The issue: Or they could live as ordinary citizens on a collective farm
In the Stalinist days of the old Soviet Union, after which North Korea has studiously modeled itself, superseded rivals for leadership abruptly disappeared from public life. Their faces were expunged from Kremlin group photos. Their names were deleted from newspaper and magazine archives and further mention of their names in public was prohibited. They became “nonpersons.”
ACCORDING TO news accounts, that lesson has not been lost on North Korea’s pudgy new dictator, Kim Jong Un, grandson of the belligerent little hermit and nation’s founder, but not originally the first choice to succeed his father, Kim Jong Il. That would have been one of his two elder brothers, Kim Jong Nam, 41, and Kim Jong Chul, 31.
One theory about the transfer of power is that the two older Kims — Jong Un, the youngest, is believed to have turned 30 this week — were believed by party elders to be too frivolous for the top job. Jong Nam was caught trying to sneak into Japan on a fake passport to visit Disneyland; Jong Chul was said to be effeminate and more interested in video games than politics.
Now a conscientious effort is being made to wipe all traces of the two older Kims from public life lest any nascent opposition be tempted to coalesce behind one of them. Pyongyang’s propaganda apparatus is aggressively transforming Jong Un into an only child, according to The Washington Post, “his inheritance predetermined and uncontested.”
In the 17th century when the sultan died his heir apparent immediately dispatched emissaries to murder the male children — and potential rivals — of the old sultan’s numerous wives and concubines. In more civilized times, the possible rivals were confined to a life of enforced idle luxury in a so-called “golden cage” in the harem.
ONE SUSPECTS that something similar may have happened to the two Kims. An emissary from their little brother appeared on their doorsteps with an offer such as this:
“You can live in luxury, eat and drink imported food and liquors; drive imported cars; go gambling in China; play unlimited video games; watch banned Western movies and TV, but you must do so anonymously and never be mentioned by name in the news. And don’t call yourselves ‘Kim.’
“Or you can live life as an ordinary North Korean on a collective farm.
“We thought so. Here are copies of the latest ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and ‘Assassin’s Creed.’ Enjoy. Don’t call us. We won’t be calling you.”