North Korea’s Young Leader Is Kind of a Crappy Dictator

Rule number one: Don’t hang out with Dennis Rodman

North Korea’s Young Leader Is Kind of a Crappy Dictator North Korea’s Young Leader Is Kind of a Crappy Dictator

Uncategorized October 29, 2013 0

Kim Jong Un and Dennis Rodman at a BASKETBALL game in february 2013. north korean central news agency photo North Korea’s Young Leader Is... North Korea’s Young Leader Is Kind of a Crappy Dictator
Kim Jong Un and Dennis Rodman at a BASKETBALL game in february 2013. north korean central news agency photo

North Korea’s Young Leader Is Kind of a Crappy Dictator

Rule number one: Don’t hang out with Dennis Rodman

Kim Jong Il, the late father of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, was pretty good at playing the part of a dictator.

True, Jong Il had a taste for cognac, caviar and Hollywood movies. But in a regime where appearances are everything, these inconvenient tastes were kept private, not something to show off to the people during a famine which killed hundreds of thousands to millions of North Koreans. Jong Il — as presented by North Korean propaganda — was positively spartan compared to his bubbly son.

That’s why, according to an interview with North Korea observer B.R. Myers at the Web site NK News, Jong Un’s nearly two-year-long reign has been marked by significant propaganda failures that risk delegitimizing his own rule.

“I get the impression that this is the first leader in North Korean history who does not grasp North Korean propaganda very well,” Myers told NK News’ Oliver Hotham. The entire two-part interview is available at Soundcloud.

It’s useful to compare and contrast the two dictators. Instead of being blamed for a disastrous famine in the 1990s, Jong Il was presented in official propaganda as being too busy defending the country from an imminent attack by the United States.

According to Myers’ book The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, the pivot worked. Jong Il was celebrated for making what appeared to be personal sacrifices in defense of the nation.

Kim Jong Un at the waterpark. North Korean Central News Agency photo

By contrast, Jong Un has been seen riding roller coasters and hanging out with basketball star Dennis Rodman. For a regime which relies on the military to bolster its credibility, the image doesn't sit right.

“He started doing a bad job very soon, the way he was allowing himself to be filmed and photographed laughing and smiling broadly only a few weeks after his father had died,” Myers said. “I think that was very unwise. Now all this stuff with the amusement parks and luxury facilities the propaganda apparatus insists on showing on TV, I understand that the regime wants to project a kind of FDR, ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ kind of message.”

This makes some sense. Relaxing certain restrictions — such as the widely-reported Western-style clothing now worn on the streets of Pyongyang — can be a way for the regime to say “we have made enough progress on the military front to relax a bit,” Myers said.

The problem is that it opens Jong Un up to blame for the North Korean system’s numerous failings, whether food shortages or floods. Instead of being seen as worryingly preparing for war like his father, he’s publicly enjoying the perks that comes with being North Korea’s head honcho.

At the the same time, the regime needs to maintain an atmosphere of a foreign threat to rally support behind it, hence regular provocations and periods of increased tension with the outside world, like the ramped-up rhetoric seen during the spring of 2013.

Tensions flared between North Korea and its neighbors during this period. In December 2012, North Korea successfully launched its first satellite — the Kwangmy?ngs?ng-3 Unit 2 — into orbit. North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February, and tensions peaked in April as Pyongyang threatened war in response to being condemned by the United Nations. The U.S. even overflew two B-2 stealth bombers over South Korea as a show of force.

That’s all the more more reason why it’s dangerous for Jong Un to act like he has less important things to do — and appearing seemingly envious of the presence of an American athlete. It might be a good play for Jong Un to relax the country’s social restrictions, Myers said, but if North Korea experiences another economic crisis, it’d be better for someone else in the regime to be associated with it.

“That’s where these two Dennis Rodman episodes were really so disastrous,” Myers told NK News. “If I were a CIA mole planted in the regime in Pyongyang, that’s the kind kind of thing I would have advised him to engage in.”

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