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The Education of Kim Jong-un 11 widespread and gross human rights violations,” and under its banner of “Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism,” the regime “seeks to dominate every aspect of its citizens’ lives and terrorizes them from within.” A 21st Century Dictatorship As a scholar of U.S. history before I became an intelligence analyst, I couldn’t help but think about Andrew Carnegie’s famous statement about the third generation in America as Kim 3.0 took the reins of power in North Korea. “There are but three generations from shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves.” Or in other words, the first generation makes the money, the second generation maintains it, and the third squanders it. Kim Jong-un seems determined to avoid that fate. Kim has adopted the mantle of the mythical, godlike leadership role that grandfather and country founder Kim Il-sung and his father Kim Jong-il held and continue to hold in their death. But he seems determined to chart his own path. In short, this is not your grandfather’s dictatorship. Kim is however harnessing the nostalgia for his grandfather’s era, before the 1990s famine and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting termination of aid. With his uncanny likeness to his grandfather in both appearance and demeanor, he has skillfully exploited the country’s adulation of its founder. Just a few months after he became the leader of North Korea, on the 100th anniversary of his grandfather’s birth, Kim delivered his first public address. As he invoked his grandfather’s legacy in the lengthy, 20-minute speech, he also affirmed his father’s “military first” policy, proclaiming that “the days are gone forever when our enemies could blackmail us with nuclear bombs.” Yet even while endorsing his father’s policy, he was making a remarkable departure from his father’s practice, for this was the first time that North Koreans had heard their leader’s voice in a public speech since Kim Il-sung’s days: Kim Jong-il shunned speaking in public during his almost 20 years of rule. 12 Jung H. Pak While basking in the nostalgia for his grandfather, Kim Jong-un is also determined to be seen as a “modern” leader of a “modern North Korea.” His charting of his own path can be seen in another departure from his father’s public persona. Kim has allowed himself to seem more transparent and accessible than his father. He appears in public with his pretty and fashionable young wife, Ri Sol-ju (with whom he has at least one child, and possibly three). He hugs, holds hands, and links arms with men, women, and children, seeming comfortable with both young and old. That transparency has been extended to the government. When one of its satellite launches failed in April 2012, the regime admitted the failure publicly, the first time it had ever done so. During his frequent public appearances, Jong-un can be seen giving guidance at various economic, military, and social and cultural venues, as his father and grandfather did, but he is also shown pulling weeds, riding roller coasters, navigating a tank, and galloping on a horse. He is comfortable with technology in the form of cell phones and laptops, and is also portrayed speaking earnestly with nuclear scientists and overseeing scores of missile tests. Kim appears to want to reinforce the impression that he is young, vigorous, on the move— qualities that he attributes to his country as well. Speaking directly to the people in April 2012 in that first public speech he gave as their leader, he confidently promised that North Koreans would no longer have to tighten their belts. Later he announced his byungjin policy: that North Korea can have both its nuclear weapons and prosperity. Animated by the optimism of one whose privilege made him believe anything was possible, he has prioritized both these issues and personally taken ownership of them—all part of creating and nurturing his brand. The images that the regime chooses to disseminate and weave into Kim’s hagiography say a lot about how Kim envisions North Korea’s future and his place in it. The carefully curated public appearances of Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, provide the regime with a “softer” side, a thin veneer of style and good humor to mask the brutality, starvation, Kim appears to want to reinforce the impression that he is young, vigorous, on the move—qualities that he attributes to his...


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MARC Record
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