Be Skeptical of These Claims by the Late Kim Jong-il


Kim Jong-il is dead, and I don’t hear any mourning.  What I have heard, however, over the course of many years, are fantastic claims that he had made about himself and his abilities.  Let us take a few minutes and look back at those claims, shall we?

He was North Korea’s pint-sized dictator and as such was a master of propaganda and social manipulation.  He also apparently suffered from insecurity, delusion, and severe OCD.

Here are some “facts” about Kim Jong il, as reported by the  international media. The word “facts” is in quotes because some of the items on the list are examples of propaganda that Kim used to brainwash his citizens into maintaining his almost god-like image.  Others are just crazy enough to be true.

“Fact” 1 :   He had a “supernatural” birth – According to North Korean historical literature, Kim Jong-il was born in a log cabin inside a secret base on Korea’s most sacred mountain, Mt. Paekdu. At the moment of his birth, a bright star lit up the sky, the seasons spontaneously changed from winter to spring, and rainbows appeared. This contradicts way less interesting Western accounts of his birth, which state the dictator was born in a guerrilla camp in Russia, while his father was on the run from the Japanese.  As he grew older, the rumor spread that his mood could control the weather.  As you might imagine, North Korean textbooks are very Kim-centric.  School children were taught that Kim does not produce urine or feces like a regular human. He transcends that.

“Fact” 2:  He was loved the world over – According to the state-run North Korean media, Kim Jong-il was the most prominent statesman in the  world, and people in countries the whole planet over celebrate his birthday with films and festivals.  In reality, most nations were confused and annoyed by his erratic foreign policy decisions on important issues such as N. Korea’s nuclear program.

“Fact” 3:  He was the best natural golfer in history – In 1994 news organizations in Pyongyang reported on the opening of the first ever golf course in the communist nation of North Korea. “Dear Leader”, as he enjoyed being called, had never played before but he wanted to give it a try.  Turns out he was by far the best natural golfer ever known to human-kind.  He reportedly shot 38 under par on the regulation 18 hole golf course.  That is 25 shots better than the best round in history.  Oh, did I mention that his score included no fewer than 5 holes in one?  It did.  All seventeen of his bodyguards who witnessed the event swear to the authenticity of this story.

“Fact” 4:  He invented the hamburger – Any influences from American society have long ago been banned in North Korea.  This let Mr. Kim free to invent all kinds of “new” items and claim them as his own.  One of his more popular ideas was a food item that he called the “double bread and meat”.  On this side of reality we call it a hamburger.  He said he developed this “meat on a bun” sandwich to ensure quality nutrition to university students.  There is still no word on if he had a hand in the development of beer, or as he might have called it “carbonated amber inhibition reducing fluid”.


From the just crazy enough to be true files:  The following items are true.  You can’t say Mr. Kim didn’t live large.


Fact 5:  He once kidnapped a prominent director to film a Godzilla movie for him – True.  Shin Sang-ok, a South Korean filmmaker, was kidnapped under the orders of Kim Jong-il, sent to prison, and eventually forced to make a film called Pulgasari that was basically a communist propaganda version of Godzilla.  By all accounts the film  was terrible, but Kim loved it, and wanted to make a sequel. In 1986, he began working on a deal with an Austrian film company to distribute that film, and took Shin to go meet with them in Vienna. In Vienna, he managed to escape, and, after a taxi chase with some of Kim’s bodyguards, Shin found safety in the American embassy.  He later made his way to the United States where he made a movie staring Hulk Hogan and Jim Varney.

Fact 6:  He had disabled and short people deported from his capital – In preparation for the World Festival of Youth and Students in 1989, Kim Jong-il had disabled residents removed from Pyongyang.  Mr. Kim was at most 5′ 3″ tall even with platform shoes and bouffant hair.  He hated his short stature and disliked short people in general.  He had governmental officials distribute pamphlets advertising a wonder drug that would increase the height of short people.  Those who responded to the pamphlets were sent away to different uninhabited islands along with the disabled in an attempt to rid the next generation of their supposedly substandard genes.

Fact 7:  At one time Kim was the world’s biggest buyer of Hennessy – True.  Back in the early 1990′s Hennessy, the makers of fine cognac, stated that indeed Kim Jong-il was its best customer, spending about $600,000 to $850,000 annually on the liquor.  He was partial to the Paradis cognac, which can sell for over $700 per bottle. In comparison, the average North Korean makes about $1000 per year.

Fact 8:  He built a city that was made just to be looked at –  This is true.  The city of Kijong-Dong is very real, but it isn’t exactly a typical city.  It is a propaganda city that was originally built in the 1950s by Kim Jong-il’s father right on the border between the two Koreas; this was to display the North’s superiority to the South and also to encourage people to defect.  The city has no actual residents, but an extensive effort has been put forth to simulate a functioning city, including lights on set timers, and street sweepers to create an illusion of activity. Surveillance has revealed that the units lack window glass, and some buildings are just concrete shells that don’t even have interior rooms. The city also houses the world’s largest flagpole, complete with a 300lb. North Korean flag.

At first, on national television Mr. Kim’s cause of death was described as being from  physical and mental over-work. It was later revealed that he had an acute myocardial infarction.  Now the world sits and waits to see who will be the next “Dear Leader”.


Eleven Craziest Kim Jong-il Moments –

The Official Webpage of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) –

Birthday Praise for North Korea’s Kim – CNN International

Two Minute Bio:  Kim Jong-il – Time Online

A Nation of Racist Dwarfs – Slate


About Guy McCardle

Guy McCardle is an American science writer and skeptic. He is a certified Infection Prevention Specialist and served proudly as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps during Operation Iraqi Freedom. A devoted father and husband, he offers his unique viewpoints regarding science and the public interest.
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10 Responses to Be Skeptical of These Claims by the Late Kim Jong-il

  1. Denis Solaro says:

    Hi Guy, thanks for the article. The story of Shin Sang-ok is known to Bmovies lovers. The abduction is Sang-ok’s own declaration once he ran away from North Korea and try to get asylum in the US. At the time South Korea was also a dictatorship with a military junta that was controlling everything as well, there was no democracy there as well but at least it was on our side of the political chess play. Sure it wasn’t North Korea but it’s more likely that Shin Sang-ok, a leftist student then, went of his own will to North Korea thinking it would be a left wing paradise, only to be disappointed and told the story for the abduction later. The movie is well known but it’s not as entertaining as the japanese Gamera franchise, rather boring.

  2. Guy McCardle says:

    Hello Denis,

    I hadn’t heard the “Shin might have come to the North of his own accord” story. Interesting. I’d be interested in seeing the movie he made for Kim. Thanks for writing.

    The Inconvenient Truth

  3. Denis Solaro says:

    About that minor detail it’s contested. Some say there is no way he could have applied for a US visa if he willingly defected to North Korea and that he was being suspected and investigated by the southern gvt of the time. Some others support the abduction idea since there were many actual real cases with some done in Japan. It will be an interesting point to clarify and I should try to find that book the director wrote.
    But anyhoo, thank you again for that article Guy!

  4. Ken Blan says:

    Don’t be too hard on the guy. Ater all, Al Gore invented the internet!

    • Max says:

      Don’t be too hard on Kim Jong-il because Republicans deliberately distorted what Al Gore said? Say what?

      • someone says:

        Funny, no matter how you interpret what he actually said it is BS. NO matter what support he gave in spending US taxpayer’s money in the development of what became the internet, he did not “build that”. He said he “created the internet”. You need to carefully read anything snopes claims about their darling liberals, as they will bend over backwards and give convoluted reasons NOT to say anything too clearly negative. Maybe he was critical in technology funding- still that is hardly “creating” the internet. Just because it is up for debate, that is, it is not clear how important his support was- if at all, does not negate the fact he is claiming credit for it. No one had to “distort” what he said- if he meant he supported or was a cheerleader for the creation of the internet he could have said it that way. Sorry snopes- fail.

  5. Andrew says:

    “He hated his short stature and disliked short people in general.  He had governmental officials distribute pamphlets advertising a wonder drug that would increase the height of short people.  Those who responded to the pamphlets were sent away to different uninhabited islands along with the disabled in an attempt to rid the next generation of their supposedly substandard genes.”

    How about some less idiotic crop management policies? Malnourished people don’t grow very tall.

  6. juepucta says:

    The man didn’t poop!


  7. Scott Hamilton says:

    To elaborate on the question of whether or not Shin San Ok was “kidnapped,” he wasn’t just being investigated when he disappeared — his movie studio had been seized by the South Korean government and he was facing a prison sentence of indeterminate length. When he reappeared in the North it wasn’t much of a surprise; it was assumed he had defected north even before he showed up again.

    And it wasn’t just the U.S. authorities that might have given him a reason to exaggerate his experiences in the North — defecting to that country is was considered high treason in the South, and he was still wanted for fleeing in the first place. Shin didn’t return to South Korea at all until after the first free presidential election in 1992.

    All this being said, there are some pieces of evidence I’ve never been able to evaluate. The most important is that Shin allegedly taped conversations he had with Kim Jong Il, where Kim admitted to the kidnapping. At least that’s how it’s usually described, though I don’t speak Korean so I can’t really tell if the tape is at all ambiguous. And allegedly the North Korean regime released a tape with Shin talking to one of his producers in North Korea and saying the exact opposite, so there you go. It’s He Said, Crazy Lying Regime Said, though both have a motive to lie.

    And finally, let’s just be clear, even if Shin was kidnapped it wasn’t just to make the movie Pulgasari, as is often implied in the current news stories. That’s just one of seven movies he directed at the studio he ran in the North, and one of many he produced. Pulgasari is just by far the most interesting. The others are standard dramas and musicals.

  8. Mikael says:

    >he made a movie staring Hulk Hogan and Jim Varney.

    Wait, you can make movies by staring at people?

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