By Kate Murphy
Following recent rocket tests in North Korea, President Trump said, “I had meetings on North Korea, who’s acting very, very badly. I will tell you he is acting very badly.”
The “he” that Trump is referring to is Kim Jong Un. He’s the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, better known as the dear leader of North Korea. Or as Sen. John McCain described him on MSNBC, “This crazy fat kid that’s running North Korea.”
Between North Korea’s missile tests and joint U.S.-South Korea military drills, tensions have been mounting since President Trump took office.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during his trip to Asia, “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table.”
The Trump administration is also considering sweeping sanctions that would cut off an already-isolated North Korea from the global financial system.
So who is this mysterious man who runs the nuclear power that has the world on edge? For that, we have to take a look two generations back at the Kim dynasty.
After Japan lost World War II, Korea was split up into U.S. and Soviet-controlled territories with separate governments. Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, fought alongside the Soviets in the war, and was appointed North Korea’s leader by Josef Stalin.
The North and South governments both claimed to be the legitimate government of all of Korea. The conflict escalated when the North crossed the 38th parallel and invaded the South in 1950, sparking the Korean War.
Much of North Korea was flattened by American bombing raids. Although the fighting ended three years later, a peace treaty was never signed. As the North felt vulnerable, Kim Il Sung developed a theory of self reliance called Juche. It laid out principles of political, economic and military self-reliance.
But it has cut off the country economically and diplomatically from the rest of the world, especially in dire situations. After Kim Il Sung died in 1994, he was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il. Under his rule, North Korea suffered from a huge famine, with contributing factors like economic mismanagement and a collapse of food production and import support from the Soviet Union. An estimated 600,000 to 2.5 million North Koreans died from the famine.
In 2011, Kim Jong Un took the reins after his father died. Thousands of North Koreans faced at least six months in labor camps if they didn’t properly mourn or express enough grief over his father’s death.
Little is known about Kim Jong Un because of North Korea’s isolation. He reportedly went to high school in Switzerland and has a degree in physics and another as an army officer. He’s estimated to be in his early 30’s, reportedly has a wife and daughter and loves basketball. So much so that he’s even befriended former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who traveled to North Korea in 2014 and sang Kim Jong Un “Happy Birthday.”
Under Kim Jong Un’s rule, an estimated 25 million people remain shut off from the rest of the world. Much about the North Korean dictator remains a mystery, which is why he makes so many leaders around the world so nervous. But when it comes to what we know about him and how he came to power, at least you can say, “Now I get it.”