And unless you already believe that DJ was a closet commie, Korea Betrayed might change the way you think, too.
Kirk, whose research of his subject is extensive, describes in detail how in his early life, DJ flirted with a number of leftist political organizations and unions, some of which were also linked to North Korea, but none of those associations necessarily linked DJ to the North Koreans. After all, North Korean troops almost shot DJ in 1950, and only the Incheon landings saved DJ from the firing squad.
Later on, however, Kirk tells of DJ’s friendship, in much later years, with a man who was almost certainly a North Korean spy:
His old friend Jung Tae Muk had gone to North Korea on a North Korean vessel in 1965, five years after his release from jail for pro-Communist activities, had undergone some training and returned to promote the election of Yun [Po Sun] as well as DJ. Jung met DJ in Mokpo and offered election advice but spurned DJ’s request to assist in his campaign. [Page 29]
I’d like to know more about just what “promotion” Jung was willing to offer, but what “assistance” he wasn’t. But this is far from the most damning thing Kirk writes about Kim Dae Jung. In the next chapter, I found an astonishing passage that discusses the founding of DJ’s overseas political organization, Hanmintong, after his effective exile to Japan in 1972, citing a 2002 report in the conservative and anti-DJ Monthly Chosun:
Returning to Japan, he opened the Hanmintong office there with the financial and moral support of the pro-North residents’ federation…. Pro-Pyongyang elements joined Hanmintong with strong support from pro-North residents in Japan. Their priority, driven by Pyongyang, was socialist revolution. Through the pro-North federation DJ and members of the group received regular infusions of funds covering hotel, living, and trevaling expense, including those incurred in the United States. Those who provided DJ with the money “were all spies from North Korea,” the Monthly Chosun wrote of the investigation.
Wondering whether Kirk was indeed referring to North Korea’s notorious Japanese front organization Chongryon, a/k/a Chosen Soren, I e-mailed Kirk for confirmation, which he provided. Kirk goes on:
Kim Dae Jung claimed to have been receiving donations from relatives and in-laws, including members of his wife’s extended family, business people, and one anonymous donor who contacted him through a mutual friend, and he said he had a complete accounting of how the money was spent. Kim Dae Jung’s pro-North contacts had assured him at the opening of the Hanmintong in Tokyo’s sumptuous Keio Plaza Hotel on July 13, 1973, that “many wealthy people” would “be willing to support” the group.
The Hanmintong organizers were referred to as “Viet Cong factions,” although it’s not clear whether this was in jest, whether this was how they referred to themselves, or how others referred to them. These events immediately preceded the South Korean government’s kidnapping and attempted murder of DJ, thus elevating him from the fringe to a living martyr. And whatever you may say about DJ and his associations — knowing even this — DJ continued his political activities in the face of more persecution.
The association with Chosen Soren, however, ought to be a legacy-killer. The most charitable characterization of Chosen Soren is that it is a cross between an organized crime syndicate and cult. Chongryon used to funnel millions of dollars in remittances, drug money, and pachinko revenues to North Korea each year. It encouraged thousands of ethnic Koreans to emigrate to North Korea, where they were effectively robbed of their assets and put under exceptionally close surveillance by the regime. Japan tolerated this for years, but Chosen Soren’s suspected involvement in the kidnappings of Japanese citizens to train North Korean spies finally provoked the Japanese government to bring down the hammer and strip Chosen Soren of its tax-exempt status. But even all of this disregards Chosen Soren’s role in the financing the slavery of millions more, slavery that Kim Dae Jung conspicuously failed to denounce and did much to perpetuate with South Korean taxpayer funds, some of them transferred illegally.
Say what you will about DJ — the man repaid his debts.
Chosen Soren today is a pale shadow of what it was in the 1970’s and 1980’s when it played a major role in boosting Kim Dae Jung to the presidency of South Korea. But the idea that DJ allowed himself to accumulate a political and financial debt to such a repellent organization is a scandal — not just because DJ could be elected President in spite of this, but because those associations were mentioned in almost none of the reporting of Kim Dae Jung or his legacy.
I should note that I’m not even halfway through Kirk’s book yet, mostly because of competing demands on my time. By the way, if you live in the Washington, DC area, Kirk will appear at the Center for Strategic and International Studies to discuss his book on January 5th, at 2:00.