S.M. Moon: My Meeting with President Kim Il Sung

 Excerpt from As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen,
autobiographical memoir by Rev. Sun Myung Moon

The Korean peninsula is a microcosm of the world. If blood were shed on the Korean peninsula, it would be shed in the world. If reconciliation occurred on the peninsula, there would be reconciliation in the world. If the peninsula were unified, this would bring about unification in the world. Beginning in the late 1980s, however, North Korea had been working hard to become a country possessing nuclear weapons. Western countries were saying that they would stage a first strike against North Korea, if necessary. If the situation continued to the extreme, there was no telling what desperate move North Korea might attempt. I knew I somehow needed to open a channel of communication with North Korea.

It was not an easy task. Bo Hi Pak communicated with North Korean Vice Premier Kim Dal Hyun, but North Korea’s response was firmly negative.

“The people of North Korea know President Moon only as the ringleader of the international movement for victory over communism,” the vice premier said. “Why would we welcome the leader of a conservative, anticommunist group? A visit to North Korea by Chairman Moon absolutely cannot be permitted.”

Bo Hi Pak did not give up. “President Nixon of the United States was a strong anticommunist,” he reminded the North Korean official. “But he visited China, met Chairman Mao Zedong, and opened diplomatic relations between the United States and China. It was China that profited from this. Until then, China had been branded an aggressor nation, but it is now rising as the central country on the world stage. For North Korea to have international credibility, it should establish a friendship with a worldwide anticommunist such as Chairman Moon.”

Finally, President Kim Il Sung invited my wife and me on November 30, 1991. We were in Hawaii at the time, so we quickly flew to Beijing. While we were waiting in the VIP lounge of Beijing Capital International Airport, which the government of China had arranged for us to use, a representative of the North Korean government came and handed us the official invitation. The official stamp of the Pyongyang government was clearly visible on the document.

The aircraft flew over the Yellow Sea, up to Sineuiju, over my hometown of Jungju, and on to Pyongyang. I was informed that the special route had been charted to let me see my hometown. My heart began to pound as I looked down at my hometown, dyed red by the light of the setting sun, and I felt numb deep in my being. I wondered, “Can this really be true?” I wanted to jump out right away and start running around the hills and valleys.

At Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport, family members whom I had not seen for forty-eight years were there to greet me. My younger sisters, who used to be as beautiful as flowers, had become grandmothers entering their senior years. They grasped my hands, creased their eyebrows, and began to cry wildly. My older sister, now more than seventy, grabbed me by the shoulder and cried. I, however, did not cry.

“Please,” I said, “don’t do this. It’s important for me to meet my family, but I came to do God’s work. Please don’t do this. Get hold of yourselves.”

Inside my heart I was shedding tears like a waterfall. I was seeing my sisters for the first time in more than forty years, but I could not embrace them and cry with them. I maintained control of my heart, and made my way to our place of lodging.

The next morning, as has been my custom throughout my life, I awoke early in the morning and began to pray. If there were any surveillance apparatus in the guesthouse, my tearful prayer for the unification of the Korean peninsula would have been recorded in its entirety. That day, we toured the city of Pyongyang. The city was well fortified with the red slogans of juche ideology.

On the third day of our visit, we boarded an aircraft to tour Mount Kumgang. Though it was the winter season, the Kuryong Falls had not frozen and still spouted a strong flow of water. After touring all the different areas of Mount Kumgang, we boarded a helicopter on our sixth day, to be transported to my hometown.

In my dreams, I had felt such a strong yearning for my childhood home that I felt as though I could run to it in one bound. And now, there it was, appearing before me. I could hardly believe my eyes. Was this real, or was I dreaming? For what seemed like the longest time, I could only stand there, like a statue, in front of my home. After several minutes, I stepped inside.

It used to be in the shape of a hollow square, with the main wing, guest wing, storehouse, and barn built around a central courtyard. Now, only the main wing remained. I went into the main room, where I had been born, and sat on the floor with my legs crossed. Memories of what it had been like in my childhood came back to me as clearly as if it were only yesterday.

I opened the small door that led from the main room to the kitchen and looked out at the backyard. The chestnut tree I used to climb had been cut down and was gone. It seemed as though I could hear my mother calling to me sweetly. “Is my little tiny-eyes hungry?” The cotton cloth of her traditional dress passed quickly before my eyes.

I visited my parents’ grave site and offered a bouquet of flowers. The last time I saw my mother was when she came to visit me in prison in Heungnam and cried out loud. Her grave was thinly covered by the snow that had fallen the night before. I brushed it away with the palm of my hand and gently caressed the grass that had grown over her grave. The rough touch of the grass reminded me of the roughness of my mother’s skin on the back of her hand.

I had not gone to North Korea because I wanted to see my hometown nor because I wanted to tour Mount Kumgang. I wanted to meet President Kim Il Sung and have a serious discussion on the future of our homeland. Yet, six days into my visit, there was no word on whether a meeting with President Kim could be arranged. When we arrived back at Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport by helicopter after visiting my hometown, however, I found that Vice Premier Kim Dal Hyun had unexpectedly come to meet me.

“The Great Leader Kim Il Sung will receive you tomorrow,” he told me. “The place will be the Majeon Presidential Residence in Heungnam, so you will need to board a special flight immediately and go to Heungnam.”

I thought to myself, “They say he has many presidential residences. Why, of all places, Heungnam?”

On my way, I noticed a large sign for the Heungnam Nitrogen Fertilizer Factory, where I had been forced to labor. It reminded me of my time in prison and gave me an odd feeling. I spent the night in a guesthouse and went the next day to meet the president.

As I approached the official residence, I found President Kim at the entrance, waiting to greet me. The two of us simultaneously embraced each other. I was an anticommunist and he was the leader of a communist party, but ideology and philosophies were not important in the context of our meeting. We were like brothers who were meeting for the first time after a long separation. This was the power of belonging to the same people and sharing the same blood.

Right at the outset, I said to him: “Mr. President, because of your warm consideration, I have been able to meet my family. There are, however, ten million Koreans who are members of families separated between North and South, and they are unable even to know whether their relatives on the other side are alive or dead. I would like to ask you to grant them the opportunity to meet each other.”

I spent a little more time telling him about my visit to my hometown and appealed to his love for the Korean people. He and I spoke the same dialect, so we were at ease with one another.

President Kim responded, “I feel the same way. From next year, let’s begin a movement that allows separated compatriots of North and South to meet one another.” His acceptance of my proposal was as natural as the snow melting in spring.

After speaking of my visit to Jungju, I moved on to my views on nuclear weapons. I respectfully proposed that North Korea agree to a declaration on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and sign a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

He responded with candor, “Think for a moment. Who am I going to kill by making nuclear weapons? Kill my own people? Do I look like that kind of person? I agree that nuclear energy should be used only for peaceful purposes. I have listened attentively to what you have to say, and I expect it will be all right.”

At the time, North-South relations were at a difficult point over the issue of nuclear inspections in North Korea, and so I had made my proposal with some reluctance. Everyone present, however, was surprised that President Kim responded in such a pleasant tone. At this point, we adjourned our meeting to a dining room, where we took an early lunch.

“Are you familiar with frozen potato noodles?” he asked. “It’s a dish I ate quite often when I was active as a partisan on Mount Baekdu. Please try some.”

“Well, of course I know it,” I said, responding to his words with delight. “We used to enjoy this dish in my hometown.”

“Well, I’m sure in your hometown you ate it as a delicacy,” he continued. “But we ate it to survive. The Japanese police used to search for us all the way to the top of Mount Baekdu. We didn’t have a chance to sit down to a decent meal. What else is there to eat at the top of Mount Baekdu other than potatoes?

“We would start to boil some potatoes, and if the Japanese police came after us, we would bury the potatoes in the ground and run away. It would be so cold that by the time we got back, the potatoes would be frozen solid in the ground. The only thing we could do was dig up the potatoes, thaw them, and then turn them into powder, so we could make noodles out of them.”

“There are many delicacies in the world,” President Kim said. “I’m not interested in any of those. There’s nothing better than the potato cakes, corn, and sweet potatoes that I used to eat in my hometown.”

“You and I even share similar tastes in food,” I said. “It’s good that people who share the same homeland can meet like this.”

“How was it when you visited your hometown?” he asked me.

“I was filled with many emotions,” I said. “The home where I lived was still there, and I sat in the main room to think about the past. I almost expected to hear the voice of my late mother, calling me. It was an emotional feeling.”

“I see,” he said. “It shows that our country needs to be unified as soon as possible. I hear that when you were young, you were quite mischievous. Did you have a chance to run around while you were there this time?”

Everyone at the table laughed at the president’s comment.

“Mr. President,” I said, “you are older than I, so you are like my older brother.” He responded, “Chairman Moon, from now, let’s refer to each other as older brother and younger brother,” and he grasped my hand tightly.

He and I held each other’s hand as we walked down the hallway and took commemorative photographs.

So it seemed that we had communicated very well.

Soon after I ended my week-long stay and left Pyongyang, Prime Minister Hyung Muk Yeon led a North Korean delegation to Seoul. Prime Minister Yeon signed an agreement to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. On January 30 of the following year, North Korea signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, thus fulfilling the commitments that President Kim had made to me. Although relations between the two Koreas continue to be troubled, these were the results I accomplished by going to Pyongyang at the risk of my life.