Kim Jong Un, the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, has come to represent the 21st century embodiment of nuclear war, a spot previously occupied by the Soviet Union in the 1980s. But who is Kim Jong-Un? The man who has come to revive this fear.
The information available about Jong-Un’s life is scarce and comes from individuals who defected from North Korea and from witnesses who claim to have seen him abroad, like when he attended school in Switzerland. The consensus about his early life includes: His birthday and that he is the second of three children born to Kim Jong-Il. According to the Washington Post Foreign Service, Jong-Un attended the International School of Berne, and “Friends and staff at the school remembered a shy boy who enjoyed skiing, loved the National Basketball Association and spoke highly of action-movie actor Jean-Claude Van Damme.”
He reportedly returned to North Korea at the age of 15, and little information is known about his life until his father, Kim Jong-Il, appointed him as his successor. Jong-Un’s relationship with his family has come under scrutiny. In December 2013 he commanded the execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek. In February 2017, Jong Un ordered the assassination of his half-brother Kim Jong Nam. “The assassination of Kim Jong Nam was an act of systematic terror ordered by Kim Jong-Un,” Kim Byung-kee, a South Korean lawmaker said. “The operation was conducted with two assassination groups and one supporting group.”
Charles K. Armstrong, Columbia University Professor and North Korea expert stated, “although high-ranking leaders, including members of the Kim family, have been deposed before, we haven’t seen anything this public or dramatic since Kim Jong-Un’s grandfather Kim Il-sung purged his last major rivals in the late 1950s. This seems to indicate the divisions within the Kim regime were more serious than previously thought.”
According to Esquire Jong-Un has “modeled himself after his legendary grandfather, in looks and in manner. He wore the same Mao suits and straw hats as Kim Il Sung, he embarked on a campaign of terror, one that was even more far-reaching than those carried out by his father and grandfather. He is the architect of this unprecedented spree of purges and executions that target anyone he perceives to be a threat. These executions are typically conducted by firing squad. More than 140 party and military officials have been executed during Kim’s rule, seared to death with flamethrowers or eviscerated by machine-gun fire.”
Jong-Un has demonstrated that he is willing to eliminate anyone, including family members, who pose a threat. After two missile tests conducted in July, soaring over Japan, it is reasonable to wonder what the North Korean leader wants and what his goals for his nation are.
Jong-Un’s focus has been on developing the North Korean economy and modernizing their military and weaponization. “Part of the North’s motivation is a rational assessment of the country’s strategic interests. The experience of Libya and Iraq is a reminder to Pyongyang that the only guarantee of national survival is the possession of credible weapons of mass destruction capability,” according to the BBC.
Jong Un has surpassed his father and grandfather in outward and inward aggression, and is continuing to grow his nuclear arsenal. In the interim, the future relations between the U.S. and North Korea remain unknown.