Thursday, April 14, 2022

Review of "The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and the Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom," by Blaine Harden

 Review of

The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and the Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom, by Blaine Harden, ISBN  9780670016570

Five out of five stars

How the North Korean state came into being

 No Kum Sok, later known as Kenneth Rowe after he came to America, is best known as the North Korean fighter pilot that flew his plane to an airfield in South Korea and defected, plane and all. It is a wonder that he was not shot out of the sky, it was his good fortune that the American and South Korean air defenses were inadequate to the task of defending their airspace. While this is his story, the most interesting history is that of Great Leader Kim Il Sung and how he managed to beat the odds and rule North Korea. He also managed to create what is the only hereditary absolute monarchy left on Earth.

 In the Second World War, Kim Il Sung was a relatively minor commander of a Korean partisan group that fought the occupying Japanese forces. While he saw combat, the action was not distinguished. Eventually, Kim Il Sung became one of the leaders of the Korean Communist Party and a favorite of Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin.

 When the war ended suddenly and something had to be done with Korea, it was agreed in haste that it would be divided at the 38th parallel into the Soviet controlled North and Allied controlled south. Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee both wanted the same thing, for Korea to be unified. However, each one wanted to rule the united pieces. Sung was the one that attacked first.

 The story of how Kim Il Sung ruthlessly gained absolute power and launched a war of attempted reunification is fascinating. It is also a lesson in power politics how the leaders of the two superpowers acted during the Korean War. To Joseph Stalin, the Koreans were simply expendable pawns in his rivalry with the United States and her allies. It pleased him that the North Koreans and Chinese were killing Americans and vice versa. The Americans also cared little for Korean lives as well. It is no secret, but little mentioned in the history books that the United States carpet bombed all the population centers in North Korea with no concern for the level of civilian casualties. It is this collective memory that the North Korean leaders have used to create the national paranoia they need to survive.

 It is also mentioned that many of the U.S. air force fighter pilots achieved their status as an ace by invading Chinese air space and attacking unsuspecting North Korean pilots there. This was of course a violation of American law and the U. N. mandate.

 This is a great book, even though it has two stories, one fascinating and the other just interesting. How Kim Il Sung managed to stay in power despite colossal mistakes and the near total destruction of his country is amazing. He managed to play the Soviets, Chinese and the Eastern block countries into letting him remain in power and finance the rebuilding of his country. The less interesting story is that of the defecting pilot No Kum Sok.

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