Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader North Korea and the Kim Dynasty

Bradley K. Martin

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

896 Pages



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This unprecedented study offers detailed portraits of North Korea's two ruthless and bizarrely Orwellian leaders, Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il: a father-son team of megalomaniacs. In so doing, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader fully documents a culture, society, political structure, economic history, and national hierarchy—the seven-decade development of an entire country—that will fascinate and perhaps confound Western students and scholars.

To North Koreans, we find, the Kims are more than just leaders. Kim Il-Sung is the country's leading novelist, philosopher, historian, educator, designer, literary critic, architect, general, farmer, and ping-pong trainer. Radios in North Korea are manufactured so that they can only be tuned to the official state frequency. Newspapers are filled with endless columns of Kim speeches and propaganda. And instead of Christmas, North Koreans celebrate Kim's birthday—during which he presents each child with a present, just like Santa.

The regime that the Kim Dynasty has built remains technically at war with the United States nearly fifty years after the armistice that halted actual fighting in the Korean War. This engrossing, well-researched, and complete history, the work of a widely respected journalist, draws on a great deal of source material that has only recently become available (some from archives in Moscow and Beijing), and thus brings us all the way up to the tensions behind today's headlines. Defectors say Kim Jong-Il now has—in addition to nuclear bombs—enough chemical weapons to wipe out the entire population of South Korea. Under the circumstances, Martin cautions, negotiation is far more promising than the highly risky alternative of forcible regime change.


Praise for Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader

"Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader is, from all I have read, simply the best book ever written about North Korea. Relying largely on extensive interviews with defectors, Martin portrays North Korean life with a clarity that is stunning, and he captures the paradoxes in North Korean public opinion."—Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Review of Books

"Successfully combines history, society, travel writing, and political analysis in a way that makes it totally readable . . . Must be the most comprehensive single-volume English language book ever written on North Korea . . . Overall, Bradley Martin has written a truly remarkable book, one that should be read by anyone even remotely interested in North Korea."—Yoel Sano, Asia Times

"Cracking the cocoon of secrecy and propaganda surrounding North Korea is not a job for the faint of heart. Yet somehow Martin, a former Newsweek bureau chief, has pulled it off, presenting a scrupulously detailed, intimate portrait of the Kims, the world’s only communist dynasty. He deconstructs the mythologized biographies of the father-and-son leaders, taking us inside their family feuds, harems, and fortified villas."—Christian Caryl, Newsweek

"The most comprehensive and detailed look yet at the nation-sized theme park of Kim World is Bradley's Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader. Mr. Martin paints a portrait of a national horror show demonstrating how ruthless, effective, and evil men can oppress their neighbors . . . it reads like a medieval court, the Ottoman sultanate, or imperial China . . . The book paints a vast canvas of what must be as close as possible to hell on earth, other than in the very midst of war."—Doug Bandow, The Washington Times

"Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader is a rich and rewarding book that anyone interested in this strange Leninist vestige should read. The sensational extravagance of the leadership; the dreadful sufferings of the common people; the ludicrous personality cults thrown up by both Kims; Kim Jong-il's need for nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles (his possession of the later is certain, of the former highly probable); the systematic destruction of normal life and language in North Korea—all this is laid out here for inspection. If I may be permitted a book reviewer's cliché: I couldn’t put it down . . . By sheer relentless accumulation of detail, Martin succeeds here in giving us a full portrait of the Kims and their filthy little tyranny."—John Derbyshire, National Review

"Bradley Martin . . . portrays North Korea as a failed state with a dangerous weapon, but he explores as well the mentality of Mr. Kim and of his father, Kim Il-Sung, whose leadership from 1948 to 1994 did so much to seal North Korea's fate. Kim Il-Sung, Mr. Martin reminds us, once wrote: 'One is pleased to see the bugs die in a fire even though one's house is burned down.'"—Gordon G. Chang, The Wall Street Journal

"It is often said that North Korea is the most puzzling country in the world. It is a difficult place to visit. The few journalists who make it there don't have the freedom to interview anyone they want. Its archives are not open to scholars. This does not mean, however, that no information is available on North Korea. It just requires a little bit more digging and interpreting. For the last three decades, veteran journalist Bradley Martin has been compiling his notes drawn from four trips to North Korea, patient scrutiny of official publications, and interviews with numerous defectors. His book Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, an immense and detailed examination of North Korean history and politics, integrates much of the recent scholarship on the country and adds some new pieces to the puzzle . . . The picture of North Korean society that emerges from the narrative is far more thorough and detailed than the usual monochromatic depiction of a monolithic state."—John Feffer, Korean Quarterly

"A careful, penetrating analysis of North Korea . . . Martin has rendered a considerable service to us all."—David Halberstam

"This brilliant, important book takes us inside the most closed society and political regime on the planet. With elegance, insight, and an eye for strange and absurd detail, the author paints a revealing, often eerie portrait of this mysterious realm . . . Like Orville Schell's penetrating studies of China under Mao, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader is destined to become a classic of Asian Studies. Absorbing and full of surprises, the book brings to life the frighteningly weird Kim Jong-Il and a country whose future may well be cataclysmic."—Dingbat Magazine

"This massive study of North Korea embraces its political and economic history over the last 70 years; the lives of its leaders, Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il; its diplomatic relations with South Korea, Japan, China, and the United States since 1945; its current crises regarding nuclear weapons and food shortages; and memories of the author's [visits there] . . . Martin, a former bureau chief for the Baltimore Sun, the Asian Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek, has much to offer [and] the discerning reader can gain much from this work."—Library Journal

"A sharp-eyed look at a cold and hungry outpost of the Axis of Evil. Former Newsweek bureau chief Martin first traveled to North Korea in 1979, and what he found was a near-religious cult of personality centered on the person of Kim Il-Sung, known variously as the Great Leader, Fatherly Leader, Respected and Beloved Leader, and so on, a partial listing of whose reputed achievements 'would have aroused the envy of a Leonardo da Vinci or Thomas Jefferson.' And of a Priapus: as Martin writes [here], Kim and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il apparently each take seriously the notion of being the father of their country, each setting aside great numbers of women for personal service. The list of special favors continues on and on: as his country descended ever deeper into poverty and famine in the late 1990s, Kim Jr. 'kept a 10,000-bottle wine cellar and liked shark's fin soup several times a week,' hosting banquets that lasted for days on end; when Kim Sr. reached his 70th birthday, his son ordered the construction of a commemorative version of the Arc de Triomphe, 'larger than the Paris original,' just one of the many monuments built in a program that would be a major drain on the country's economy. But no matter: the Kims, Martin writes, have created a command economy par excellence as part of the exceptionalist doctrine called juche, which means something like 'national self-reliance' but really translates to something like Great-Leader-first. As for whether the bizarre Kim Jr.'s North Korea is a threat, Martin suggests that the nation's nuclear arsenal should give the world pause. But, he adds, that doesn't seem to be stopping Asian companies from 'teaming their capital with the cheap labor of the North, where workers for foreign-invested joint ventures earned $100 to $400 a month' . . . [Martin] offers much good information along the way about a decidedly strange and dangerous land."—Kirkus Reviews

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Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader
ONETo the City of the God-KingReading about the personality cult of the North Korean leader had not fully prepared me for what I found when I arrived in Pyongyang in April 1979, as a member of the first large contingent of Americans to visit since the Korean War. Since I was encountering an economy and society almost unimaginably different from any I had known, the stay was full of surprises. But next to the astonishing all-pervasiveness of leader-worship the rest seemed mere detail.Everyone sprinkled his speech with straight-faced references to "our
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  • Bradley K. Martin

  • Bradley K. Martin has covered Korea and other parts of Asia as a journalist for more than a quarter century and has worked as bureau chief for The Baltimore Sun, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and Asia Times (for which he wrote a "Pyongyang Watch" column). He has made five reporting trips to North Korea, a degree of access to the secretive country that few American journalists can match. He currently is based in Tokyo as a senior writer and Asia correspondent for Bloomberg Marketing magazine.
  • Bradley K. Martin