Kim Jong Il is dead

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. 

For a horrifying look at this cloistered country, read Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag.

Watching the few videos of North Korea by journalists who have reported (under severe restrictions) from inside that country, you realize that the beleaguered, sick, and hungry inhabitants really do think that they’re living in a paradise, for that’s what they’re constantly told, and they never learn otherwise since they have virtually no exposure to the outside world.

Over the years, I must have seen every YouTube video on North Korea, for I’m fascinated by the world’s most isolated country and its totalitarian government. “Welcome to North Korea,” which I’ve embedded below, is one of the best documentaries:

The VICE guide to North Korea, in three parts (part 1 here) is equally intriguing and horrifying, but leavened by the hippy-ish narrator. And the quality of the video is far better.


  1. Mike Nam
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Good riddance

  2. sgo
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    I just read it on the news. And I am wondering what the BBC were thinking when they put the following at the bottom of their news page: “Are you in North Korea? Please send us your comments using the form below.” Right.

    I’m also fascinated by the country. You probaby saw it already but “North Korea: A day in the life” by Pieter Fleury was very interesting. And so was the book “Nothing to envy” by Barbara Demick.

  3. mordacious1
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    So, is his son Menta Lee Il going to take over?

    • Neil
      Posted December 18, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      LOL! Hereditary succession. A universal phenomenon among autocrats. I am sure there is a good explanation.

    • Marella
      Posted December 18, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

      The youngest son Kim Jong Un, is supposed to be in line to take the reins but he has two older brothers and an older sister to take into account, which sounds like a recipe for unrest if not civil war to me.

      • Posted December 19, 2011 at 1:14 am | Permalink

        The oldest, Kim Jong-nam, is reputedly not up to the task and has spent the last few years staying well out of the way. My snark from 2009.

  4. Andy Dufresne
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    That does look like a good documentary. Thanks for that.

    Here’s hoping his death can be some kind of catalyst for a better future for the North Korean people, who have endured much suffering.

    • NoAstronomer
      Posted December 19, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Sadly if it is going to get better for the North Koreans it is probably going to get a lot worse first. Worse as in war, civil or otherwise.

      I really can’t envisage a peaceful transition to even a non-antagonistic communist state let alone a democracy. There’s simply too many people inside the North Korean government & military with a vested interest in the status quo.

      As we’ve seen recently with Julian Baggini’s revelation that religious folks really do believe that crap, many people in NK really do believe they’re living in a paradise. They’re not going to accept change and they’re armed. Heavily armed.

  5. Dawn Oz
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    This is a transcript of an interview between Christopher Hitchens and an Australian journo on Nth Korea.

    • Posted December 18, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      Some of Hitchens’ writing on North Korea is on Slate: A Nation of Racist Dwarfs: Kim Jong-il’s regime is even weirder and more despicable than you thought.

      • godsbelow
        Posted December 19, 2011 at 2:59 am | Permalink

        Hitchens often highlighted the theocratic character of the North Korean regime.

        In ‘god Is Not Great’ he points out that “North Korea is alone in having a dead man for a head of state: Kim Jong Il is the head of the party and the army but the presidency is held in perpetuity by his deceased father, which makes the country a necrocracy or a mausolocracy as well as a regime that is only one figure short of a Trinity.”

        I’m disappointed that Christopher isn’t alive to see the Trinity completed by Kim Jong-Un, whom the regime is apparently calling “The Great Successor”. Though, in this case, he’d take little pleasure in the vindication of his assessment.

        • Occam
          Posted December 19, 2011 at 5:44 am | Permalink

          The Appointed is the Anointed.

          • Posted December 19, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

            Dear Leader Kim Jong Il,

            It won’t work, you know. You can try the chase all you like, but you simply can’t bring North Korea to Hitch. He simply won’t have it!


            • Posted December 19, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

              The death of Kim Jong-Il is, of course, the first miracle of Christopher Hitchens. Beatification awaits.

              • Christian
                Posted December 19, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink


                But who’s next? The Turd-with-a-face of Belarus?

              • Posted December 19, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

                Does Valaclav Pavel fit in, anywhere? He died after Hitch and before Il.
                Funny, just last night, sitting shiva with another glass of JWB, I watched a video in which a debate moderator related Hitch’s answer to the question, “How would you like to be introduced?” The answer: “St. Christopher.” LOL

  6. NelsonMuntz
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    One day you’re Kim Jong Il, the next day you’re Kim Jong Dead.

  7. dieter
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Kim Jong-un spent his teenage years in Switzerland. He attended an expensive private school and later a regular public school. His bodyguard was enrolled as a student too. I guess he didn’t have any issues with bullying.

    His favorite band was Germany’s Modern Talking:

    • tyrantofskepsis
      Posted December 19, 2011 at 3:29 am | Permalink

      Oh dear lard, he is more evil than I suspected. I hope he hires Dieter B as a permanent minstrel in his castle.

      • Occam
        Posted December 19, 2011 at 5:48 am | Permalink

        North Korean Idol.

        (In German: “Nordkorea sucht den Superstar”.)

    • James C. Trager
      Posted December 19, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      With those guys as his favorite band, it seems rather certain he would need a bodyguard against bullying. Just sayin’!

  8. Hempenstein
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    The cranes couldn’t carry KIS away because he was too fucking fat.

  9. E.A. Blair
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    I once looked in on Pyongyang using Google Maps; I was curious about that hotel, the Ryugyong, that’s been under construction for the last 24 years. The city looks almost as if it’s abandoned. There is very little traffic and few signs of human activity. There is, of course, no street view.

    I can try to imagine how dispirited the North Korean people must be, but I’m sure it would come far short of the reality. If the totalitarian regime should fall, it will take generations to rebuild that long-stifled spirit.

    • Marella
      Posted December 18, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      Imagine their shock when one day they are able to visit South Korea – it’s got to happen eventually surely. Waking up to find that the paradise you thought you lived in is in fact hell, would be very confronting.The East Germans had a hard enough time of it and they were not nearly so oppressed.

      • NoAstronomer
        Posted December 19, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        I read an article, I think on the BBC News Website, a few months ago about the massive culture shock that North Korean refugees undergo when the arrive in the south.

        The South Koreans setup an organization to assist the newly arrived but even so most refugees never really adjust. They tend to live together with other refugees and they do feel looked down on by the South Koreans.

  10. Marella
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Well that was damn depressing.

  11. Graham Martin
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    Good night, farren prince:

  12. Jim Jones
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    How can we employ the methods of Jame Retief on North Korea?

  13. Kharamatha
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    The Kim is dead!

    Long live the Kim!

  14. Occam
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    An area of darkness.

  15. Mark
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    “Departures” is one of my favorite travel programs. Two episodes were filmed in North Korea. For those who have access to the Halogen cable network, both episodes will be shown tonight starting at 7pm EST.

  16. Christian
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Wow! This is giving me flashbacks of Ceausescu’s Romania, although, I must admit, the Kims were several orders of magnitude worse than the Romanian dictator and his evil wife.

    I’m sure Ceausescu envisioned something similar for his passing away but fortunately his death was a real poster case for the “Sic Semper Tyrannis” gallery.

  17. Ray Percival
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    “If the totalitarian regime should fall,…”

    The reason the US and the South have been propping it up since at least the 80s and very likely before then is that the regime there isn’t going to fall if it goes. It’s going to explode.

    And most of the population of the South lives inside of effective range of the North’s medium range artillery.

    Nobody who is really informed on the subject thinks that we could win that war if they choose to start it today. And there is a very real chance that it will start soon.

    Even “winning” kills millions of people and destroys an important economy.

    The problem is that none of his sons are strong enough to rule outright as he did. It all depends on what faction of the army takes over in the next few days and if they decide to continue living off of aid from the South and the US or to start a war.

    In the cruel and cold calculations of that situation it’s a choice of letting the people of North Korea suffer or killing a large percentage of the population of the South. There is no happy answer to this question.

    • Posted December 19, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      I always understood it was China holding it up because they really didn’t want a rich capitalist Korea right there on their border.

      Even without a war, South Korea is not looking forward to getting stuck with the bill for reconstruction. It’ll make East Germany look like a bargain.

      • Ray Percival
        Posted December 19, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

        Yeah. China also played a large role.

  18. Maurits van der Veen
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Another good documentary is “A State of Mind” (2004), about children training for the mass games. It was filmed with government permission, so you know you’re seeing only the most fortunate North Koreans. Keeping that in mind, it is quite fascinating.

    The U.S. and South Korea have hardly been propping up North Korea, but it is definitely true that both (and Japan as well) are quite concerned about what would and could happen if things fall apart.

  19. Ray Moscow
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I remember when his train made a grand tour of Russia. Reportedly he loaded it up with Baltika beer in St. Pete, as a gift from Russia.

    As tribute goes, not too bad!

  20. Mark
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Scenes from the new leader’s childhood.

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] So Kim Jong Il has died and his son Kim Jong-un will probably be running North Korea. Opinion’s been divided as to what it might mean but the old phrase “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” has been thrown around a bit. […]

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