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When North Korean state media reported in December 2011 that leader Kim Jong-il had died at the age of 70 of a heart attack from “overwork,” I was a relatively new analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. Everyone knew that Kim had heart issues—he had suffered a stroke in 2008—and that the day would probably come when his family’s history of heart disease and his smoking, drinking, and partying would catch up with him. His father and founder of the country Kim Il-sung had also died of a heart attack in 1994. Still, the death was jarring.

While North Koreans wept, fainted, and convulsed with grief, feigned or not, Kim Jong-un, the twenty-something-year-old son of Kim Jong-il, reportedly closed the country’s borders and declared a state of emergency. News of these events began to filter out to the international media through cell phones that had been smuggled in before Kim Jong-il’s death.

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.

Ironic title, since he was not educated, but coddled. To read more, click here.

Category: Science