Who is Kim Jong Eun?

The news broke today that North Korea’s attempt to launch a long-range rocket apparently ended in failure:

North Korea’s much hyped long-range rocket launch on Friday ended in apparent failure, South Korean officials said, dealing a blow to the prestige of the reclusive and impoverished state that defied international pressure to push ahead with the plan.

North Korea said it wanted the Unha-3 rocket to put a weather satellite into orbit, although critics believed it was designed to enhance the capacity of North Korea to design a ballistic missile deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States.

A spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Seoul told journalists that the rocket had broken up and crashed into the sea a few minutes after launch.

Read more. Brian O’Neel has been writing a detailed series on North Korea for Catholic World Report. The first installment, “The World’s Most Secretive Nation” (Feb. 21, 2012), offers some insight into the mysterious Kim Jong-un, the young leader of the totalitarian regime:

First, who is this young man whose ascension as the new Supreme Leader has created the first dynasty in socialist history (certainly an irony to those imprisoned in the kwallinjo for being “bourgeois”)? He is described as shy, possibly diabetic, an avid lover of video games and, like his father, a collector of anything having to do with former professional basketball star Michael Jordan. He speaks English and some German.

Concerning his immediate plans, Jong-un will embalm his father, as Kim Jong-il did his own father, for starters. This past Friday, he marked and publicly celebrated his father’s 70th birthday in Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang (where his father’s body is on display). Kim Il-sung’s birthday, celebrated on February 17, is a national holiday known as “Sun Day.” Kim Jong-il’s birthday will also be a national holiday known as “Shining Star Day.” Furthermore, the impoverished nation will erect a large number of statues of the late Leader to join the 30,000 of Kim Il-sung scattered around the nation.

Additionally, most agree the military will remain the most influential force in North Korea. Many, however, want to see whether Jong-un will transfer some of that influence to the WPK, the nation’s only real political party. As the previously mentioned confidential report put it, “In this sense, one of the most likely scenarios of the post-Kim Jong-il era is a collective leadership system, in which Kim Jong-un is backed by a group of high-ranking military and party officials.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one foreign diplomat who has lived in the region for many years told CWR:

Certainly, given the fact that the old guard will, for sure, one-by-one naturally leave this earth in the coming years, it opens possibilities for change his father did not have.

I think, however, he will for some time to come continue his father’s policy, if for no other reason than North Korea has, from their point of view, no other chance to survive. They must be perceived by the outside world as dangerous as long as they face a hostile environment. So many things depend on South Korea, especially its next president. Furthermore, there is also US “provocation.” From my observations, unnecessary actions that North Korea can legitimately perceive as threats or provocations occur on and around the Korean Peninsula by many actors.

In any event, he says, “The goal of the regime is the survival of North Korea in its present form. One may agree with that aim or not, but, in a way, that is principally a legitimate aim for any regime.”

O’Neel’s second article, “Perfecting the Art of Totalitarianism” (Mar. 16, 2012), details the means by which North Korea controls, coercises, and punishes its citizens, or, better, subjects. An excerpt:

And the cult of personality continues with his son, the newly installed leader, Kim Jong Eun. As the Daily NK website reported in January, “The Central Party is propagandizing the greatness of Kim Jong Eun through criticism sessions, and coming down hard on anybody who is reported to have said anything hinting at any doubt of his greatness…all cadres are being careful not to get caught out by this, without exception.”

Many had hoped the persecution would abate with Jong Eun’s ascension to throne of the so-called Hermit Kingdom. If anything, things have become worse, despite the friendly face of the rotund 20-something leader.

A Yangkang Province source explained to Daily NK that Daehongdan County officials had ordered the local populace to make and deliver—at their own cost—a plank measuring 39.8”x7.9”x0.79”, studded with 100 2.75”-4” nails. “The plan is to bury them along the border riverbank and in areas where the water is shallow,” said the source. Considering that the per-person cost to make these barricades is about the same as the price of a 16 oz. bag of rice, in a nation that still suffers from tremendous food scarcity, one can easily see why the populace resents this. Furthermore, certain areas along the Chinese border have been entirely fenced off with barbed wire. This is done to prevent defections, which happen at the rate of 2,000-3,000 per year.

The third installment, which will appear later this month, describes the elaborate and brutal prison camp system used by North Korea.

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.