He’s Dead.

Just a moment ago, the world learned that Kim Jong-il, supreme regent of his dead father's necrocracy, creator of famines, and would-be owner of a nation's souls, is dead, dead, dead. The Times had its obituary up in minutes. They've been waiting for this a long time. Lots of people have. 

From the Times:

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Jong-il, the reclusive North Korean leader who has been battling ill health following a reported stroke in 2008, has died, the North’s official news media reported on Monday.

“Our great leader Comrade Kim Jong-il passed away at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 17,” Korean Central TV reported.

… Called the “Dear Leader” by his people, Mr. Kim, the son of North Korea’s founder, remained an unknowable figure. Everything about him was guesswork, from the exact date and place of his birth, to the mythologized events of his rise in a country formed by the hasty division of the Korean Peninsula at the end of World War II.

North Koreans heard about him only as their “peerless leader” and “the great successor to the revolutionary cause.” Yet he fostered what was perhaps the last personality cult in the Communist world. His portrait hangs beside that of his father, Kim Il-sung, in every North Korean household and building. Towers, banners and even rock faces across the country bear slogans praising him.

That business will probably go on a while. CNN just announced that there will be a state funeral in Pyongyang on December 28th. It will undoubtedly be one of the greatest pageants of all time, though many North Koreans will be celebrating for more reasons than their state TV will let on.

Behind the scenes, old veteran generals of Kim Jong-il's administration will likely spar with the deceased despot's son and heir apparent, the 20-something-year-old Kim Jong-un, for control of the country's decrepit infrastructure, hungry masses, defective rockets, nuclear warheads, and outsized military. There's no telling what kind of North Korea will eventuate. Whatever comes, though, almost anything will be better than what's come before.


  1. Paul R says

    Brandon, I often defend you and applaud your use of high-level words and clever phrases. But that is the most useless headline I’ve ever seen.

    One interesting aspect is that his oldest son is clearly gay and as a result was passed over as the heir to Il’s “exalted” position.

  2. says


    Thanks for the defense. You may be right re: the headline. I dunno. My editorial judgment is shot. The moment I heard about the demise of Dear Leader I was filled with giddiness and gaiety, like I had just downed a coupla flutes of champagne. (My seven roommates are all Asians of various stripes, and the mood here is pretty festive.) Sorry about that. In any case — have a great week, and see you next Saturday.

    – BKT

  3. princely54 says

    I feel no sadness at his passing. My hope is that very soon NK will join the international community and the population can move into the 21st century (they’re barely in the 20th as it is now.)

  4. Blake says

    What the hell are you talking about. His oldest kid has two wives and a friggin mistress. People around here are such ridiculous fools.

    Anyway, even if this does somehow miraculously result in unification (something most Southerners DON’T want) the North is AT BEST half a century away from joining modern civilization. They live in an Orwellian nightmare of pre-industrial level technological decrepitude.

  5. topher says

    Wouldn’t it be funny, as he’s a god-like figure in North Korea, for the state press to release a statement 3 days from now stating he’s come back to life?

  6. JDB says

    Great piece, except for the last half of the last line.

    “almost anything will be better than what’s come before.”

    I don’t know about that. Kim Jong-Il’s very instability is what made NK so ineffective. I mean, the guy was so bad that even China held him at arm’s length.

    If his son turns out to be more reasonable than dear Il dad, that could be bad news for regional stability, absurd as that might seem. A more stable NK can form a closer relationship with China, potentially revitalizing its industry and economy. While all of that is great for the people starving to death, it’s not great for their neighbors. China’s current resource appetite outweighs anything NK could offer them, and NK is resource poor itself. Two oil-hungry, nuclear-armed military powers could go a long way towards destabilizing the region for everyone else.

    And that’s just if they don’t do anything overtly aggressive. A joint Chinese/NK invasion of the contested Spratley Islands, for example, would imperil stability on a global scale.

    Then of course there’s the possibility that he’s even more insane than Poppa Kim. That scenario ends either with the generals taking him out and some level of civil unrest within NK, or with armed conflict and quite likely the use of chemical/biological/nuclear weapons within the Korean Peninsula.

  7. Bill Perdue says

    Another one bites the dust.

    Unfortunately that doesn’t mean much for the PDRK, under the iron rule of Stalinists since 1948. What is important for the region is the simmering discontent in the PRC and in Japan, where workers and student protest movements are likely to come to a head in a year or two, just as they did here and throughout the Arab/muslim world and Europe.

    The example of those explosions, combined with the ineptitude of the Stalinists command economy with its long term food and consumer shortages will sooner or later lead to ferment in the DPRK and the ROK.

  8. Arturo says

    Another stinkin dictator croaks. Hopefully the creeps in Tehran, Havana, Harare, Cairo Caracus etc will be pushing up daisies soon as well and these countries can rejoin the civilized world

  9. Paul R says

    @Blake: oh gosh, I’m SO sorry. It’s the middle son who’s gay, and it’s widely documented.

    And I wasn’t suggesting that anyone be sad or maudlin for the passing of this embodiment of evil. Just that the headline be a bit more specific. And per usual, Brandon was gracious in his response when I should have been more polite.

  10. Jake says

    1) Brandon, your headline was fitting. Possibly the best possible one for it conveys much in only words.

    2)Blake, I think you are mistaken in your assumption regarding South Koreans and reunification.

    I live here and work with North Korean Refugees and have colleagues in the military and police. I can tell you that the vast majority of Koreans want reunification, as they see the North Koreans as their brethren (rightly so). Most are eager for reunification, and hope it will come in their lifetime, despite the negative consequences of reunification. The humanitarian and economic toll will be massive but most Koreans are willing to endure it for the sake of reunification.

    3) JDB: Interesting that you mention how it might impact regional stability.
    Currently, many Koreans above the age of 30 or so are very concerned about an impending war as the generals or Kim Jung-un take reign. They were expecting his demise, yes, but it still has the government on high alert (even most police officers are not returning home tonight to stay at work to prepare for whatever comes next and the military is on high alert). However, the youth are largely apathetic to the situation, many just offering a “really?” in response to the news before moving on.

    Your hypothetical on the Spratly Islands is amusing (especially as the Sprately Islands issue is often grouped with the Paracel Islands). But, even if China went for an official land grab, it is doubtful they would include North Korea as then it would pull South Korea into the mix, which would then force the hand of the US (if the US was reluctant to enter the fray prior).

    4) Yet, I fear nothing will come of Kim Jung-il’s demise, at least in the foreseeable future. Though, for the sake of North Koreans, I hope that I am wrong and we witness a shift in policies.

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