Kim Jong Un: the Jim Jones and David Koresh of East Asia

The Wall Street Journal story titled “North Korea Backs Off Guam Missile-Attack Threat” appeared three days ago (Monday, August 14) at 9:36 p.m. (ET). Kim Jong Un had taken his military belt off his socialist pants and was all set to administer a nuclear spanking to the bad-boy U.S. when suddenly, for some inexplicable reason he strapped the belt back around his waist. Instead, he wagged his chubby little index finger at the U.S. armada that’s been circling his peninsula like sharks around an overweight surfer and said, “Don’t you let me catch you doing that again!” And then he stormed off, looking for a high-level military advisor or family member to execute.

Gee. I wonder what changed his mind?

As this story was brewing over the weekend, I told my family that this would happen (full disclosure: my son was born in South Korea), I just didn’t realize it would happen so soon. I thought Little Kim would let it drag out long enough to let it get shuffled under the papers and lost in the email inboxes of upcoming news cycles. But he seems to have gotten rattled by the prospect that someone who just may be as crazy as he is, and is in command of far more nukes than he has, and can look like something out of a Stephen King novel if the lighting is just right, has dared to stand up to him. (And don’t think that wasn’t calculated on this side of the International Date Line.)

He probably thought he’d get a wimpy diplomatic response from some deputy secretary of state—tailored to soothe the nerves of our allies more than to alter Kim’s behavior—to the effect that the U.S. was prepared to deliver “a proportionate response” in the event of any North Korean aggression. Instead, he got Clint Eastwood with orange hair staring at him down the barrels of a few hundred nukes and assorted bunker-busters, saying, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Kim was just starting to think of his new nuke toys as a Harley-Davidson that he can ride anywhere he pleases, only to discover that they’re more like a Schwinn, and his feet don’t even reach the pedals.

North Korea Isn’t Like a Cult; It Is a Cult

Kim Jong Un’s dad, Kim Jong Il, preparing to scale yet another mountain without climbing gear.

The thing is, 99.9 percent of what Kim Jong Un says, he says for internal consumption; it is for the ears of the North Korean people, not for us. In this way, North Korean culture parallels the culture of a religious cult, in which the members get all their information about the “evil outside world” from their leader. This is how the cult leader keeps his people in line. When he feels his leadership is threatened internally, he distracts his people with perceived external threats, to which he claims to be responding in kind. He ratchets up attacks on outsiders, especially defectors, to maintain an “us versus them” solidarity, under his thumb.

It is likewise with the bubblehead with stranger hair than Trump’s. Every time Kim pulls these shenanigans it’s more a sign that he does not feel secure in his position as “Dear Leader” than that he has any particular foreign policy aim, other than being a general pain in the butt.

But every once in a while, cult leaders go too far, and get unwanted attention—such as by moving their entire cult to Guyana, where they set up a horrific commune, to which one day a U.S. Congressman pays a fatal visit. Or by stockpiling one too many AK-47s, thus attracting the unwanted  attention of ATF agents. In Kim’s case, it was combining bombastic rhetoric with firing off missiles into the Sea of Japan, and then pointing one of them at Guam. If somebody didn’t call this twit’s bluff by raising the ante, he would have actually thought he was in charge. Now, he’s in a spot where he still has to convince his own people that he really is (hence Kim’s overweening rhetoric as he’s running way, pulling up his trousers after being internationally pantsed by Trump).

The real problem for Kim now is that the story that will begin trickling down from upper echelons of Kim’s regime is that ever since Trump spooked him he’s been going through North Korea’s supply of Depends® faster than you can say “Pass the Immodium.” The scenario to follow is as predictable as an episode of the Maury Povich Show. It’s been played out countless times in totalitarian socialist countries.

As with other tyrants before him, the “Dear Leader” assumes he must either turn his guns internally against anyone who might try to take advantage of his new perceived weakness, or he’s toast. There are plenty of historic precedents to guide him. When Stalin lost his face-off against Truman during the Berlin Airlift Crisis, he turned his attention to purges of Communist party members in the socialist states of the new Eastern Bloc. Thus he remained in power until he died a natural death (at least, so we are told, wink, wink!). On the other hand, since Khrushchev lost his showdown against Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis after the whole Stalinist personality cult had been disassembled, he found himself forced into retirement two years later. Better to purge than to be purged.

And right on cue, two days after Kim Jong-Un lost his arm wrestling match with Donald Trump, headlines rang out of mass executions of those in North Korea who’ve been slacking off on in their worship of Kim as their god.1 Which leads us to…

The Cult of the Kim Dynasty

If you think that comparing North Korea with religious cults like Jonestown and the Branch Davidian, and Kim Jong-Un with cult leaders like Jim Jones and David Koresh, sounds a bit over the top, consider the following. It takes over the top to a whole new level.

North Koreans bowing before statues of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, April 17, 2012. Photo by J.A. de Roo, via Wikimedia Commons, reproduced under Creative Commons License 3.0.

According to North Korea’s official biography of Kim’s father, Kim Jong-Il, and confirmed by North Korean defectors, it is an official state position that the Kim family does not go to the bathroom. They neither urinate nor defecate. They are too perfect for anything like that.2 Korean school children are taught that Kim Jong-Un could drive a car by age three and won a race with a yachting pro at age nine.3 When his father was born, a new star was born in the night sky, a double rainbow appeared, and the season suddenly changed from winter to spring. Plus, he invented the hamburger.4 Meanwhile, his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, “almost singlehandedly defeated the Japanese and forced them to end their occupation of the Korean peninsula in 1945.”5

The list of official state myths regarding the Kim family goes on and on. This would be funny if it weren’t so serious. The only real comic relief the world got from all this was when the satirical online news source, The Onion, named Kim Jong-Un “The Sexiest Man Alive” in 2012,6 and the official Chinese People’s Daily ran it as serious news.7

The list of official state-sanctioned North Korean religious myths about its “Dear Leader” and his family goes on and on. North Korea is not just a cult, it’s a religious cult—a religious cult trying to be a major world religion.

This kind of thing never ends well. Ω


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  1. Jon Lockett, “LOSING MY RELIG-UN Paranoid Kim Jong-un executing record numbers of North Koreans who no longer see him as a living GOD,” The Sun, August 16, 2017, https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/4253377/kim-jong-un-north-korea-executing-citizens-god/.
  2. Michael Havis, “’Kim Jong-un doesn’t poo’: Crazy facts all North Korea MUST believe – or else,” Daily Star, June 5, 2016, http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/520819/Kim-Jong-does-not-poo-pee-urinate-defecate-weird-facts-mother-boobs-breast-golf-books.
  3. Ibid.
  4. The Citizen (India), September 18, 2015, http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/OldNewsPage/?Id=5195.
  5. Don Baker, “Memory Wars and Prospects for Reconciliation in South Korea, in Mikyoung Kim, ed., Routledge Handbook of Memory and Reconciliation in East Asia. (London, UK and New York, NY, USA: Routledge, 2016), 115.
  6. “Kim Jong-Un Named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive For 2012 (UPDATE),” http://www.theonion.com/article/kim-jong-un-named-the-onions-sexiest-man-alive-for-30379
  7. Scott Simon, “Sexiest Man Alive Gets ‘The Onion’ Taken Seriously,” NPR, http://www.npr.org/2012/12/01/166293306/the-onion-so-funny-it-makes-us-cry.

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