This article traces the origins of North Korea's militarized, repressive political system. It shows that the policies of the country's founder, Kim Il-sung, were heavily influenced by his personal experience in the USSR, or, more precisely, in the Soviet armed forces in the early 1940s. This factor has been largely overlooked by the academic community up to now. Drawing on a wealth of new sources in Chinese, Korean, and Russian, the article discusses how Kim's service as a Soviet military officer shaped his worldview and approach to governing North Korea. Through a multifaceted analysis of the North Korean military, the article reveals how its size, doctrine, economic role, and political education system were all influenced by Kim's experiences and those of his fellow soldiers in the USSR's Red Army. This insight has broader implications for understanding North Korean civilian society. By shedding light on the formative experiences that shaped Kim's approach to governance, the article offers a new lens through which to view the country's political and social structures.

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