Victor Cha is a Korean-American, and seems to know more about North Korea than anyone who talks about it. He almost became Trump’s Ambassador to South Korea, and his 2013 book, The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, is a must read if you want to understand our dilemma.
I certainly learned a lot reading it yesterday. For one thing, the people of North Korea love the Kims, all of them, I, II, and III. Kim I was a Korean George Washington, leading his country in a war against the hegemon of the world, the United States, a war in which he can claim victory. What’s more, for at least 20 years after that war ended in 1953 North Korea was more stable and prosperous than South Korea. Before and during World War II, Japan invested heavily in industrial infrastructure in North Korea, and this was the basis of relative North Korean prosperity for a generation.
Kim III doesn’t need to worry about a popular insurrection against him. He won’t wind up like Ceaucescu of Romania, or Libya’s Khaddafi. Some people tolerate despotism better than others. Like the North Koreans, and the Russians, who today actually have fond memories of the beast Stalin.
This popular support gives him the confidence he needs to chart a new path for his country. The people will follow him. His government will obey him.
If the man has any heart at all, he’s got to look at these millions of his countrymen — who admire and look up to him — and feel their pain. He wants a better life for his people. He’s lived in the west, he knows what is out there. As he looks at South Korea, and China, and even Vietnam he sees rising standards of living, and a better life. If he thinks he can deliver that to his people, he’ll do it.
It appears as though there’s a young Kim IV that has been kept out of sight. What kind of life does Kim III want for his son and heir, and for the rest of his family? Can he give his son a better life than he’s had? If he can, he will.
I think Kim III has decided to go for it. Let us all wish him well.