In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The Education of Kim Jong-un 7 test, portrayed him as a chubby baby, playing with his “toys”: nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and tanks. The imagery suggests that, like a child, he is prone to tantrums and erratic behavior, unable to make rational choices, and liable to get himself and others into trouble. However, when the focus is on the frighteningly rapid pace and advancement of North Korea’s cyber, nuclear, and conventional capabilities, Kim is portrayed as a ten-foot-tall giant with untold and unlimited power: unstoppable, undeterrable, omnipotent. The coexistence of these two sets of overlapping perceptions—the tenfoot -tall baby—has shaped our understanding and misunderstanding of Kim and North Korea. It simultaneously underestimates and overestimates Kim’s capabilities, conflates his capabilities with his intentions, questions his rationality, or assumes his possession of a strategic purpose and the means to achieve his goals. These assumptions distort and skew our policy discussions. Footsteps of General Kim If he had followed Korean custom and tradition, Kim Jong-il would have named Kim Jong-nam, not Kim Jong-un, his successor, because Jong-nam was the eldest of his three sons. But Kim Jong-il reportedly rejected Jong-nam as being unfit to lead North Korea. Why? For one, the elder Kim might have judged that Jong-nam was tainted by foreign influence. In 2001 Jong-nam had been detained in Japan with a fake passport in a failed attempt to go to Tokyo Disneyland. More seriously, it is said that he had suggested that North Korea undertake policy reform and open up to the West, enraging his father. The second son, Jong-chul, was deemed too effeminate; one of Jongchul ’s friends recalled that “[Jong Chul] is not the type of guy who would do something to harm others. He is a nice guy who could never be a villain.” Indeed, he seems to be playing an unspecified supporting role in his younger brother’s regime. That left Jong-un, whom the elder Kim chose to be the third Kim to lead North Korea because he was the most aggressive of his 8 Jung H. Pak children. Kenji Fujimoto, Kim Jong-il’s former sushi chef, who visited Pyongyang at the request of Kim Jong-un, has provided some of the most fascinating firsthand observations about Jong-un and his relationship with his father. Fujimoto claims that Jong-il had chosen his youngest son to succeed him as early as 1992, citing as evidence the scene at Jong-un’s ninth birthday banquet where Jong-il instructed the band to play “Footsteps” and dedicated the song to his son: Following our General Kim’s footsteps; Spreading the spirit of February [a reference to Kim Jong-il, who was born in February]; We, the people, march forward to a bright future. Judging from the lyrics, Jong-il was expecting Kim Jong-un to lead North Korea into the future, guided by the spirit and legacy of his father. Though Jong-il saw in his son a worthy successor to the dynasty, there are critical differences between the first two Kims and Kim Jong-un. Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder and Jong-un’s grandfather who ruled for nearly five decades until his death in 1994, was a revolutionary hero who fought Japanese imperialism, the South Korean “puppets,” and the American “jackals” in a military conflict that ended only because of an armistice. In the next generation Kim Jong-il had to navigate through worldchanging events that included the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of large-scale aid from Moscow, a changing relationship with the ever-suspicious Chinese who seemed to be prioritizing links with Seoul, and tense negotiations with the United States on North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear program. And let’s not forget the famine and the drought of the 1990s, or the tightening noose of sanctions and international ostracism. In contrast with his battle-hardened elders, Kim Jong-un grew up in a cocoon of indulgence and privilege. During the 1990s famine, in which as many as 2–3 million North Koreans died as a result of starvation and hunger-related illnesses, Kim was in Switzerland. His childhood was marked by luxury and leisure: vast estates with horses, swimming pools, bowling alleys, summers at the family’s private resort, luxury vehicles adapted so that The Education of Kim Jong-un 9 he could drive when he was 7 years old. For...


Additional Information

MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.