Kim Il Sung, the son of peasants, was born in Korea in 1912. The family emigrated to Manchuria and Kim attended a Chinese school. At the age of fifteen he was arrested and imprisoned for being a member of the South Manchurian Communist Youth League.
After his release in 1930 he joined the Korean Revolutionary Army. By 1932 Kim IL Sung had become leader of a guerrilla group based in Korea. Over the next ten years he launched a series of attacks against the Japanese. This included successes at Changbaik (26th February, 1937), Kapsan (4th June, 1937) and Daimalugou (25th March, 1937).
The Yalta Conference in 1945 agreed that Soviet and American troops would occupy Korea after the war. The country was divided at the 38th parallel and Kim IL Sung became head of the provisional government of North Korea. In 1948 the Soviet Union set up a People's Democratic Republic in North Korea. At the same time the United States helped establish the Republic of South Korea.
In June 1949 the United States Army began to withdraw from South Korea. Statements made by General Douglas MacArthur and Dean Acheson suggested that the United States did not see the area as being of prime importance. Acheson argued that if South Korea was attacked: "The initial reliance must be on the people attacked to resist it and then upon the commitments of the entire civilized world under the Charter of the United Nations."
Kim IL-Sung became convinced that the people in the south would welcome being ruled by his government. At dawn on 25th June 1950, the North Koreans launched a surprise attack on South Korea. Three days later, communist forces captured the South Korean capital, Seoul.
The Security Council of the United Nations recommended that troops should be sent to defend South Korea. As the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council at the time, it was unable to veto this decision. Fifteen nations sent troops to Korea, where they were organized under the command of Douglas MacArthur.
The surprise character of the attack enabled the North Koreans to occupy all the South, except for the area around the port of Pusan. On 15th September, 1950, Douglas MacArthur landed American and South Korean marines at Inchon, 200 miles behind the North Korean lines. The following day he launched a counter-attack on the North Koreans. When they retreated, MacArthur's forces carried the war northwards, reaching the Yalu River, the frontier between Korea and China on 24th October, 1950.
Harry S. Truman and Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State, told MacArthur to limit the war to Korea. MacArthur disagreed, favoring an attack on Chinese forces. Unwilling to accept the views of Truman and Acheson, MacArthur began to make inflammatory statements indicating his disagreements with the United States government.
MacArthur gained support from right-wing members of the Senate such as Joe McCarthy who led the attack on Truman's administration: "With half a million Communists in Korea killing American men, Acheson says, 'Now let's be calm, let's do nothing'. It is like advising a man whose family is being killed not to take hasty action for fear he might alienate the affection of the murders."
In April 1951, Harry S. Truman removed MacArthur from his command of the United Nations forces in Korea. McCarthy now called for Truman to be impeached and suggested that the president was drunk when he made the decision to fire MacArthur: "Truman is surrounded by the Jessups, the Achesons, the old Hiss crowd. Most of the tragic things are done at 1.30 and 2 o'clock in the morning when they've had time to get the President cheerful."
While this conflict was taking place in the United States, the Chinese government sent 180,000 men to North Korea. This back-up enabled North Korean forces to take Seoul for a second time in January 1951. U.N. troops eventually managed to halt the invasion sixty miles south of the 38th parallel. A counter-offensive at the end of January gradually recovered lost ground.
Once in control of South Korea, representatives of the United Nations began peace talks with the North Korean government on 8th July 1951. An armistice agreement, maintaining the divided Korea, was signed at Panmunjom on 27th July 1953.
After the war Kim IL Sung established an authoritarian dictatorship. To reinforce his rule he succeeded in constructing a cult of personality with himself as the main icon for adoration. North Korea was also a major arms supplier to Libya, Iran and Syria.
The United States became increasingly concerned about the possibility that North Korea was trying to develop an atom bomb. In June 1994 President Jimmy Carter persuaded Kim IL Sung to freeze his nuclear development programme in exchange for an ease in international sanctions.
Kim IL Sung died on 8th July, 1994.