Kim Il Sung, the communist dictator of North Korea since 1948, dies of a heart attack at the age of 82.
In the 1930s, Kim fought against the Japanese occupation of Korea and was singled out by Soviet authorities, who sent him to the USSR for military and political training. He became a communist and fought in the Soviet Red Army in World War II. In 1945, Korea was divided into Soviet and American spheres, and in 1948 Kim became the first leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Hoping to reunify Korea by force, Kim launched an invasion of South Korea in June 1950, thereby igniting the Korean War, which ended in a stalemate in 1953.
During the next four decades, Kim led his country into a deep isolation from even its former communist allies, and relations with South Korea remained tense. Repressive rule and a personality cult that celebrated him as the “Great Leader” kept him in power until his death in 1994. He was succeeded as president by his son, Kim Jong Il, whose reign has been equally repressive and isolating. In recent years, Kim Jong Il has earned censure from much of the world for his continuing attempts to manufacture nuclear weapons, even as millions of his country’s people live in poverty.