The Juche idea first came to my attention during my master’s studies at the College of Political Science at American University. I entered in 1965, and had to work several part-time jobs due to financial difficulties. One of my jobs was translating editorials of the Joseon newspaper, called the “Rodong Sinmun” (Worker’s Party Newspaper), into English. I was able to participate in the translation project, organized by the US Department of Commerce, quite by coincidence. “Rodong Sinmun” (Worker’s Party Newspaper) Ⓒ Yonhap News The Ministry of Commerce gave me permission to read limited and low-level confidential information. I used to go to the Library of Congress, read the “Rodong Sinmun,” make copies, and translate relevant articles. I did this throughout my master’s program, so I read the “Rodong Sinmun” carefully for about two years. Kim Il-Sung Immortality Tower Ⓒ Yonhap News During that time, I came to two very important conclusions. One was that I had to have an accurate understand of the “Juche idea” in order to properly understand Joseon, and the other was that it was impossible to properly understand Joseon only by reading documents such as the “Rodong Sinmun.”Above all, the more I read the “Rodong Sinmun,” the more I encountered the terms “Juche” and “Juche ideology.” It seemed odd if the newspaper did not use those terms, but, I could not clearly grasp the meaning. Nevertheless, those two terms seemed vitally important. I entered the Department of Political Science at Seoul National University in 1959 and studied political ideas with special interest. I also majored in political philosophy during my master’s studies at American University. I wrote my thesis in this area of study. Because of my political propensity, my desire to understand the Juche idea was only growing stronger with time. That is why, after I was appointed professor at the University of Georgia in 1971, I started sending letters to Hwang Jang-yeop, Joseon’s foremost scholar on Juche ideology. Also, while translating the "Rodong Sinmun,” I had a completely unexpected experience. I began to gain a reputation as a Joseon expert, increasingly fielding questions about Joseon from various parts of American society. In 1974, the US State Department even appointed me as a “scholar diplomat,” consulting me about Joseon from time to time. In fact, whenever I was asked such questions, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. Why on earth were they asking me? How generally poor must be the American understanding of Joseon! I may have appeared an expert on Joseon in the eyes of Americans, but the more I grew accustomed to the contents of the “Rodong Sinmun," the more I realized that I did not have an accurate understanding of Joseon. That thought has not changed to this day. One day, when I translated an editorial requested by the Ministry of Commerce and submitted it to the person in charge, he looked me in the eye and asked, “Why is this the same as the editorial you translated yesterday?” The implication was that I had loafed around instead of working; I had not. The contents of the two editorials I translated were very similar. Of course, that just doesn’t make sense to most people, particularly the Commerce Department. However, Joseon is a country that exists outside our common sense. The “Rodong Shinmun” editorials are always prepared according to Juche principles. Accordingly, the contents were occasionally repeated. Ⓒ CNN News Even the Joseon-related books published in the United States did not help me understand Joseon. We could even say that they obstructed accurate understanding, because the books about Joseon that I encountered in the United States were written not for the purpose of understanding Joseon, but for the purpose of condemning them. Moreover, since the outside world hardly had access to Joseon, no matter how many errors academics made in their research about Joseon, there was no way to check the accuracy. Practical verification had to be postponed indefinitely. The situation has not changed that much, even to this day. The prevailing public opinion in the United States regards Joseon as a demonic place. Didn’t George W. Bush brand Joseon part of the “axis of evil”? Whether you hate Joseon or not, you must understand it accurately in order to deal with it. Our understanding cannot expand, however narrowly, until we stop demonizing Joseon. To properly qualify as a scholar who understands Joseon, one must have both intellectual ability and the academic spirit to “un-demonize” Joseon. After my long and winding journey to visit Joseon, I was still unable to understand to my expectations because their academic system was completely different from that of Korea or the United States. It was not easy to find bookstores in Joseon. There are no huge book sellers like Seoul’s Kyobo Bookstore. For example, scholars studying the Korean War can visit the US Library of Congress, or other research repositories, to look up and photocopy material. Such services are not provided anywhere in Josoen. If you go to the library of a Korean or American university, you can easily access books and papers distributed around the world. However, the university libraries in Joseon mainly stock books officially published by the state. I wondered, “If the door to understanding Joseon does not open naturally, even when you visit, what can be done?" It was then that I realized my visit to Joseon was no different than taking a tour. My visit was like an uncertified, pseudo-doctor visiting a patient with only a stethoscope. I was frustrated. After many trials and errors on my journey to research Joseon, I came to the conclusion that I no choice but to open up this new path of Joseon research by myself. First of all, I prepared research questions by mobilizing all my academic abilities, and constructed various hypotheses accordingly. From then on, my visits to Joseon were structured with a series of processes to raise prepared questions and test my corresponding hypotheses. There, I had political conversations with politicians, academic conversations with scholars, and conversations about daily life with the people. Using the questions I prepared as my guides, I tested my hypotheses by visiting various institutions, historic sites, villages, and marketplaces in Joseon. I also leveraged relationships with acquaintances I met to access the books I wanted during my visits. It is not hard to understand how the proliferation of so much misinformation about Joseon, particularly considering the difficulties of conducting Joseon research. However, I believe such misunderstandings must be discouraged and ended. We cannot afford to ignore Joseon, much less embrace inaccurate understanding, if our nations ever hope to peacefully coexist. Based on the research that I have conducted so far, I would like to review some myths related to the Juche idea. First of all, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the relationship between Juche ideology and Songun (“Military-First”) policy. For example, there is a misunderstanding that the Juche ideology is an old idea which has been replaced with a new Military-First ideology - or that Military-First implies that the military should lead the people’s lives. I would like to emphasize that the Songun ideology is not a subject that can be easily understood outside of Joseon. Even within Joseon, there are no booklets or papers that systematically organize this idea. Every time I visited Joseon, I asked the politicians, soldiers, and scholars I got to know about the ideology. However, it was not possible to understand it academically simply by listening to their responses. Their stories were a form of raw data, which could inform an understanding of the Songun idea. Ⓒ The Hankyoreh I processed that raw data academically, to the best of my ability. Through that process, I wrote two papers related to this thought: “Military-First Politics ‘Songun’: Understanding Kim Jong-il's North Korea” in 2007 and “Military-First ‘Songun’ Politics: Implications for External Policies” in 2010. As the first papers to introduce the “Songun" idea in English, they received a lot of attention from the international community.First, Songun must be understood as an extension of Juche ideology. Songun did not replace Juche ideology, but rather expanded and deepened it. Songun existed even during the Kim Il-sung period. Remember, during the Kim Il-sung period, an established principle guiding the Juche ideology was “national self-defense.” National self-defense requires the people to faithfully serve in the military. The meaning of Songun expanded during the Kim Jong-il period. Kim Jong-il successfully completed a nuclear weapon test in 2006. This allowed Joseon to secure some leeway through its military power. Kim Jong-il leveraged this new military power toward the practice of economic self-reliance, another one of the guiding principles of Juche ideology. In order to practice the principle of national self-defense, the people must faithfully serve in the military. However, the principle of economic self-reliance was implemented through the military serving the people. That explains why we often see military servicemen working alongside farmers in the Joseon countryside during the busy farming season. Another misconception is that the Juche idea can be interpreted in the context of the Joseon Dynasty’s Neo-Confucianism (Zhuzi studies, 朱子). Some argue it is possible to understand the Juche concept of “parental leadership" in the context of Neo-Confucianist teachings on filial piety and loyalty. However, Juche ideology does not accept such an understanding. Juche ideology was initially presented as an alternative ideology to break the Joseon Dynasty's legacy of factional strife and flunkyism. In that time and context, Neo-Confucianism was the dominant ideology and the ultimate source of factional strife. It seems self-evident to me that the Joseon Dynasty’s commitment to Neo-Confucianism was related to the very things Juche ideology was intended to displace. Neo-Confucianism prioritized filial piety over other kinds of loyalty. In other words, the logic of self-cultivation for a person and family (修身齊家) was prioritized over the logic of governance for peace (治國平天下). For example, the reason King Injo was restored to the throne(仁祖反正) in the midst of the transition from the Ming to Qing Dynasties was the Neo-Confucianist belief that prioritized filial piety over loyalty to a leader. Although King Gwanghaegun(光海君) was good at diplomacy and tried to prevent the ravages of war, the Restoration forces deposed him because of his filial connection to his mother (the Great Queen Inmok), who had assassinated his younger brother, Grand Prince Yeongchang(廢母殺弟). In Juche ideology, it is unimaginable to abolish loyalty to a leader because of filial piety. Filial piety and loyalty converge in Juche thought and offer equal qualifications for “parental leadership.” If one wants to find a reference that illuminates Juche’s concept of “parental leadership” in relation to traditional Eastern thought, one should examine the “rule by means of filial piety(孝治)” implemented during Emperor Wu Ti’s rule(141-87 B.C.) in Han China. Emperor Wu practiced filial piety by referring to the Book of Filial Duty (孝经), which emphasized the use of filial piety as the rule of the empire. The Book of Filial Duty emphasizes the convergence of filial piety and loyalty, as can be seen in the expression, “the relationship between father and son is as natural as loyalty between lord and vassal(父子之道 天性也 君臣之誼也)”. A Confucian teaching emphasizing filial piety, the Book of Filial Duty is actually a teaching legalistic enough to be called the ‘Book of Loyalty(忠经)’. Because Joseon considers itself a country ruled by a parental leader where filial piety and loyalty converge, it is a huge national family with 25 million members.