If you believe the account given by North Korean state media, he died at 8:30am on Saturday of a heart attack, caused by overwork while conducting field guidance.
At midday on December 19th a North Korean announcer tearfully announced the news of his death, no doubt hoping to elicit similar emotion out of the audience, but this was little tonic for the anger and frustration left by the manner of his passing.
It would have only been right that Kim Jong Il be indicted for his wicked acts under international, South Korean and North Korean Law, and for the world to see with their own eyes the sight of him groveling for forgiveness from those he wronged under his dictatorship. As it is, all anybody can do is hope that the remorse left in place of such contrition can be soothed somewhat by the course of history.
From the 1970s Kim was identified as the successor to his father, Kim Il Sung, and began to participate in state affairs. In the 1980s he emerged as a man of power in his own right, constructing and running a joint administration with Kim Il Sung. Following the elder Kim’s death in 1994, Kim Jong Il went on to dominate the country for 20 years as a totalitarian leader the likes of which the world had rarely if ever seen before.
Although Kim Il Sung was a war criminal, at least under the Party banner of socialism he acknowledged responsibility for providing food, clothing and shelter to his people. On the other hand, Kim Jong Il relied solely on military dictatorship to maintain his own prestige, putting back the development of the country by decades and deepening the scars of division on the Korean Peninsula.
Kim Jong Il’s existence was responsible for the suffering of 24 million North Korean citizens. The results of his tyranny still cause great anguish for thousands of separated families and wartime abductees, scores of thousands of defectors and an estimated several hundred postwar kidnapping victims.
Despite witnessing the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe with his own eyes, Kim neglected to follow a path of liberation and reform, consigning millions of his country’s citizens to death by starvation. Kim betrayed over ten years of engagement policy from South Korea as well as preferable treatment from China by developing nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, using military provocation to thoroughly trample over the ultimate goal of peaceful coexistence for the Korean people, solely to maintain his own selfish grip on power.
Kim Jong Il’s death should represent the end of a system of dictatorship which began under Kim Il Sung, and be a requiem to every single one of the people who suffered as a result of his tyranny.
In his last days Kim was seized by the ambition to transfer power to his son, but it is only through the extinguishing of his own life that Kim Jong Eun was reborn as the country’s new dictator. And for all that, Kim Jong Il has not even left his son with any guarantee of a stable future.
The North Korean people have neither lingering feelings for their dead leader nor expectations of what the Kim Jong Eun regime may hold. Their perceptions are changing every day with the incapacity of North Korea’s distribution system, chronic food shortages, marketization, popularization of the Korean Wave and inflow of external information.
Having come to terms with the fact that promises of a ‘Strong and Prosperous State’ by 2012 were nothing more than a fabrication, many people now do not even hide their disdain for the North Korean system, or their doubts over the one Kim Jong Eun will now lead.
All that Kim Jong Eun has been left with is a lifeless economy and the tattered rags of a political system. From this moment, if Kim Jong Eun decides to follow in his father’s footsteps, to grasp power for himself and create a new version of the same old, the societies of North and South Korea will be plunged into an all new crucible.
Once again the decision is in the hands of the South Korean government. For many years that country has paid for its decision not to fight harder for the human rights of North Korean citizens, defectors and kidnapping victims, through chronic insecurity and the fear of war.
From now on South Korea will have to deal with the whims of Kim Jong Eun in whatever way they are manifested. If South Korea allows Kim Jong Eun to do as he pleases, it will be endangering the 60 years of hard work spent cultivating the prosperity that country now enjoys.
South Korea needs to address and resolve the anxiety brought on by Kim Jong Il’s death as soon as possible, and begin to work towards a new North Korea strategy aimed at bringing about liberation, reform and democratization. What happens next could not be more important.