The poor people of the “hermit nation” of North Korea are weeping and laden with grief following an announcement at noon on December 18, that Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea, has died unexpectedly of a heart attack while reviewing troop activity. The bulletin from North Korea’s KCNA official news agency indicates Kim succumbed to poor health caused by overwork.
The people of North Korea are poor and hungry. Some work for nothing at all, just small amounts of food and shelter, to survive. Yet they loved the monarch as if he were their father, and are grief-stricken at his loss.
Kim Jong-il rose to power as the General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea in 1948. He became a public figure as the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on July 8, 1994, upon the death of his father, Kim il Sung, who had named him as successor. At that time Kim Jong-il was viewed as a playboy; drinking cognac and enjoying the company of foreign prostitutes. However that impression changed as the charismatic leader showed himself to be an able diplomat and decision maker; able to listen and respond to the positions of others.
North Korea has a long history as a hermit nation, separated on the Korean peninsula from the rest of the world. It has steadfastly refused to recognize the dividing line at the peninsula’s hard-fought 38th parallel, set during the 1950-1953 Korean War, in which thousands of plain-clothes fighters from China came to North Korea’s aid in its struggle against the United Nations and the United States. Today, China remains the North’s greatest ally, supplying food and other necessities to the people of North Korea.
In recent years Kim Jong-il has not hesitated to deny the authority of the 38th Parallel dividing line with force. The December 20th, 2010, shelling of Yeonpyeong Island was aimed at the provocative missile launches from the South, fired during drills held by South Korea and the US in an effort, Kim Jong-il said, to make the 38th parallel line of demarcation seem real and recognized.
We recall also North Korea’s torpedoing and sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette, Cheonan on March 26, 2010, as it sailed in the Yellow Sea, protecting crab fishermen. The sinking took the lives of 46 of Cheonan’s crew. Kim acted because the Cheonan was in waters he considered to be within the jurisdiction of North Korea.
Kim Jong-il showed himself to be a powerful leader. He demanded that his nation of North Korea have a potential to launch nuclear missiles. From his viewpoint that much of the world was hostile to Pyongyang, this may have seemed reasonable. On several occasions in recent years, Kim slowed or stopped development of the nuclear capacity in exchange for food and provisions, but development was always begun again. When the North Korean missile program was in full development, Kim Jong-il didn’t hesitate to announce details of North Korean nuclear missile development to the world.
For the past several years, Kim Jong-un, Kim’s young son, thought to be 27 or 28 now, was groomed to succeed the aging leader. Jong-un is seen to be a quiet and thoughtful man, having studied in Switzerland, and having shown interest in North Korean factories. Jong-un is perceived to be the heir apparent to the Pyongyang leadership, but he will have to work closely with the military authorities, who run a large and capable force. In a parade on military might last year, overseen by Kim Jong-il and his son, missiles on trailers were paraded with thousands of soldiers in uniform marching proudly; on some of the trailers were signs declaring “Down With the United States.” It was clear that the North Korean authorities viewed the United States at that time as their most despised enemy.
Kim Jong-un, in succeeding his father, will work not only with the military, but with Kim Jong-il’s sister and her husband. There has been speculation that her husband, the now dead leader’s brother in law, Chang Sung-taek, may attempt to overthrow Kim Jong-un, and take control of the country. Chang Sung-taek is an educated man, and a negotiator.
South Korea is under a heightened security watch, and will watch closely to see what changes may develop in coming days. China and Russia, close allies of Kim and North Korea, have sent statements of grief. The North Korean leader, who loved to see the people dancing, loved to hear the music, was much loved by his people, and the people of the Asian allied nations.
In an announcement just released at 6:30 AM CST Monday, a short range missile has been fired from North Korea. NPR quotes South Korea’s Yonhap news agency as saying a short range missile was launched on Monday, the same day the Korean leaders death was announced. At this point it is assumed that the test was a routine drill, unrelated to the death of Kim Jong-il.