Within two days, news of a terrorist attack had spread far beyond my friend's apartment. At the time, we were told that a bombing in Burma had narrowly missed its target: the traveling South Korean president. In Pyongyang, nationwide rallies blamed an inside job by a rogue South Korean agent and, more broadly, the "American imperialists." Calls for the liberation of the South through revolutionary war were rampant. Only then could I guess at the reason for the commotion at my former student's place two nights before: His son had been informed of the operation ahead of the actual bombing in Burma and had written the news report in advance under the assumption that the operation would be a success. He assumed the South Korean president, as well as his entire entourage, would be dead. At his rank, our dinner host, my former student, not only would have known about the attack, he probably would have helped plan it.
In North Korea, there is a special unpublicized wing of the Communist Party called Bureau 3 that oversees all operations vis-à-vis the South. Another former student who works in Bureau 3 said that the director of a special team assigned to the Burma operation was dismissed suddenly. We later learned that he was demoted to party secretary at a small factory in the eastern coastal city of Sinpo for botching the secret mission of assassinating the South Korean president.
The Aung San terrorist bombing of Oct. 9, 1983, claimed the lives of 17 South Korean cabinet members, including Deputy Prime Minister Suh Suk Joon and Foreign Minister Lee Beom Suk. Fifteen more suffered major injuries. A year later, the Burmese government reported to the United Nations that the country had carried out the Aung San terrorist bombing and severed diplomatic relations with North Korea. I only learned those facts many years later, upon coming to Seoul. At the time, I was oblivious to the truth and was busy being summoned every day to rallies condemning the South Korean regime for the bombing.
Now, when I hear of tragic events on the peninsula, such as the incident in July in which a North Korean soldier shot and killed a 53-year-old tourist from the South, I think of the lies that the North must be telling its citizens. That is, if they hear anything at all.
THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY
Thirty years have passed since I last saw Kim Jong Il. Upon leaving Pyongyang, I spent some 10 years in South Korea. And now I am living in the United States, the land of my so-called mortal enemy.
A world away, I think of Kim often. Any day, I imagine he will be taken out by the single bullet of an aggrieved underling. Who could blame such a person? He has driven his people to starve to death. He is the only person in the country who enjoys basic freedoms and human rights. He has managed to shut the eyes, ears, and mouths of the North Korean people.
And yet, I hope that he does not meet such a tragic end. At times I pray for him. More than anything, I am saddened by how he has changed since that day we met so long ago. Sometimes, I even feel guilty, for I could claim to be indebted to his family. Because of his father's immense zeal for education, I studied for free and became a university professor.
Today, I remain optimistic. News of the outside world has been silently seeping into North Korea. Day by day, the number of people leaving the country grows. More than 10,000 North Koreans have resettled in South Korea, and tens of thousands hide in China. Try as Kim might to intimidate his people with guns and knives, they are abandoning him more and more. But even if he refuses to open North Korea's heavy and sturdy doors, the currents of history have grown strong enough to break them open like floodgates.
If Kim Jong Il ever realizes that opening up North Korea is in his interest, I will return to Pyongyang the very next day. I want to devise the best education system in the world based on my observations and experiences in Seoul and the United States. But I am already more than 75 years old. I can feel myself growing weaker by the day. Before I grow so infirm that my experiences become useless, I would love to meet Kim Jong Il one last time and give him one last lesson. I, who became a university professor thanks to his father; I, who traveled to Russia, Seoul, and now Washington. I no longer loathe him. I pity him. Even though he killed my family, I have already forgiven him.
For More Online
For a photo essay tracing the notorious and bizarre moments of Kim Jong Il's life, visit: ForeignPolicy.com/extras/kim.