North Korea and its family dynasty: Nothing to envy

The son of 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il who seems favored to lead North Korea, Kim Jong-un, is probably not even 30 years old. And yet he may soon have his finger on a nuclear trigger.

This undated group photo shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (seated, right) and his son and likely successor Kim Jong Un (seated, left) along with other newly elected members of the Workers' Party of Korea and delegates to a party conference at the plaza of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang. (Editor's note: An earlier photo on this blog was removed after a comment by a North Korea watcher indicated that it did not show Kim Jong Un.)

This photograph offers a rare image of Kim Jong Un, the son of North Korean "Dear Leader" Kim Jong il, who is favored to take over the regime. The son was elevated to military general and a high party post at a rare gathering of the Korean Workers Party in September. His father is ailing, which means the younger Kim may soon have his finger on the country's nuclear trigger.

Perish the thought, as he probably lacks the experience or wisdom to command his country's forces. It is widely assumed – and hoped – that his uncle and aunt, Jang Song-thaek and Kim Kyong-hui, will serve as regents for the young Kim until he matures.

My own experience from traveling in North Korea is that the people are extremely naive about the outside world. It's not their fault, as the government keeps them working hard and filled with official slogans, a process called human remaking.

"We will always put ideological education ahead of economic growth," one North Korean official told me.

Kim Jong-un was able to attend a school in Switzerland during his early days and supposedly speaks English. But his foreign experience may not be enough for him to reject his father's absurd propaganda that is constantly fed to North Koreans. One official told me, point blank, that the Mercedes he was driving was made in North Korea.

My favorite billboard that I saw during my travels in this odd country states: "We have nothing to envy." This is a defensive move by the regime to warn people not to compare their sorry plight to any reports of a better life enjoyed in South Korea, China, or elsewhere.

These days, more North Koreans know just how backward their country is. But they can't speak out for fear of becoming one of a few hundred thousand political prisoners.

(Editor's Note: An earlier photo on this blog was removed after a comment by a North Korea watcher indicated that it did not show Kim Jong Un.)

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.