Thursday, May 28, 2015
In The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot, New York Times bestselling author Blaine Harden tells the riveting story of how Kim Il Sung grabbed power and plunged his country into war against the United States while the youngest fighter pilot in his air force was playing a high-risk game of deception—and escape.
As Kim ascended from Soviet puppet to godlike ruler, No Kum Sok noisily pretended to love his Great Leader. That is, until he swiped a Soviet MiG-15 and delivered it to the Americans, not knowing they were offering a $100,000 bounty for the warplane (the equivalent of nearly one million dollars today). The theft—just weeks after the Korean War ended in July 1953—electrified the world and incited Kim’s bloody vengeance.
During the Korean War the United States brutally carpet bombed the North, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and giving the Kim dynasty, as Harden reveals, the fact-based narrative it would use to this day to sell paranoia and hatred of Americans.
Drawing on documents from Chinese and Russian archives about the role of Mao and Stalin in Kim’s shadowy rise, as well as from never-before-released U.S. intelligence and interrogation files, Harden gives us a heart-pounding escape adventure and an entirely new way to understand the world’s longest-lasting totalitarian state. -- Viking
I know it's surprising, but I actually read ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14 by Blaine Harden a few years ago; and I found it fascinating. I'm sure I would have appreciated Mr. Harden's latest book THE GREAT LEADER AND THE FIGHTER PILOT: THE TRUE STORY OF THE TYRANT WHO CREATED NORTH KOREA AND THE YOUNG LIEUTENANT WHO STOLE HIS WAY TO FREEDOM; however, I had a feeling that my dad would get to it before I could. Here are his thoughts:
Most of us are generally familiar with North Korea. It’s the country that has been accused of crimes against humanity by the United Nations, has a ruthless leader in Kim Jung Un, poses nuclear threats to the western world and constantly spews anti-American propaganda.
THE GREAT LEADER AND THE FIGHTER PILOT by Blaine Harden tells a great story about the beginning of this rogue state and its role in the early days of the Cold War. He recounts the true stories of tyrannical leader Kim Il Sung and fighter pilot No Kum Sok who escaped North Korea and delivered a Soviet MiG-15 jet to the United States military in South Korea.
Kim Il Sung began his assent to power in 1937 at the age of 25 when he led an insignificant gorilla raid against the Japanese who at the time controlled Korea. Kim became a “puppet” of Stalin and the Soviet state at the end of World War II. Stalin thought Kim a leader of no consequence while Mao, the leader of China held him in contempt. Despite this disrespect from the two most significant communist leaders, Kim somehow managed to convince Stalin to let him attack South Korea in June of 1950. After some initial success the United Nations led by the United States joined the war and drove the North Koreans back. During the conflict the U.S. air campaign destroyed 85% of the structures and 20% of the population of North Korea. Only the entry of Soviet air power and Chinese ground forces managed to same Kim from total defeat. An armistice ending the war was signed on July 27, 1953, four months after Stalin’s death when new Soviet leaders had no more appetite for the war in Korea. Kim went on to rule North Korea with a heavy hand until his death in 1994 when power was passed on to his son and then to his grandson in 2011. Unfortunately, the severe U.S. bombing of North Korea became the basis for this family dynasty to consolidate power around a fear and hatred of America.
No Kum Sok grew up hating the communist leadership in North Korea but pretended to be a staunch communist while waiting for an opportunity to escape the country. No actually encountered Kim Il Sung on two occasions. The first in 1949 as a 16-year-old boy listening to Kim deliver a speech at a factory and the second in 1951 as a fighter pilot standing at attention as Kim inspected their Soviet designed MiG-15 aircraft.
Six weeks after the signing of the armistice ending the conflict No found his opportunity to escape North Korea and flew a MiG-15 into South Korea where he turned the plane over to U.S. forces. Although he didn’t know it at the time, the U.S. was offering an award of $100,000 to anyone who would deliver a MiG-15 aircraft. No later moved to the United States, earned an engineering degree, reunited with his mother and became a U.S. citizen. He later changed his name to Kenneth H. Rowe, married and raised a family. A cold call from him to author Blaine Harden led to the writing of this book.
THE GREAT LEADER AND THE FIGHTER PILOT is an interesting nonfiction account of the Korean War that reads like a thriller. The author gives the reader a tiny look into the totalitarian rule of this country that is today nearly isolated from the rest of the world. Harden utilized conversations, archived materials and newly released declassified Air Force documents to seamlessly blend the lives of Kim Il Sung and No Kum Sok in the retelling the story of the Korean conflict and Kim’s rise to power. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in U.S. history or wants to learn more about the Korean War.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his review.