Kim Jong-Un (b. January 8, 1983) is the current leader of North Korea and the third member of the Kim family to assume power in the communist dictatorship created by his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung. Kim Jong-Un became the ruler of North Korea upon the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il in 2011. The younger Kim’s official title is Supreme Leader. At the time of his father’s death Kim Jong-Un was only 28 years old, and his while his hold on power at first was not considered to be not as strong as the grip his father and grandfather had on North Korea, several bloody purges of old-line Communist officials, along with aggressive military and diplomatic moves, has cemented his power.
North Korea was founded in 1948 by communist guerrilla leader Kim Il-Sung, with much assistance from the Soviet Union and from the Chinese communist movement of Mao Tse-Tung. In 1950, North Korea invaded non-communist South Korea, sparking the bloody Korean War (1950-1953), which also involved the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and many other members of the United Nations. China and the Soviet Union militarily supported North Korea in that war. While an armistice in 1953 ended most of the fighting, technically the Korean War never ended. In the decades since the war’s “end,” many military incidents have occurred along the border between North and South Korea (called the De-Militarized Zone, or DMZ). The North frequently threatens the South and other nations, and in 2006, North Korea acquired nuclear weapons, and conducted their first nuclear bomb test. With power passed from father to son to grandson in the world’s first and only communist family succession, the Korean Kim Dynasty is now in the third generation. The North Korea that Kim Jong-Un inherited from his dictatorial father is heavily militarized, the population is subjugated to brutal police-state tactics, lives in great poverty, and constantly threatens to make nuclear war on other nations.
So who IS Kim Jong-Un, the young man called the Supreme Leader of North Korea?
While little official information has been released by North Korea about Kim Jong-Un’s early life, it is believed that he attended a public school in Switzerland called Liebefeld Steinhölzli in Köniz near the city of Bern under the assumed name of “Pak-un” or “Un-pak” from 1998 until 2000. It is believed that several of Kim Jong-Il’s children attended schools in Europe. Classmates in the Swiss school describe their Korean classmate as quiet, shy with girls, and a major fan of American basketball, particularly the professional National Basketball Association (NBA). Sources, including the former cook for Kim Il-Sung, reports that Kim Jong-Un enjoys Yves St. Laurent cigarettes, Johnny Walker scotch, and enjoys a lavish lifestyle, all while most of his people live in abject poverty and fear.
It is also known that Kim Jong-Un did attend Kim Il-Sung University in North Korea from 2001-2007. This school is a training ground for the North Korean elite. In January of 2010, North Korea reported the Kim Jong-Il had named Kim Jong-Un as his successor.
The elder Kim died on December 17, 2011. Kim Jong-Un was not immediately declared the new leader, but on Dec. 24, 2011, he was named as the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army. A few days later, on Dec. 24, he was publicly named as the acting as chairman of the Central Military Commission, and supreme leader of the country. In the years following his rise to power, Kim Jong-Un has consolidated his grip on the country, ordering the demotions and executions of several potential or imagined rivals. In December of 2013, Kim Jong-Un had his own uncle declared a traitor and had him executed. Other prior executions included men loyal to his late father, many of whom have disappeared and are presumed dead. One of the oddest reported executions is that of Kim Jong-Un’s former girlfriend/mistress. Hyon Song-Wol was a pop singer in a North Korean musical group who performed for the North Korean elite. For a time, she was reportedly the mistress of the new leader, and her execution by machine gun, supposedly along with other musicians and singers was allegedly for making pornographic films. Experts on North Korea doubt this excuse, citing the fact that Kim Jong-Un’s wife was a former member of the same band as Hyon Song-Wol, indicating that if the executions did take place, it was more likely as a result of the conflicted relationship between the two women and their relationship with the Supreme Leader.
Also, in February, 2017, Kim Jong-Un’s elder brother, Kim Jong-Nam, was assassinated in Malaysia by North Korean agents on the orders of the North Korean leader. Kim Jong-Nam had at one point been Kim Jong-Il’s designated successor, but eventually fell out of favor with his father, leading to Kim Jong-Un’s ascension.
Since assuming power, Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea has continued the nuclear brinksmanship employed by his father, variously threatening to use nuclear weapons on South Korea, Japan, and the United States. While he considers America as an enemy nation, Kim Jong-Un’s continued fascination with American Basketball led to one of the more unique instances of personal diplomacy in recent history. In February of 2013, retired NBA star Dennis Rodman, who is known for his personal flamboyance and numerous tattoos, visited North Korea while promoting basketball exhibition games and met Kim Jong-Un. The two became fast friends, and Rodman made a second visit to see Kim Jong-Un in September, 2013. Rodman’ visits with his dictatorial “friend” have continued.
Kim Jong-Un is married to former singer Ri Sol-ju, and she gave birth to a daughter in 2010. According to Dennis Rodman, the girl is named Kim Ju-ae. With the birth of the 4th generation of the Kim Dynasty, questions arise over the purges and intrigue inside the ruling elite in North Korea, and where it will all end.
In July, 2017, North Korea successfully tested ICBM missiles capable of reaching most parts of the United States, while Kim Jong-Un continued to threaten and insult the United States. Many analysts believe that American President Trump will not be able to let North Korea continue to further develop the ability to endanger the mainland United States. Remember, the war from the 1950s never technically ended. 25,000 American troops remain in South Korea, serving as a trip-wire to prevent North Korean aggression. If North Korea can truly threaten the U.S. with nuclear war, then the scenario for continued peace in Korea becomes less likely.
In April, 2020, reports out of Korea indicated that Kim Jong-Un had undergone surgery for a cardiovascular issue on April 12. Kim Jong-Un is visibly obese, and is believed to enjoy the high life of a head of state with all the trappings, so that particular health issue is not a surprise.
In the event that Kim Jong-Un dies, his sister, Kim Yo Jong, may be poised to succeed him. She also studied abroad in Switzerland alongside her brother, and currently serves as First Vice-Department Director of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee. As with the succession from their father, South Korea and the United States (and most likely China as well) are concerned about potential political or military disruption that may lead to conflict within North Korea.