How Kim Jong Un’s early childhood set him up to become North Korea’s ruthless leader

Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim
Jong Un in 2013.


Though North Korea has been under the dynastic rule of the Kim
family since the close of World War II, Kim Jong Un, the
country’s current leader, was never promised the throne after his
father’s death.

According to Evan Osnos’ new report
in the New Yorker
, Kim rose to power mainly through “attitude
and aggression” and displaying an “inner strength” from an early

His half brothers Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Chol tended towards
playfulness and meakness, but Kim Jong-un would wear
Soviet military uniforms to his birthday as a child, according to

Even at a young age, Kim displayed a temper
that may have translated into competitiveness on basketball
courts in Switzerland, of all places. 

“He was competitive at sports. He didn’t like to lose, like every
one of us. For him, basketball was everything,” João
Micaelo, one of Kim’s former classmates at a school Kim attended
in Bern under a psuedonym during the 1990s, told Osnos.

While his father Kim Jong Il presided over a massive famine
where millions perished and suffered malnutrition, Kim fell
asleep with a basketball in his bed and was a fan of the Chicago
Bulls NBA team. 

So when Kim Jong Il passed away in 2011, Kim became the
natural choice, who proved even more vicious than his

“With Kim Jong Un, he has never yet bitten more than he can
chew. Whatever he sets his sights on he gets. He keeps pushing,
and pushing, and pushing. We don’t know where his brakes are, and
I suspect he doesn’t know where he can stop,” Alexandre
Mansourov, the former Soviet diplomat to North Korea told

dennis rodman kim jung un
Kim Jong Un greets Dennis Rodman.

Under Kim Jong Il, North Korea had more open relations with
the outside world. He entertained former Secretary of State
Madeline Albright in Pyongyang and hoped to improve relations
with the US. 

But Kim Jong-un quickly became revered for his physical
resemblance to Kim Il Sung, his grandfather and the country’s
founding leader, and he exhibited a brutality not seen under his
father’s rule.

He had his uncle killed, possibly to thwart an
attempt at installing Kim Jong Nam
, his half-brother, in a
coup. Kim carried out violent purges of top officials with ties
to China and insulated himself and his regime. 

Evan Medeiros, President Obama’s chief Asia adviser,
contrasted the two leaders, saying the father’s “approach to
managing élites appeared to be more incentive-based than
coercion-based, making sure that they all got goodies and spoils.
The son’s approach appears to be ‘If you screw with me, I’m just
going to kill you—and I’m going to kill you in a really nasty

bill clinton kim jong il
Bill Clinton meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in

AP Photo/Korean Central
News Agency via Korea News Service

Since Kim took power in 2011, North Korea has tested
missiles at a blistering rate, testing more times than his father
and grandfather combined. Of six total nuclear tests, four have
occurred under Kim Jong-un’s watch.

Today, Kim’s North Korea stands on the verge of full,
unquestionable nuclear capability and tensions with the US stand
near all-time highs. Though experts assess Kim intended to
secure his regime against foreign invasion by building nuclear
weapons, not a soul on earth can truly say what he will do with
full nuclear powers. 

Read the full New Yorker article

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