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Like grandfather, like grandson.

Byline: Song Nai Rhee For The Register-Guard

History is repeating itself in North Korea.

On Aug. 3, 1953, just a few days after the Korean War had ended, Kim Il-sung, the president of North Korea, arrested and imprisoned Park Heon-yeong, the country's second highest-ranking official as the vice president and the minister of foreign affairs, for being "an agent of America and plotting to overthrow the government."

Following two years of torture and deprivation, Park Heon-yeong was "tried" by a special military tribunal of North Korea's highest court, controlled by Kim Il-sung's loyal followers, and was sentenced to death.

A lack of evidence to prove Park's "guilt," however, had international repercussions - especially in Moscow, which had long maintained a friendly relationship with Park and actively sought to save his life. Kim Il-sung, therefore, ordered his Interior Ministry to search for "clear and irrefutable evidence" to justify the death sentence already pronounced.

A frantic, seven-months-long search, however, turned up nothing. On July 19, 1956, an impatient Kim Il-sung shouted to his subordinates, "I don't care about the evidence. Kill him immediately, tonight!"

That night Park Heon-yeong, the founder of the Korean Communist Party and a founding member of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), was executed. He was 56 years old.

Kim Il-sung and Park Heon-yeong had been intimate allies. They planned the Korean War together, and the spring of 1950 discussed their war plans with Josef Stalin and other Soviet leaders in Moscow. They were confident that with Soviet assistance they would unify the Korean peninsula quickly under the communist flag.

But he lost the war, which ended with his cities in ashes and millions of his people dead or wounded. Kim Il-sung faced the gravest crisis of his life. Complaints about the disastrous war rumbled, and he feared arrows being pointed at him from all sectors of North Korea - including his party officials, soldiers, and the angry public.

To survive the crisis, Kim Il-sung desperately needed a scapegoat, and he chose Park Heon-yeong. The North lost the war, he declared, because Park provided critical information to American troops as their double agent.

And now history repeats.

On Dec. 8, Kim Jong Un, Kim Il-sung's grandson and the current No. 1 official of North Korea, had Jang Song Thaek, North Korea's No. 2 official, publicly arrested. He was imprisoned on charges of corruption, profiteering, anti-party activities and plotting to overthrow the government, along with other "crimes." Four days later, following a "trial" by a special military tribunal, Jang was executed.

Jang studied economics at the elite Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang, where he met and fell in love with Kim Kyeong-hui, Kim Il-sung's daughter. That connection helped Jang's ascendency, ultimately elevating him to the position of vice chairman of the National Defense Commission during Kim Jong-il's reign, and as such the No. 2 official of North Korea.

Upon Kim Jong-il's death on Dec. 17, 2011, Kim Jong Un succeeded his father as the No. 1 official in North Korea - just as Kim Jong-il had succeeded his father, Kim Il-sung. Jang acted as the guardian and adviser to his young and untested nephew.

Throughout much of the following year, Jang acted as North Korea's main representative to China, promoting bilateral economic relations - including the establishment of a dozen joint economic development zones throughout North Korea. Along the way, he reportedly emphasized economic development over military spending, and even objected to North Korea's nuclear testing.

Jang's preoccupation with economic development was in keeping with the ambitious "Building a Powerful and Prosperous Nation" plan launched by Kim Jong-il in 1998 as North Korea's survival strategy. The plan called for strengthening North Korea's ideology of self-reliant socialism and its military power, and on the foundation of these two it would be transformed into an economically prosperous nation.

The year of 2012 was proclaimed as the beginning of the third objective: economic prosperity. The government promised that as its economy improved rapidly, the people would start having abundance of food, housing, clothes and other material goods.

After two years, however, life in North Korea has become more miserable than ever before. Most people continue to be plagued with a sky-high inflation, malnutrition, disease, and scarcities of medicine and other essential goods. With little or no foreign reserves and capital, the North Korean economy has hit rock bottom.

In desperation, increasing numbers of North Koreans are trying to escape their country. A new popular song, "The Powerful and Prosperous Nation Is a Fanciful and Daydreaming Nation," intended to taunt Kim Jong Un and the government, is spreading among the people. For their miseries, people are faulting Kim Jong Un's immaturity, inexperience and incompetence.

To deflect and redirect the arrows pointed at him, the grandson needed a scapegoat - just as his grandfather did 60 years earlier. The people are suffering, he declared through the judgment of the special military tribunal, because of Jang Song Thaek's greed, profiteering, squandering of the national treasury for personal luxury and selling out natural resources to foreigners, among other offenses.

Of his three sons, Kim Jong-il chose Kim Jong Un to succeed him because he most resembled his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, in physical appearance. He wanted the people to believe that Kim Il-sung, worshipped by many North Koreans as a hero, a savior and even a deity, became incarnate in the form of Kim Jong Un to begin a new day of prosperity.

Since he became No. 1, Kim Jong Un has made every effort to look like his grandfather not only in his hairstyle but in mannerism. He is reported to have undergone facial surgeries to look just like his grandfather. And indeed, he is just like his grandfather, even in the blame game.

But the grandson has exceeded the grandfather in brutality. While Kim Il-sung had Park Heon-yeong killed with a pistol in secret in the dark of night, Kim Jong Un had Jang Song Thaek machine-gunned in public in broad daylight, shredding his body, to the utter horror of onlookers.

The grandfather's blame game worked. He established himself as the unshakable supreme leader, primarily because of North Korea's rapid economic recovery in the 1950s. From 1953 to 1960, the North Korean economy grew much faster than that of the south. North Korea's economy grew at an annual rate of 30 percent during the three-year plan of 1954-56, and 21 percent during the five-year plan of 1957-1961. Life was better in the north than in the south in those years, and many North Koreans looked upon Kim Il-sung as their hero.

The outcome of the grandson's blame game is uncertain because of the menacing clouds hovering over the north's plan to become a powerful and prosperous nation.

It has become militarily strong through its all-out effort to become a nuclear power, but the military build-up has incurred the wrath of the international community, chasing foreign investors away. Also, King Jong Un's unprecedented brutality in the killing of his own uncle has left an indelible impression of disgust on the mind of many - even among North Koreans accustomed to their government's harsh actions.

Jang Song Thaek, some say, was a beacon in the darkness, seeking to help North Korea free itself from its totalitarian grips and follow the path of China in economic liberalization. In killing him, Kim Jong Un may have killed the goose that laid the golden egg.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint; History repeats itself in North Korea, but this year's brutal execution could prove to be a desperate failure
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 29, 2013
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