Flag of Kenya
Present-day Kenya is a mix of colonial struggle and capitalist vigor. The road to Kenyan independence began in earnest in October 1952. Kenya, under a state of emergency that would last seven years, began its march toward decolonization.

The Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule prompted the successful request for a state of emergency. Britain rallied its own troops, in addition to African troops, to suppress the rebellion.

With new-found intelligence data gathered during the integration of General China, Britain embarked on Operation Anvil on April 24, 1954, in hopes of ending a successful rebellion against them. Operation Anvil severely restricted the already limited freedoms of the citizens of Nairobi.

Mau Mau supporters left in the capital were moved from the city to detention camps. Although the Mau Mau rebellion was not officially over until 1959, the capture of Dedan Kimathi on October 21, 1956, decreased the optimism of those fighting for the end of colonial rule.

The end of the Mau Mau rebellion’s main military offensive in 1956 opened the door for voluntary British withdrawal. The first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council were in 1957.

Map of Kenya
Map of Kenya
With moderates making up the majority of the Legislative Assembly, the British government had hoped that power could be passed to those who wished to see a minimal British presence in Kenya. However, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and extremist Jomo Kenyatta formed the government shortly before Kenya became officially independent on December 12, 1963.

Single-party leadership continued after Kenyatta’s death in 1978 with Daniel arap Moi. President arap Moi survived an abortive military coup attempt on August 1, 1982, masterminded by air force serviceman Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka.

Ochuka attempted to take the capital, but the coup was suppressed by loyalist forces led by the army, the general service unit, and later the regular police. Intimidated by the strength of the air force, arap Moi disbanded the Kenyan Air Force.

Moi was unsuccessful in nurturing Kenya’s postcolonial economy. Sensing radical changes to Kenya’s governmental institutions, Moi enacted constitutional reform during the 1988 elections.

Elections were opened to the mlolongo system, by which voters lined up behind their selected candidate. Over the course of the next years several clauses from the constitution were changed in order to reestablish Kenya’s failing political and economic systems.

The first democratic elections were held in 1992. Moi was reelected and again in 1997. In the 2002 elections, Moi was constitutionally barred from running, and Mwai Kibaki was elected for the National Rainbow Coalition.

Kenya Safari
Kenya Safari

With the absence of civil war in Kenya the country remained relatively stable, but it continued to be a single-party state until the 2002 elections. President Kibaki instituted long-needed reforms, but continued Kenya’s tradition of corruption at the highest levels.

A draft constitution put forth in November 2005 was defeated by the Kenyan electorate when it was discovered it would only decrease transparency in government. In response, Kibaki dismissed his entire cabinet and appointed new ministers, many of whom belonged to political parties with which he was aligned.

Natural disaster plagued Kenya in the late 1990s, compounding the already poor economic situation. Severe flooding destroyed roads, bridges, and crops; epidemics of malaria and cholera overran the health care system; and ethnic clashes erupted.

Desperate to win back International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank funding to assist the millions in need, President Moi appointed his high-profile critic and political opponent, Richard Leakey, as head of the civil service in 1999.

Kenya Girafle

A third generation white Kenyan, Leakey was fired by Moi two years later for apparently engaging in corruption. This prompted the ruling party to put forth an anticorruption law in August 2001, whose failure to pass ended Kenya’s chances for renewed international aid.

Corruption continued under President Kabaki. His anticorruption minister, John Githongo, resigned in February 2005 over frustrations that he was prevented from investigating scandals. In early 2006 investigations showed that the government was linked to two corruption scandals. Economic devastation brought on by severe droughts compounded the systemic corruption.

Elections in December 2007 sparked weeks of violence, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan brokened a deal to form a new government, thus halting the possible threat of civil war.

Jomo Kenyatta - Kenyan President

Jomo Kenyatta
Jomo Kenyatta

Jomo Kenyatta was born in Kenya and as a infant was named Kamau wa Ngengi; he took the name Jomo in 1938. Kenyatta was keenly interested in local traditions and social customs, particularly those of the Kikuyu. His study, Facing Mount Kenya (1938), remains one of the definitive works on the Kikuyu.

As a youngster Kenyatta helped his grandfather, a traditional healer, but after being educated at a mission school he converted to Christianity. As a young man, Kenyatta worked for an Indian Asian merchant and in a European business firm.

In the 1920s Kenyatta became the leader of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), which represented the Kikuyu in their land cases against the British, who had confiscated large tracts of Kikuyu farmland that was then taken by white, usually British, settlers.

Kenyatta represented the Kikuyu on negotiating missions to England and visited the Soviet Union in 1930. Upon his return to England as a teacher, Kenyatta was falsely accused of communist ties.

Kenyatta participated in the fifth Pan Africa Congress, which met in Manchester, England, in 1945. Upon returning to Kenya after World War II, he assumed leadership of the Kenyan nationalist movement. In 1952 he was arrested and accused of managing the Kenya nationalist armed movement, known in the West as the Mau Mau; he served nine years in prison or under virtual house arrest.

Jomo Kenyatta statue
Jomo Kenyatta statue
The Mau Mau was accused of terrorist acts against the white, mostly British settlers. Although the Mau Mau revolt was responsible for violence and the murder of some settlers, the Western media exaggerated the levels of violence.

Kenyatta became president of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) in 1961 and led a delegation to London to negotiate full independence, or Uhuru. In 1964, Kenyatta became the president of the independent Kenyan, republic.

Known as Baba wa Taifa, father of the nation, Kenyatta maintained economic stability in Kenya, but his opponents also charged him with cronyism and corruption. He died while still in power in 1978 and was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi, who faced increased opposition to his mounting dictatorial powers.

Liaquat Ali Khan - Pakistani Leader

Liaquat Ali Khan - Pakistani Leader
Liaquat Ali Khan - Pakistani Leader
Born on October 1, 1896, in the United Provinces of pre-partition India, Liaquat became the first prime minister of Pakistan and a founding father when it became independent on August 14, 1947. He graduated from Aligarh College, and he became interested in the Indian nationalist movement.

Afterward, he traveled to Britain to continue his education, obtaining a degree in law from Oxford University in 1921, and was called to the bar in 1922. Liaquat returned to India in 1923.

He began to identify with the Muslim cause. He joined the Muslim League, which sought to represent Muslims across the subcontinent. In 1926 Liaquat won his first election as a member in the United Provinces Legislative Assembly, although as an independent.

In 1940 he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly, where he established a reputation as a successful politician of principle, integrity, and eloquence. Although he sought to promote the interests of Muslim Indians, he also worked to quell communal discord. In 1936 he was elected honorary secretary of the Muslim League, and he held the office until independence in 1947.

He became increasingly influential within the Muslim League, as illustrated by his appointment as deputy leader of the Muslim League Parliamentary Party in 1940, where he forged a close working relationship as the lieutenant of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League and later the father of Pakistan.

After partition, Liaquat accepted the prime ministership and also served as minister of defense under Jinnah, governor-general of Pakistan. The nation was not only divided into East (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan, it was also plagued by a refugee crisis as migrating Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs fled across the subcontinent before and immediately after the partition. With Jinnah’s death in 1948, Liaquat became the dominant leader in Pakistan.

Although Pakistan’s political establishments were strongly pro-Western, Islam began to broaden its influence. Pakistan’s disputes with India over trade and the division of Kashmir dominated foreign policy, and relations between the two nations remained tense.

Liaquat was assassinated in October 1951. His death ushered in a chaotic period, and democracy soon floundered, culminating in the military seizure power in a coup in 1958.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Ruhollah Khomeini, an Iranian religious leader known by the Islamic title of ayatollah, was the driving force behind the movement that overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979; he then became Iran’s highest political and religious authority for the next 10 years.

Although Khomeini was born into a poor family, he was the grandson and son of mullahs (Shi’i religious leaders). When he was five months old, his father was killed in a dispute. The young Khomeini was then raised by his mother, later his aunt, and finally his older brother Murtaza.

Khomeini was educated in various Islamic schools and received the sort of instruction expected of a mullah’s son. Khomeini was an attentive, intelligent, hardworking, and serious student. In about 1922 he settled in the city of Qom, and around 1930 he assumed the surname of Khomeini from his birthplace, Khomein (or Khomeyn).

As a respected Shi’i scholar and teacher, Khomeini authored many works on Islamic philosophy, law, and ethics. It was his outspoken opposition to Iran’s ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, plus Khomeini’s resolute advocacy of Islamic purity, that garnered him support in Iran.

In the 1950s Khomeini received the religious title of ayatollah by popular acclaim; by the early 1960s he had received the title of grand ayatollah, which made him one of the supreme religious leaders of the Shi’i community in Iran.

In 1962–63 Khomeini publicly opposed the shah’s land-reform program; he also spoke out against the Western-style emancipation of women in Iran. These criticisms led to Khomeini’s arrest, which quickly sparked anti-government riots.

After a year’s imprisonment Khomeini was forced into exile in November 1964; he eventually settled in the Shi’i holy city of Najaf, Iraq, from which he continued to call for the shah’s removal from power.

From the mid-1970s Khomeini’s stature inside Iran grew. When Khomeini’s continued denunciations of the shah caused political difficulties in Iraq, Iraq’s ruler Saddam Hussein expelled Khomeini from the country in October 1978.

Khomeini and his second wife then settled in Neauphle-le-Château, a suburb of Paris. From there the Ayatollah Khomeini directed the movement to unseat the shah. Khomeini’s call for a general strike in October 1978 led to a crippling strike in the Iranian oil fields in November.

These and other strikes resulted in massive demonstrations, riots, and civil unrest, which in turn forced the departure of the shah from the country on January 16, 1979. Khomeini arrived in the Iranian capital of Tehran on February 1 and was popularly acclaimed as the religious leader of Iran’s revolution.

The Ayatollah Khomeini appointed a government on February 5 and then moved to live in the holy city of Qom. In December 1979 a new constitution was adopted, which created an Islamic republic in Iran. Khomeini was named Iran’s political and religious leader (fagih) for life.

Although the Ayatollah Khomeini held no official government office, he proved implacable in his determination to transform Iran into a theocratically ruled Islamic state. He directed the revival of traditional, fundamentalist Islamic values, customs, laws, and legal procedures, explaining how they were to affect all public and private activities in Iran.

Khomeini also acted as arbiter among the various feuding secular and religious factions vying for power in the new revolutionary state. Still, Khomeini made final decisions on important matters requiring his personal authority.

The main theme of Khomeini’s foreign policy was the total abandonment of the shah’s pro-Western position and the adoption of an attitude of hostility to both the United States and the Soviet Union. At the same time, Khomeini’s Iran tried to export its version of Islamic fundamentalism to neighboring Muslim countries.

After Iranian militants seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, Khomeini sanctioned their holding of U.S. diplomatic personnel as hostages for more than a year, souring diplomatic relations with the United States for many years.

Khomeini also refused to permit an early peaceful solution to the Iran-Iraq War, which had begun in 1980, by insisting that it be prolonged in hopes of overthrowing Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein. Khomeini finally approved a cease-fire in 1988 that effectively ended the conflict.

Iran’s path of economic development almost came to nothing under Khomeini’s rule, and his pursuit of victory in the Iran-Iraq War ultimately proved pointless and extremely costly to Iran. Nevertheless Khomeini was able to retain, by sheer force of personality, his hold over Iran’s Shi’i masses, and until his death in 1989 he remained the supreme political and religious arbiter in the country.

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev was first secretary of the Communist Party and de facto leader of the Soviet Union between 1953 and 1964; he concurrently served as premier from 1958 to 1964.

Colorful and highly controversial, Khrushchev was a reformer whose shrewd intellect was frequently overshadowed by his impulsive personality. He abolished the most ruthless aspects of the political system and tried with limited success to catch up with and overtake the U.S. economy.

In foreign affairs he forcefully maintained the unity of the Eastern bloc and veered between “peaceful coexistence” and several dangerous confrontations with the United States. He was, without question, one of the most important figures of the cold war.

Khrushchev was born in April 1894 in Kalinovka, Russia, near the border with Ukraine. His parents were illiterate peasants, and young Nikita was more familiar with hard labor than formal education. The family relocated to Ukraine in 1908, where he worked various factory jobs and got involved in the organized labor movement.

In 1917 he joined the revolutionary Bolsheviks and he later fought for the Red Army. After the war he obtained some Marxist training at a technical college and was assigned a political post in the Ukraine. Over the next 20 years Khrushchev would rise rapidly through the ranks of the Communist Party, and in 1939 he became a full member of the Politburo.

His success was largely due to his loyalty to Stalin. During World War II he helped organize the defense of the Ukraine and the relocation of heavy industry into the Russian interior, and he was at Stalingrad when the Red Army turned the tide of the war against Germany.

After the war Khrushchev remained an influential member of the Politburo, and when Stalin died in March 1953, he battled with Georgy Malenkov, Lavrenty Beria, and Nikolai Bulganin for the leadership.

Malenkov was made premier and initially seemed to be the true successor, but as first secretary of the Communist Party, Khrushchev possessed the real power. By early 1955 he had emerged as the clear leader of the Soviet Union.

Khrushchev with Mao
Khrushchev with Mao

Once in firm control, Khrushchev embarked on ambitious economic reforms. Khrushchev also continued the policy of spending heavily on the military. Under his leadership, the Soviet Union kept pace in the nuclear arms race with the United States and developed a space program that had significant successes. The launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and the first manned space flight in 1961 were great technical triumphs for the Soviet Union.

Khrushchev also decided, in a very risky move, to expose the horrors of the Stalinist era and to promote political reforms. In February 1956 he gave a speech to the 20th Party Congress that denounced Stalin’s “cult of personality,” documented various crimes of the old regime, and introduced the policy of “de-Stalinization.”

The speech sparked hopes that Khrushchev would tolerate autonomy and perhaps even democracy within the Eastern bloc. These hopes proved illusory when a popular 1956 uprising in Hungary was suppressed by a brutal military intervention authorized by Khrushchev.

This action shocked the West, which had welcomed the assurances of Khrushchev that the Soviet Union desired “peaceful coexistence” between capitalism and communism. Khrushchev seemed unable to resist the temptation to taunt the West periodically, and he had several alarming showdowns with the United States.

He tried fruitlessly to force the United States and its allies out of Berlin between 1958 and 1961, eventually building the infamous Berlin Wall. He also humiliated Eisenhower in 1960 by revealing the capture of a U.S. U-2 spy plane and its pilot.

Riskiest of all, in 1962 Khrushchev secretly placed nuclear missiles in communist Cuba. The purpose of this gamble was to protect Cuba from U.S. attack and to provide the Soviet Union with instant strategic parity. When U.S. spy planes detected the missiles, however, a standoff resulted that brought the world alarmingly close to nuclear war.

In the end the Cuban missile crisis was resolved through diplomatic back channels, with the Soviets removing the missiles in exchange for a U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba and the removal of U.S. missiles from Turkey. Both sides gained something, but Khrushchev was widely perceived to have backed down in the face of U.S. resolve.

By this time he had already made too many enemies within the Soviet Union. Finally, in late 1964, Khrushchev was removed from power by a conservative faction led by Leonid Brezhnev. His life was spared, perhaps a testament to the success of his political reforms, but Khrushchev spent the rest of his life under house arrest. He died in Moscow in September 1971.

Kim Il Sung / Kim Jong Il

Kim Il Sung
Kim Il Sung

Together, father and son Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il form a dynasty that has ruled the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or Communist North Korea, since its creation in 1948. Because of the personality cult established by Kim Il Sung and because Korea remains a tightly closed society, details about the lives of the two men remain scarce.

The information that is disseminated officially is so flattering that it is highly suspect. For example, one biography of Kim Il Sung reports that he fought more than 100,000 times against the Japanese in the seven years between 1932 and 1945 and was always victorious.

Kim Il Sung (originally Kim Sung Chu) was born in 1912 in a northeastern province of Korea. His father was a school teacher who took his family to Chinese Manchuria in 1925 to escape Japan’s harsh colonization of their homeland. For the next 14 years, Kim lived in Manchuria, where he joined the Communist Party in 1931.

In 1939 Kim went to the Soviet Union, where he received further military training and was part of the Soviet military force that invaded and occupied Pyongyang in 1945. According to the terms of the Yalta agreement, the United States and the Soviet Union divided Korea into North and South.

Kim stayed in the north with the Soviets, who helped him prevail over other factions and become premier of the new Democratic People’s Republic in 1948. Under Soviet and Chinese sponsorship Kim instigated the Korean War, which lasted until 1953.

A great admirer of Stalin, Kim patterned his rule after the Soviet leader. During the years following the Korean War, Kim solidified his power, purged his enemies, drove out foreign influences, and established himself as almost a god.

Kim Jong il
He also managed, through rigorous control of the press, to exalt his family, raising many of them to the status of national heroes. He decreed that no newspaper could be published without his picture on the front page and without all the stories approved by government censors. His pictures and statues were also in every public building in the nation.

These and other actions were undertaken as part of Kim’s self-proclaimed doctrine of Juchie, which encompassed the total economic, social, and political philosophy of the country.

North Korean citizens born after the Korean War had little or no knowledge of the outside world, since anything foreign was prohibited. His birthday became a national holiday. Since 1976, the Loyalty Festival Period has included February 16 (Kim Jong Il’s birthday) and April 15 (Kim Il Sung’s birthday).

According to some reports, Korea went to extraordinary lengths to prolong Kim Il Sung’s life. Purportedly a clinic staffed with 2,000 specialists was constructed solely for the purpose of caring for Kim and his son.

Staff at the clinic experimented with diets and drugs on two teams of men who were similar to the leaders in age and body makeup. These efforts to extend his life all failed and the elder Kim died in 1994.

Kim Jong Il, the eldest son of Kim Il Sung, became his country’s next dictator. He was born in 1941 while his father was training in the Soviet Union. The Soviets had established a school for the children of Korea’s guerrilla fighters, the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School, where Jong Il received his early education. After two years of training at the Air Academy in East Germany, the young Kim returned to Korea and attended Kim Il Sung University.

Kim Jong Il’s portraits began to appear with his father’s, and he was referred to by titles such as “the sun of the communist future.” He made official visits to China and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, further indicating that he would follow his father as ruler. But he was not immediately named as his father’s successor. The title of the country’s president was reserved for his father by a constitutional amendment.

Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il
Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il

Little information is available about the personal life of Kim Jong Il. Some sources report that his half-brother is being groomed as his successor while other reports indicate that his sons are embroiled in a struggle to become heir.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was a civil rights leader whose campaigns for African-American racial equality made him an American icon. King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 15, 1929, the son of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr., and Alberta Williams King.

He was part of a ministerial dynasty at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was begun by his grandfather, who served the church from 1914 to 1931. King preached there from 1960 until his death.

King’s initial education was in the segregated Atlanta school system. He left high school at age 15 after gaining early acceptance at Atlanta’s prestigious Morehouse College.

From Morehouse he went north to attend Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, becoming president of his senior class, and gaining his B.D. degree in 1951. He then accepted a fellowship that allowed him to pursue a doctorate at Boston University, finishing his preliminary studies in 1953 and receiving his degree in 1955.

It was during this time that he met and married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953. Following Dr. King’s death Coretta King emerged as a promoter of civil rights and social justice in her own right. She served as leader of the King Foundation until her death in 2006.

In 1953 King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, at age 26 and began to condemn Jim Crow segregation in the course of promoting civil rights reform for the African-American citizens of Alabama. In 1955 he joined the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The boycott lasted for more than a year and King faced retribution and death threats, including the bombing of his home. As with many other civil rights developments, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately proved the driving force that finally ended segregation on intrastate buses in 1956.

In 1957 King took on the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which became the springboard for his authority and that of the emerging Civil Rights movement. The movement began in black communities and churches but soon drew members from the broader population outside the south.

King shaped the SCLC philosophy toward nonviolent protest and pressure, drawing upon Christian teachings, but also inspired by the successful protests of Mohandas K. Gandhi. King was also on the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Through these leadership positions and through growing televised media attention, King became a national figure and a major force in U.S. politics. The movement often faced a violent response to its activities, particularly as its agenda expanded to include a full range of civil rights issues.

The speed of change proved dramatic and unstoppable and received national attention through events such as the 1963 March on Washington, which was inspired by and coordinated with other civil rights leaders but made famous by King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

It has been argued that the focus of this demonstration became less angry and more embracing because of pressure put on King by President John F. Kennedy, who believed the wrong approach could damage support for civil rights legislation. King’s ascendance to national prominence was revealed when he became Time magazine’s Man of the Year for 1963.

These protests helped in the passing, during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Martin Luther King, Jr., received recognition for his gigantic influence when he was made a Nobel laureate in 1964, being awarded the Peace Prize in recognition of his many efforts.

It was in the mid-1960s that King tried to take the civil rights movement to the north, beginning in Chicago in 1966. King and Ralph Abernathy made an effort to confront the poor’s living conditions by moving to the slums.

Here he faced violence and discrimination as well as Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago political administration, which undercut reform activities whenever possible. Eventually King and Abernathy returned to the South, but left a then-young follower, Jesse Jackson, in Chicago to carry on their work. From this base Jackson later built his own organization.

King started to reevaluate his positions on many areas and issues, including social and economic reform as well as the Vietnam War. His rhetoric and speeches took on new tones that seemed to challenge not only segregation, racial justice, and civil rights but also issues potentially far more controversial to the mainstream.

His turn to issues of poverty and its eradication led to his and SCLC’s involvement in the “Poor People’s Campaign” in 1968, which was to culminate in another major march on Washington demanding that the government address the needs of the poorest communities and members of U.S. society.

In April 1968 his campaign took him to Memphis, Tennessee, where he offered his support to the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ strike for better wages and conditions. King saw the solution to many of these problems in government-driven job programs to reduce and reverse poverty in the nation in the form of a poor peoples’ bill of rights.

While staying at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968, in preparation for a local march in support of the strikers, King appeared on the balcony at 6:01 p.m. and was assassinated by rifle shot.

He was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. King’s death was met with shock and dismay. President Johnson declared a day of national mourning, and the vice president, Hubert Humphrey, attended the funeral along with a crowd estimated at 300,000.

A national and international manhunt was launched for the killer, and two months later in London, England, James Earl Ray was apprehended on a passport violation and extradited to Tennessee, where he was charged with King’s murder and confessed on March 10, 1969. Ray received a 99-year sentence and spent the rest of his life denying his guilt and requesting a trial.

He argued that King had been killed by others and that he was only a fall guy in the midst of a larger conspiracy. Ray and several other inmates escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee, on June 1977, not long after Ray testified to the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Controversy has surrounded the Ray conviction and there are many who believe that sinister forces manipulated and orchestrated the assassination plot. Issues have been raised concerning fingerprint evidence and ballistic tests on the rifle used in the crime.

In 1997 Ray was visited in prison by King’s son Dexter, who supported Ray’s demand for a trial. In 1999 the King family instigated a wrongful death civil action against Loyd Jowers, a local Memphis restaurant owner who claimed a role in the assassination.

A local jury found that Jowers, even though he had failed a lie detector test in regard to his claim, was guilty and that other government agencies were involved in the assassination. These claims were investigated in detail by the Department of Justice in 2000 and no evidence in support of the allegations was found.

The assumptions concerning a high-level conspiracy were enhanced because of King’s conflicts with J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Initially they investigated communist associates of King and the organization, and maintained wiretaps at various times, including intruding on King’s privacy and threatening him with exposure of his extramarital affairs. These tapes were placed in the National Archives and will be sealed until 2027.

Besides these attacks on the King legacy and honor, there were concerns expressed in the 1980s over plagiarism. This did lead to a formal inquiry in regards to his doctoral dissertation by Boston University, which concluded that almost a third of his work was taken from another student.

Yet the university decided not to revoke his degree. It was also argued that many of his other writings and speeches received the benefit of literary assistance in the form of ghostwriters.

Nevertheless even in the face of these questions as to his character, Martin Luther King, Jr., remains a major force in U.S. history whose name is one of the most easily recognized in the land.

His boyhood home in Atlanta became a national historic site in 1980 and in November 1983 President Ronald Reagan endorsed a bill creating a Martin Luther King National Holiday, which occurs on the third Monday in January.

In addition his name was added to many streets and other public buildings throughout the United States and a King National Memorial in Washington, D.C., began with the purchase of land near the National Mall in 1999. Final design approval came in 2005.

Junichiro Koizumi - Japanese Prime Minister

Junichiro Koizumi
Junichiro Koizumi
Junichiro Koizumi was born to a political family in Kanagawa Prefecture and educated at Keio University and University College London. He began his political career as a secretary to Takeo Fukuda, who later became prime minister.

Koizumi was elected to the House of Representatives (lower house of the Diet) in 1970 as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party. He became minister of posts and telecommunications in 1992 and served three terms as minister of health and welfare, the first beginning in 1996.

Koizumi ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party in 1995 and 1999 before he was successful in 2001. He became prime minister of Japan on August 26, 2001, and was reelected in 2003 and 2005; he stepped down in 2006.

Koizumi was very popular when first elected. Although his popularity fluctuated over his years in office, he was the longest-serving Japanese prime minister in two decades. His greatest efforts were directed at revitalizing the Japanese economy.

To this end he proposed privatizing the Japan Post, a public corporation that offers banking and life insurance as well as postal and package delivery services. This proposed privatization was a controversial issue in Japan for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it employed one-third of all Japanese government employees, who feared the elimination of their jobs.

Koizumi also decreased traditional subsidies for infrastructure and industrial development in rural areas, part of an attempt to shift the base of support for the Liberal Democratic Party from rural areas to a more urban core.

Koizumi made several visits to the Yasakuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors the Japanese war dead, beginning in 2001. Because 14 Class-A war criminals are honored at the shrine, these visits drew international criticism, especialy from China and South Korea, Japan’s victims.

Junichiro Koizumi - Japanese Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi - Japanese Prime Minister

Koizumi’s decision to send members of the Japan Self-Defence Force to Iraq in support of U.S. operations in 2003 was also controversial, even though the Japanese troops were theoretically only involved in humanitarian activities.

Koizumi’s personal style was quite different from that projected by most Japanese politicians: he called himself a kakumei no hito, or revolutionary, although some of his critics considered him more of a henjin, an eccentric. His personal appearance, complete with relatively long and unkempt hair and fashionable suits, and his much-publicized interest in rock music, suggested cultivation of this image.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

North Korea Flag
North Korea Flag
With an area of 120,410 square kilometers, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, occupies slightly more than half of the northern part of the Korean Peninsula in northeast Asia. North Korea shares common borders with the Republic of Korea to the south, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to the north, and Russia to the northeast.

A four-kilometer-wide demilitarized zone, which runs 238 kilometers across land and another three kilometers into the sea, marks the boundary between the two Koreas near the 38th parallel. The estimated population of DPRK in 2004 was 22,697,553. Pyongyang is the national capital. North Korea remained one of the most isolated states in the contemporary world.

North Korea is a communist state. Its leader, Kim Jong Il succeeded to the position of supreme leadership in 1994 after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, although this was not formalized until four years later.

Both father and son dominated the North Korean government since its inception. A newly amended constitution in 1998 conferred on the deceased Kim the title of president for life and abolished the office of the president.

Kim Jong Il heads the National Defense Commission (NDC), which functions as the chief administrative authority in the country. He is also supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) and general secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP).

The separate state of North Korea was created as a result of the military situation at the end of World War II. When Japan surrendered in August 1945, the northern part of the peninsula was occupied by Soviet forces, while the southern half came under U.S. military authority. The peninsula was consequently divided into two military occupation zones at the 38th parallel.

The Soviet occupation authority turned to Kim Il Sung, who had fought the Japanese in Manchuria, to provide leadership in its zone. In September 1948 Kim launched the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with himself as the premier.

In early 1950 Kim Il Sung lobbied his communist allies in the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to support a North Korean effort to reunite the two Koreas. On June 23, 1950, the commanders of seven combat divisions of the North Korean People’s Army amassed near the border and received orders to initiate the “war of liberation.”

Crossing the 38th parallel, North Korean forces quickly overwhelmed South Korean forces before they themselves were stopped and then pushed back across the border by a United Nations (UN) force led by the United States.

In November PRC sent “volunteers” to fight alongside the North Koreans when UN forces neared the Yalu River, North Korea’s border with China. An armistice was signed in 1953, establishing a demilitarized zone roughly at the 38th parallel.

The wartime situation gave Kim Il Sung the opportunity to consolidate his position and establish himself as the absolute power in North Korea. In a series of show trials and purges, potential rivals were eliminated. In 1956 members of rival factions were purged from the KWP.

In fact, some were made to shoulder the blame for the failure of the unification effort. Two years later the KWP announced that it had ended intra-party dissent. Kim Il Sung was now the undisputed leader, controlling virtually all aspects of North Korean society.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

A personality cult soon emerged around the person of Kim Il Sung, who was elevated to the status of “Great Leader,” and his past as a guerrilla fighter against the Japanese, his defiance of the United States, and his exploits in building the nation were mythologized in song and poetry.

Institutions such as universities and museums bear his name, and important places in his life are national shrines. A similar personality cult developed around his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, with mythical events written into his biography. Revered as “Dear Leader,” the younger Kim is said to be imbued with extraordinary intellectual and artistic abilities.

North Korea adopted as its guiding ideology juch’e, or self-reliance. Occasionally dubbed Kim Il-Sungism, the concept, which emerged in the mid-1950s, is an amalgamation of Marxist-Leninist doctrines with Maoism, Confucianism, and Korean traditions. Juch’e in operational terms involves the creation of a self-sustaining national economy and a strong military that can provide self-defense.

After the Korean War, Kim Il Sung focused on economic development. With a centrally planned command economy, North Korea at first appeared to be making great strides. It recovered quickly from the devastation of the Korean War. In the spirit of juch’e, economic planners focused on industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture.


Equally important for North Korean economic survival was Soviet economic assistance, although limited, and the preferential treatment that North Korean goods received in the Soviet Union, PRC, and the East European satellites through the late 1970s–80s.

The changing geopolitical situation reduced such outside assistance to almost nothing and exposed the vulnerabilities in the North Korean economy. The consequences of a decades-old inefficient economic system could no longer be kept hidden.

Energy and food shortages plagued North Korea, a country with little arable land and no oil reserves. Cycles of natural disasters exacerbated the situation. From the late 1990s onward North Korea had to rely on food aid from other countries, including South Korea, to stave off widespread famine.

The relationship between the two Koreas continued a seesaw trend in the Kim Jong Il era. From the mid-1990s onward there were intermittent talks between the two governments. In 1998 when South Korean president Kim Dae Jung initiated his Sunshine Policy, which held out hope for reconciliation between the two Koreas, he found a receptive audience in the north partly because North Korea saw this as a means of securing the necessary economic assistance.

In 2002 the North Korean government also began to abandon some features of its tightly controlled command economy. In addition, it adopted some market features, such as removing price and wage controls. The government also began to court foreign investment and foreign trade, including from the Republic of Korea.

Pyongyang Mass Dance

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, North Korea once again garnered attention because of its nuclear weapons program, weapons sales to Iran, and its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Six-party talks involving North Korea, South Korea, Japan, the PRC, Russia, and the United States did not yield definitive results.

In 2005, North Korea tested a missile over the Sea of Japan. This approach increased the level of tension and raised the specter of a military confrontation in the Northeast Asia region. In October 2007, North Korea agreed to disable its nuclear facilities by late 2008 in exchange for economic aid.