The Kim family legacy and the (possible) future of North Korea

Since the defeat of the Japanese in World War II, and the subsequent freeing of the Korean peoples, dispute has raged about how to rule the Korean peninsula.  After several years of open conflict, the two Koreas had seemed on a path of reunification and peace. In recent months, this seems to have evaporated completely.  [SEE THE BACKDROP FOR THE (ONGOING) KOREAN WAR]

But this has been a long-time coming.  After Eternal Leader Kim Il-Sung died in 1994, his son, the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il, took over the reins of North Korea.  Since that time there has been extreme poverty, starvation and depredation.

Although one would not believe it from the news reports told to the starving citizens of the Hermit Kingdom, North Korea is a destitute little country, hoping to be noticed on the world stage.  They demand to be recognized as a nuclear power, even making the claim in May 2010 of achieving the worldwide dream of nuclear fusion – clean, limitless power.

Nighttime sky over the Korean peninsula

About two years ago, it is suspected, Kim Jong-Il suffered a stroke.  Although, as usual, no announcement has come from the Hermit Kingdom, the 68 year-old dictator is apparently frail, and suffers a noticeable loss of ability on one side of his body. 

As Kim Jong-Il plans to hand over the nation to his third son, heir apparent Kim Jong-Un, the elder Kim has called for his citizens to “bring earlier the final victory in the drive for building a thriving nation” by 2012.  He has declared the intention to make the DPRK a “powerful and prosperous country” by 2012.  He has begun his usual machinations in advance of a major announcement, and a surprise meeting of the Korean People’s Assembly (the North Korean Parliament) has been called for June 2010.

In recent months North Korea has been steadily increasing their relationship with world pariah Iran.  Yesterday, an official UN panel charged North Korea with violating international law and selling nuclear and missile technology to Iran, Syria and Myanmar, just as pleas are raised to the UN regarding the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, which is what has heated up tensions to their current boiling point.

Korea watched the UN’s predecessor, the doomed League of Nations, fail in saving them from torture at the hands of the Japanese Empire.  Now the United Nations is potentially mired in gridlock – with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, a South Korean, requesting UN actions, while both China and Russia, each bearing UN Security Council veto-power, have demanded their own investigations into the matter.  While both have said that they support South Korea in punishing the culprit, neither accepts the investigation already run, implying that it was neither objective nor complete.

North Korea is now declaring that the South must have faked the evidence of the sinking of the Cheonan.  With accusations of assassination of former South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun, the DPRK is attempting to point fingers at the “puppet regime of ultra-conservative Lee Myung-Bak and his US masters”. 

Taking all this into account, what could it possibly mean?  Let’s look at some possibilities:

A Desperate Last Gasp

Kim Jong-Il had the luxury of more than 10 years of grooming to become the leader of North Korea.  He has not afforded his son, heir apparent Kim Jong-Un, with that same luxury.  Many are speculating that without much time to gain the support of the all-ubiquitous military (with an active-duty roster comprising an estimated 5% of the North Korean population), the Kims have hatched a plot to sink the Cheonan to provide the younger Kim with a solid military victory, much as the elder had done just before taking office himself.

Such a premeditated attack could then have been blown beyond expected proportions, with 46 deaths.  That being said, it would also atone for the naval loss the DPRK suffered in the same waters in the prior year. 

These theorists usually continue to the conclusion that Kim Jong-Il is not willing to risk the already-fragile welfare (and loyalty) of his people on a war, and is bustling with his usual rhetoric.  If this were a boxing match, this would at most be a jab – a quick shot not designed to do serious damage, but to throw their opponent off their game, even if just a little.  Should the South, or the world, cock back to throw the roundhouse, the North would back into a defensive posture and ride it out until the bell. 

This is certainly among the most plausible of possibilities.  It is realistic to an extent, but it also assumes that Kim Jong-Il genuinely thinks his nation could survive another transition of power.  With 2009’s disastrous currency revaluation, the already-destitute North Koreans became even poorer.  Handing over rule to his son at a time when North Koreans are gaining more access to the outside world than ever before is a risky combination.  And despite the increasing use of cell phone availability in North Korea, the vast majority of international communication is in the form of emigration and virtual slavery in China.  With citizens starving and new sanctions pending, Kim Jong-Il would be irresponsible to think that powerful factions within the country would abide handing over the nation to a wet-behind-the-ears Kim Jong-Un.

So, what other possibilities are there?

“Axis of Not-So-Evil”

The image the DPRK is trying to portray is one of a peaceful nation, cornered by predators and mis-information.  Sure, the two governments of Korea (as they refer to the dispute) have had their squabbles over the years, and sometimes those spats have turned deadly. 

They claim that the US is promoting its own form of Empire, and causing a nuclear arms race in the bargain.  The DPRK states that it is just trying to protect itself from the “Imperialism of the US and its puppet forces”.  With the stated goal of being entirely self-sufficient, North Korea has isolated itself from the majority of other nations around the world.

Whether the DPRK intentionally sank the Cheonan, or some entirely different explanation is forthcoming, the DPRK had denied the fact from Day One, and must continue in their denials to save face.  (This has happened before – some of the Sunshine Policy advances are actually thought to be forms of apology for similar incidents in the past.)  In the face of (perceived) worldwide threat of annihilation, North Korea simply does not have the option to apologize, accept a slap on the wrist, and go off to cower in the corner.  When faced with expulsion or writing “I will not kill people” 1000 times on the blackboard, Kim Jong-Il will thumb his nose at the teacher each and every time.

Under this theory, the DPRK is forming their relationships with other “misunderstood” nations as Iran, Syria and Myanmar, hoping to emerge from their shell slightly, with others they can trust.  Much like the Geek Table at the local High School, Kim Jong-Il just wants to sit down with his tray and quietly eat his lunch without the bullies of the school (and their lackey, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak) tripping him up.

If even a few of their other announcements have been true, then North Korea could approach their primary-stated goal, reunification with South Korea, on reasonably equal terms, which is all they have wanted all along.  That too would negate the possibility of their backing down publicly on this Cheonan issue if they did it somewhat accidentally.

Just as in any other “he said, she said” moment, the truth (should such a thing as objective, absolute truth) can never be discovered.  There is no black-or-white, just shades of gray.  In a modern world of unimagined technology and Machiavellian plotting, every side will make their arguments, show their proof.  Some people take these scenarios even further, to the extremes.

To these people, it is black-and-white.  Regardless of whether the plot was initiated by Kim Jong-Il, Lee Myung-Bak, Barack Obama, or any of a thousand other potential suspects, these folks are focused on the outcome.

As with the rest of the world, they hope that this situation can be settled with talk.  All rhetoric aside, it is conceivable that someone could step up somewhere, take responsibility for the sinking of the ship, and let the world move on.  A return to the status quo could be reached and everyone would continue trying to take baby steps into the terrifying future.

There are many people who take the situation to the extreme.  To them, this is just another sign of:


The number of conspiracy theories about the end of the world are laughed at by the majority of Western civilization, but millions have begun to question whether we are really looking at the beginning of the end of the world as we know it in 2012.  (Take, for example, this article at

Several groups, becoming somewhat more mainstream, are anticipating that the end of the Mayan long calendar, coming December 21, 2012, heralds the Apocalypse.  Amongst those who believe, most debate the details – some believe a series of catastrophes will befall humankind as foreseen in the Bible, destroying upwards of 90% of the living beings (including humans) on Earth.  Others see the dawning of a New Age – the Age of Aquarius, when peace and harmony reign over the people of Earth.  These two groups may or may not overlap, depending on whom you speak to.

Many of these theorists are concerned by the apparent coincidence of these events, and the timing of the statements by North Korea and Iran in relation.

At a time when Israel and the West are accusing North Korea, Iran and others of being the new “Axis of Evil”, they in turn are responding that they feel threatened by the US and other powers having nuclear weaponry, and denying even the existence of their own. 

Kim Jong-Il’s promises to make North Korea “powerful and prosperous”, and numerous other mentions of 2012, leaves these theorists to question whether there is a relation.

An increase of nuclear weaponry and technology, not to mention unknown quantities of biological and chemical weapons, and people resolved to use them, removes every last safe zone from the planet.

Whether Kim is the “anti-Christ” referred to in these theories, or whether Ahmadinejad or Bin Laden or Obama is the “Beast”, in their eyes the world situation is building up to utter disaster.  With financial institutions collapsing worldwide, our increased reliance on technology to survive, our increasing destruction of the planet and our delving into mysteries best left mysterious (or at least so thought by many), Internet theorists posit that we are gearing up for what would truly be named, the war to end all wars.


Obviously there are many people throughout the ages who have thought the world was ending, and it has not.  Few of the Armageddon theorists suggest that all life on Earth, even all human life, will disappear.  Whatever your thoughts on the situation are, it is quite a volatile one.  Stay tuned to the proceedings with caution, because it truly could get ugly.

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