Melanie Kirkpatrick: The World's Most Repressive StateRoundup: Talking About History
Ms. Kirkpatrick, a former deputy editor of the Journal's editorial page, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. Her book on North Koreans who escape and the people who help them will be published next year.
A few minutes after the news of the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il flashed across computer screens on Sunday night—Monday morning on the Korean Peninsula—I received an email from a North Korean defector. The man, who is now living in Seoul and is a Christian, was exultant: "God blesses all of us," he wrote. The defector's sentiments will be shared by many, especially his long-suffering countrymen.
The best-known aspect of Kim Jong Il's legacy is a nuclear North Korea. During his rule, which began in 1994 after the death of his father Kim Il Sung, the younger Kim accelerated the nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs initiated by the elder Kim. He went on to proliferate both technologies to Iran, which today would not be on the brink of being a nuclear power if it were not for his assistance.
Kim Jong Il will also be remembered as a master manipulator of the Western powers, especially the U.S. The history of the failed denuclearization agreements says it all. On Pyongyang's part, it is a history marked by lies, broken promises, and clandestine programs. On the part of the U.S., the history is marked by gullibility and wishful thinking. North Korea's path to developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them would have been far more arduous had Bill Clinton and George W. Bush not accepted Kim Jong Il's promises of future good behavior in return for economic benefits.
The late dictator leaves another legacy too: presiding over the world's most repressive modern state. Kim Jong Il's name belongs on the list of the most evil tyrants of our time....
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