One of the most prurient aspects of reading the personal emails written to and by Bashar al Assad that were obtained by The Guardian has been the chance to observe the dictator’s strange shopping habits on iTunes. Apparently, the Syrian dictator is a big fan of contemporary party music. But Bashar is far from the first dictator to have a strange relationship with pop culture.
When the videos of North Koreans weeping hysterically in the streets of Pyongyang circulated on YouTube last month in the wake of Kim Jong-il’s death, few Western onlookers knew what to make of them. Most of us seem to have assumed that the tears were fake, produced on command—an interpretation backed up by one of the best books recently to appear on the subject of North Korea, Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy, which describes manufactured public grief in 1994 after Kim Il-sung’s death.
Whatever Kim Jong-Il’s death meant for the people of North Korea, it did not change the fundamental strategic interest that the United States has in the country. The paramount issue for Washington remains assuring that Pyongyang never uses its nuclear arsenal, and that it never leaks or gifts its weapons material and technology to other nations or terrorists. But if Washington’s basic strategic posture remains, it should consider revising its current non-proliferation policies in the wake of Pyongyang’s change of leadership.
North Korea announced yesterday that the corpse of former dictator Kim Jong-il will be placed on permanent display in Pyongyang. This seems to be standard practice for Communist nations—after all, Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao were all embalmed and set out for public display after their deaths, and Kim Jong-il’s body will be displayed in the same sprawling mausoleum as his father’s body. But how do they maintain the most famous preserved corpse of them all—the body of Lenin? A 2010 book offers some helpful information.
The death of North Korea’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Il, marks the end of his 17 years of strict control over the starved and crumbling state. While his eccentricities were often worthy of parody—the overblown legend involving new stars and double rainbows pronouncing his birth, thousands of books penned, and one strikingly good round of golf—his reign was marked more distinctly by the extreme suffering of the North Korean people.
The death of Kim Jong-Il is not only an opportunity to reflect on the manifest crimes he committed against the people of North Korea, but also to consider just how heavily his devious regime now weighs in calculations about international security. The uncertain future of the Hermit Kingdom is a matter of especially grave importance to the five countries—the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—that have intermittently engaged with it since 2003 in the Six-Party Talks.
Shock at the news of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il’s death is giving way to nervousness about what might come next for the already-unstable Korean peninsula. The initial signs are that Kim Jong-un, the deceased leader’s youngest son, will succeed his father. But will the country’s elites accept Kim Jong-un as a leader? What are the chances of internal opposition, or even a coup against the Kim dynasty? Because North Korea is so isolated, predicting its future is notoriously difficult.
Seoul—When the sleepy South Korean town of Pyeongchang was announced as the host of the 2018 Winter Olympics last month, Seoul went to unusual lengths to share the honor with its neighbor to the north. Both major parties vowed to pursue an inter-Korean team, and opposition leaders even spoke of co-hosting the games with North Korea.
My Don Rumsfeld joke has John Podhoretz spitting mad: Victor Davis Hanson catches the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait making an analogy so disgusting that I almost have to believe Chait is simply too stupid to understand the implications of what he wrote — because the only other conclusion is that he has absolutely no sense of where the boundaries of even minimally civil public discourse are.
The best way to understand North Korea is to think of it not as a traditional nation-state, but as a nuclear-armed organized crime family, albeit one that will soon find itself in need of a new boss.