B. R. Myers: Dynasty, North Korean-Style

Roundup: Historians' Take

B. R. Myers is the director of the international studies department at Dongseo University and the author of “The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves — and Why It Matters.”

KIM JONG-UN can count himself lucky that his first birthday in power falls today, on a Sunday, obviating the need for a new national holiday to be created at an awkward time. But the ease with which the new “supreme leader” has taken over North Korea has little to do with luck. For one thing, the propaganda apparatus did its job well. We now know why Kim Jong-un was such a peripheral figure on the evening news until his father’s death: so that North Koreans’ first long look at the pampered young man would be at the rarest of times — a time when he was suffering more than anyone.

More important, though, is the fact that his succession makes perfect sense in North Korea’s ethno-nationalist personality cult. People who value racial purity always consider some bloodlines purer than others, and in “the Kim Il-sung race,” as North Koreans call themselves, no bloodline is purer than the eternal president’s. Kim Jong-un’s increasingly obvious efforts to copy his revered grandfather’s appearance and mannerisms (right down to his signature) are naturally meant to show that — as a Korean saying goes — blood doesn’t lie.

Membership in the great family is also thought to provide greater access to the elders’ wisdom. This makes the time Kim Jong-un spent away in a Swiss school especially problematic, but the propaganda apparatus may be planning to ignore that part of his life altogether. (The latest reports suggest that he is now being credited with having written, at the age of 16, a treatise on his grandfather’s thought, presumably while in Pyongyang, the capital.)...

Read entire article at NYT

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