shouldn’t take it out on the fish; and anyway these trout are not Japanese but American, so breed as much as you can from the five that are left. Those five fish were the many-times-great-grandparents of the fish we eat here today. The US is their ancestral homeland, heh heh.”
    Carter couldn’t help but join in KIS’ infectious laughter. Still chuckling, he said, “In the Bible there’s a story about how Christ fed tens of thousands of people with just two fishes and five loaves of bread.…” 

The chapter concludes with a brief look at what KJI is up to at the military post. After getting briefed on the summit progress, he asks to see the weekly forecast for electro-magnetic phenomena, which his aide apparently carries around in a briefcase. He is relieved to see that there are no harmful electro-magnetic currents this week that could impact the Great Leader's health. But he's still worried, so he writes up a note to KIS' head nurse, instructing that no matter what happens at the summit, the Great Leader’s schedule of injections and medication must be meticulously followed.

Chapter Characters


Summit delegation at Nampo Dam. From left: Dr. Marion Creekmore,
Rosalynn Carter, KIS, Eason Jordan, President Carter, Richard Christenson,
KIS' wife Kim Song Ae, Carter aide Nancy Konigsmark

In addition to the main characters KIS and President Carter, the story features several cameos by real-life individuals: 

Ambassador Marion Creekmore, Carter's aide on the trip, wrote of the summit in his 2006 book A Moment of Crisis: Jimmy Carter, the Power of a Peacemaker and North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions, and also spoke of his recollections of the summit in a 2007 podcast for the Korea Society. 

CNN VP Eason Jordan resigned from CNN in 2005. He apparently did visit NK and meet KIS twice in 1994, though if he received an offer to vacation with KIS at Kumgangsan he never took him up on it. A 2012 NK News article by Mark Barry, who witnessed one encounter, gives this account: "Eason Jordan, president of CNN International, greeted Kim on behalf of Ted Turner, founder of CNN, and expressed hope for a face-to-face interview, which did not materialize."

Former State Department Deputy Director for Korean Affairs Richard Christenson does, in fact, speak fluent Korean and Japanese, and reportedly did serve as an interpreter at the summit. 

Also mentioned is Chang Se-dong, who headed Chun Doo-hwan's NSA from Feb 1985-May 1987 and met KIS in November 1985 to discuss a possible Chun-Kim summit. Carter recalls reading that he gave a particularly flattering description of KIS' negotiating skills. In real life, Chang was convicted for his role in sending thugs to disrupt an opposition party meeting in 1987; at the time of this summit, he was in prison.

There is also a passing reference to Japanese botanist Kamo Mototeru, who created the Kimjongilia hybrid begonia. Oddly, in the story his name is given as "Kamamodo" (가마모도). The two leaders' interaction over the flowers was also told from Rosalynn Carter's perspective in the short story "Enchantment" (매혹), indicating that this had some significance for North Koreans (or else both authors simply spotted an opportunity for another nature metaphor while scoring bonus points with a mention of Kimjongilia).

Another character present in this chapter is Mun Son Gyu, a high-level North Korean diplomat helping with the nuclear negotiations. Mun, one of the novel's recurrent POV characters, is likely a pseudonym for Kang Sŏk Ju, then First Vice Foreign Minister. He has a seat at the negotiating table, and the perspective periodically shifts to him to show his private impressions of the two leaders. Christenson plays a similar role from the US side.

Mark Barry has compiled a helpful list  of all the Americans who met KIS, with useful links of various summit participants.

Describing KIS

As Carter observes KIS, he recalls various things that he has heard about the North Korean leader during his presidency, including high praise from Egypt’s Sadat and Yugoslavia’s Tito.

He also recalls once being in a discussion on the subject of Stalin. Someone told him it was said that the godfather of the global socialist movement always talked down to other communist heads of state – save for the youngest, KIS, whom he addressed using honorific speech.

Midway through their summit meeting, Carter reviews his information on KIS:

   Carter glanced at the papers his secretary had given him. “A skilled conversationalist who overwhelms his audience,” “a voice like someone giving a proclamation,” “completely controls the environment and makes everything go his way, adapting quickly” “superb diplomatic skills are part of his political genius,” these were observations of people who had met Premier Kim Il Sung. Particularly insightful were the recollections of the former head of the South Korean NSA, Chang Se-dong.
   When Chang said “Thank you for donating the flood aid,” the [KIS’] response was “It took more courage for you to accept it than for us to give it.” Impressed, he replied, “Such is the strength of a 40-year regime!” Referring to the fact that the North developed its own Juche system while the South remained dependent on foreign help, Chang said “Our leaders stand far apart in terms of gaining independence from foreign interference.” But instead of criticizing the south Korean government’s subservience to the US, Comrade Kim Il Sung simply replied “Let’s try to close that distance,” showing the graciousness of a truly great man.

KIS' negotiating style is depicted as putting his counterpart at ease by empathizing, frankly broaching difficult subjects, and generally dominating his weaker-willed opponent. He always appears more knowledgable and prepared, while Carter appears timid and reluctant to say what he really wants. Crucially, in the story it is North Korea, not the US, that first proposes light-water reactors as a solution:

   Comrade Kim Il Sung continued, still smiling, “We must return to this issue of trust. We have one 5mw graphite moderator, and your side is insisting that we are extracting plutonium from it to construct nuclear weapons. …. Because of this, at various meetings our side has proposed exchanging this graphite reactor for a light-water reactor. In this way we would eliminate the ‘nuclear problem’ once and for all. Is that not so, Mr. Carter?”
    “That’s reasonable,” Carter agreed.
    “We didn’t originally intend to use a graphite moderator. Back in the Chernenko era of the USSR, we had an agreement to install a light-water reactor. But there were delays, and then the Soviet Union went and collapsed, so it was no longer possible."
   Comrade Kim Il Sung went into the details of nuclear reactors, explaining that while graphite reactors produced a large amount of plutonium spent fuel that could be turned into weapons, light-water reactors produced only a small amount.
    Carter listened intently, surprised that the Premier had such a clear grasp of the details of nuclear technology, surpassing even himself, who had been a nuclear expert.
    “It was not easy for a small country such as ours to develop graphite moderator technology while blocked by international economic sanctions,” He continued. “We spent a great deal of time, effort and capital to autonomously develop a nuclear power industry. But we have a good incentive to freeze it. As our side has already proposed in bilateral meetings, we must be provided with a light-water reactor. Then the ‘nuclear problem’ will cease to exist. And we will have taken a big step toward resolving the fundamental issue of trust."


Here it becomes clear why the preceding chapter lingered on Carter's early-career experience with nuclear submarines. As "a nuclear expert" himself, Carter is able to appreciate KIS' genius in coming up with this solution. KIS is thus depicted as not only a canny negotiator but also an expert in nuclear technology.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Eternal Life (Part 1): Introducing Billy Graham and Jimmy Carter

Eternal Life is the final novel of the Immortal History series, which chronicles Kim Il Sung's life from his days as a guerrilla fighter through the country's founding, war and reconstruction, and on through his later years.  It was published in 1997 and co-authored by Baek Bo Hŭm (who later contributed the short story "Green Land" to the first anthology of stories about Kim Jong Un) and Song Sang Wŏn.

This novel covers the events of the last seven months of KIS' life, including the decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and his 1994 summit meeting with former US President Jimmy Carter.

Devoted readers of this blog might recall that this same summit was also the subject of the short story "Enchantment" (매혹), covered in one of this blog's earliest entries. That story took the point of view of First Lady Rosalynn Carter. This novel was written earlier, and the summit chapters alternate between the perspectives of KIS and President Carter.

In Chapter 15, we get a window on KIS' thoughts on the eve of the summit, as he sits in his office working and thinking through the night.

Chapter 15 Summary 

KIS recalls what he knows of the 39th president, including his childhood, family background, schooling (noting that he attended "a black primary school" in Georgia and later graduated 33rd in his class from the US Naval Academy), his early military career, his success in expanding the peanut farm he inherited, and his later political career.

The story lingers particularly on Carter's early encounters with nuclear technology as a young naval officer.
   That was when Carter became involved in the construction of K-1, the world’s first nuclear submarine. In the wake of the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945, the majority of America’s youth were basking in a sense of superiority as “citizens of the Great American Empire,” but the young Carter was filled with fear. He understood the horrific tragedy that the bomb represented for humanity.
   Five years later, participating directly in constructing another kind of nuclear weapon – a nuclear submarine – he wasn’t as fearful as he had been, but he felt a residual unease and a sense of emotional objection. Taking a sudden leave, he took his girlfriend Rosalynn (then a college student) and escaped to a resort in the South Pacific. Walking the beach, he tried to forget the 20th century evil that had so preoccupied his mind.
   At that time his views on nuclear weapons were not rooted in any political ideology. His objections stemmed not from politics but from his philosophy of humanism, or more precisely benevolence, which was a product of his Catholic faith.
KIS then recalls that he has heard that Carter is a friend of the Reverend Billy Graham, whom he has met twice before.
   “Billy Graham!” He whispered softly to Himself.
   In His mind’s eye He saw an image of Graham, his heavy build and fierce expression belying a gentle and charitable nature. As a Christian, Graham followed a creed of generosity. He had served as an army chaplain during the Korean War and faced censure for praying for KPA soldiers as well as American soldiers. But he did not waver, saying it was his duty to pray for all.
Reverend Billy Graham meeting Kim Il Sung.
Src: The Washington Post 
The story then delves into a history of McCarthyism in America, explaining how "Red Terror" caused innocent Americans to fall under suspicion. It notes that Graham would have been a target if it were not for his status as a Christian pastor, but that he sympathized with the victims and it was an important formative experience for him.
   Several decades later when Graham visited South Korea, he felt that he was seeing the rebirth of McCarthyism there. The “National Liberation” (주사파) furor strongly reminded him of American McCarthyism. This was a hysterical movement to round up and arrest the followers of Juche ideology. At the sight of so many Korean students, intellectuals, legislators and laborers being arrested, he saw the nightmare of the 1950s resurrected. And he began to wonder what it was about this ideology, this idea, that had the south Korean authorities so fearful and so many young people and citizen laborers (근로민중) risking bullets and violence to follow it.
Graham made his first visit to Pyongyang in March 1992. The story notes that this first mission, occurring just after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and amid expectations that the DPRK would soon follow, had an ulterior motive of observing the state of the country and assessing the likelihood of its collapse.

Dormitory in the American Compound of the Pyongyang
Foreign School, 1939.
Src: Shannon McCune Collection, UW-Madison
The story explains that Graham had a peculiar connection to Pyongyang because his wife Ruth had once lived there. The daughter of Christian missionaries in China, as a teen Ruth had attended the famous Pyongyang Foreign School for girls from 1933-36. The Pyongyang that Ruth had known, in those days before liberation, must have seemed shabby to her eyes. When she heard her husband was going there she had a lot to say about the city, none of it nice. 

But when Graham tours the city, he is impressed by the streets teeming with vitality, the tall new buildings emblazoned with banners reading “Long live our-style socialism!” Thanks to the devastation of the war, there are no buildings older that 30 years. 

With no old buildings anywhere, how is this place supposed to collapse? he thinks.

KIS then recalls his second meeting with Reverend Graham, which occurred just last January amidst preparations for the Three-Step Process meetings with the US. He recalls that "interest in the reverend’s visit was intense" because "Reverend Graham was the most popular and influential person in the US after the president himself."

After delivering the president’s verbal message of good will for the new year and passing a few pleasantries, they sit down to a banquet. KIS expresses to Graham “Since you are both Clinton’s friend and my friend, I hope you will help to make it possible for us to sit down together.” Graham promises to "carry your words with the same weight as the gospel.”

Now, as day breaks on the morning of the summit, KIS thinks hopefully that he can forge a friendship with Carter as he did with Graham.

Forging Friends among Enemies

This novel, the short story "Maehok," and the novel Ryŏksa ui Taeha (excerpted earlier in this blog) represent relatively rare examples of North Korean literature describing interactions between the Leader and foreign dignitaries. I have searched in vain for examples of stories that cover more recent summits, such as Madeleine Albright's 2000 visit, Koizumi Junichiro's 2002 summit, and the later brief rescue missions by ex-Presidents Clinton and Carter. It could be that I simply haven't found them yet, or it could be that these later meetings were simply not important or successful enough to merit literary treatment. As a general rule, North Korean fiction will not cover an event until it is far enough in the past to allow for a settled and resolutely positive interpretation.

In all of these stories, the Leader always blows away his guests with his hospitality and benevolence. The visitors arrive ready for a fight, for prevarications and insults, and are surprised to find a leader who is more honest and forthright than anyone they've ever encountered. Visiting to Pyongyang for the first time, Graham has a revelation:
   He never would have imagined it when he left, but he was completely won over by Comrade Kim Il Sung’s grace, honesty, kindness and benevolent presence. Graham had expected that He would try to conceal the serious problems brought by the collapse of the communist bloc when assessing the state of His country. But it was not like that at all. Comrade Kim Il Sung concealed nothing. He was extremely frank in describing the difficult straits the country was in. He was even more astute than Graham himself in evaluating the problems brought on by socialist malfunction in other countries.
   This was completely unexpected. Listening in astonishment, Graham sensed that this was a man who would always speak the truth no matter who He was talking with; at the same time, he realized that socialist Korea would never collapse as long as such a leader was in charge. It takes a truly strong leader to acknowledge tough circumstances. When Comrade Kim Il Sung said “Korea will fight to uphold socialism no matter what,” Graham was completely convinced.
The chapter ends with KIS looking forward to his upcoming summit with Carter:
   Recalling His days with Graham, He softly whispered to Himself: “Carter said he met with Graham before coming to Pyongyang… The time has come for me to meet him and speak the truth. Maybe I can build a friendship with him too.”
   The Great Leader Kim Il Sung, who had a gift for forging friendships among the enemy, felt confident that His hopes would come true. 
This image of the Leader "making friends among enemies" is clearly the central theme of this chapter and other summit stories. He is shown extensively studying his counterparts before each meeting, learning intimate details of their lives. Graham's and Carter's biographies are picked apart for clues as to why they may be more amenable than other foreigners. Everyone who meets the leader is instantly charmed and becomes a steadfast defender. It is only the implacable, inscrutable, faceless American government that stands in the way of improved relations.

Christian Faith and Juche

A young Billy Graham traveled to Korea to minister to
US troops in 1952. He was not an army chaplain, as this
story suggests, but a civilian.
 Src: Billy Graham Evangelist Organization
The chapter describes both Reverend Graham and President Carter as men of great faith and fairness. It notes that Carter's Christian faith led him to abhor the nuclear weapons that other Americans celebrated, and Graham was censured for praying for KPA during the war. It also notes that Graham's first visit to Pyongyang had an ulterior motive:
Let me see for myself. For 100 years communist ideology has rejected all religious faith; how long will it be until its last bastion collapses?   This was the question he was sent to answer by then-President Bush. But instead of being a government spy, he ended up forging a deep friendship with the Leader. 
On that first tour, Graham visits a Christian church in Pyongyang.
   After praying there, he asked Comrade Kim Il Sung, “What are you doing to guarantee freedom of faith?”
   He replied, “As you saw, we have built a Christian church, even though our construction needs are great.”
   Overjoyed, Graham then asked, “I suppose you’ve noticed the commonalities between Juche thought and the teachings of Christianity?”
   “Similarities?” Comrade Kim Il Sung thought a moment and then said modestly, “Thank you for holding Juche to such a lofty comparison.”
   Graham didn’t press the matter any further. But he privately believed that Juche and Christianity shared the same basic ideal. That ideal was love.
On his second visit, when Graham attends a banquet in his honor, the Leader makes an unexpected gesture.
   “Let us pray,”  Comrade Kim Il Sung said as they took their seats around the banquet table.
   “What?” Graham gaped, as if he could not believe his ears.
   “Isn’t it a Christian custom to pray to God before a meal?”
   Graham was speechless. He, who had affirmed his Christian faith at age 16 and preached to 110 million people in 84 different countries, could hardly forget this basic rule.
   “The food is getting cold,” he said.
   Comrade Kim Il Sung merely waited, not picking up His spoon.
   At last, Graham rose and lifted his glass. “I thought I’d forego that custom tonight. Instead, let us toast the health of the Chairman, who is like heaven to the people of this country.”
   Comrade Kim Il Sung stood, waving His hand. “No, no, I’m not these people’s heaven, I am their servant.”
   “Then I bow my head all the more to you.”
This and earlier stories suggest that, rather unusually for a socialist state, North Korea's propaganda does not treat religion with scorn. Rather, it depicts religion and Christianity in particular as a stepping stone for foreigners on the way to finding the superior ideology of Juche. Carter and Graham's Christianity is described as "a creed of benevolence" that enables them to see past political enmity and embrace common humanity.

In the North Korean interpretation, it is not in spite of but because of their devout Christianity that these men are able to see the truth of Juche, while the godless politicians back home remain stubbornly opposed to it. The text openly acknowledges similarities between Christianity and Juche, but rather than acknowledging that the latter plagiarized the former, it suggests that the former foreshadowed the higher truth of the latter. The passage tying together Graham's Christian faith, his abhorrence of McCarthyism, and his curiosity about Juche ideology is particularly revealing.

Of course, it must be repeated, the official propaganda position is far removed from the actual treatment of people of faith in North Korea.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

"Green Land": North Korea Deals with Environmental Issues

KJU on a visit to the Central Tree Nursery in 2014.
Src: Tongil News
"Green Land" (푸른 강산) is a short story by Baek Bo Hŭm that appeared in Ch'ŏngnyŏn Munhak in October of 2014 and later was published in the collection A Promise of Fire (불의 약속).

The author is an eminence grise of North Korean literature, co-author of Eternal Life (영생), the final volume in the Immortal History series of novels chronicling Kim Il Sung's life. Born in 1938, he trained as a geologist but was scouted by the Korean Writer's Union at age 18 and has been a prolific contributor to the Party's literary journals since the 1960s. He would have been 76 when he wrote this story. Given his high profile and long history of literary achievement, I'd say he phoned this one in. It follows the basic template and seems unimaginative even by North Korean fiction standards.

There is a lot of overlap between this story and "Green Mountains, Green Fields" (2016) - both highlight the Central Tree Nursery, the new National Land Management Mobilization policy, and Kim Jong Un's priority of investing in re-forestation. There is also some thematic overlap with "Morning of Departure" (2016), particularly the depiction of new hydroelectric dam construction destroying woodland and creating flood problems.

The Plot

It’s October 8, 2011. The 66th anniversary of the KWP founding approaches. Environmental Ministry worker Kang Hyŏng Jun reads reports in his office. He’s absorbed in a book sent over personally by KJU; it's the first time he’s directly benefited from the new leader he’s heard so much about.

The book tells of the delicate, interconnected nature of the planet's ecosystems, and the relentless destruction being wrought by "capitalist monopoly industries" in selfish pursuit of profits.

Kang is interrupted from his reading when he is called to his Party Secretary's office and instructed to prepare for the Leaders' impending visit to the Central Tree Nursery.

On returning to his office, Kang finds a note from his old college friend Ri Song Mok. Once a gifted botanist, Ri had recently been dismissed from his post due to an unfortunate mishap at a hydroelectric dam. 

In cutting timber for the dam, the deputy chief of construction had unwittingly chopped down five experimental trees, the sole fruit of Ri's twenty years of work adapting semi-tropical hybrids to North Korean soil conditions. Ri had been unable to contain his rage and ended up brawling with the dam worker. For interfering with an important hydroelectric project, Ri's political loyalty was called into question, and he was fired.

The next day, KJU and KJI visit the Central Tree Nursery with a delegation of Environmental Ministry bureaucrats. Kang is introduced; KJI describes him to the assembled group as “capable but stubborn” and thanks him for agreeing to guide their tour. 

The Central Tree Nursery workers are delighted to hear KJU’s voice for the first time; he has a twinkle in his eye and a “dignity and fervor that could melt a rock.” They’ve all heard of his diverse knowledge in politics, economics and culture, and his skills in both literary and martial arts.

KJU tells the assembled, “More important than just loving trees, is understanding why we must love trees.”

Riding electric carts, the group tours the greenhouses, the central control room, and several vast fields of tree hybrids. Numerous recent improvements and "cutting-edge" facilities are described. Along the way, KJU repeatedly correctly identifies various trees which had special meaning to his father and grandfather. 

Relishing his role as tour guide, Kang gives the group an impassioned, slightly unhinged speech about the important role of trees to the broader ecosystem. 
“Those who don’t learn to love trees will surely pay the price. There was one district that cut down many trees to build a hydroelectric dam ‘by their own strength,’ but the next year during the rainy season they suffered severe damage from mudslides.”
At his words, KJU recalls recently seeing a briefing about a certain botanist whose experimental trees, 20 years of work, had been cut down to build the dam in Tokgochŏngrim. The botanist had been sentenced to one year of labor reform (로동단련) for assaulting the dam project's political director. 

Flood damage in the fall of 2013. Src: Yonhap

KJU regretted that the Party hadn’t been able to “see the patriotism of a botanist who spent twenty years of his life on trees” and thought “Why should he have to resign over a mistake? We must preserve our technical workers. If anyone is at fault, it is the workers of Tokgochŏngrim who destroyed the trees and ended up with a useless dam."

At the end of the tour, KJI gives a long inspirational speech to the assembled functionaries about the Party's environmental policy. KJU listens quietly and resolves to personally carry out the Leader's wishes.

The story skips forward one year to October 9, 2012. KJU paces in his office, remembering his visit to the tree nursery with his father exactly one year ago. 

He hasn’t seen the Environment Ministry workers since that day, except for briefly seeing Kang Hyong Jun at Kumsusan Palace that terrible December when everyone was in shock. KJU had promised him he would carry out KJI’s wishes for environmental protection.

He kept his promise, organizing the first National Land Management Mobilization Conference (국토관리총동원운동열성자대회). He took the opportunity of the festival on May 8, 2012 to announce a major shift in environmental policy through his treatise “On Bringing about a Revolutionary Turn in Land Management to Meet the Demands of Constructing a Strong and Prosperous Socialist Country” (사회주의강성국가건설의 요구에 맞게 국토관리사업에서 혁명적전환을 가져올데 대하여), announcing policies for flood control, anti-erosion land reform, and conservation of natural resources including mineral, fisheries, plant and animal resources. The speech was a big sensation among the delegates. 

After the festival the whole country was mobilized, and within months they had planted hundreds of millions of trees, restored 1000 km of roads and railway lines, and created hundreds of jŏngbo of greenspace. 

In his office, Kang Hyong Jun reads a letter from his botanist friend Ri Song Mok, now happily re-instated thanks to the intervention of KJU. The phone rings; it's KJU himself. Kang is stunned and tongue-tied. KJU asks after the nursery; Kang says they’ve been busy with tons of visitors lately. 

KJU says that’s good, as 
“The tree nursery is not just a place for growing trees; it is also for cultivating patriots… not just the masses but especially bureaucrats, so they can learn the world view of the Great Leader and the General. Making bureaucrats into servants of the people is easier said than done. Sometimes bureaucrats think of the people as their servants instead. I’ve seen it happen many times, and it always grieves me.”
Kang thinks with shame that he, too, is guilty of this.

KJU apologizes that he doesn’t have time to talk more but urges Kang to keep giving good interpretative tours to “light the flame of KJI patriotism in people’s hearts.” Kang sobs his gratitude, but the Leader has already hung up.

As Kang heads off to the Central Tree Nursery, he remembers the words of KJI, “Because of Comrade Kim Jong Un, our revolution and our socialism is secure, and our future is endlessly bright and promising.” 


Understanding Environmental Problems

This story demonstrates the educational uses of North Korea's state fiction. It opens with a lengthy quote from the book that KJU sent to Kang:
   The third planet in our solar system, home to tens of thousands of organisms – this is our Earth. Of all the planets revolving around our sun, only the third has the heat, light and gravity conducive to life, and various life forms thrive there....
   For the life forms that are born and grow there, the sun is like a benevolent father and the earth is a gracious mother. Of all her hundreds of thousands of children, only one has the capacity for laughter and tears, for joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure – human beings. Humans are mother earth’s most precious and beloved children, and she surely believes that they will observe their filial duty to bring her boundless happiness forever.
   But today, because of human carelessness, the earth is suffering from terrible wounds. It has grown haggard, withered and infected with a sickness that threatens the existence of all life – and humans are no exception.
   Air and water cross national boundaries without a passport. Dust-filled sulfur dioxide gas can blow from London in England to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and polluted water from the US can follow the rivers to take a trip abroad. Poisoned air can travel freely from the western hemisphere to the eastern hemisphere. Therefore if a country is to protect its own environment it must consider the global environment, and in order to protect the global environment we must surgically remove the greed-organs of imperialists who care only about their own immediate interests. Imperialism is a malignant tumor on the planet as well.
    Botanists of the world, never forget! The same American imperialists who destroyed countless lives with atomic bombs and poisoned the air with radiation also spread poison to kill the primeval forests during the Vietnam War. Grass still won’t grow there.

In this passage, the reader is invited to look over Kang's shoulder as he reads up on global environmental problems. This form of political communication is perhaps marginally more engaging than simply sending the same text around as an intra-party document.


At the Central Tree Nursery tour, Kang makes a long speech to the group about the importance of trees.
The ozone layer, which protects all life from the sun’s harmful rays, is created by trees, and thus humans cannot live without trees. Not only that, they generate oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, absorb water, help prevent erosion, and remove toxins from the air.
The story is peppered with textbook-like sections like this, which seem intended to brush up the reader's general ecological knowledge.

It's interesting that the story refers to polluted air travelling across borders but refrains from explicitly mentioning China, whose dust North Koreans have been breathing for decades. It’s also interesting that the text identifies “imperialism,” rather than capitalism, as the root cause of environmental destruction, although the description of selfish corporations ruthlessly pursuing profits reads more like capitalism. 

Communicating Party Environmental Policy

Insofar as this story has a climactic moment, it comes when KJI gives his speech to the assembled tour group at the end of the Tree Nursery tour:
   "Planting and caring for trees is a ten-thousand-year long-term job that can only be done by a true patriot. Short-sighted people who live only for today can’t do it correctly. We must broadly promote patriotic people to care for our forests… Our generation must further beautify the 3,000 li of beautiful landscape (삼천리금수강산) inherited from our ancestors, to pass down to future generations. To do that we must adapt the best trees for our land, properly manage our seedling crops, and develop tree varieties with the most economic value…  Comrades, let us promote national land protection work around the country to fill it with blue sky and fresh air, to make our mountains into a socialist fairyland of thick forests, giving golden mountains (황금산) and treasure mountains (보물산) to our next generation."
A deforested hillside in North Korea.
In this straightforward way the story communicates a new policy priority of reforestation. KJI is the principal character who communicates this priority, while KJU takes on the role of quietly vowing to implement it out of filial duty. In this way, an essential policy correction is repackaged as a continuation of a goal that the late leader had simply not had time to implement.

In his phone call after his father's death, KJU tells an emotional Kang,
   “Only those who possess true Kim Jong Il patriotism can carry out the work of land management. I say it all the time, but our General really was a great man who led with his heart and his feelings. We must learn from Kim Jong Il patriotism, the sacred patriotism of the General who devoted his life’s labor to the fatherland and the people. Let’s create the socialist fairyland that was his dying wish.”
In this passage, we can see that the Party is trying to draw a connection between patriotism and environmentalism, specifically tied to the new propaganda buzzword "Kim Jong Il patriotism." In this way, even as land management is promoted as a major new priority of KJU's, this is portrayed as carrying on the wishes of his predecessor KJI. "Kim Jong Il patriotism" was also a key buzzword in "Green Mountains, Green Fields."

KJI did in fact visit the Central Tree Nursery in October 2011, two months before his death. According to this archived article from Yonhap, he was accompanied by KJU as well as Jang Song Taek and Party Secretary Pak Do Chun.

This fascinating article from Scientific American includes one foreign delegation's impressions after a visit to the Central Tree Nursery.


“On Bringing about a Revolutionary Turn in Land Management to Meet the Demands of Constructing a Strong and Prosperous Socialist Country”

KJU’s 2012 treatise on land management was his first published work. It was published on April 27th, 2012 and distributed at the National Land Management Mobilization Conference (국토관리총동원운동열성자대회) on May 8thBefore this, the most recent major  statement on environmental policy was a 1984 speech by KJI on land management. 


Some sample text: 
  • “The land that can be brought under cultivation can be found everywhere. A man who strives to find reclaimable land and increase the area of the land under cultivation even by an inch is a genuine patriot.” 
  • “[A]fforestation and forest conservation are not on a proper track now. Many trees are planted every spring and autumn, but there is no marked improvement in the afforestation of the country. Many mountains in the country remain denuded of trees. In provinces there are not a few bare mountains even among the ones with the signboards reading, 'Forest Conservation,' 'Youth Forest' and 'Children’s Union Forest.' Measures should be taken by the Party and the state to promote afforestation and forest conservation.”
  • “We should take careful measures to prevent earth and sand from flowing into rivers and landslides from occurring. To this end, we should plant many trees along rivers and build stone terraces or buttresses where necessary.”
Here we observe an implied problem that trees that are being planted are subsequently disappearing. This could mean either that desperate people are cutting down new saplings, or that the trees are not taking root due to the North's persistent soil problems. This problem is not referenced in the above story, which speaks only of the resounding success of the national tree-planting mobilization.


Dams vs Trees

This is the second story we've seen which describes the problem of overenthusiastic dam construction felling trees and causing soil erosion and flooding. We can assume from this level of literary attention that something like this must have actually happened in the recent past, and the Party is trying to correct its workers' awareness through depictions in state fiction.

Recall that in "Morning of Departure" (2016), the main character was a dam construction brigade leader who faced prosecution from the Ministry of Justice for cutting down trees for the dam project. After saying he would "take responsibility" for the damage, he was excoriated by the Justice Ministry officer:
"Responsibility? What good is responsibility, when the forests are destroyed and the land is unusable? Look, if the reservoir overflows before the hillsides are repaired, they'll wash out and destroy the forest. How can you possibly take responsibility for such a disaster? Of course, if you finish this dam you'll be commended and promoted, but what of the damage you do to the poor mountains that can't speak for themselves?"
The brigade leader ended up remorsefully accepting a demotion, but the bigger problem of how to build dams without destroying forests was never resolved.

In this story, which was actually published two years earlier that "Morning of Departure," it appears that the deforestation caused by the dam construction actually did result in severe flooding, which ended up destroying the dam itself. The story conveys a dual message: that it was wrong to cut down trees to build dams, and that it was wrong to punish the environmental workers who protested the damage.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

"Gold Medal": Kim Jong Un teaches his athletes the power of positive thinking

North Korean athletes Kim Jŏng and Kim Hyŏk Chŏl compete
in the 2013 Table Tennis Mixed Doubles World Championship.
Src: Yahoo! News Singapore
"Gold Medal" (금메달) is a story by Han Jŏng Ah that appeared in the May 2017 issue of Chŏngrŏn Munhak. It tells the story of a mixed-doubles table tennis team and their coach as they prepare for the World Championships, with more than a little help from the Great Leader.

The plot is fairly standard, but the story demonstrates how the new prioritization of sports under KJU's leadership has to some degree supplanted the old priorities of film and the arts. It is also a good example of the use of military metaphors to describe non-military endeavors.

Most of all, this story is a prime example of how recent events (usually 4-7 years in the past) are re-interpreted via fiction in a way that reflects maximum glory on the Leader.

The Plot

The story opens with a familiar trope from North Korean fiction: The leader (KJU in this case) stops his motorcade on a country road to offer an elderly citizen a ride. Not realizing that she is in the presence of her Leader, the old woman airs her family laundry. She is headed to Pyongyang to fetch her granddaughter, Kim Yŏng, a table tennis player who recently failed spectacularly at the Pyongyang Invitational, before she can further embarrass her nation on the world stage. Without revealing his identity, KJU convinces her to return to her worried family, reassuring her that her granddaughter will soon be victorious.

The 4.25 Sports Club is most well-known for its soccer
team, but it includes many sports. It is named for the day
the KPA's predecessor was first formed.
Src: Choson Shinbo
The perspective shifts to Pyongyang, where Kim Chŏl Guk is the coach of the mixed-doubles table tennis team at the prestigious 4.25 Sports Club (4.25 체육단). His team consists of Kim Yŏng, a woman approaching 30 without marriage as she devotes herself to the goal of winning a championship, and Kim Hyŏk Chŏl, a married man with a 1-year-old son and a wife who has grown impatient for him to give up the life of a professional athlete and get a real job.

Coach Kim has been working with them on a radical new game strategy that messes with the traditional gender dynamics of mixed doubles; instead of having the female set up for the male's attack, he has them both attacking. Unfortunately this requires more physical stamina than his players have in them, and they suffer a humiliating defeat at the 2011 Pyongyang Invitational.

Even though his team has earned a place at the 2013 World Championships, they are getting on in years, and many of the other coaches argue that they should retire rather than face another humiliation on the world stage. Coach K is inclined to agree.

But then one day, on the lonely stretch of mountain road where he has his players doing strength training, he is met by none other than Kim Jong Un. Still in grief over the recent National Tragedy (the death of his father Kim Jong Il), the Leader nonetheless makes time to give the coach and his players a pep talk.

He says he just came from a visit to the front lines, and the athletes remind him of the soldiers he met there. Both are fighting to defend their homeland; one from military conquest, the other from humiliation in the eyes of the world.

After this pep talk, both coach and players attack their training with renewed vigor. Kim Yŏng and Kim Hyŏk Chŏl both ask to extend their training hours even beyond what they are already doing.

KJU speaks at the 4th Meeting of Secretaries of
Party Cells (제4차 세포비서대회) in January 2013
KJU's intervention goes beyond mere pep talks. At the 4th Meeting of Secretaries of Cells of the Korean Workers' Party, among all the other momentous new policies, KJU unveils a plan to boost all areas of sports in the country. He has top equipment sent to each athletic training center, including TVs and DVD players so that they can learn from recordings of leading world competitors and develop "Our-style Attack Methods."

He also has an aide personally deliver a record to Coach K, one that he says will surely inspire them to victory. It's a song the soldiers used to sing during the Fatherland Liberation War, "My Song from the Trenches" (전호속의 나의 노래).

With the world championships just months away, the athletes train hard against other players who mimic the features of leading foreign competitors. They get better and better. But still, Kim Yŏng's strength fails in the face of a strong attack from a male competitor.

Then just when Coach K's faith is ebbing low, he gets a call out of the blue from KJU. He has reviewed the tapes and identified the problem. Kim Yŏng's failure is not due to her advanced age, but rather a lack of spirit. The Leader notices that she starts out strong but loses all hope after a few mistakes.

KJU then makes a speech that I'm pretty sure is ripped verbatim from one of the Rocky movies, about how true champions are people who can get knocked down and get right back up again. He also tells the story of seven soldiers during the War who fought to the last man to defend a certain hill from the enemy. That last man? Kim Yŏng's grandfather.
North Korean champions on the medal stand at the 2013
World Table Tennis Championships in Paris.
Src: Sina 

At last the team takes the stage at the world championships in Paris. They make a gutsy comeback against Hong Kong in the semifinals before going on to beat South Korea in the finals.

The story lingers on the scene of the athletes saluting from atop the podium as their national flag flies high overhead and foreign sportscasters look on in uncomprehending awe.



Fact and Fiction

This story provides a good example of the limits on naming names of actual people in North Korean fiction. As this blog has noted many times before, with the exception of the Leader Kims, characters based on identifiable individuals are usually given pseudonyms. In this case, the actual athletes who won the mixed doubles table tennis event at the 2013 World Championships, Kim Jŏng and Kim Hyŏk Bong, are given the pseudonyms Kim Yŏng and Kim Hyŏk Chŏl respectively.

It's anyone's guess what the average North Korean reader makes of these name changes. By all accounts the two champions were feted with a lavish homecoming after their victory and are presumably household names. It seems impossible that anyone could mistake the characters for some other mixed doubles table tennis players who won gold at the World Championships in 2013.

Giving them pseudonyms perhaps allows the author some artistic license with the details of the players' lives; for instance, the real Kim Jŏng would have been only 22 when the story opens in 2011, not "approaching the summit of 30" (서른고개에 접어들고있었다) as the story has her, making her lack of marriage prospects and flagging strength more immediate concerns. But other facts about the player, like the fact that she is left-handed, are reflected accurately in the story.

Pak Yŏng Sun was a North Korean table tennis star in the 1970s.
Src: Choson Shinbo
Other, slightly more distant, sports figures are mentioned in the story by their real names: "Table tennis queens" Pak Yŏng Sun, Ri Bun Hui, and Yu Sun Bok, as well as track star Shin Kŭm Dan, speed skater Han Pil Hwa, and marathon runner Jŏng Sŏng Ok. All are mentioned in passing as examples of North Korea's dominance on the world sports stage in times past.

The story accurately states that the North Koreans played the strong Hong Kong team in the semi-finals, and that they lost the first three rounds before coming back to win in a stunning upset. It also mentions that they defeated the South Korean team in the finals, which had earlier defeated the "top-ranked" Chinese team. At the end, the story adds that the pair went on to win gold at the Asian Games the next year.

Choson Shinbo uploaded a video from Choson Central TV in 2015 in which you can see the real Kim Jŏng talking about how her mother encouraged her to play table tennis against her grandmother's wishes, how it felt to meet the Leader, and her relationship with her boyfriend. There is also a video of the real Kim Hyŏk Bong talking about his inspirations in the sport, how his career affects his marriage, and his hopes for his young son, as well as deflecting a pointed question about his relationship with teammate Kim Jŏng. They both confess to crying when they met the Leader, though they don't mention having ever met him before becoming world champions.

Athletes as War Heroes

The story hammers again and again at the theme that athletes are like soldiers fighting in a war. KJU diverts his motorcade to meet Coach K and his players with the words "Comrades, let's meet our warriors of the sports battlefield" (우리 체육전장의 전우들을 잠간 만납시다). Observing Coach K's glum look on the practice field, KJU jokes, "How grim is the commander's face before battle." When he meets the athletes he tells them,
   "When our people sent their sons and husbands to war, what did they hope for most? That even if they gave their lives, they would acquit themselves without shame before the nation.
   "You could say that sports are a battlefield without the sound of gunfire. There's no other arena where people come together in peacetime to compete for the right to fly their nation's flag and play their nation's song.
   "Athletes who compete at international championships are just like soldiers on the front lines defending their county. And so I think of you as my war comrades (전우) just the same as those soldiers defending our most forward outposts."
"War comrades" (전우) have a special meaning in North Korean propaganda as the only kind of common folk with a direct connection to the Leaders.

The players are amazed that KJU knows all the details of their family lives. He tells them, "Family bonds are what give our athletes their strength. During the Fatherland Liberation War, even when communications were at their worst, the Great Leader made sure to keep the mail cars running above all else."

He recalls that Kim Yŏng's grandmother mentioned that her husband died during the war defending a place called Chŏlbong pass, near Hill 1211. He tells them, "You have inherited the legacy of victory from the heroic soldiers of the Fatherland Liberation War."

At the Party Secretaries' Meeting, he tells the assembled KWP leaders: "The athletes who represent our country in international competition are just like soldiers fighting on a battlefield. Therefore you should treat their families just like KPA soldiers' families." Later Kim Yŏng is amazed to hear that the provincial authorities have been lavishing attention on her relatives "just as if they were a soldier's family" (후방가족과 같다).

Coach K, contemplating his players' sacrifices, thinks to himself: "Just as our soldiers fought for the day when they could stand proudly before their families wearing their medals, our athletes also fight as sons and daughters of the nation."


The Power of Positive Thinking

The other big message of this story is that if you can visualize victory in your mind, you will achieve it in real life. In his pep talk to the athletes, KJU says:
   "I just came from a forward outpost, and I was amazed by what I saw there. Those soldiers, even as they faced down the enemy, held the Dear General (KJI) in their hearts and were overflowing with faith in their victory.
   "The patriotism of the Dear General who gave his life for our nation has taught us this: that if we are firm in our faith, victory is certain. That is the wellspring of the strength of our people, who don't know the meaning of 'impossible.' Before technique, before physical strength, it is our faith in victory that allows us to win under any circumstances."
Through this pep talk, Coach K realizes what he was missing: he had lost faith that his athletes could win.

KJU also tells his athletes,
   "A gold medal is not just a symbol of being number one, it is like a gold brick in the fortress of our nation's psyche. The more gold medals we pile up, the stronger we will be in spirit. There is nothing stronger than a nation with a strong spirit.
   "In our history, our nation was strongest during the Koguryo Era, when martial spirit (상무기풍) was at its zenith.
   "Therefore athletes must develop their spirit alongside their physical skill." 
KJU leaves them with this parting thought: 
   "Our nation's history has been nothing but victory since the day of its founding, and we will continue to be victorious. But to win we must first have victory in our hearts.
   "When the Great Fatherly Leader organized his first platoon, even though it was tiny compared to the million-strong Japanese army, he already had a vision of his ultimate victory. And the Dear General,  even during the darkest days of the Arduous March, already foresaw a strong and prosperous nation and spared no expense investing in cutting edge technology.
   "Comrades, if we fight with the indomitable will of the Great Leader, we will surely be victorious."

New Emphasis on Sports

This story bears many of the hallmarks of past stories heralding the nation's achievements in the arts and sciences. One can clearly see how the new priority for sports achievement has been layered onto the same story format that was used in the past for artistic priorities like architecture and the mass games. The story also takes pains to explain how sports achievements will benefit the nation as a whole.

A new facility for the 4.25 gymnastics team, shown in 2018.
Src: Sogwang
In an early scene, Coach K remembers the late KJI visiting the 4.25 Sports Club syhortly before his death and giving the following speech:
   "In the near future our nation must achieve the status of a sport powerhouse. In order to do that, we must first promote events where we have a good chance of winning, before expanding to other sports. Table tennis is one of those events. After all, we've won two world championships in the past.
   "Sports are important to give our people pride and confidence in the task of socialist construction. With every victory our athletes achieve, our national status rises and our whole nation basks in the glory of victory."
The story takes pains to mention that it was KJI who first took an interest in the sports club and in
Coach K in particular before his death, and that KJU is just carrying through with his late father's wishes.

Later KJU is shown thinking to himself,
   Lately, as the military pressure and sanctions by the imperialist forces has thrown up barriers to our economic construction, some in the sports field have given in to defeatist thinking - suggesting limiting our delegations to championships and paring down the renovations of sports facilities.... But in hard times past, like the Chollima era and the time of the Arduous March, how many great sports figures emerged? ... All these victories were made possible by the victorious spirit passed down from the Great Leader through the anti-Japanese struggle and the Fatherland Liberation War. Without faith in the victory of our Revolution, our people would have no confidence. 
KJU views an archery demonstration
at the 4.25 Sports Club in 2013.
Src: UriDongpo
At the 4th Meeting of the Secretaries of Cells of the KWP, which was held a little over a year into KJU's reign and was one of the first publicly televised party meetings under his command, KJU delivers a speech to the assembled Party secretaries in which he says:
   "Sports aid our people's solidarity and sense of collective purpose.
   "A year ago, when I asked a local party secretary how the county electric grid was completed so quickly, he said it was through the power of athletics. It seemed he had led a rope-pulling team (바줄당기기, a traditional Korean sport) to victory in the regional championships. They'd always been dead last in the past, so that victory inspired everyone. In the end, the people of Sangan County learned that if they set their minds to it, they can accomplish anything (마음만 멀으면 못할 일이 없다).
   "And yet, there are some party secretaries who don't even know how many athletes from their province are on the national team."
In conclusion, KJU tells the Party secretaries to devote their energy to developing sports in all regions, and to treat athlete's families with as much respect as front-line soldiers' families.