On Kim Yong-gyu’s
“The Secret Teachings of Kim Il Sung”
B.R. Myers

In 1998 the former North Korean operative Kim Yong-gyu, who was then working at a research institute in South Korea, put out a 36-page paper entitled “Kim Il Sung’s Secret Teachings in Regard to Operations Against the South” (Kim Il-sŏng ŭi taenam kongjak kwallyŏn pimil kyosi).

The following year Kim Yong-gyu’s Silent War (Sori ŏmnŭn chŏnjaeng) appeared. A lightly fictionalized account of the business of recruiting South Koreans, escorting them back and forth to the North, and so on, the book is all the more credible for being, for the most part, a very dull and repetitive read. The author’s publisher chose not to advertise it at all, presumably for fear of annoying the Kim Dae Jung administration.

Frustrated and worried by the Sunshine-naivety of the time, Kim Yong-gyu allowed the conservative monthly Pukhan (North Korea) to make the Pimil kyosi known to a wider audience in October 2001. Japan’s Sankei serialized it in 2004.

If Kim Yong-gyu is to be believed, the Pimil kyosi consist of things Kim Il Sung said at different times and places in regard to anti-ROK activities. For the most part they deal with the recruitment of potentially useful South Koreans: what sort of people to sidle up to, and how best to go about it.

This is allegedly from a talk given in April 1974 to the relevant officials:

If you’re going down to south Korea nowadays and want to know the best place to infiltrate, the answer is the church. One can get into any churches without a resume or a letter of guarantee, and anyone can win people’s trust if he goes walking busily around with a bible at his side, making big donations.

Having won trust and ingratiated oneself in this way, one need only skillfully throw out some bait in order to gain hold of any number of priests and pastors. It all depends on how our operatives properly exploit the current conditions in south Korea.

On conservative networks like Channel A or TV Chosun, I occasionally hear panelists taking the Pimil kyosi at face value in connection with so-called “North-obeying” figures in various walks of South Korean life: “This is just what Kim Il Sung called for in his secret teachings.”

What first caught my eye were the (very few) parts related to nuclear weapons, because I have long argued that the ultimate goal of the current nuclear program is unification — which is not to say that the regime is planning a nuclear attack.

Kim Il Sung is alleged to have said in January 1968, before the party’s military committee:

When it comes to developing a nuclear missile, we do not lack the theory [i’ron, here in the sense of know-how]; the problem is the equipment, meaning the funds.

And in November that same year, in conversation with scientists in Hamhung:

We have no choice but to drive the Yankees out of south Korea. We have to prepare for war, under the understanding that someday we will certainly have to fight the US once again. What must be hurried more than anything is the acquisition of a means with which to strike American territory. You comrades must engage in active development as soon as possible, so that we can produce our own nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

And in April 1974, to government officials in Pyongyang:

There are various ways of making the Yankees disengage from south Korea. In the worst case, we can wage all-out war, but to prepare for such a time we need to acquire the means to strike American territory.

In the history of world wars [the world’s wars?] up to now, innumerable wars [sic] big and small have been waged, but there wasn’t one in which the Yankees were not involved, and because they were all fought elsewhere, not a single shell ever fell on American territory.

What would happen if a bomb were to fall on it? …. That’s why the Yankees are most afraid of our developing a long-range missile.

I gave the task of developing the No. 101 to the defense science institute for no other reason. If we conduct a test launch of the No. 101 before long, the Yankees’ attitude will change 180 degrees.

The ellipsis is in the Korean version by the way. That bit about wars, the first part of which may well have been misremembered or mistranscribed, reads:

지금까지 세계전쟁 역사에는 크고 작은 전쟁이 수없이 벌어져 왔지만 미국놈들이 개입되지 않은 전쟁이 없고, 그전쟁이 모두 다른 지역에서 벌어졌기 때문에 미국 본토에는 포탄 한발 떨어진 적이 없습니다.

The big question is whether Kim Yong-gyu’s account of the provenance of the kyosi can be believed, especially considering the timing of and apparent motivation for their publication. I can never understand why people who lied for a living should be considered unimpeachable sources of information the moment they switch sides. (This applies also to the statements of T’ae Yŏng-ho now being taken for gospel truth in some quarters.)

A former chief of ROK intelligence has been quoted as saying:

“Kim Il Sung’s ‘secret teachings’ are not put to paper but are instead conveyed orally” and “the content consists of teachings that anti-ROK operatives have in their heads when they come down, and then reveal during the ROK intelligence service’s interrogation process.” He said that “North Korea is ruled in accordance with the secret teachings. Kim Jong-il didn’t deviate an inch from them, and Kim Jong Un is the same.” (A former head of ROK intelligence, quoted in Monthly Chosun, January 2014, 198.)

I am tempted to content myself with that. But I can hardly fault Western historians for swallowing things like Kim’s alleged speeches from the 1930s, and then accept any old grist for my own mill.

The question of whether the man himself imparted these inner-track teachings (as I would prefer to call them) is both unanswerable and not very important. Many of Kim’s earliest “works” were known to have been either party reports that he put his name on, or the product of aides who, with his blessing, ordered and fleshed out his impromptu remarks. Since the second great burgeoning of the personality cult in 1967, Kim has often been quoted as saying things not contained in his collected works.

It’s possible that DPRK intelligence attributed these instructions to Kim only to keep operatives in the field from second-guessing their superiors.

There can be no doubting the ability of highly disciplined and intelligent people to commit dozens of pages of text to memory. What I find harder to believe is that the regime in Pyongyang would stuff operatives’ heads with so many rambling and often overlapping chunks of text, complete with inconsequential details of the time and venue of the various talks, instead of issuing only succinct, precise and operative-specific orders. If it were a matter of lending weight to the orders, DPRK intelligence could simply have quoted or faked some Leader statement about the importance of following them to the letter.

Surely the possibility of capture and torture would have further discouraged the inculcation of strings of instructions explicitly attributed to the leader himself. It all seems incompatible with the “need to know” principle. This goes especially for the missile stuff, which no field operative had any reason to memorize — or certainly no reason strong enough to outweigh the risk of the enemy’s learning about the DPRK’s ambitions.

Other factors, however, make me feel there is something to the Pimil kyosi. Both the tone and the practical intelligence on display throughout line up with the Kim Il Sung we encounter in East Bloc accounts — a very different Kim from the teller of windy Juche platitudes.  Also, the rough dates attached to the missile-related statements are at least in broad keeping with some of the things he said to allies between 1968 and 1980 about the need to drive the Americans out of the peninsula.

Numerous remarks in the Pimil kyosi seem to me far too critical of South Korean politics and society — too perceptively critical — to have been cooked up by Kim Yong-gyu or the pre-Sunshine ROK authorities purely for propaganda effect. There is talk of the rampant corruption in South Korean society, of the Park regime’s brutality and lack of legitimacy, even talk of Park’s communist past. And indeed, this content was not made widely known before the Kim Dae Jung era.

Perhaps it would be best if Korean-reading scholars conducted a philological examination of the complete text in cooperation with Cold War scholars who know the East Bloc archives. A big step toward establishing authenticity would be the discovery of very similar statements made by Kim Il Sung to foreign diplomats at the time in question. A step in the opposite direction would be finding clashes between the rough dates of the instructions and Kim Il Sung’s known whereabouts at home or abroad.

In the meantime, it’s enough to keep in mind that this source is taken seriously by a significant part of South Korea’s expert community. We don’t need to prove its authenticity in order to argue that the ultimate goal of North Korea’s nuclear program is unification and not mere security from US attack; there is no shortage of published inner-track propaganda that hammers home this very point. The unpleasant truth will force itself upon the outside world soon enough — at the latest when that nuclear program is complete, and the regime moves to the next stage of negotiating a grand bargain. This is almost certain to involve demands for the withdrawal of US troops.