Death of Kim Jong Il

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il died on December 17, 2011, of a heart attack, catching the world by surprise. ABC News reports the next day on the concerns in the international community over the transfer of leadership to Kim’s 28-year-old son.



The exact birthplace of Kim Jong-il is unknown. Soviet records show that Kim was born Yuri Irsenovich Kim (Russian: Юрий Ирсенович Ким ). [6] [7] [8] In literature, it is assumed that he was born in 1941 in either the camp of Vyatskoye, near Khabarovsk, [9] or camp Voroshilov near Nikolsk. [10] According to Lim Jae-Cheon, Kim cannot have been born in Vyatskoye as Kim Il-sung's war records show that he arrived at Vyatskoye only in July 1942 and had been living in Voroshilov before. [11] Kim's mother, Kim Jong-suk, was Kim Il-sung's first wife. Inside his family, he was nicknamed "Yura", while his younger brother Kim Man-il (born Alexander Irsenovich Kim) was nicknamed "Shura".

However, Kim's official biography states he was born in a secret military camp on Paektu Mountain (Korean: 백두산밀영고향집 Baekdusan Miryeong Gohyang jip) in Japanese-occupied Korea on 16 February 1942. [12] According to one comrade of Kim's mother, Lee Min, word of Kim's birth first reached an army camp in Vyatskoye via radio and that both Kim and his mother did not return there until the following year. [13] [14] Reports indicate that his mother died in childbirth in 1949. [15]

In 1945, Kim was four years old when World War II ended and Korea regained independence from Japan. His father returned to Pyongyang that September, and in late November Kim returned to Korea via a Soviet ship, landing at Sonbong. The family moved into a former Japanese officer's mansion in Pyongyang, with a garden and pool. Kim's brother drowned there in 1948. [16]


According to his official biography, Kim completed the course of general education between September 1950 and August 1960. He attended Primary School No. 4 and Middle School No. 1 (Namsan Higher Middle School) in Pyongyang. [17] [18] This is contested by foreign academics, who believe he is more likely to have received his early education in the People's Republic of China as a precaution to ensure his safety during the Korean War. [19]

Throughout his schooling, Kim was involved in politics. He was active in the Korean Children's Union and the Democratic Youth League of North Korea (DYL), taking part in study groups of Marxist political theory and other literature. In September 1957 he became vice-chairman of his middle school's DYL branch (the chairman had to be a teacher). He pursued a programme of anti-factionalism and attempted to encourage greater ideological education among his classmates. [20]

Kim is also said to have received English language education in Malta in the early 1970s [21] [22] on his infrequent holidays there as a guest of Prime Minister Dom Mintoff. [23]

The elder Kim had meanwhile remarried and had another son, Kim Pyong-il. Since 1988, Kim Pyong-il has served in a series of North Korean embassies in Europe and was the North Korean ambassador to Poland. Foreign commentators suspect that Kim Pyong-il was sent to these distant posts by his father in order to avoid a power struggle between his two sons. [24]

By the time of the Sixth Party Congress in October 1980, Kim's control of the Party operation was complete. He was given senior posts in the Presidium, the Military Commission and the party Secretariat. According to his official biography, the WPK Central Committee had already anointed him successor to Kim Il-sung in February 1974. When he was made a member of the Seventh Supreme People's Assembly in February 1982, international observers deemed him the heir apparent of North Korea. Prior to 1980, he had no public profile and was referred to only as the "Party Centre". [25]

At this time Kim assumed the title "Dear Leader" (Korean: 친애하는 지도자 MR: ch'inaehanŭn jidoja), [26] the government began building a personality cult around him patterned after that of his father, the "Great Leader". Kim was regularly hailed by the media as the "fearless leader" and "the great successor to the revolutionary cause". He emerged as the most powerful figure behind his father in North Korea.

On 24 December 1991, Kim was also named Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army. [27] Defence Minister Oh Jin-wu, one of Kim Il-sung's most loyal subordinates, engineered Kim's acceptance by the Army as the next leader of North Korea, despite his lack of military service. The only other possible leadership candidate, Prime Minister Kim Il (no relation), was removed from his posts in 1976. In 1992, Kim Il-sung publicly stated that his son was in charge of all internal affairs in the Democratic People's Republic.

In 1992, radio broadcasts started referring to him as the "Dear Father", instead of the "Dear Leader", suggesting a promotion. His 50th birthday in February was the occasion for massive celebrations, exceeded only by those for the 80th birthday of Kim Il-sung himself on 15 April that same year.

According to defector Hwang Jang-yop, the North Korean government system became even more centralized and autocratic during the 1980s and 1990s under Kim than it had been under his father. In one example explained by Hwang, although Kim Il-sung required his ministers to be loyal to him, he nonetheless and frequently sought their advice during decision-making. In contrast, Kim Jong-il demanded absolute obedience and agreement from his ministers and party officials with no advice or compromise, and he viewed any slight deviation from his thinking as a sign of disloyalty. According to Hwang, Kim Jong-il personally directed even minor details of state affairs, such as the size of houses for party secretaries and the delivery of gifts to his subordinates. [28]

By the 1980s, North Korea began to experience severe economic stagnation. Kim Il-sung's policy of Juche (self-reliance) cut the country off from almost all external trade, even with its traditional partners, the Soviet Union and China. South Korea accused Kim of ordering the 1983 bombing in Rangoon, Burma which killed 17 visiting South Korean officials, including four cabinet members, and another in 1987 which killed all 115 on board Korean Air Flight 858. [29] A North Korean agent, Kim Hyon Hui, confessed to planting a bomb in the case of the second, saying the operation was ordered by Kim personally. [30]

In 1992, Kim made his first public speech during a military parade for the KPA's 60th anniversary and said: [31] "Glory to the officers and soldiers of the heroic Korean People's Army!". [32] These words were followed by a loud applause by the crowd at Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Square where the parade was held.

Kim was named Chairman of the National Defence Commission on 9 April 1993, [33] making him day-to-day commander of the armed forces.

On 8 July 1994, Kim Il-sung died at the age of 82 from a heart attack. [34] Although Kim Jong-il had been his father's designated successor as early as 1974, [35] named commander-in-chief in 1991, [36] and became Supreme Leader upon his father's death, [37] it took him some time to consolidate his power.

He officially took over his father's old post as General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea on 8 October 1997. [38] In 1998, he was reelected as chairman of the National Defence Commission, and a constitutional amendment declared that post to be "the highest post of the state." [39] Also in 1998, the Supreme People's Assembly wrote the president's post out of the constitution and designated Kim Il-sung as the country's "Eternal President" in order to honor his memory forever. [40]

Officially, Kim was part of a triumvirate heading the executive branch of the North Korean government along with Premier Choe Yong-rim and parliament chairman Kim Yong-nam (no relation). Kim commanded the armed forces, Choe Yong-rim headed the government and handled domestic affairs and Kim Yong-nam handled foreign relations. However, in practice Kim, like his father before him, exercised absolute control over the government and the country. Although not required to stand for popular election to his key offices, he was unanimously elected to the Supreme People's Assembly every five years, representing a military constituency, due to his concurrent capacities as supreme commander of the KPA and chairman of the NDC. [41]

Economic policies

Kim had a "reputation for being almost comically incompetent in matters of economic management". [42] The economy of North Korea struggled throughout the 1990s, primarily due to mismanagement. In addition, North Korea experienced severe floods in the mid-1990s, exacerbated by poor land management. [43] [44] [45] This, compounded with the fact that only 18% of North Korea is arable land [46] and the country's inability to import the goods necessary to sustain industry, [47] led to a severe famine and left North Korea economically devastated. Faced with a country in decay, Kim adopted a "Military-First" policy to strengthen the country and reinforce the regime. [48] On the national scale, the Japanese Foreign Ministry acknowledges that this has resulted in a positive growth rate for the country since 1996, with the implementation of "landmark socialist-type market economic practices" in 2002 keeping the North afloat despite a continued dependency on foreign aid for food. [49]

In the wake of the devastation of the 1990s, the government began formally approving some activity of small-scale bartering and trade. As observed by Daniel Sneider, associate director for research at the Stanford University Asia–Pacific Research Center, this flirtation with capitalism was "fairly limited, but – especially compared to the past – there are now remarkable markets that create the semblance of a free market system". [50]

In 2002, Kim declared that "money should be capable of measuring the worth of all commodities." [51] These gestures toward economic reform mirror similar actions taken by China's Deng Xiaoping in the late 1980s and early 90s. During a rare visit in 2006, Kim expressed admiration for China's rapid economic progress. [52]

An unsuccessful devaluation of the North Korean won in 2009, initiated or approved by Kim personally, [42] caused brief economic chaos and uncovered the vulnerability of the country's societal fabric in the face of crisis. [53]

Foreign relations

Kim was known as a skilled and manipulative diplomat. [42] In 1998, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung implemented the "Sunshine Policy" to improve North-South relations and to allow South Korean companies to start projects in the North. Kim announced plans to import and develop new technologies to develop North Korea's fledgling software industry. As a result of the new policy, the Kaesong Industrial Park was constructed in 2003 just north of the de-militarized zone. [54]

In 1994, North Korea and the United States signed an Agreed Framework which was designed to freeze and eventually dismantle the North's nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid in producing two power-generating nuclear reactors and the assurance that it would not be invaded again. In 2000, after a meeting with Madeleine Albright, he agreed to a moratorium on missile construction. [55] [56] In 2002, Kim's government admitted to having produced nuclear weapons since the 1994 agreement. Kim's regime argued the secret production was necessary for security purposes – citing the presence of United States-owned nuclear weapons in South Korea and the new tensions with the United States under President George W. Bush. [57] On 9 October 2006, North Korea's Korean Central News Agency announced that it had successfully conducted an underground nuclear test. [58]

Cult of personality

Kim was the focus of an elaborate personality cult inherited from his father and founder of the DPRK, Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il was often the centre of attention throughout ordinary life in the DPRK. On his 60th birthday (based on his official date of birth), mass celebrations occurred throughout the country on the occasion of his Hwangap. [59] In 2010, the North Korean media reported that Kim's distinctive clothing had set worldwide fashion trends. [60]

The prevailing point of view is that the people's adherence to Kim's cult of personality was solely out of respect for Kim Il-sung or out of fear of punishment for failure to pay homage. [61] Media and government sources from outside North Korea generally support this view, [62] [63] [64] [65] [66] while North Korean government sources aver that it was genuine hero worship. [67] The song "No Motherland Without You", sung by the KPA State Merited Choir, was created especially for Kim in 1992 and is frequently broadcast on the radio and from loudspeakers on the streets of Pyongyang. [68]

Human rights record

According to a 2004 Human Rights Watch report, the North Korean government under Kim was "among the world's most repressive governments", having up to 200,000 political prisoners according to U.S. and South Korean officials, with no freedom of the press or religion, political opposition or equal education: "Virtually every aspect of political, social, and economic life is controlled by the government." [69]

Kim's government was accused of "crimes against humanity" for its alleged culpability in creating and prolonging the 1990s famine. [43] [44] [70] Outside observers have characterized him as a dictator and accused him of human rights violations. [71]

2008 reports

In an August 2008 issue of the Japanese newsweekly Shūkan Gendai, Waseda University professor Toshimitsu Shigemura, an authority on the Korean Peninsula, [72] claimed that Kim died of diabetes in late 2003 and had been replaced in public appearances by one or more stand-ins previously employed to protect him from assassination attempts. [73] In a subsequent best-selling book, The True Character of Kim Jong-il, Shigemura cited apparently unnamed people close to Kim's family along with Japanese and South Korean intelligence sources, claiming they confirmed Kim's diabetes took a turn for the worse early in 2000 and from then until his supposed death three and a half years later he was using a wheelchair. Shigemura moreover claimed a voiceprint analysis of Kim speaking in 2004 did not match a known earlier recording. It was also noted that Kim did not appear in public for the Olympic torch relay in Pyongyang on 28 April 2008. The question had reportedly "baffled foreign intelligence agencies for years". [74]

On 9 September 2008, various sources reported that after he did not show up that day for a military parade celebrating North Korea's 60th anniversary, United States intelligence agencies believed Kim might be "gravely ill" after having suffered a stroke. He had last been seen in public a month earlier. [75]

A former CIA official said earlier reports of a health crisis were likely accurate. North Korean media remained silent on the issue. An Associated Press report said analysts believed Kim had been supporting moderates in the foreign ministry, while North Korea's powerful military was against so-called "Six-Party" negotiations with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States aimed towards ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons. Some United States officials noted that soon after rumours about Kim's health were publicized a month before, North Korea had taken a "tougher line in nuclear negotiations". In late August North Korea's official news agency reported the government would "consider soon a step to restore the nuclear facilities in Nyongbyon to their original state as strongly requested by its relevant institutions". Analysts said this meant "the military may have taken the upper hand and that Kim might no longer be wielding absolute authority". By 10 September, there were conflicting reports. Unidentified South Korean government officials said Kim had undergone surgery after suffering a minor stroke and had apparently "intended to attend 9 September event in the afternoon but decided not to because of the aftermath of the surgery". High-ranking North Korean official Kim Yong-nam said, "While we wanted to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the country with general secretary Kim Jong-Il, we celebrated on our own". Song Il-Ho, North Korea's ambassador said, "We see such reports as not only worthless, but rather as a conspiracy plot". Seoul's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that "the South Korean embassy in Beijing had received an intelligence report that Kim collapsed on 22 August". [76] The New York Times reported on 9 September that Kim was "very ill and most likely suffered a stroke a few weeks ago, but United States intelligence authorities do not think his death is imminent". [77] The BBC noted that the North Korean government denied these reports, stating that Kim's health problems were "not serious enough to threaten his life", [78] [79] although they did confirm that he had suffered a stroke on 15 August. [80]

Japan's Kyodo News agency reported on 14 September, that "Kim collapsed on 14 August due to stroke or a cerebral hemorrhage, and that Beijing dispatched five military doctors at the request of Pyongyang. Kim will require a long period of rest and rehabilitation before he fully recovers and has complete command of his limbs again, as with typical stroke victims". Japan's Mainichi Shimbun claimed Kim had occasionally lost consciousness since April. [81] Japan's Tokyo Shimbun on 15 September, added that Kim was staying at the Bongwha State Guest House. He was apparently conscious "but he needs some time to recuperate from the recent stroke, with some parts of his hands and feet paralyzed". It cited Chinese sources which claimed that one cause for the stroke could have been stress brought about by the United States delay to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. [82]

On 19 October, North Korea reportedly ordered its diplomats to stay near their embassies to await "an important message", according to Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun, setting off renewed speculation about the health of the ailing leader. [83]

By 29 October 2008, reports stated Kim suffered a serious setback and had been taken back to hospital. [84] The New York Times reported that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, on 28 October 2008, stated in a parliamentary session that Kim had been hospitalized: "His condition is not so good. However, I don't think he is totally incapable of making decisions". Aso further said a French neurosurgeon was aboard a plane for Beijing, en route to North Korea. Further, Kim Sung-ho, director of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, told lawmakers in a closed parliamentary session in Seoul that "Kim appeared to be recovering quickly enough to start performing his daily duties". [85] The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported "a serious problem" with Kim's health. Japan's Fuji Television network reported that Kim's eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, travelled to Paris to hire a neurosurgeon for his father, and showed footage where the surgeon boarded flight CA121 bound for Pyongyang from Beijing on 24 October. The French weekly Le Point identified him as Francois-Xavier Roux, neurosurgery director of Paris' Sainte-Anne Hospital, but Roux himself stated he was in Beijing for several days and not North Korea. [86] On 19 December 2011, Roux confirmed that Kim suffered a debilitating stroke in 2008 and was treated by himself and other French doctors at Pyongyang's Red Cross Hospital. Roux said Kim suffered few lasting effects. [87]

On 5 November 2008, the North's Korean Central News Agency published 2 photos showing Kim posing with dozens of Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers on a visit to military Unit 2200 and sub-unit of Unit 534. Shown with his usual bouffant hairstyle, with his trademark sunglasses and a white winter parka, Kim stood in front of trees with autumn foliage and a red-and-white banner. [88] [89] [90] [91] The Times questioned the authenticity of at least one of these photos. [92]

In November 2008, Japan's TBS TV network reported that Kim had suffered a second stroke in October, which "affected the movement of his left arm and leg and also his ability to speak". [93] However, South Korea's intelligence agency rejected this report. [93]

In response to the rumors regarding Kim's health and supposed loss of power, in April 2009, North Korea released a video showing Kim visiting factories and other places around the country between November and December 2008. [94] In 2010, documents released by WikiLeaks purportedly attested that Kim suffered from epilepsy. [95]


Kim's three sons and his brother-in-law, along with O Kuk-ryol, an army general, had been noted as possible successors, but the North Korean government had for a time been wholly silent on this matter. [97]

Kim Yong Hyun, a political expert at the Institute for North Korean Studies at Seoul's Dongguk University, said in 2007: "Even the North Korean establishment would not advocate a continuation of the family dynasty at this point". [98] Kim's eldest son Kim Jong-nam was earlier believed to be the designated heir but he appeared to have fallen out of favor after being arrested at Narita International Airport near Tokyo in 2001 where he was caught attempting to enter Japan on a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland. [99]

On 2 June 2009, it was reported that Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong-un, was to be North Korea's next leader. [100] Like his father and grandfather, he has also been given an official sobriquet, The Brilliant Comrade. [101] Prior to his death, it had been reported that Kim was expected to officially designate the son as his successor in 2012. [102]

Re-election as leader

On 9 April 2009, Kim was re-elected as chairman of the National Defence Commission [103] and made an appearance at the Supreme People's Assembly. This was the first time Kim was seen in public since August 2008. He was unanimously re-elected and given a standing ovation. [104]

On 28 September 2010, Kim was re-elected as General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea. [105]

2010 and 2011 foreign visits

Kim reportedly visited the People's Republic of China in May 2010. He entered the country via his personal train on 3 May and stayed in a hotel in Dalian. [106] In May 2010, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell told South Korean officials that Kim had only three years to live, according to medical information that had been compiled. [107] Kim travelled to China again in August 2010, this time with his son, fueling speculation at the time that he was ready to hand over power to his son, Kim Jong-un. [108]

He returned to China again in May 2011, marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between China and the DPRK. [109] In late August 2011, he travelled by train to the Russian Far East to meet with President Dmitry Medvedev for unspecified talks. [110]

Late 2011

There were speculations that the visits of Kim abroad in 2010 and 2011 were a sign of his improving health and a possible slowdown in succession might follow. After the visit to Russia, Kim appeared in a military parade in Pyongyang on 9 September, accompanied by Kim Jong-un. [111]


There is no official information available about Kim Jong-il's marital history, but he is believed to have been officially married twice and to have had three mistresses. [112] He had three known sons: Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-chul and Kim Jong-un. His two known daughters are Kim Sol-song and Kim Yo-jong. [1] [113]

Kim's first wife, Hong Il-chon, was the daughter of a martyr who died during the Korean War. She was handpicked by his father and married to him in 1966. They have a girl called Kim Hye-kyung, [114] who was born in 1968. Soon, they divorced in 1969.

Kim's first mistress, Song Hye-rim, was a star of North Korean films. She was already married to another man and with a child when they met. [115] Kim is reported to have forced her husband to divorce her. This relationship, started in 1970, was not officially recognized. They had one son, Kim Jong-nam (1971–2017), who was Kim Jong-il's eldest son. Kim kept both the relationship and the child a secret (even from his father) until he ascended to power in 1994. [115] [116] However, after years of estrangement, Song is believed to have died in Moscow in the Central Clinical Hospital in 2002. [117]

Kim's official wife, Kim Young-sook, was the daughter of a high-ranking military official. His father Kim Il-Sung handpicked her to marry his son. [112] The two were estranged for some years before Kim's death. Kim had a daughter from this marriage, Kim Sol-song (born 1974). [113]

His second mistress, Ko Yong-hui, was a Japanese-born ethnic Korean and a dancer. She had taken over the role of First Lady until her death – reportedly of cancer – in 2004. They had two sons, Kim Jong-chul (in 1981) and Kim Jong-un, also "Jong Woon" or "Jong Woong" (in 1983). [116] [118] They also had a daughter, Kim Yo-jong, who was about 23 years old in 2012. [1] [119]

After Ko's death, Kim lived with Kim Ok, his third mistress, who had served as his personal secretary since the 1980s. She "virtually act[ed] as North Korea's first lady" and frequently accompanied Kim on his visits to military bases and in meetings with visiting foreign dignitaries. She travelled with Kim on a secretive trip to China in January 2006, where she was received by Chinese officials as Kim's wife. [120]

According to Michael Breen, author of the book Kim Jong Il: North Korea's Dear Leader, the women intimately linked to Kim never acquired any power or influence of consequence. As he explains, their roles were limited to that of romance and domesticity. [121]

He had a younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui. She was married to Jang Sung-taek, who was executed in December 2013 in Pyongyang, after being charged with treason and corruption. [122]


Like his father, Kim had a fear of flying [123] and always travelled by private armored train for state visits to Russia and China. [124] The BBC reported that Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian emissary who travelled with Kim across Russia by train, told reporters that Kim had live lobsters air-lifted to the train every day and ate them with silver chopsticks. [125]

Kim was said to be a huge film fan, owning a collection of more than 20,000 video tapes and DVDs. [126] [127] His reported favourite movie franchises included James Bond, Friday the 13th, Rambo, Godzilla and Hong Kong action cinema, [128] [129] with Sean Connery and Elizabeth Taylor his favourite male and female actors. [128] [130] Kim was also said to have been a fan of Ealing comedies, inspired by their emphasis on team spirit and a mobilised proletariat. [131] He authored On the Art of the Cinema. In 1978, on Kim's orders South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife Choi Eun-hee were kidnapped in order to build a North Korean film industry. [132] In 2006, he was involved in the production of the Juche-based movie The Schoolgirl's Diary, which depicted the life of a young girl whose parents are scientists, with a KCNA news report stating that Kim "improved its script and guided its production". [133]

Although Kim enjoyed many foreign forms of entertainment, according to former bodyguard Lee Young Kuk, he refused to consume any food or drink not produced in North Korea, with the exception of wine from France. [134] His former chef Kenji Fujimoto, however, has stated that Kim sometimes sent him around the world to purchase a variety of foreign delicacies. [135]

Kim reportedly enjoyed basketball. Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ended her summit with Kim by presenting him with a basketball signed by NBA legend Michael Jordan. [136] His official biography also claims that Kim composed six operas and enjoys staging elaborate musicals. [137]

United States Special Envoy for the Korean Peace Talks, Charles Kartman, who was involved in the 2000 Madeleine Albright summit with Kim, characterised Kim as a reasonable man in negotiations, to the point, but with a sense of humor and personally attentive to the people he was hosting. [138] However, psychological evaluations conclude that Kim's antisocial features, such as his fearlessness in the face of sanctions and punishment, served to make negotiations extraordinarily difficult. [139]

The field of psychology has long been fascinated with the personality assessment of dictators, a notion that resulted in an extensive personality evaluation of Kim. The report, compiled by Frederick L. Coolidge and Daniel L. Segal (with the assistance of a South Korean psychiatrist considered an expert on Kim's behavior), concluded that the "big six" group of personality disorders shared by dictators Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein (sadistic, paranoid, antisocial, narcissistic, schizoid and schizotypal) were also shared by Kim – coinciding primarily with the profile of Saddam Hussein. [140]

The evaluation found that Kim appeared to pride himself on North Korea's independence, despite the extreme hardships it appears to place on the North Korean people – an attribute appearing to emanate from his antisocial personality pattern. [139]

Defectors claimed that Kim had 17 different palaces and residences all over North Korea, including a private resort near Baekdu Mountain, a seaside lodge in the city of Wonsan, and Ryongsong Residence, a palace complex northeast of Pyongyang surrounded with multiple fence lines, bunkers and anti-aircraft batteries. [141]


According to a 2010 report in the Sunday Telegraph, Kim had US$4 billion on deposit in European banks in case he ever needed to flee North Korea. The Sunday Telegraph reported that most of the money was in banks in Luxembourg. [142]

It was reported that Kim had died of a suspected heart attack on 17 December 2011 at 8:30 a.m. while travelling by train to an area outside Pyongyang. [143] [144] It was reported in December 2012, however, that he had died "in a fit of rage" over construction faults at a crucial power plant project at Huichon in Jagang Province. [145] He was succeeded by his youngest son Kim Jong-un, who was hailed by the Korean Central News Agency as the "Great Successor". [146] [147] [148] According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), during his death a fierce snowstorm "paused" and "the sky glowed red above the sacred Mount Paektu" and the ice on a famous lake also cracked so loud that it seemed to "shake the Heavens and the Earth." [149]

Kim's funeral took place on 28 December in Pyongyang, with a mourning period lasting until the following day. South Korea's military was immediately put on alert after the announcement and its National Security Council convened for an emergency meeting, out of concern that political jockeying in North Korea could destabilise the region. Asian stock markets fell soon after the announcement, due to similar concerns. [143]

On 12 January 2012, North Korea called Kim the "eternal leader" and announced that his body would be preserved and displayed at Pyongyang's Kumsusan Memorial Palace. Officials also announced plans to install statues, portraits, and "towers to his immortality" across the country. [150] [151] His birthday of 16 February was declared "the greatest auspicious holiday of the nation" and was named the Day of the Shining Star. [152]

In February 2012, on what would have been his 71st birthday, Kim was posthumously made Dae Wonsu (usually translated as Generalissimo, literally Grand Marshal), the nation's top military rank. He had been named Wonsu (Marshal) in 1992 when North Korean founder Kim Il-sung was promoted to Dae Wonsu. [153] Also in February 2012, the North Korean government created the Order of Kim Jong-il in his honor and awarded it to 132 individuals for services in building a "thriving socialist nation" and for increasing defense capabilities. [154]

Kim received numerous titles during his rule. In April 2009, North Korea's constitution was amended to refer to him and his successors as the "supreme leader of the DPRK". [155]

  • Party Center of the WPK and Member, Central Committee of the WPK (1970s) [156]
  • Dear Leader (Chinaehaneun Jidoja) (late 1970s–1994) [156]
  • Member, Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK
  • Secretary, Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (1974–1997) member, WPK Central Committee (1980–2011)
  • Supreme Commander, Korean People's Army (25 December 1991 – 17 December 2011) [27]
  • Marshal of the DPRK (1993–2011) [157]
  • Chairman, National Defence Commission (1993–2011) [33]
  • Great Leader (Widehan Ryongdoja) (July 1994 – December 2011) [156]
  • General Secretary, Workers' Party of Korea (October 1997 – December 2011) [105]
  • Chairman, Central Military Commission (DPRK) (October 1997 – December 2011)
  • Eternal Leader (posthumous) (January 2012 – present) [150]
  • Generalissimo of the DPRK (posthumous) (January 2012 – present) [158]
  • Eternal General Secretary, Workers' Party of Korea (posthumous) (11 April 2012 – present) [159]
  • Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission (posthumous) (13 April 2012 – present) [160]
  • Eternal leader of the Workers' Party of Korea (posthumous) (7 May 2016 – present) [161]
  • Eternal leader of Juche Korea (posthumous) (29 June 2016 – present) [162]

According to North Korean sources, Kim published some 890 works during a period of his career from June 1964 to June 1994. [163] According to KCNA, the number of works from 1964 to 2001 was 550. [164] In 2000, it was reported that the Workers' Party of Korea Publishing House has published at least 120 works by Kim. [165] In 2009, KCNA put the numbers as follows:

At least 354,000 copies of [Kim Jong-il's works] were translated into nearly 70 languages and came off the press in about 80 countries in the new century. There were more than 500 activities for studying and distributing the works in at least 120 countries and regions in 2006. The following year witnessed a total of more than 600 events of diverse forms in at least 130 countries and regions. And 2008 saw at least 3,000 functions held in over 150 countries and regions for the same purpose. [166]

The Selected Works of Kim Jong-il (Enlarged Edition), whose publishing has continued posthumously, runs into volume 24 in Korean [167] and to volume 15 in English. [168] Volumes three to eight were never published in English. [169]

The Complete Collection of Kim Jong-il's Works is currently in volume 13. [170] There is a "Kim Jong-il's Works Exhibition House" dedicated to his works in North Korea, holding 1,100 of his works and manuscripts. [171]

In his teens and university years, Kim had written poems. [172] He also wrote song lyrics. [173] His first major literary work was On the Art of the Cinema in 1973. [174]

History Tells Us How North Korea Would Handle the Death of Kim Jong-un

North Korea will use a fog of disinformation to maintain stability, just as Pyongyang did with Kim Jong-il.

The question of potential instability and a possible power struggle came up when Kim Jong-il, father of the current leader, suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma in 2008. Back then, North Korea kept his illness secret for weeks, and kept him out of the public eye for months.

The uncertainty back then sparked very real, very relevant questions about what might happen in this impoverished, nuclear-armed country where there was no clear chain of succession. And the stakes are even higher today, given the nuclear advancements Kim Jong-un has made as well as the even more fragile state of the North Korean economy under sanctions.

We should remember that North Korea was able to quietly tighten the cordon of security around his ailing father in 2008 and effectively restrict the flow of information in and out of the country as a way to avoid sparking panic at home as well to conceal his state of health to the outside world. That gave the regime time to put measures in place to ensure stability as well as to focus on a succession plan to groom Kim Jong-un and introduce him as the heir apparent. It wasn’t much time but it was enough to avert a crisis of instability when Kim Jong-ll died in 2011.

Some analysts have long predicted the collapse of the North Korean regime with a change of leadership. But I would say the system is stronger than we think, partly due to the fog of disinformation that the regime employs to keep its citizens in the dark. Uncertainty paralyzes them.

If Kim Jong-un were to fall ill or worse, we would see that same quiet tightening of security and the flow of information as we saw in 2008. Perhaps we are seeing that now. But we may not know immediately, and the inner circle would seek to conceal the true state of matters for as long as possible to buy time to maintain stability and put a succession plan in place.

South Korea questions story of Kim Jong Il's death

REPORTING FROM SEOUL –- In life -– and now even in death -– Kim Jong Il's whereabouts have always been a guessing game.

Is he here, or over there? No! Wait, there he is! Poof!

Inside his Hermit Kingdom, press pictures released of Kim were always undated. Live-television images of the "Dear Leader" were pretty much verboten.

Now, South Korean intelligence officials are even casting doubt on Pyongyang's official story line that the 69-year-old Kim died of a heart attack while working aboard a moving train Saturday morning.

South Korea's top spy, Won Sei-hoon, told lawmakers in Seoul that a review of satellite photographs revealed that Kim's train was actually stationary at a Pyongyang station at the time of the ruler's death, as announced by the North, according to media reports.

"There were no signs the train ever moved," South Korean media quoted Won as telling officials.

South Korea's Defense Ministry on Wednesday seconded Won's reported comments, questioning the circumstances of the dictator's death.

Due to previous assassination attempts, Kim always traveled aboard a bulletproof train that was more like an armored Queen Mary on wheels.

North Korea watchers speculate that the time and place of Kim's death may somehow be sensitive to North Korean officials as they oversee the transition of power to the late strongman's handpicked successor, his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.

South Korean media reported rumors circulating among national lawmakers that Kim Jong Il actually died in his bed at his Pyongyang residence.

But the image of a sickly, weakened and prone "Dear Leader" taking his last breaths may not have sounded sufficiently patriotic to suit Pyongyang's propaganda machine.

So maybe, just maybe, the North Koreans pulled a page from Hollywood and . did a rewrite! The image of an indefatigable Kim dying while on a "field guidance tour" better fits the legacy of a dictator who didn't know quit.

(Think the drama of a young John F. Kennedy cut down in the infancy of his presidency, or a charismatic Theodore Roosevelt-type who keels over at his desk.)

The North's Korean Central News Agency is perpetrating the dictator-as-hero story, reporting that the North Korean people, "young and old, men and women, are calling Kim Jong Il, who gave tireless field guidance, totally dedicated day and night to the happiness of the people."

But there's even more intrigue to Kim's possible disappearing act.

Many here say South Korean -– and even U.S. -– intelligence officials are trying to cover up for a major gaffe: getting caught with their spy pants down and not knowing earlier about the death of one of the world’s most detested and dangerous figures.

South Korean media have reported that Seoul officials learned about Kim's death on Monday along with the rest of the world -– when it was broadcast on television. That's two days after the supposed event.

What's more, during Monday's noon hour, about the time the news hit here, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was reportedly attending a surprise birthday party thrown by aides at the Blue House (South Korea’s version of the White House).

Lee was celebrating a triple-whammy: his 71st birthday, 41st wedding anniversary and the fourth anniversary of his winning the presidency. Some aides were reportedly wearing pointed party hats when Lee arrived at the gathering of 200 celebrants, apparently just before the news of the North Korean dictator's death broke.

Wheeeeee! There’s the birthday boy!

Somewhere, the ever-secretive Kim Jong Il may be having the last laugh.

Photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il smiles while visiting a shopping center in Vladivostok, Russia. Credit: AFP

Kim Jong-un’s mysterious family tree

Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, made headlines by attending the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She was the first member of North Korea’s ruling Kim family, which has a monopoly on the wealth and political power of North Korea, to visit South Korea, and details about her family remain elusive to the rest of the world in many ways.

In the most recent Brookings essay, senior fellow Jung Pak shares her expertise on North Korea and insight on Kim Jong-un and his family.


Kim Jong-un came to power with the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, who died from a heart attack in December 2011. This was unsurprising in the Kim family, which has a history of heart disease. North Korea’s founder and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, also died from a heart attack.

If Kim Jong-Il had kept with Korean tradition, Pak writes in the essay, Kim Jong-un—his father’s third son—would not have been his father’s successor and instead his oldest brother, Kim Jong-nam, would have been chosen for succession. However, as Pak explains, Kim Jong-il reportedly dismissed Kim Jong-nam as unfit to lead North Korea because he was “tainted by foreign influence” when, in 2001, Jong-nam had been detained in Japan with a fake passport in a failed attempt to go to Tokyo Disneyland. It is said that he had suggested that North Korea undertake policy reform and open up to the West, enraging his father.

After, Jong-nam, Kim Jong-il’s second son, Kim Jong-chul was “deemed too effeminate” to rule. That left Kim Jong-un, the youngest of the three sons, to succeed his father as the head of North Korea.

*North Korea’s secrecy makes it difficult to verify information about Kim Jong-un’s children, including how many there are and when they were born. His wife’s birth date is also unconfirmed.

Jung Pak writes, “There had been signs before 2011 that Kim was grooming his son for the succession: he began to accompany his father on publicized inspections of military units, his birth home was designated a historical site, and he began to assume leadership titles and roles in the military, party, and security apparatus, including as a four-star general in 2010.”

The Death of Kim Jong-il and the Future of U.S. Relations with the Two Koreas

North Korean state-run television announced Monday that longtime leader Kim Jong-il died Saturday at the age of 69, after reportedly suffering a heart attack while traveling on a train. Under his leadership, North Korea became a nuclear state and was widely known as one of the most repressive societies in the world. Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Kim Jung-un, is expected to become North Korea’s new leader, but it is unclear if his ascendancy will bring about any real changes, as Kim Jong-il ruled North Korea in concert with a large circle of regime insiders who remain at the helm. We look at how the Korean Peninsula is the most militarized region on earth and what this means in this transition of power. “Given the past history of animosity and confrontation between the two Koreas, our government has taken precautionary measures to stabilize the situation,” says Chung-in Moon, professor of political science at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, and former government official who twice met with Kim. Meanwhile, “there’s a kind of reverence for Kim Jong-il by the people, because the North Korean people have a deep sense of needing sovereignty and independence,” notes Christine Ahn, executive director of the Korea Policy Institute. She says North Koreans recall 35 years of Japanese occupation and were proud of “joining the nuclear club” in order to prevent what they perceive as U.S. military occupation and the division of the Korean Peninsula. [includes rush transcript]

Related Story

Story Jun 12, 2018 Rep. Ro Khanna: If U.S.-North Korea Summit Happened Under Obama, Democrats Would Be Cheering

AMY GOODMAN : We turn now to the death of Korean leader Kim Jong-il. State-run television announced Monday he had died Saturday at the age of 69, after reportedly suffering a heart attack while traveling on a train. Known as the Dear Leader, Kim took over North Korea in 1994 following the death of his father, Kim Il-sung. The two men are the only leaders North Korea has known since the Korean Peninsula was formally divided in 1948.

Under Kim Jong-il’s leadership, North Korea became a nuclear state. In 2003, North Korea quit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty after the Bush administration refused to hold bilateral talks and uphold an agreement to supply light-water reactors. Three years later, North Korea tested its first nuclear device.

North Korea, under Kim Jong-il, is widely known as one of the most repressive societies in the world. While it was becoming a nuclear state, an estimated one million of its citizens died during a famine in the 1990s. The United Nations estimates at least 200,000 people have died or languished in a state security apparatus that includes forced labor camps, prisons and public executions.

North Korean authorities released video footage of dozens of mourners sobbing uncontrollably in a public square upon the news of Kim Jong-il’s death. Those images provided by North Korean state media.

South Korea put its military on alert following the news of Kim Jong-il’s death. Not long after, North Korea reportedly test-fired a missile off its northern coast. The two sides have technically been at war since the signing of the Korean armistice in 1953.

Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Kim Jung-un, is expected to become North Korea’s new leader. But it’s unclear if his ascendancy will bring about any real changes. Kim Jong-il ruled North Korea in concert with a large circle of regime insiders who remain at the helm.

While the Obama administration has continued the Bush stance of refusing direct negotiations, it’s engaged with North Korea indirectly through the “six-party talks” alongside South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. maintains hope for better relations with North Korea, but also concern for the plight of its people.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON : We both share a common interest in a peaceful and stable transition in North Korea, as well as an ensuring regional peace and stability. We have been in close touch with our partners in the six-party talks today. We reiterate our hope for improved relations with the people of North Korea and remain deeply concerned about their well-being.

AMY GOODMAN : For analysis on the death of Kim Jong-il and what it means for North Korea, the Korean Peninsula and the world, we begin our coverage in Seoul, South Korea, where we’re joined by Chung-in Moon, professor of political science at Yonsei University and editor-in-chief of Global Asia, an English quarterly magazine. He previously served in the South Korean government and was involved in diplomatic efforts with the North Korean government.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of the North Korean leader’s death and why South Korea is now on high alert?

CHUNG -IN MOON : But actually is very much a precautionary measure, because North Korea is going through the national mourning period, therefore North Korea is really obsessed with internal issues, therefore there’s no great threat coming from North Korea. But given the past history of animosity and confrontation between the two Koreas, our government has taken precautionary measures to stabilize the situation.

AMY GOODMAN : You actually met Kim Jong-il in 2000. Talk about the context of the meeting, and explain your—explain his significance in the Korean Peninsula.

CHUNG -IN MOON : I met him twice, one in 2000 and the other in 2007, during the two Korean summit talks. And I was very much impressed at the way he performed during those two summit talks. But he was a paramount leader of North Korea, and he was really dictating North Korean policy on South Korea, on the United States. Therefore, he has really unprecedented power in his hands. Therefore, he was dictating North Korean destiny, at the same time he was influencing inter-Korean relations. Therefore, I would say that he has a very important stature in the Korean history.

AMY GOODMAN : The intelligence services of South Korea, of the United States, of China, have been humiliated by what happened over the weekend. They did not know that Kim Jong-il had died until it was announced on—by the Korean media. What about the relationship between South Korea and North Korea? For people in the United States, although the U.S. is deeply involved in the militarization of the peninsula, the most militarized area on earth, there’s really very little knowledge about the Korean Peninsula, about what happens in North Korea, let alone South Korea.

CHUNG -IN MOON : During the past decade of the President Kim Dae-jung and President Roh Moo-hyun, there were quite high level of interactions between North and South Korea, therefore North Korean society was kind of exposed to South Korean society. But since the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak, there have been very worsened relationship between North and South Korea. And there was the death of one tourist in Mount Kumgang area, and also there was the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and torpedoing of our naval vessel. And all these things strained inter-Korean relations. And our government suspended all kinds of exchanges and cooperation with North Korea. But I think that has really delimited our access to intelligence in North Korea.

AMY GOODMAN : The fact that the Korean Peninsula is the most militarized area on earth—from your perspective in South Korea, Chung-in Moon, could you talk about the U.S. involvement in the region and how originally North and South Korea became separate countries?

CHUNG -IN MOON : When the Second World War was over, there was a so-called Yalta meeting. And in the Yalta meeting, there was a kind of tacit agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union to divide the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, Korean division was a direct product of the new beginning of the Cold War in 1945. And then, afterwards, the United States, as the occupation force in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, returned the South Korean sovereignty to South Korean people. And on the other hand, North Korea was under the occupation of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union set up its puppet government in Pyongyang. And Kim Il-sung was the leader anointed by the Soviet Union. In that way, the Korean Peninsula was divided. In 1948, South Korea became the Republic of Korea as a sovereign—independent, sovereign state, and North was declared as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948. That was a fixed division of the Korean Peninsula.

AMY GOODMAN : We’re going to break and then bring other guests into this discussion, from Amnesty International and the Korea Policy Institute. Our guest in Seoul, South Korea, Professor Chung-in Moon, h is professor of political science at Yonsei University and editor-in-chief of Global Asia, an English quarterly magazine, met with Kim Jong-il twice, in 2000 and 2007. This is Democracy Now! Back in 60 seconds.

AMY GOODMAN : Our guest in Seoul, South Korea, Chung-in Moon, professor of political science, Yonsei University, editor-in-chief of Global Asia, an English quarterly magazine, previously served in the South Korean government, where he was involved with diplomatic efforts and met with Kim Jong-il, who died on Saturday, they say at the age of 69, though others say he was 70.

Christine Ahn is joining us from the University of California, Berkeley, studios, executive director of Korea Policy Institute.

Christine Ahn, if you could continue with this history lesson that Professor Chung-in Moon began for us, especially for people here in the United States. You know the lack of geographical awareness of people here. We live in an insulated world—a globalized world, but we’re very insulated in the United States. What do you feel it’s most important to understand about North Korea in a global context?

CHRISTINE AHN : Thanks, Amy.

I appreciated Professor Moon’s brief history lesson, but I felt he kind of omitted a few key factors in explaining that very pivotal moment in Korean history. Yes, the Korean Peninsula was divided unilaterally, first by the United States and then with a sort of nod of agreement from the Soviet Union, but it also played a very critical role in installing a military government in South Korea. And since that period, since 1945, when it first landed in Incheon, it has had, you know, up to—you know, now it currently has 28,500 troops on the Korean Peninsula. But the part about South Korea’s democracy being really quashed, actually, for quite many decades, with the backing of the U.S., and I think that’s the bit of Korean history that Professor Moon had left out.

And the other bit about Korea that most Americans don’t realize is that the Korean War, which was the first Cold War, the front of the Cold War, and it continues to be the remaining war that has been unresolved, and I would say that it’s very crucial to understand that the fact that the Korean War has not ended has very much to do with the situation that North Korea finds itself in and the fact that it is still the most militarized region in the world.

AMY GOODMAN : Professor Chung-in Moon, would you like to respond?

CHUNG -IN MOON : Yes. There are good things and bad things. The United States has played some role in the Korean division, and also United States was—in part, was a patronizing military government in South Korea. But eventually, in 1987, South Korea achieved democratization, with a little help of the United States, by our own passion and power. Therefore, I think that the United States had some part in it, but I think the South Korean people have been able to achieve democratization. Since then, we have been achieving both growth and democracy in South Korea, even though there are temporal setbacks in our democratic movement.

AMY GOODMAN : Christine Ahn, if you could expand to talk about this issue of the Korean Peninsula being the most militarized region on earth and the issue of North Korea being a nuclear nation and what this means in this transition of power.

CHRISTINE AHN : Well, there are an estimated 1.2 million land mines still strewn across the Demilitarized Zone, across the 38th parallel. North Korea is—you know, I think that’s the mixed legacy of Kim Jong-il. And, you know, on the one hand, he inherited a very difficult situation in North Korea in 1994. The country had just—you know, with the passing of Kim Il-sung, which was the only leader that the country had known since 1945, 1948, and the fact that that country was undergoing tremendous, like, calamitous shocks, external and internal. 1994, it was on the brink of war with the United States. The Clinton administration was poised to strike its Yongbyon processing plant. It had endured serious serial droughts and harsh inclement weather that is very similar to the patterns of climate change that we’re seeing today, especially throughout Asia. And it had—it endured the collapse of the socialist trading bloc, so its dependence on not just exchange with China and the Soviet Union, but especially the import of fuel to just run basic things like the tractors to operate its agricultural system. And so, it endured a very difficult famine, and up to—you know, as you mentioned, up to a million people perished in that famine. And so, this was the period in which Kim Jong-il took over the reins.

And, you know, I think that it’s really critical to understand the kind of geopolitical context and the fact that North Korea has always viewed its engagement with the United States through the six-party talks as an opportunity to normalize relations, because they have viewed the engagement with the West and the normalization, especially with the United States, its historic enemy, as crucial for its economic recalibration. And unfortunately, whether it’s the Bush administration, whether it’s the Obama administration, or even the Clinton administration, it has always viewed North Korea as, you know, this basket-case country that is on the brink of collapse. And that has tremendous consequences, not just for peace on the Korean Peninsula or for the region, but for the very security and survival of the people of North Korea, who are struggling on a day-to-day basis to have access to food, to have access to electricity.

So, if I were to say one thing on this show, it’s, you know, we need to promote engagement, we need to promote dialogue, and that’s what we know works. As Professor Moon has mentioned, you know, in that period of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, the previous presidents before Lee Myung-bak, there was a period of not just engagement between North and South Korean leaders and governments, but among civil society and families that have been divided, you know. I mean, there are millions of Korean families, especially here in the United States, who have still family in North Korea. So, I would say that this is an opportunity to—you know, we can conjecture all we want what’s going to happen to North Korea, and under the leadership of Kim Jong-un or the political elite, but what we can do is try to influence our political leaders to, you know, be in the spirit of engagement, direct dialogue and promotion of peace and reconciliation.

AMY GOODMAN : Christine Ahn, executive director of the Korean Policy Institute, can you talk about the significance of the nuclear bomb that North Korea has and how that really is what directs U.S. policy towards North Korea? And your sense of who Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s son, who is expected to succeed him, went recently with him on a trip to China, but very young, what—who he is and what the internal—the top circle in North Korea, how much power it wields versus what the son will wield?

CHRISTINE AHN : Well, Amy, sorry I got derailed there for a minute. But I would say that’s the mixed legacy of Kim Jong-il. I would say that the ordinary North Korean—I mean, and it’s so hard to tell. I mean, even the CIA says we don’t know what we don’t know about North Korea. But—and as you mentioned, you know, the intelligence failure, where most of the world didn’t even know that he had passed away two days after it had happened.

But the situation with Kim Jong-il is, you know, that the people were hoping for economic improvement in their day-to-day lives, and he was not able to see that through. And—but on the other hand, this is a perspective that I was able to get by traveling throughout North Korea, and it is that, you know, there’s a kind of reverence for Kim Jong-il by the people, because the North Korean people have a deep sense of needing sovereignty and independence. And that is because the birth of North Korea as a nation, you know, was essentially the result of resistance and revolution against foreign occupation, and that includes 35 years of Japanese occupation, but it also includes what they perceive as U.S. military occupation and the division of the Korean Peninsula. So, in some sense, there is a reverence for Kim Jong-il because he was able to acquire a nuclear weapon, and there was a pride that the North Koreans had about North Korea joining the nuclear club. And I think it’s important, though, to clarify that North Koreans, you know, don’t have that pride because they want to wield that nuclear weapon to threaten or terrorize the rest of the world, but I say that—in my conversations with the people of North Korea, it was that, you know, “We are lucky we have this, because we won’t be another Iraq. We won’t be another victim of U.S. military invasion.”

And, you know, the thing is, is that they are speaking from the lived experience. When I went to North Korea, others—I had a very interesting insight, where I would travel around the country, and with our guides, you know, they would always point to this building. This was a restaurant. It was, you know, a very ancient-looking Korean building. But it was—I was wondering, why are—why do they always keep pointing that building out? And the thing that was really surprising is that was the only building that remained since the Korean War. Otherwise, the rest of Pyongyang was essentially leveled. And that was because of the devastating air raids. More bombs were dropped in the Korean War than in World War II. Napalm was introduced. I mean, the U.S. bombed dams, which was considered a war crime under the Geneva Convention.

So, this is the kind of mindset, the kind of narrative, that is so deeply woven into the North Korean psyche. And I think that we have to understand that, as people in the United States, as a starting point to understand why in the six-party talks, why in the bilateral negotiations with North Korea, North Korea so desperately wants to build a relationship, and then they want to de-nuclearize, whereas the Obama, the Clinton, the Bush administrations have always viewed those fora to just disarm North Korea. And North Korea says, you know, “That’s not good enough. We need to have normalized relations. We need to have a peace treaty.” And that has been their stance, you know, starting from Kim Il-sung—

AMY GOODMAN : Christine Ahn—

CHRISTINE AHN : —through Kim Jong-il, and—yes.

AMY GOODMAN : As we continue our coverage of the death of Kim Jong-il, we wanted to look at his human rights legacy and what may lay ahead for his 29-year-old son Kim Jong-un, as he prepares to take power.

Kim Jong-Il's Natural Death Typical for Dictators

The death by natural causes of Kim Jong-Il highlights a possibly unpleasant truth about repressive dictators: Many, if not most, end up living long lives and dying peacefully.

Those who live by the sword don't necessarily die by it, according to "The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History's 100 Worst Atrocities" (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011). In it, Matthew White tracked the fates of the leaders most responsible for the 100-deadliest human events. A majority, he found, lived out their natural life spans in peace.

"About 60 percent of the individual oppressors and warmongers who were most responsible for each of these multicides lived happily ever after," White wrote.

For every Moammar Gadhafi killed in the streets by angry citizens, there is a Joseph Stalin, dead at 74 of a stroke. According to White, 49 percent of those responsible for the major massacres of history ruled until their deaths by natural causes. Another 11 percent enjoyed a peaceful retirement, while 8 percent were exiled before natural causes took their last breaths.

Of those whose ends were not as pleasant or natural, 9 percent were put on trial and executed, 8 percent were assassinated, 7 percent died in battle, 4 percent were imprisoned and 4 percent committed suicide. [How 13 of the Worst Dictators Died]

Kim Jong-Il died at age 69 of a heart attack Dec. 17, according to North Korea state television.

Perhaps the lengthy lives have to do with the spoils of leadership, as studies of U.S. presidents show that despite the stresses of being in charge, these men live just as long or longer than their contemporaries.

Mass Mourning

When dictators do die of natural causes, they rarely seem to take advantage of the warning signs of age and debilitation, according to Robert Gellately, a professor of history at Florida State University.

"The communist countries, from Lenin on, have prided themselves on being modern, but the one thing they never figured out is how to manage the transition when the leader passes away," Gellately told LiveScience. "Usually what happens is the leader, when they start to get ill … they talk about who might be suitable to replace them but they invariably point to all the flaws. They don't embrace mortality easily."

The result, Gellately said, is often a behind-the-scenes power struggle. It's not easy for outside observers to tell who is in charge, he said. When Stalin came to power in the 1920s, he said, foreign heads of state were flummoxed as to who really was pulling the strings &mdash ironic, Gellately said, because historians would later realize that Stalin made "absolutely every decision."

Stalin's death, in fact, might show some parallels to the death of Kim Jong-Il, Gellately said. Despite Stalin's repression, he was widely mourned.

"There was an enormous outpouring of sorrow, even in the Gulag," Gellately said. "There were prisoners who cried."

Likewise, video footage from North Korea shows citizens weeping openly in factories and streets.

"It's hard to know if it's genuine sorrow or if it's uncertainty about the future," Gellately said. "The motives of why people are moved are infinite, but it's an interesting phenomenon."

You can follow LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

Death of Kim Jong Il - HISTORY

North Korean history holds many secrets. How and when did Kim Il Sung decide to make his son his heir? Was a colossal explosion at the Ryongchon station in 2004 an assassination attempt on Kim Jong Il and, if so, who was behind it? We do not know answers to these questions and are unlikely to get any while the DPRK exists.

But perhaps the strangest event in North Korean history was a message transmitted in November 1986 declaring Kim Il Sung to have died, over eight years before his actual death in July 1994.

North Korean history holds many secrets. How and when did Kim Il Sung decide to make his son his heir? Was a colossal explosion at the Ryongchon station in 2004 an assassination attempt on Kim Jong Il and, if so, who was behind it? We do not know answers to these questions and are unlikely to get any while the DPRK exists.

But perhaps the strangest event in North Korean history was a message transmitted in November 1986 declaring Kim Il Sung to have died, over eight years before his actual death in July 1994.

Kim Jong-il's death brings end to era of cruelty, mystery

'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il's death ends 17 years of leadership defined by oppression, bizarre stories of grandeur, and tensions with the West over its nuclear program.

Kim Jong-il’s death at the age of 69 ended an era of profligacy and harshness that included reports of both his wild living in his many mansions and stories from defectors of extreme cruelty in a gulag system to which 200,000 people were constantly consigned.

The report of the demise of the man known as North Korea’s “dear leader” – who reportedly imported cognac along with Swedish hostesses and dined on fine food dished up by a Japanese chef who dedicated a special brand of sushi to him – confirmed speculation that he had been seriously ill for awhile.

Kim Jong-il was born in 1941 or 1942 near the Soviet Siberian city of Khabarosk while his father, the long-ruling Kim Il-sung, was an officer in the Red Army. However, most North Koreans never heard the truth about Kim Jong-il's origins. They were told that he was born in a cabin on Mount Paektu, the highest peak on the Korean peninsula, straddling the North Korean-Chinese border. As he was born, rainbows appeared in the heavens, according to the story put out by the propaganda machine that his father built over the years after he was sent by the Russians to Korea on a merchant ship following the Japanese surrender in August 1945.

Kim Jong-il was widely reported to have suffered a stroke in August 2008 and afterward disappeared from public view for several months while recovering. In the past two years his health appeared to greatly improve, and he went on regular inspection tours of military installations, factories, farms, and markets, generally accompanied by his son Kim Jong-un, who is poised to succeed him.

In fact, Kim Jong-il was last photographed on such a tour two days before his death, looking in good health – prompting speculation that he might actually have been assassinated.

“Pyongyang took two days to announce the death,” says Han Sung-joo, who was foreign minister when North Korea and the US agreed in Geneva on a plan for the North to halt its nuclear program in exchange for construction of two nuclear energy reactors. “They are trying to put up a face that is orderly and united.”

But, “we are not sure whether it was foul play or natural,” says Mr. Han, adding that “I don’t think North Korea was prepared” and “I don’t believe we can rule out anything.”

A female television announcer dressed in traditional black Hanbok attire burst into tears on Pyongyang television when she repeated the announcement that he had died “from fatigue and hard work” that caused a heart attack.

Both before and after he took over full power following his father's death in July 1994 – in the midst of a nuclear crisis that would be repeated throughout his 17 years in power – he was credited with achievements that went far beyond credibility.

Among the most dubious was the claim that he shot a hole in one on his first swing at a golf course and that he repeated the feat on numerous occasions. He also, in his younger days, was extremely interested in developing the North Korean film industry – so much so that he ordered the kidnapping in 1978 of a South Korean actress and her director husband from Hong Kong to work on North Korean films. The pair escaped to the US embassy in Vienna in 1986 after he allowed them to go there to attend a film festival.

Kim Jong-il rose to power initially as general secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party, long before the death of his father. But it was his positions as chairman of the national defense commission and commander of the armed forces that he used to exercise his unquestioned rule over his people and also to confront South Korea and the United States.

His legacy was his program for turning North Korea into a nuclear power while developing short-range, mid-range and finally long-range missiles with a potential to someday reach targets as distant as Alaska and Hawaii.

Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, reported that North Korea tested a missile Monday, probably before the announcement of Kim Jong-il’s death. North Korea exported short and mid-range missiles to clients ranging from Libya under Muammar Qaddafi to Iran, Syria, and Yemen.

North Korea’s claim to be a nuclear power rested on underground nuclear tests conducted in October 2006 and again in May 2009. The first test was believed to have been a disappointment, but the second demonstrated the North’s ability to explode a nuclear device successfully. The North Korean missile tests came during an impasse in six-party talks hosted by China beginning in 2005 and last held in Beijing in December 2008.

Nonetheless, Kim Jong-il raised high hopes for rapprochement on the Korean peninsula when he hosted South Korea’s president, Kim Da-jung, at the first North-South summit in June 2000. The summit produced a document committing the two leader to bringing about reconciliation beginning with reunions of members of the millions of families divided by the Korean War.

The spirit of the summit evaporated, however, with the revelation in October 2002 that North Korea also was working on a program for developing nuclear warheads from highly enriched uranium. North Korea had suspended production of warheads with plutonium at their core under the 1994 agreement.

Kim Jong-il also hosted Kim Dae-jung’s successor, Roh Moo-hyun, at a summit in October 2007, but North Korea’s hostility grew after the conservative Lee Myung-bak was elected South Korean president two months later and quickly cut off food aid to North Korea, saying the North should first stop its nuclear program. American nuclear physicist Sigfried Hecker, after seeing the uranium facility, said he was “stunned” at how advanced the program was.

The tragic downside was that North Korea’s nuclear program cost billions of dollars while severely sapping the economy. While Kim Jong-il appeared to sometimes entertain the idea of limited economic reforms, he basically could not tolerate free enterprise while many North Koreans survived only by clandestine free market activities.

North Korean quality of life reached its lowest level in the mid-1990s, when the country suffered a famine that cost as many as 2 million lives from starvation and disease. North Korea since then has gone through periods of deep economic distress. Millions remain underfed and suffering from disease while the country maintains a military machine of well over one million troops.

Kim Jong-il’s dream, however, was to build North Korea as “a strong and prosperous nation” in time for a nationwide celebration next April marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of his father.