Kim Jong Suk and the Search for a Usable Past

By | April 28, 2012 | 1 Comment

Kim Jong Suk, the mother of Kim Jong Il, hatless, and in idealized pose in the Chinese section of the International House of Friendship wax idol section, Pyongyang, April 2012 | Image and link via NK Leadership Watch

Kim Jong Suk and the Search for a Usable Past

by Adam Cathcart

In a long and bruising essay published last month, the historian Benjamin Korn rendered a fascinating verdict on countries that would look away from the awful truth of their collective past:

To look away is a kingly art. Louis the Fourteenth mastered it perfectly; every one of his glances smarted or lift one up, every batting of the eyelashes menaced, every look away could exterminate. The bourgeoisie have willingly taken up this royal tradition. No bourgeoisie — not the Americans, the Italians, or the Germans — can ignore things as masterly as can the French.

But for their ability to look away, the French can thank a single man who could not be conquered by death, more beautiful than Joan of Arc, more wondrous than Napoleon, more prayed to than the Holy Ghost and Holy Father himself, and worship even by the atheists: Charles de Gaulle.

For all time, de Gaulle gave French the ability to look away, rescuing them on a single day where he, carried in on the massive power of the American army, triumphally took the pose of the victor in Paris, and in his famous words placed the Lie on the table, that the French had, alone and of their own power, won the war, looking the truth in the face and destroying the notion that they had lost the war catastrophically, that the majority of them had collaborated with the Nazis, and could thank the armies of England, Canada, and the United States for their liberation.

The day had a date: it was August 25, 1944, and the upswinging and lyrical words (“Paris liberated! Liberated by its citizens, with the help of the French people, with the help of the French Army, the struggling France, the one France, the true France, the eternal France!”) entered history, but unfortunately they also went against a true recounting of events for the great majority of French people, placed a curtain between the present and the past and hampered the ability to look back. The day of victory was a low point for reflection. It speaks to a tradition of lies and forgetting, that seems unlikely to end.

Historical lies have very long legs (Geschichtsluege haben sehr lange Beine).  The most numerous of all the lies was to include France in the list of victorious powers.  Only the the losers brought people towards post-facto reflection; the victors spare themselves all the painful questions (schmerzliche Selbstbefragung) of themselves. Had France looked at its past with open eyes, its lowest point, worked on the questions of war crimes, its granting of wondrous qualities to Marshal Petain, analyzed its home-made anti-Semitism, then today, France would not have an electoral potential of 20 to 30% for the Front National.

[Benjamin Korn, “Das Grosse Schweigen: Die Kunst des Wegsehens und die Geschichtsluegen der Grande Nation [The Great Silence: The Art of Looking Away and the Historical Lies of a Great Nation],” Lettre International, Vol. 96 (April 2012): 29. (translation by Adam Cathcart)]

Tying together North Korean politics today with the politics of autumn 1945 would require a similar stretch — bold but perhaps necessary.

For more on Kim Jong Suk, see:

Michael Madden, “Kim Jong Suk Wax Statue Revealed,“NK Leadership Watch,April 25, 2012.

Kim Jong Suk Biography, Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Press, 2000.

Adam Cathcart, “Northern Border News,” SinoMondiale (blog), November 30, 2009.

N. Korean Regime’s Authority Challenged,” Chosun Ilbo, February 13, 2012.

Kim Jong Suk in army cap with mausers in hand

Photographic evidence of the regime doubling down on the Kim Jong Suk mythos in recent weeks

One Comment

  1. North Korea does not look away. 60 years inert and oppressed state made sure of this. She only wants peace, bizar how people see NK. Like she chose being treated like that for 60 years by couple of bad losers. Like she chose horrible treats, wardrills and embargo’s. Like behaviour is single cause North Korea. Forgetting and dissociation is mankinds biggest flaw, writer of this article proves it. Maybe idea looking at constant factor in this sum.

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