20 December 2011

The Kim is Dead; Long Live The Kim

Dead Dear Leader on the far right, podgy new Dear Leader second from the left
In a year seemingly replete with significant deaths, the final month of 2011 has thrown up yet another surprising casualty to the list; though unlike Christopher Hitchens passing, this is one I can feel enlivened about, if only to a degree.
Kim Jong-Il has died. The North Koreans, have lost their dear leader, and the centre of their fervent death-cult. They now move one step closer to an obscene version of their own holy trinity, as no doubt their new Dear Leader (3.0?) will instill his departed father in the same mystical sense of eternal dictatorship as their previous leader, Kim Il-sung, who still technically remains as the head of state, despite his death in 1994.

Unlike the other dictators we have seen deposed, or deceased this past year, news of this death doesn’t really promise to lead to any significant changes in the situation of their oppressed peoples. There are no cheering crowds; only weeping newscasters, and jeering outsiders. There will most likely be no upheaval, but only a transferral of absolute power from one purveyor of the personality cult, on to another. So totally has the individual been replaced by the state in North Korea that one truly wonders if its people yearn for anything other than the world they find themselves in. Or has this hermit state (which sustains itself only on the persistent threat of force and the begrudging acceptance of western nations who give aid for fear of watching millions die), managed to get itself into a position where the totalitarian system has reached its zenith, and true change can never be fostered from within?

Christopher Hitchens called it “...A society where individual life is absolutely pointless, and where everything that is not absolutely compulsory is absolutely forbidden.” [Why Orwell Matters].
The near total control that the North Korean state appears to have over its people’s hopes and dreams has extended to the point where, as in Orwell’s 1984, they appear to genuinely love their dear leader, and the chains that hold them down. Though deep down I can’t help but hope that such oppressive control of the human mind cannot reach the level of saturation that this would imply.
I now strangely find myself hoping for a ‘peaceful’ transition from one tyrant to another. It is an odd feeling to be hoping that a dictator can come to power seamlessly and to be actively wishing this upon those he plans to rule over, but it seems that the alternative could be far worse. At least for now.
As we have seen in previous examples, a change of power in North Korea isn’t cemented  by the exertion of violence against its own people, but rather a show of strength against those the North Korean's view as their absolute enemies; their southern neighbours. We must remember after all, that the Korean War didn’t end, and the period we find ourselves in now is more of an armistice than it is a total cessation of hostilities.

In 1983, while his father was still alive, Kim Jong-Il orchestrated a bombing in Myanmar (cf. Burma) in order to kill senior South Korean officials stationed there, with the death toll amounting to 17 individuals. Then in 1987, Kim Jong-Il raised his personal death toll to 132 after ordering the destruction of a Korean Air jetliner. It is in this way that the emerging leader shows the resolve and strength required to lead his fellow North Koreans in their bitter hatred of any ‘outsiders’, and what they view as the mongrelisation of the Koreans in the south of the peninsular.
Some analysts predicted the change of power from Jong-Il to his youngest son as being cemented when the North Koreans torpedoed the South Korean ship Cheonan back in March of 2010, killing 46 sailors on board. This act was believed to have been orchestrated by the burgeoning dictator, and was followed in September of the same year by his official anointing as the heir to the hermit state’s central position of power. This, combined with the shelling of a South Korean island in late 2010 that killed two soldiers and two civilians, was viewed as Kim Jong-un’s coming of age. A signal that he, like his father, was fit to follow in the footsteps of their Eternal president in keeping the north pure, and their enemies at bay.
That the world puts up with such blatant acts of murder and terrorism from heads of state is astonishing, though at least this year we have managed to do away with two such leaders who had ordered the bombing of passenger jets (three really, if we are willing to call Osama a leader of any repute).
Kim Jong-un is thought to be twenty-seven years old. Note the use of the word ‘thought’ there, as again we see that information is blurred to such an Orwellian extent in the DPRK, that even actual birthdates and ages are a subject of state control. For instance Kim Jong-Il’s birth was said to have taken place in a mountain cabin in North Korea during February 1942, while most analysts think it more likely that he was born in Siberia, during his father’s exile there in 1941. I think I am more willing to believe this side of the story, as the official biography comes complete with the occasion being marked by a double rainbow and a bright star; like some kind of bastardised religious trope.
[Note; It will be interesting to see how North Korea presents their new dear leader to the world, considering their claims of the previous one, such as the fortuitous time he picked up a golf club, and scored eleven hole-in-one’s on the first attempt.]
Though the heir’s ages may not be known with any level of complete certainty, it nevertheless gave me pause to remark to a friend yesterday at the ambivalent reaction this draws up from within me, being myself a man of twenty seven years. It is quite a young age to be put in charge of a nation, which in itself concerns me not just as it runs parallel with my own age (and I dare to say, lack of accomplishment, if hereditary dictatorship can even be mentioned in the same sentence as such a thing), but also because it gives a lot more scope for the future tenure of the reign.
Kaddafi came into power when he was twenty-eight, and managed to keep a hold of the reins for forty-two years until it all came apart this year. Though Kim Jong-un’s father ruled North Korea from 1994 to 2011, he came into power at fifty-two years of age. At the time many people thought that after the death of Dear Leader 1.0, there would be power struggles, and internal turmoil that would prevent Dear Leader 2.0 from retaining absolute power over the state. Yet he managed to do this for seventeen years, with the military firmly backing him. As announcements from the North Korean military seem to suggest a likewise supportive role of Kim Jong-un, it brings to bear the more disturbing possibility that the North Korean’s totalitarian state might continue to exert is control over its hostage population for many years to come.
A young leader may in some cases be viewed as a liability. But in such personality cults, there is somewhat of an advantage in the central core of your dictatorship remaining steadfast amid an ever changing background of democratic world leaders.
It is a worrying situation, but as with all the major changes in the world there is uncertainty around the edges, and as such always room for hope in the future.
Nevertheless I can’t help feel that Rudd’s call for ‘maximum calm’ commits some sort of category mistake.......
Until next time dear reader.
I couldn't resist....

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