North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il reportedly died of a heart attack while taking a railroad tour of his impoverished nation. According to Bloomberg News, he’s believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008, and might have been suffering from pancreatic cancer.
17 years of personality-cult domination, mixed with dead-end Communist economics, left North Korea a twitching, paranoid basket case. It’s bristling with weapons, encircling a captive population that has been known to resort to cannibalism in the extremes of starvation. Just to let the world know they’re still a dangerous lunatic state that could do anything if provoked, they conducted a short-range missile test after Kim’s death was announced.
I overheard a CNN correspondent last night observing that Kim had been making efforts to “reach out” to the international community and “moderate” his stance. Well, sure, that’s a great analysis, assuming you ignore the occasional murder of innocent South Koreans with a shower of artillery shells, the unprovoked attack on a South Korean naval vessel, and the constant promises to turn the South into a “lake of fire,” the most recent having come only a couple of weeks ago. Kim was a master at pushing the Western world’s ability to tolerate belligerent lunacy to the brink, and using fear of his little nuclear-armed dungeon state for leverage at various bargaining tables. All of those “bargains” ended with North Korea getting paid off, and the civilized world having very little to show for it.
The announcement of Kim’s death was accompanied by the usual personality-cult histrionics, as the BBC reports:
Mr Kim’s death was announced in an emotional statement on national television.
The announcer, wearing black, struggled to keep back the tears as she said he had died of physical and mental over-work.
Images from inside the secretive state showed people in the streets of Pyongyang weeping at the news of his death.
Ruling party members in one North Korean county were shown by state TV banging tables and crying out loud, the AFP news agency reports.
“I can’t believe it,” a party member named as Kang Tae-Ho was quoted as saying. “How can he go like this? What are we supposed to do?”
Another, Hong Sun-Ok, said: “He tried so hard to make our lives much better and he just left like this.”
KCNA said people were “convulsing with pain and despair” at their loss, but would unite behind his successor Kim Jong-un.
“All party members, military men and the public should faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un and protect and further strengthen the unified front of the party, military and the public,” the news agency said.
Now that the selfless Dear Leader has worked himself to death, control passes to his son, “Great Successor” Kim Jong Un. CNN reports the ruling Workers’ Party is confident that “Kim Jong Un’s leadership provides a sure guarantee for creditably carrying to completion the revolutionary cause through generations.” That’s a relief! “Completion of the revolutionary cause” will have been achieved when every North Korean who is not a party apparatchik or member of the military has eaten one another.
Unfortunately for the glorious revolution, the elder Kim was not finished grooming Jong Un, who is only in his 20s, to take power. Why, he’s only just achieved the rank of four-star general! Then again, Moammar Qaddafi was a fine dictator, and never got past colonel.
Jong Un has been studying abroad, apparently under an alias, to get ready for the job. His only official deed to date was an attempt to revalue the currency of North Korea, a blunder that reduced their already primitive economy to the barter system. His older brother Kim Jung Nam blew his shot at the succession by getting busted while attempting to sneak into the Tokyo Disneyland with a fake passport, and has also asked some unwelcome questions about the wisdom of passing control of the glorious Communist revolution through three generations of a single monarchial family.
At any rate, control of a psychotic dictatorship must be passed along very carefully, lest a chosen successor start feeling his oats ahead of schedule and stage a coup. Since Kim Jong Il shuffled off his mortal coil ahead of schedule, the long process of matriculating the Great Successor was dangerously incomplete, leading CNN analysts to conclude Jong Un will be either a figurehead, or an apprentice to his more seasoned uncle:
“I think it’s premature to conclude that Kim Jong Un will make all the shots,” said Han Park, director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia.
“Kim Jong Un is not going to be expected, nor is he qualified, to make tough decisions. But the party system is there, and the decision-making mechanism that has been established by Kim Jong Il will continue. And therefore the succession process — even in intermediate terms — should be smooth,” Park said.
It is likely that Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, will rule behind the scenes as Kim Jong Un trains on the job, the global intelligence firm Stratfor said.
An outright coup deposing the Kim family seems unlikely, if only because worship of the Kims as demigods by a brainwashed populace is the only thing holding North Korea together. There are reports of people sobbing in the streets of Pyongyang. If the Great Successor does not ascend on schedule, there’s no telling what they’ll do.
Naturally, U.S. and South Korean forces are on alert, as no one is entirely certain what the North will do when roiled by political instability for the first time since the Communist regime was declared by Kim Jong Il’s father, Kim Il Sung. They’re not exactly a good neighbor when they’re “stable.”
There’s already been a short-term hit to the stock market in nervous South Korea. Many sweaty fingers rest upon rusty triggers north of the DMZ. Little Kim Jong Un’s uneasy ascension might look like an opportunity to certain factions in the military, and even if he manages to take and hold the throne, the North might feel the need to boost its self-esteem and let the world know it’s still a power to be feared. It traditionally does this by murdering South Koreans.
It’s also possible that China will move in to “stabilize” North Korea, having gotten a bit tired of holding the leash of their foaming-at-the-mouth attack dog. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting report of Chinese reaction to Kim Jong Il’s death. The official response is sorrow for the passing of such a brilliant statesman, but things are a bit more lively on the Internet:
Kim’s death was the top trending topic on Sina Weibo, China’s most active Twitter-like microblogging platform. It attracted more than a million posts by midday Monday according to statistics posted on a special topic page.
One indicator of how Chinese Internet users are taking Kim’s death: the use of emoticons. While a number of the service’s users have decorated their posts with candles and broken hearts to indicate mourning, at least as many have opted instead to festoon their feeds with thumbs up, victory symbols and animated faces in various states of laughter.
Among the laughing emoticons, many come attached to jokes referencing the film “2012,” in which China builds arks to save humankind’s elite from an impending cataclysm.
“Kim Jong Il has gotten on the boat,” quipped a Weibo user writing under the handle Chongqing Ocean. “I’m starting to believe 2012 is really going to happen,”
Others accompany tongue-in-cheek posts noting that Kim’s death comes closely on the heels of the death of Czech playwright and Velvet Revolution hero Vaclav Havel.
“Havel has made yet another contribution to mankind,” wrote user Caijun Zhinan. “He decided to take Kim Jong Il with him when he went.”
In a possible nod to Kim’s alleged fondness for drink, normally voluble political blogger Wu Jiaxiang opted to simply post an animation of glasses clinking in celebration.
China doesn’t want Korean reunification if it produces a huge, democratic, Western-aligned Korea, and brings U.S. troops to the borders of China. On the other hand, they’re not looking forward to a wave of desperate North Koreans fleeing into China at the first sign of a break in their dungeon state’s walls. The rise of a new semi-divine ruler is a rare opportunity to implement some sort of change in North Korea, without the populace perceiving it as weakness.