Tonight in Dandong I found myself watching the last half-hour of the anti-Japanese “classic” film from “步入辉煌” [Buru Huihuang / Step Into Glory], a valorization of the Northeast United Anti-Japanese Army’s destruction by the Kwantung Army’s annihilation campaigns of 1940.
In Kim Il Sung’s memoirs, Volume 7, the North Korean leader recollects and meditates at length on his various failures as a guerrilla fighter under similar circumstances in 1936. He admits that his troops are unable to operate in the plains (p. 76) and goes on to describe the internal struggles within the communist movement as Japan appeared more and more certain to invade continental China. Kim evaded responsibility for a requested raid against Japanese forces south of the Great Wall, an action which might have made him famous but which also was very distant and which could have resulted in his forces being wiped out (pp. 77-81).
In other words, self-preservation (and expansion!) trumps bailing out the Chinese from difficult circumstances.
Instead, transnationalism seems to be the domain of the Japanese in 1936, with their aggressive strategies of integration. Kim evinces a keen understanding of Japanese communication and transport goals that would be unthinkable, unthinkable today:
They sought to closely bind together Kanggye and Junggang to Manchuria via Linjiang, Jilin province. (Today there’s a single bridge to Linjiang, and very little evident traffic from China to Kanggye, the provincial capital of Jagang-do on the northern frontier of the DPRK.) Understanding this, and always pumping up his own legend as a man with pretensions to reaching into Korea to shake the colonial cage, making an impact here appealed greatly to Kim.
For one such as myself, this is one of the great pleasures of reading the memoirs; understanding that Kim and I have something in common, a kind of similar fascination with the borderlands, with the weaving potential and actual between the two areas. (I suppose to some people that sounds like “Hitler and I both love watercoclors!” Perhaps you should come watch a raft of lumber float down the Yalu with me or wander into an old Japanese railway tunnel until the mist swallows everything, read these memoirs, talk to some North Koreans, and then you’ll understand what I mean. But go ahead and call me an ex-post-facto apologist if you like, I’m happy to examine and re-examine my own attitude toward the subject of study at any time.)
Kim admits he had some success in reaching accommodation with puppet police in Manchuria (mostly ethnic Chinese) but notes that he failed to find a way to break through the Japanese “internment villages ” (known in US parlance as “strategic hamlets”) where peasants were concentrated at night, inaccessible for guerrilla recruiting (pp. 82-83). Apparently Kim talked about this with some length in the 1970s with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, himself also a skilled military hand (pp. 85-86)…
To be continued…