Mommy and Daddy
With the stroke of a pen, the United States and the Soviet Union carved the Korean peninsula in half. The Korean Empire was no more. But the spirit of Korea lived on, however, in two separate states that emerged from the war.
South Korea was a budding anti-Communist democracy, North Korea was passionately Stalinist, and both felt the grip of a superpower who sought to help, to hurt, and to do everything in between.
Looking at North Korea’s upbringing, it’s no wonder he’s as troubled as he is today. After all, he was raised by Soviet Russia and Maoist China.
North Korea stared out of a Kremlin window to see empty streets and the tops of cathedrals. Russia’s voice broke his absentminded gazing.
“You’re going to know pain,” she told him.
Suddenly the air felt heavy and he shifted. “I do know it.”
“No,” Russia said gently. “You have memories of pain that isn’t yours.You don’t know it personally. You will, though.”
After her voice trailed off she turned away from the window. In her steel blue military coat and tall jackboots, she looked nothing less than intimidating and firm. But her eyes and voice carried a tender warmth. Heels clicked against the floor as she drew closer. When she spoke just above a whisper, his eyes were fixed on her red lips.
“But you don’t have to feel it alone.”
She touched his hand–a gesture with intentions to comfort–and he recoiled. That made her recoil, knowing she’d offended him. But then reached for him again just as quickly as she’d pulled away. Soon they were caught in an awkward tango; he’d bring his hand forward when he thought it was safe, but then retract it again as her hand, like a viper, made its move. Back and forth, sliding closer, pulling away. Closer, away. Russia kept opening her mouth like she wanted to say something, but only strange, hesitant little noises came out.
Finally, their dance ended as both of their hands retreated to their own laps.
“Welcome to the family!” She said warmly, trying to smile away the social disaster that had just happened. She turned to a large portrait hanging above her desk. Huddled around her with abysmal looks on their faces were her satellites states (“children,” she called them). And there she was, beaming proudly in the center of them all. “We’ll have to re-take the photograph to include you.”
North Korea didn’t see a happy family in the picture. He saw Poland’s lifeless smile, Hungary’s disdain, and Romania’s trapped stare. He turned back to Russia.
“If it’s alright, I’ll pass.”
North Korea was meeting a strategic partner in Pyongyang this time because China wanted to “see the capital.” The old Pyongyang was more than familiar to him, but this Pyongyang was a new city reborn after WWII. This Pyongyang was occupied by armed Soviet soldiers that lined its streets.
That day marked the first time North Korea drank Chinese tea, and the first time his bare, white-walled office was filled with the smell of Chinese tobacco.
North Korea asked,”Are you also going to give me a vague and ominous warning about the trials I have yet to face?”
China answered,”I could tell you everything I know, but we don’t have that much time and I don’t know if it would do any good.”
“I don’t know if it would either.”
“Maybe the best advice I could give is that you shouldn’t believe everything Russia says.”
“I already knew that.”
“Then you’re off to a good start.”
There was a pause in their conversation before North Korea asked, “What about you?”
China hummed softly before amusement flickered in his eyes. “Ah. Should you distrust me?” He took a moment to ponder this as he softly blew a trail of smoke into the air. “Russia is fighting a different war than I am. That changes things.”
North Korea’s eyes narrowed. “Aren’t we all fighting together under the banner of a common ideology?”
China shook his head. “No two countries are ever fighting the same war, North Korea. Remember that.”
And he would, especially in the years to follow when he’d taste the harsh reality of war and discover that there was a very fine line between not only friendship and politics, but his country and his sister’s.
Although Russia and China didn’t diplomatically recognize North Korea until 1948 and 1949 respectively, they would have to acknowledge his existence before then. The establishment of a provisional government in North Korea in 1946 is the event I use to signal his “birth.”