The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]
Protecting the ‘Dear Leader’
AUGUST, 2010 - VOL.18 NO.8

The author of a Burmese biography of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his publisher have handed over several hundred copies of his book to the North Korean embassy in Rangoon after embassy officials complained it contained inaccuracies.

“Kim Jong Il: North Korea’s Dear Leader,” was written by one of Burma’s leading biographers, Hein Latt. It was published with the Burmese government’s permission and launched in Burma two months ago, but has sold few copies.

Hein Latt said the North Korean embassy challenged the “facts and structure related to the Korean People’s Army,” but did not identify inaccuracies.

"KIM JONG II: North korea's Dear Leader" by Hein Latt.(Photo: THE IRRAWADDY)
“Apart from my mother tongue, Burmese, the only foreign language I know is English. I therefore drew some of my information from two books about [Kim Jong Il] published in the US. The North Korean Embassy claimed that some facts in the two books I used as sources were not correct,” he said.

The two books in question are Bradley K Martin’s “Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty ” and Jasper Becker’s “Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea.

“I don’t know if the findings in them are correct, but I thought they were atypical, so I translated them. I also used books published by the North Korean Embassy. I used facts from every book I read. However, the North Koreans claimed that some facts in the American books were wrong, which I really didn’t know. All I did was copy the facts and that was the problem,” said Hein Latt.

As an example of the “inaccuracies” that the North Koreans objected to, Hein Latt said they claimed that a table showing the North Korean People’s Army structure was wrong. The table, taken from the American books, showed the breakdown of generals and their positions. Hein Latt said the books he researched at the North Korean Embassy don’t disclose such “top secret information.”

Hein Latt said the North Koreans found out about his book two months after it was published and he was summoned to the embassy.

“They said such misinformation should not be provided to readers, and asked me to hand over all undistributed books. I just did as they said to avoid any problems. Let it be. I didn’t know what would happen if I resisted. To tell you the truth, I was afraid of the North Koreans. They would do whatever they wanted to do. If it were another country, it wouldn’t be a big deal,” he said.

The North Koreans raised no objection to the content about Kim Jong Il, which Hein Latt said was positive. “I wrote optimistically,” Hein Latt said. “I intentionally avoided bad things about him.”

But Hein Latt said the North Koreans won’t approve or endorse any book unless the North Korean government publishes it officially. “It doesn’t matter how much you praise their leader in your book, they still don’t like it if it was not what they publish,” he said.

Hein Latt says he has written about 25 biographies of world leaders, including Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

“My personal belief in writing biographies is that Burmese people can learn from the lifelong experiences of world leaders and take what they think is good and useful from them. Likewise, they can leave bad things behind. The younger generation should learn from those who love their country and people,” Hein Latt said.

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