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North Korea celebrated the 110th birthday of Kim Il Sung in grand fashion last week, with thousands of pom-pom-waving citizens spelling out the founding leader’s name in massive characters, as a large float bearing a bronze statue of his likeness paraded across the square in central Pyongyang now named for him. It was a testament to the longevity of the so-called eternal leader’s cult of personality, which he burnished during his brutal decadeslong rule and which persists years after his death. But what was Kim Il Sung like before he became the godlike figure endlessly praised in state propaganda and one of the most notorious dictators of the 20th century? This week, historian Brandon Gauthier joins the podcast to discuss Kim Il Sung’s early life and how the pivotal experiences of his youth resemble and differ from those of other totalitarian rulers. He talks about why it was important that Kim learned Chinese, his participation in armed struggle against Imperial Japan and whether scholars should attempt to humanize history’s most inhumane leaders. Brandon Gauthier (@bk_gauthier) is the director of global education at The Derryfield School and an adjunct professor of history at Fordham University, as well as a former columnist for NK News. His new book about the early life of Kim Il Sung and other prominent autocrats — “Before Evil: Young Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, and Kim” — will be published on April 26 and is available for preorder at beforeevil.com. About the podcast: The North Korea News Podcast is a weekly podcast hosted by Jacco Zwetsloot (@JaccoZed) exclusively for NK News, covering all things DPRK — from news to extended interviews with leading experts and analysts in the field, along with insight from our very own journalists.