Kim’s Death Sparks Fear, Relief in L.A. : Reaction: The much-despised dictator Kim Il Sung is gone. But many Korean Americans express worry that his death will lead to instability and violence in North Korea.


In the heart of Los Angeles’ Koreatown, shoppers and shopkeepers, elderly people passing time, and evangelists urging passersby to come to their churches were talking about the death of Kim Il Sung on Saturday.

“It’s hard to believe that he is gone,” said a Korean Air stewardess as she and a friend sat on a bench in front of Hannam Supermarket reading Korean-language newspapers and discussing the death of the 82-year-old North Korean dictator. “We’ve been fooled by him too many times.”

Angela Lee, a Westside homemaker who was visiting a mall near Olympic Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, said she did not like the longtime North Korean leader but would pray for his soul. “I’ve been waiting for him to die for the last 20 years,” she said. “When I think about the horrible things he has done to 75 million Koreans, I wonder how he could have lived to be an old man.”


In Koreatown and elsewhere throughout Southern California, many people of Korean ancestry said Kim’s death came at an inopportune time-- before a historic July 25 summit meeting between Kim and South Korean President Kim Young Sam could take place.

“Even in death Kim Il Sung causes problems,” said Bo Ok Ahn, a grandmother who was shopping at Hannam Supermarket. “He should have died sooner or later but not now--just when everybody is talking about peace on the Korean peninsula.”

Chae-Jin Lee, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, said there had been “a cautiously optimistic outlook for some kind of settlement of the nuclear issue under the elder Kim’s leadership. In that sense, his sudden death was unfortunate.”

Lee, an expert on North Korea, said the dictator’s death has put North Korea at a “very important crossroad” where it needs to make “a fundamental decision about the future course of action.”

The future of North Korea and peace on the Korean peninsula, he said, will depend heavily on who will emerge as a “final leader” to succeed the elder Kim, and the domestic and foreign policy changes that that person will make.

“My own sense is that (Kim Il Sung’s son) Kim Jong Il will be able to establish his succession relatively smoothly for the time being, and some of the top leaders in North Korea are likely to rally behind him in view of the critical situation there,” Lee said. “However, once his leadership is established, his father will be no longer there to support him, which means that he has to stand on his own two feet.”


Jay Shin, owner of Bourbon Street Liquor in the mall around the corner from the Hannam Supermarket, said his biggest concern now is what Kim Jong Il might do to succeed his father. He fears that Kim Jong Il’s supporters and those opposed to him could engage in power struggles that lead to bloodletting.

“I just hope that Kim Jong Il does not cook up terrorist acts as a way to consolidate his power,” Shin said.

With the elder Kim’s passing, continued Shin, the biggest obstacle to the eventual reunification of the two Koreas may have been removed.

Others say Kim’s death will mean uncertainty for now.

“We have a lot of questions but no answers,” said John Cha, a Korean American businessman in the city of Orange. No outsider, Cha said, will know what is taking place in the world’s most closed society.

“When Kim Il Sung was alive, we knew it was bad, but now, all we have is uncertainty,” he said.

Shin, a native of Pyongyang, says he dreams of visiting the hometown he left when he was 3. His family’s property in Pyongyang was taken over by the North Korean government to make way for Kim Il Sung Square, Shin said.


But an uncle of his, who lives in Los Angeles, still has deeds to the property and looks at them often. “My uncle says he will get it back when our divided land becomes one,” Shin said.