A short time ago in many countries the mass media speculations about North Korean leader’s whereabouts were in full swing. Kim Jong-un disappeared for 40 days and missed some serious events, including the celebration of the foundation of the Workers’ Party of Korea on October 10, 2014. His absence during the event gave rise to a wave of new rumors:
Kim Jong-un is dying from obesity, being pathologically dependent on Swiss cheese, which he consumes in kilograms; Kim Jong-un is thrown over and is under house arrest, the country is ruled by former military aristocracy, whose leadership made a visit to South Korea during the last day of the Asian Games; Kim Jong-un has died from a stroke, and the country is governed by his 27-year-old younger sister.
However when, Kim made a public appearance – safe and sound, though with a walking stick –some of the most odious commentators hurriedly retracted their claims, saying they were misunderstood or mistranslated.
It was found out that, like it happens to every other person, Kim Jong-un was simply ill. According to one of the versions, he had injured a tendon “in the course of duty” and neglected the injury which led to the surgery. According to another rumor, he suffered from diabetes-related leg complications. His father, supposedly, had similar problems. Kim Jong-Il had to wear special orthopedic shoes (described by the enemy propaganda as “high heels he wares because he is ashamed of his short stature”). The “morbid obesity” claim also seems to be false, Kim Jong-un ‘s height/weight proportion is right at the fringe of the norm.
However, some anti-North Korean commentators have attempted to offer their interpretations even to Kim Jong-un’s return. There have been several versions of the story as well: from “It is not him, the man is just a look-alike, there was a coup d’etat” to “Kim has been spreading rumors about his death on purpose to see how this or that official reacts. North Korea is now facing a new wave of repressions.”
It is not the first time that the young general was believed to be dead. Back in February 2012, the world media reported that Kim Jong-un was killed in Beijing (reports were based on rumors that appeared on Chinese Twitter analog network).
What is behind such a rumor boom around Kim Jong-un and why will such canards keep appearing?
North Korea remains on the list of rouge states, and the change of the leader did not cause the decline of anti-Pyongyang propaganda. Quite on the contrary, it became more intense, since young Kim Jong-un must receive the same amount of hatred as his predecessor and as soon as possible, so that nobody doubts that he is just as much a mad, bloodthirsty tyrant as his father and grandfather.
Already by now the young general has showed off his tough temper and demonstrated that he was not afraid of escalating tensions. This was clear from the situation in the spring of 2013, and from the public execution of his uncle, Chang Sung-taek. Let’s recall what else his ill-wishers and sensation mongers blamed him for?
Firstly, he was rumored to have used dogs to execute his uncle. The news about
Chang Sung-taek being torn to pieces by a pack of dogs was discredited around a week after it was released but some still believe it.
Among other barbaric types of executions Kim Jong Un was rumored to have used are execution by mortars and fire throwers. What is more, due to poor translation, “Kim Jong-un personally burnt one of the sentenced generals.” I particularly like the story about use of mortars for the execution, because it is enough to google the matter for just a bit to find out that a mortar can not be used either to destroy an individual target or to shoot like a cannon as the one on the famous painting by Vereshchagin.
According to the rumor, Kim also shot his former lover, together with all the members of the ensemble in which she performed (in different versions – for taking a part in a porn-movie and for being a secret Christian). This news had been circulating for more than half a year until the “shot lover” appeared live on the TV.
Moreover, in 2010 Kim Jong-un was accused of the intention to send to the South some air balloons full of toxic gases or dangerous microorganism spores.
They have been trying to make not only a Nero, but also a Сaligila out of Kim Juong-un. When Kim started making public appearances with his wife, and nobody yet knew who she was, a whole new series of rumor was released, starting from attempts to retell the story of Seo Hyo Rim (Kim took away an actress he fancied from her husband and made her marry him), to blaming Kim for forcing the woman to incest (one of the Russian reporters kept asking me whether Kim’s alleged mistress was in fact his sister: “You cannot be 100% sure, can you? Then say, with the recorder on, that experts do not rule out such possibility”).
What is more, Kim Jong-un “turned out to be” a real Hitler fan. By the way, Jang Jin-sung, a turncoat who had leaked this information, “outdid himself” creating another stir about an alleged coup d’etat. Afterwards, he had to post a clumsy disclaimer on his website.
Actually, the chances of tabloids to get true information of that kind are almost zero. Here is a good example: none of the pictures that were broadly featured in Japanese and Western media as photos of Kim Jong-un III, bore any resemblance to the real person when he finally appeared in front of the cameras. However, an explanation was quickly found: the new leader had had one or several plastic surgeries to look more like his grandfather.
Could such trifles trouble propagandists who have a very clear image borrowed from comics of how a true Evil Master should behave? First of all, he must be unjust, illegitimate and immoral.
Why? If we assume that Kim Jong-un is an incompetent villain, deprived of any good qualities (that is why all his attempts to be friendly and reasonable should be viewed as desire to deceive everyone), then all his actions can be explained through this paradigm. Under the circumstances, even construction of useful national civic facilities is regarded as a wasteful project, money for which should have been spent on rice for the starving.
As far as information warfare is concerned, the North Korean leader’s transformation into a vicious madman gives a good ground for attributing to him such motives and actions that could not be otherwise logically explained (but that now can be explained as his intrinsic viciousness and madness). If we know that the person is evil, we perceive all that he says or does through the prism of his reputation, just like witch-hunters viewed every detail of behavior or life style of a supposed servant of the Devil as a proof of their demonic nature (“if she is poor that means she spends all of her money on terrible rituals; if she is rich, that means, that the Devil throws her money down the chimney; beautiful – beauty was given to her by the Devil for seducing people; ugly – the Devil took her beauty in exchange for whichcraft; if she cured somebody – she did it with a hidden agenda all aimed at multiplying the Evil; if she died during tortures – the Devil took her body so that we would not have her soul, for she was about to confess”).
So, canards about North Korea and its leader will continue to multiply and we will do our best to detect them. Keep in touch.
Konstantin Asmolov, candidate of historical sciences, senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.