The Mysteries of Kim Jong-il

As the body of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il lies in state surrounded by heaps of red Kimjonglilia, the hybrid tuberous begonia created in 1988 to “render” the Dear Leader’s “greatness in floral form” (says the Toronto Star), and intrigue arises about what sort of leader his 27-year-old and complete unknown factor of a son and successor Kim Jong Un will be, South Koran and US intelligence sources are coming under criticism for failing to note any signs of Kim’s demise on December 17, reportedly from overwork and stress.

The intelligence failure underscores the opacity wrapped in enigmas that has been North Korea’s face to most of the outside world since Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea and grandfather of the new, inexperienced leader, founded the country in 1948. Many in the west have been unsure about how to view images of North Koreans tumbling down in grief and madly weeping: Are these true expressions of sorrow for an authoritarian ruler? Or are all the public expressions of mourning but propagandistic displays that North Koreans are coerced to perform? Are they indeed, as the New York Times puts it, “an accepted part of Korean Confucian culture, [that] can be witnessed at the funerals of the famous and the not famous alike in South Korea,” though magnified to the nth degree as the deceased is the central character of a cult of personality in which he was “every North Korean’s father”?

Of central concern is Kim Jong Un who, in a navy blue rather than a puce Vinylon suit and sporting a flat-top hairstyle rather than his father’s famous bouffant, seems a bit familiar on the surface, but not really. Educated at a Swiss boarding school, “Kim 3″ as Paul French dubs him in Foreign Policy, “seems to have none of the innate Kim clan show-business pizzazz.” Given that the younger Kim is now, with a coterie of advisers and military men clustering round him, at the head of a country with the capacity to build a complete nuclear reactor (as it secretly did in Syria), not to mention its uranium enrichment facility, the seeming black hole of knowledge surrounding not only “Kim 3″ but Pyongyang and North Korea itself should be disquieting.

Perhaps that it why there has been a bit more than a fascination with what we have known about Kim Jong-il, his curious obsessions, his collection of some 20,000 videotapes; fanatic interest for basketball and other sports, and hyperbolic claims of his own ability (he was said to have shot 11 holes-in-one the first time he ever played golf); his thoroughly gourmand appetite for, among much else “Danish bacon, Iranian caviar, Thai mangos,” Austrian cuisine  and Hennessy cognac; his armored train convoy of up to 90 cars plus a few Mercedes; his signature outfit, that puce Vinylon suit, the high-rise hair, the Ray-bans and the six-inch platform shoes. So much for drab Communist austerity in a country where thousands of North Koreans, including scores of children, go hungry after repeated recent food crises following depleted harvests.

Nature abhors a vacuum, ’tis said. To make up for the very little that we know about Kim Jong-il, we’ve collected information about his admittedly odd habits (not to mention numerous other “curiosities” about North Korea). Visiting the country in 2010, two BBC journalists found a country where the grass on the side of the roads was cut with scissors; where children did not know who Nelson Mandela was and considered Stalin and Mao Zedong to be world leaders.

The question is, does all this strangeness make us feel more fearful about North Korea? Or does it rather seem to be just more of the usual baffling details we’ve come to associate with a country so shut off from the world that no one (at least no one supposedly) has access to the Internet?


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Photo by babeltravel


SeattleAnn S.
Ann S.4 years ago

Having grown up a military brat, I only got the American brainwashing side of the story which inevitably says the North Korean dictator split the country in twain and then starved his own people. Then I met a group of actual South Korean students who were studying in the US who told me a very different story about how it is the US that prevents the country from reuniting for political/economic gain. I have to admit that I was very ignorant about politics until recently, so this came as a great shock to me. However, the past few years of keeping up with domestic and world events has made me think the "inside story" is much more plausible than the propaganda I've been indoctrinated with most of my life.

Chief Huntingbear

I am very saddened by the death of Kim Jong-il, who is already missed greatly, and extend warmest regards to his country fellows who must now persevere without their Dear Leader. I understand that he wanted to be succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un and trust his judgment. On behalf of the three million remaining indigenous Terrapin tribespeople to whom I am Chief we extend our friendship to the courageous people of Korea.

Chief Huntingbear

The Neo-Nazi government of the "united states of america" must be stopped from continuing to commit genocide against the people of Korea starving them with various sanctions including UN resolutions 1718 and 1874 just like it must be stopped from continuing to commit genocide against us three million indigenous Terrapin tribespeople using us as unwilling test subjects for medical experimentation. After England's Financial Services Authority approved the Anglo-Sino Capital Partners license to solicit investors to create economic opportunities in Korea your president George W. Bush forced Chosun Development & Investment Fund to return their money or be charged with providing material support for human beings he referred to as the "axis of evil". There is an analogy how your american president Harry S Truman ordered the Russian Joseph Stalin to use his Soviet troops to rape, torture and murder the civilian population of Germany and starve ten million Ukranians and how he used nuclear weapons to murder the women, children and old men living in the cities of Hiroshima and Nafasaki, Japan.

Chief Huntingbear

We are supposed to believe that Korea's new President Kim Jong-un will be a threat to the Japanese because his grandfather Kim il-Sung fought to expel them out of his country and worship His Imperial Majesty Akhito of Nippon-koku because his father the Showa Emperor Hirohito vivisected humans and Dr. John Chadwick Rockwell the de facto director of the american CiA, who I have known since we were students together at Northwestern University in the early 1980s, didn't use the laser weapon in Gakona, Alaska officially known as HAARP to ignite nuclear fuel rods at Fukushima Daiichi to commit the worst terrorist attack in history since U.S. president Harry S Truman dropped atomic bombs on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Chief Huntingbear

I am certain that Righteous Cloud is a man of conscience who will defend Korea against american colonialism who will defend Korea against colonialism like I will defend Terrapin Island: to the last breath. For documentation of what I have already done look me up on the website My last name is: HuntingBear. My first name is: PaulTerrenceWiggins.

erin k.
erin k.4 years ago

last time i checked - north korea did not start a war in iraq and massacre over 300,000 innocent iraqis who had nothing to do with osama bin laden who wasn't even there. really, i get he wasn't he greatest guy in the world, but i didn't see him going around killing millions of people whenever he felt like it like we did with vietnam, afghanistan, korea and iraq

erin k.
erin k.4 years ago

have you seen what is happening with occupy wall street? our government shot down veterans and put them in comas just for trying to practice free speech, it doesn't matter what you believe but violence is never the answer. in the sixties when the same thing happened they killed 4 students in kent state. the patriot act and now another bill that was passed recently says that the the us government can hold and detain anyone suspected of being a terrorist, for even writing anything offensive, and just ship them off to Guantanamo bay without telling anyone, they are not legally required - several americans have suffered under the patriot act - just because the media doesn't cover it doesn't mean it just doesn't happen. look at what they did to bradley manning a US soldier detained indefinitely, he still hasn't had his day in court! Our media is just as much censored as North Korea, we just refuse to see it - does our government allow the media to report on the hundreds of cities currently involved in occupy wall street in America? do they mention that there are over 100 countries participating? absolutely not. When Oakland marched 100,000 protesters strong - the media reported it was 7,000 when video evidence said otherwise - we need to start waking up.

Ira Herson
Ira Herson4 years ago

Well good bye Kim. We all hope that the younger Kim will be more responsive to the west. Even China was fed up with Kim Sr.

But the problem is that during the entire time Kim was in power he we educating the people to hate both the South Koreans and the United States. Uncle Sam has figured largely in many festivals depicting the devil. I seriously doubt that there will be any sudden detente.

Michael C.
Michael C.4 years ago

So, I just got use to saying Kim Jong Ill,
I now have to get use to saying Kim Jong Dead.

So, if Geo Bush died, would he become Geo Bushwacked. Just thinking

.What a crazy world, Kim Baby a tribute to you.

Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or villify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, I see genius. Because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. ~Jack Kerouac

Marcus Pozenel
Marcus Pozenel4 years ago

:) i ask my self...waht the hell is wrong with this eastern countries? This people and nations are absolute and totaly crazy. I have NO COMMENT'S!!!