July 6, 2006
Once upon a time, far, far away in Vyatskoye, Siberia, near Khabarovsk, a child named Yuri Irsenovich Kim was born on 16 February 1941 to Captain Kim, a North Korean exile and guerrilla serving in the Soviet 88th Bridge of the Red Army. It’s been said that Captain Kim was content in Siberia, his family having fled famine and other ills in the motherland. Yuri was probably a happy camper, as he was popular with female exiles. There were few children in the area, and cute-as-a-button Yuri is said to have had many wet nurses. At age three, he’s seen happily saluting. However, stuff happens. With Japan’s surrender and the end of WWII, the happy family was in Pyongyang by the end of 1945.
Dad had a great new job, courtesy of the Soviet forces, as head of the Provisional People’s Committee. They lived in a palatial home formerly occupied by the Japanese and had a garden and a pool, where it’s said that, at age 7, young Yuri stood by and watched as his brother, Shura Kim (a.k.a. Kim Pyong-il v1.0) drowned. Mom died during childbirth when Yuri was eight, and it’s believed that he was primarily educated in the People’s Republic of China, having been sent there by his father for safekeeping during the Korean War.
Dad got down to business and embarked on a series of purges to rid himself of enemies and began a series of Stalinist-styled economic and social reforms, styling himself as “The Great Leader,” establishing an iron grip in North Korea, and ultimately becoming President for Life in 1972. At the heart of his economic reforms was arms production. Some things never change.
By now, it had been decided that Yuri would succeed his father, creating the first Communist dynasty in the world. Young Yuri’s birthday was pushed up a year to 1942 to coincide with the anniversary of his father’s 30th birthday. As Soviet birth was incompatible with eventual deification, Yuri’s birthplace was relocated to Mount Paektu, in northern Korea. And lo! A swallow foretold the birth of baby Kim Jong-il, and a double rainbow appeared over Mount Paektu (despite the fact that this was the dead of winter), and a new star adorned the heavens. Eventually, the humble log cabin in which Kim Jong-il was born was located. Long-lost trees were found which had slogans carved into them at the time of Kim Jong-il’s birth, proclaiming that he was destined to be his father’s successor. Deification of the rotund heir-apparent had begun in earnest.
Dad remarried after Mom’s death and Kim Pyong-il v2.0, the heir to spare, was born. After he came of age, he was shuffled off to Europe and is presently North Korea’s ambassador to Poland. This saved any messy infighting. By 1982, Kim Jong-il began to be referred to as “Dear Leader.” “Great Leader” honed his policy of juche (self-reliance), further isolating North Korea from its traditional Chinese and Soviet trading partners. Junior took over the true seat of North Korean power, the million-man Army, in 1991, and in 1992, the only time his voice has ever been broadcast (it helps to stay mysterious if you’re God), he pronounced: “Glory to the heroic soldiers of the people’s army!”
When Daddy died at age 82 in 1994, the country was thrown into three years of mourning. You could be severely punished if you didn’t mourn enough. To this day, each household keeps two towels, the purpose of each being to keep dust off of portraits of Great Leader and Dear Leader. The Presidency has remained vacant since Great Leader’s death and may have been abolished, although it’s hard to tell. Kim Jung-il instead snagged such titles as “General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea” and “National Defense Commission” chairman. Yawn. Not surprisingly, the latter job was declared to be “the highest post of the state.” And thus Kim had performed a neat switcheroo in which he is the leader but since he’s not President, he’s not required to hold elections to confirm whether his citizens might actually want him to lead. As the church lady on Saturday Night Live used to say, “How ConVEEEEnient.” The 1998 constitution further stipulates that Daddy is “Eternal President of the Republic,” so we guess a public referendum on Dear Leader is out of the question.
The rest of the 1990s were frittered away with the one-track industrial production of arms for sale, supplemented with the creation of remarkably realistic-looking counterfeit U.S. currency and opium, heroin, and methamphetamine production and drug smuggling, most notably visible in the 2003 Australian seizure of the Pong Su, a North Korean cargo ship caught trying to smuggle heroin into Australia. Not surprisingly, the government won’t release any economic data. Suddenly, those salutes didn’t look so cute anymore.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, lessening agricultural productivity, including such genius ideas as clearing hillsides to increase rice productivity — which of course only led to mudslides and a decreased harvest — resulted in many deaths by starvation as early as 1988 and the deaths of 3 million North Koreans (out of a total population of about 22 million) in 1997, the worst peacetime and man-made famine ever, anywhere. The lies began in 1982, when Dear Leader told Great Leader that there was a record harvest that year when, in reality, the harvest was only half that reported. Soon, everyone learned to lie. Dear Leader was told by his advisors that agricultural self-sufficiency was a realistic goal if Chinese agricultural reforms were implemented. Dear Leader refused, the economy was further undermined, and his advisors fled, fearing for their lives. Food supplied by the United Nations and other agencies was and is diverted to the military and to the black market, never reaching those intended recipients. North Koreans increasingly flee to China to escape starvation, while more and more money is spent on armaments.
If you disagree with any of this, you’re out of luck. You’ll be sent to Camp 22 or other gulags, pictures and videos of which have been seen, although Dear Leader insists that none of this is true. About 700,000 people are interred in these camps or “communal farms,” creating what’s believed to be the world’s highest concentration of imprisoned and enslaved men, women and children. Most of these prisoners have no ears, having had them torn off in beatings. It gets worse, but I’ll spare you the details. If you don’t work on a communal farm, you work in a mine or get to “test” chemical weapons.
Dear Leader is now thought to be worth about $4 billion, much of it salted away in Swiss banks. Sensitive about his 5’ 2” height, he wears shoes with 4-inch lifts and a strange bouffant-ish hairdo, in a failed attempt to create the illusion of added height. His wardrobe appears to consist of some sort of retro throwback to leisure suits. His excesses are legendary. While average earnings per capita in North Korea are about $900 a year, he’s been one of Hennessey’s best customers for years, with his annual tab (especially for a cognac he’s particularly fond of that retails for $630 a bottle in Korea), averaging about $700,000 annually. It’s a wonder the man can get anything done. He’s also one of Mercedes-Benz’s best customers, and has a five-story garage packed to the gills with vehicles, including, for old times’ sake, the two armored Cadillac limousines given to Great Leader by Muammar Khaddafi in the late 1980s.
He has at least 11 palaces, including a seven-story “pleasure palace,” and his “joy brigades,” consisting of teenaged girls recruited for five-year stints to please Dear Leader and his cohorts, are legion. And woe betide any joy brigade member who grows taller than Dear Leader. This will get you a one-way ticket to the gulag. When not busy with all that cognac or the joy brigade members, Dear Leader can chose from about 20,000 movies in his personal video library, including Daffy Duck. Guess who is North Korea’s movie producer? He particularly admires the work of Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s film propagandist. Dear Leader once even kidnapped South Korean movie producer Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife, Choe Eun-hui, holding them captive for eight years in an attempt to jump start the North Korean film industry. What North Korean film industry?
It’s said that Dear Leader likes to surf the Internet. Perhaps he’ll have an opportunity to view Unseen North Korea, a series of photographs taken by a British traveler who prefers to remain anonymous.
Here’s Dear Leader with his sullen son, “Fat Bear,” on a childhood trip to Tokyo Disneyland. Fat Bear was the heir-apparent until his fascination with Disneyland apparently undid him. His real name is Kim Jong-nam, and he’s one of Dear Leader’s at least 13 illegitimate children.
Fat Bear blew it when he was detained in 2001 at Narita International Airport, trying to enter the country with a forged Dominican Republic passport bearing the Chinese name Pang Xiong (Fat Bear). We’d hazard a guess that if one were trying to enter a country with a forged passport, calling attention to yourself by wearing diamond-encrusted Rolex watches while lugging Louis Vuitton luggage might not be the most low-profile approach, but that’s what the entourage did. And things went downhill from there.
First came the news that he’d visited Japan several times in late 2000, where a “hostess” at Soapland, a gentleman’s club, remembered Fat Bear’s $350-an-hour visits and gasp!…the dragon tattoo on Fat Bear’s back. (North Korea is nominally Confucian, and tattoos are seen as desecration of the body.) Then came the news that the real purpose of his 2001 visit may have been to launder money from the sale of WMD through Japanese banks. Dear Leader was pissed. Fat Bear, who sounds too stupid to live, has had a much lower profile in recent years, although he occasionally surfaces in Beijing and Moscow. Another son, Kim Jong-chul, is now thought to have most favored status.
Is it any wonder that Russia and China haven’t come out with forceful statements condemning the 2006 version of the rocket’s red glare? Who wants 22 million starving people on the doorstep? NIMBY (not in my back yard) isn’t solely confined to the United States. If Washington and the United Nations want to work with Dear Leader, how does one overlook the crimes against humanity and absolve Dear Leader? And what about those 30,000 or so U.S. troops who are sandwiched in no-man’s land with a million-man Army next door?
The Bush Administration cut off direct diplomatic communications with Dear Leader and the “Axis of Evil” name calling probably didn’t help either. The U.S. said Dear Leader was developing a secret uranium program; North Korea responded that they had a right to build defensive nuclear weapons unless the States agreed to a non-aggression treaty. We stopped shipping fuel oil; they withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. New six-party talks (North and South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States) about Dear Leader’s nuclear programs are scheduled to resume in Beijing on 26 July. Dear Leader certainly knows how to steal the thunder and play to the media, as seen with the split-second switch from traditional Fourth of July news coverage to the story of his missile launches and relegation of coverage of the space shuttle Discovery’s somewhat unexpected launch to a distant second place. While it wasn’t quite what we expected for the Fourth, the good news is that…the long-range missile, apparently headed towards the general vicinity of Hawaii, was a miserable failure, and pity the people responsible for the failed launch, who are probably already down on the farm.
And thus we await the next chapter in this most improbable fairy tale, of a Siberian boy named Yuri and his rise to power as the world’s most loathed billionaire. And yes, it’s hard not to take the bait about the “Nodong’ missiles but, being of sterling character, we’ll not delve too deeply into that vein, which the Comedy Channel will probably rapidly mine.
Read about contemporary security breeches at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a nuclear arms facility. What a cheery thought…not!
Photo credit: The Seoul Times
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