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Posted on Jun 30, 2004 in Books and Movies

Separated at Birth: How North Korea Became the Evil Twin – Book Review

By Steven McWilliams

Separated at Birth: How North Korea Became the Evil Twin
Gordon Cucullu
The Lyons Press
Guilford, CT, 2004



Col Cucullu is well prepared to present a picture of the Koreas. A graduate of both basic and advanced courses of the Korean language, and two tours in Korea, he acquainted himself not just with the military aspects of his assignments, but with Korean history, culture, tradition and the undercurrents that run through the Korean peninsula, as well as other cultures.

Through its history, Korea has seen more than its share of subjugation, exploitation and heartache. Sandwiched between regional powers China and Japan (and later Russia), Korea has been one of those veritable "crossroads of history", similar to Adrianople, where conquering armies have trod throughout the centuries.


The author starts at 1945, a time when Koreans hope and planned for a free, united Korea, after four decades of harsh Japanese overlordship. To their dismay, and later great anger, they witnessed the arbitrary division of their nation (and many families) at the 38th Parallel. As well, in contrast to the swift and efficient Soviet occupation of North Korea, the American forces in South Korea were woefully incapable of administering the territory in their charge. Pragmatically, the American leaders in Korea choose to continue using the Japanese bureaucrats in place until they (US) were ready to assume control. This was not a popular decision with the Korean people.

From the start, it seems that Stalin and Kim il-Sung were planning for a military solution of the Korean problem. When the Communists prevailed in China in 1949, it was only a matter of time. North Korea now had two major backers (USSR and PRC) with whom it shared a common border. In July 1950, the floodgates were opened, and a forceful unification of Korea by Kim and his patrons was avoided by a hair-breadth. The acrimony by all involved at the armistice of 1953 has festered over the years, and both sides continue to strive for unification, the South generally by diplomatic, economic and other benign methods, while the North has employed provocation, duplicity, terrorism, subversion and other malignant means.

The author draws from his considerable experience, as a military dependent, Army officer and corporate representative, as well as a strong cultural basis to paint a picture of a true "evil twin" sitting above the 38th Parallel, spewing invective and political double-speak, a regime that builds an expansive army, though one of questionable character, and with much obsolescent weaponry, while its people starve, live in conditions reminiscent more of the 18th Century than the 21st, and go without sufficient medical care. It is a regime where its leader is snugly insulated from the world outside his walls, trumpeting the idyll of his "Socialist Worker’s Paradise.

Col. Cucullu had rendered us a stark, tragic portrait of a nation at once powerful and impoverished, where the elite live in gilded opulence while its people die of easily preventable diseases and starvation. As North Korea sinks ever further into depravity and despoilment, the actions of Kim Jong-il are ever more unpredictable, demanding constant vigilance. Through Col. Cucullu’s writing, we are granted an indelible portrait. We ignore North Korea at our peril.

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