‘His regime maintained a network of concentration camps that exceeded the hellholes of Auschwitz and Dachau…’
Media has been reporting on the death of Kim Jung Il as if he were the leader of another foreign, far away country. To be sure, there are news reports of food shortages, nuclear weapons programs and sophisticated guided missile tests but overall, coverage has studiously avoided calling Kim Jung Il out for what he was: A callous, cold, cruel and evil tyrant.
His regime maintained a network of concentration camps that exceeded the hellholes of Auschwitz and Dachau, fed an army while his nation starved and extinguished the spirit of tens of millions, and the poor lost and forgotten souls who will perished and will never be remembered by anyone. The late North Korean leader sold nuclear technology to unstable and dysfunctional regimes who openly express their genocidal intent. Kim Jung Il routinely threatened his neighbors to the south with ‘Hellfire’ and when he thought it would serve his purposes he authorized the shoot down of a civilian airliner.
All the while the Great Leader enjoyed the support of China, a nation with which we do much business. Maybe that is why the media are pretending Kim Jung Il was just another world leader.
Our much vaunted free media ought to be ashamed of themselves.
THE tyrant has perished, leaving a failing, nuclear-armed nation in the uncertain young hands of his “Great Successor”. His father, since 1994 the “Dear Leader” of one of the world’s most secretive and repressive states (iconic, to the right in the photo above), died on a train at 8.30am on Saturday morning, of a heart attack. North Korea’s 69-year-old supremo had been in poor health: he had heart disease and diabetes, and suffered a stroke in 2008. Nonetheless his demise places sudden and extraordinary pressure on his third son, his designated but untested successor, Kim Jong Un (to the left, in the photo above).
Kim junior—recently dubbed the “Young General”—is now officially in charge of North Korea. His dynastic succession, which had been in preparation since 2009, was reaffirmed swiftly by the state media (as swiftly as the 51 hours it took to announce the elder Kim’s death). The machinery of party and propaganda are organised to support a smooth succession. That does not mean its success is assured. At just 27 or perhaps 28 years of age, the young Un, educated in Switzerland and a great fan of basketball, wants for both experience and proof of loyalty from the armed forces. He was installed as the country’s leader-in-waiting little more than a year ago. By contrast his father had been groomed for leadership for nearly 20 years, with careful attention paid to establishing for him a cult of personality in the image of his own father, the dynasty’s founding dictator, Kim Il Sung.
That Kim Jong Un has no such background may be cause more for anxiety than for relief. His only qualification to lead the country is to be the son of a man who all but destroyed it, and a grandson of the man who built its disastrous brand of totalitarianism. In the 17 years Kim Jong Il ruled since the death of Kim Il Sung, North Korea teetered on the brink of collapse. A devastating famine in the mid-1990s killed as many as a million of his countrymen, while Kim Jong Il indulged his own appetites to excess and diverted massive resources to his dream, now realised, of building a nuclear weapon.
A third Kim may be a step too far. This succession’s viability may well depend on the work of a “regent”: Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law, Chang Sung Taek. He and his wife, Kim Kyong Hui, appear to have accompanied the Young General’s elevation in lockstep, as those who might stand in his (and their) way have been pushed aside. The ruling elite around the family trinity might appear cohesive from a distance, but they are potentially vulnerable to intrigue. North Korea’s is a government of obscure and competing factions—the army, the Korean Workers’ Party and the cabinet being the greatest—and any uncertainty or crisis in the months ahead could upset the delicate balance behind the dictatorship.
In the very short term though, it seems unlikely that anyone will make a move. Bruce Cumings, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, argues that the cohort of officials who rose during Kim Jong Il’s reign “are now in power and have much privilege to protect”. Even those who privately oppose Kim Jong Un will proclaim loyalty for now. China, fearing instability, will support the succession in so far as it promises to maintain order and prevent a flood of refugees from spilling over its border.