Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kim Jong Il: Crazy like a Fox!

  2011 has been a pretty shitty year for dictators who like holding on to power and not dying.

  Dictator expiration dates this year started in Ivory Coast and spread to Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen. That left Laurent Gbagbo and Mubarak locked up awaiting war crimes trials, Abidine Ben Ali and Saleh looking for beach front property in Saudi Arabia and Gadaffi dead. Assad is barely holding on in Syria and that is probably why it's the only civil uprising I haven't written about this year. Probably because it's been the least likely to succeed.

   The death of Kim Jong Il on Sunday at the age of 69 means he's the only dictator to lose power this year due to "natural causes". That's pretty funny when you think about it. But seeing all these tongue in cheek obituaries of the Korean leader on the likes of CNN or Fox News, hinting at the fact that he was a crazy mother fucker, mental or certifiably insane, well, that kind of bullshit wasn't so funny to me and did bother me a little more than watching any US news network usually bothers me.

   Why? Because Kim Jong IL was crazy like a fox.

   Sure, Kim Jong Il had a fucked up hairdo and got wasted on Hennessy XO and ate caviar while his country starved but that's not really how you judge a dictator these days. Most men have foibles and eccentricities, hell, I'm a walking nightmare myself and wouldn't stand up to too much scrutiny if some media outfit stuck cameras in my face but that's not how you judge dictators in our current sci-fi dystopia. No, these days, and probably always, at least going back as far as the Greek city-states and their occasional 'tyrant' rulers, the general rule is that bat shit insane rulers get judged on one thing and one thing only.

   How long do they manage to stay in power?

   Thing is, crazy people don't stay in power very long. Just like Roman emperor Caligula, it doesn't take more than a few years of crazy shit (making your horse a general, constantly banging your sister) before the army gets sick enough of your shit to stab you to death in your sleep. By this logic alone, the only thing that really matters when you talk about dictatorships is longevity and by this accounting we can say one thing about Kim Jong Il...

   He was not fucking crazy.

   In fact, from a maintaining power perspective, the guy was smart as hell.

   From the moment his bigger and greater and much beloved daddy (the father of modern North Korea) Kim Il Sung died in 1994, people wondered if Kim Jong JR could pull off his father's job and fill daddy's shoes. That's never been an easy job for less gifted sons and in 1994 that job was getting even more difficult for North Korea and Kim Jong JR in particular.

   A lot of people don't realize that North Korea wasn't always totally screwed up.

   In fact, during the Cold War and in the years after the Korean War, the North was actually more prosperous than the South. Not because they were churning out cool stuff or selling anything on the world market but simply because they had a superpower friend in the Soviet Union who supplied them with mega tonnages of grain from the Ukrainian steppe and filled out the North's army with the latest Warsaw Pact military equipment. China too, with their baby brother commie neighbor next door still hadn't turned into the hyper capitalist police state it is today. They too had a policy of making sure that their  commie Southern neighbor had enough food to feed everybody and nothing tarnished communism's "good name" around the world.  Kim Jong's daddy presided over all this while experimenting with his very own little Orwellian pocket country and cast himself as the cult leader of his own totalitarian police state. Seems he read Nineteen-Eighty Four as an operational tech manual and missed the idea that it was supposed to be fiction.

Kim Il Sung: Still worshipped by everyone.

   But this free ride was dying by the time Kim Jong Il got his chance to lead North Korea in 1994.

   The Soviet Union was gone now along with all that free food and monetary aid. China was turning free market and their sickly neighbor to the south was being seen as more and more of an embarrassment and liability. China to this day views NK like some famous movie star might view an awkward retarded brother who has a habit of masturbating in public and ruining famous older brother's PR. Sure, you can slap him around for doing it but that'll just draw more attention and get you in  trouble for child abuse. Your only choice is to sit there and enjoy your prosperity and fame while accepting the fact that your awkward brother occasionally jizzes on your leg.

   And that's been Kim Jong JR's leadership plan since the day he took power.

   Pretending he's crazy and jizzing on people.

   Kim Jong Il took power with a pretty shitty hand and managed to play bluff poker with it for 17 years. He threatened the South Korean capital with thousands of artillery pieces and pretended everyday he was just crazy enough to use them. The South responded with a policy of "Sunshine Diplomacy" which was basically a policy of giving Kim Jong lots of cash in return for him keeping his dick in his pants.

   To get his hands on some American dollars, Junior started work on a nuke and even played crazy enough to get the Americans, the Japanese and the South to help build him a $4.6 billion light water nuclear reactor in Kumho in 1994. This was seen by the West as a better deal than continuing to have the North  operating its two  existing gas-graphite reactors which were unstable but easier to breed plutonium from. Kim Jong IL played crazy and bagged the cash.

   Every time Kim Jong felt the Japanese were getting too big for their britches, he'd rustle up a missile 'Test" over the Sea of Japan and pretend it was 'necessary' which invariably made the Japs go screaming to the Yanks looking for them to do something about the crazy person next door. Usually, this meant another few million tonnes of food aid, energy supplies and a wagging finger hoping the crazy guy doesn't do it again. If the West didn't have such corporate controlled media, this whole strategy would be labeled 'appeasement' by Fox News. But instead the likes of CNN and Fox called Kim Jong Il crazy and threw their hands in the air and accepted the politician's line that there were no better options.

   Kim Jong Il played bluff and if he played crazy enough, there was always, from a Western point of view, the chance he might deliver in spades and press the big red button of win on Seoul. That'd be a lot of Star Craft games interrupted. For all his rich neighbors, it was easier to just pay the 'protection' money the 'crazy' guy demanded.

   Where things got interesting was when North Korea went through with an actual nuke test in 2006. They finally broke into the fission club even though Kim Jong had signed the NPT. Sure, seismic readings indicated the underground test was a failure on the Richter Scale and the expected kilo tonnage was below yield and only a partial chain reaction. But it still made everyone in the region shudder and food and monetary aid finally dried up. It was a bridge too far. Carrots weren't worth it anymore for his neighbors. Kim Jong Il knew his country was dying and he needed more aid and cash if he wanted to pass off the goodies to his son. At home, he was forced now to rely on the cult of personality state he'd inherited from his father and total lock down of information from the outside was key. The huge Army and security apparatus meant that information on the State was in lock down even when the people starved.

   Sure Kim Jong would up the stakes every now and again and sink a SK Destroyer, shell a disputed SK Island and threaten madness on Seoul but Kim Jong always had survival in mind and was never interested in an actual shooting war. An Apocalypse on the Korean Peninsula was never his goal. It was a war he knew he could never win.

   Despite the mega casualties, he knew South Korea would always win a war with the North. The US and SK would lay waste the North in a month. And that's where China would come in. That's why they never wanted this war to happen either and preferred North Korea as some kind of metaphorical buffer zone against the West. After the initial flurry of steel rain on Seoul, the usual disruption and loss of life  would ensue. There would be street battles in Seoul between SK troops and the North's special forces who might infiltrate the capital through tunnel networks under the DMZ. Still, without modern armor this force would always be a symbolic force so Kim Jong could feel good about being the mighty leader of his brainwashed zombie population in Pyongyang. The battle of 1970s Warsaw Pact equipment versus modern laser guided and night vision equipment would stand no chance and the counter attack would be merciless.

   Kim Jong Il never had any illusions he could win this war.

  The US and South Koreans would begin a co ordinated air campaign after the initial NK artillery barrage on Seoul, targeting North Korean radar sites initially and also going after as much of that arty North of Seoul as they could. I can see that being a turkey shoot of epic proportions for the US and South Korean pilots. That along with counter battery fire from the US and SK in the South would lay waste the North's artillery to a manageable level (mobile potshots from self propelled arty hiding under bridges and in tunnels excepted). Interestingly, this might be the time North Korea decides to break out the chemical or biological weaponry and lay down a plague on Seoul.

    You see how the crazy never ends?

   Any actual shooting war on the Korean peninsula would lead to regime change and if the current elite in Pyongyang are interested in anything, it is self preservation. That's why the political elite will probably go along with this power transition to Kim Jong -un. At least for the time being. They'll wait and see if he's their kind of crazy. The kind that can maintain the status quo and power structure in North Korea for another 30 years. In many ways, that's a special kind of calculated crazy that keeps the elite in power, the people starved, afraid, dependent and the state itself in control of all information.

   Shit's so scary these days, the real crazy question in all of this is if North Korea is the past or the future of our crazy species.