Kim Jong Un is a pudgy punk with the power to create great misery

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

Kim Jong Un is an absurdly comical figure. If he were not holding the fate of millions of people in his hands, the North Korean dictator would provide us all with nothing but laughs.

He runs a country that, thanks to the ruinous communist policies of his father and grandfather, is an economic basket case where mass starvation is always as close as tomorrow.

He has almost no friends in the world, except for the similarly outcast nutcases that run Iran. His closest allies, the Chinese, are so disgusted with him that they have signed on to United Nations sanctions against his country.

And yet, Kim acts as if he is master of a mighty nation, not king of a hermit kingdom that survives only by imprisoning its people in an Orwellian alternative reality.


In recent days, Kim’s regime has renounced the 2007 six-nation disarmament deal that was supposed to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The North Koreans have declared they will be “bolstering up the nuclear armed force both in quantity and quality.”

They have also canceled the armistice with South Korea that has sustained a chilly peace on the Korean peninsula since 1953, and announced that a state of war now exists between the fraternal neighbors.

Kim and his cohort have issued a variety of threats in past months that are largely beyond their power to act on, and their rhetoric is as goofy as it is florid. An example is their pledge to “break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like.”

Though they have not been entirely successful at getting a missile to stay aloft even a few miles from their own shoreline, Kim’s regime warns of nuclear strikes against the West Coast of the United States. In response, the Pentagon is beefing up missile defenses in Alaska.

The United States has also sent nuclear-capable stealth bombers and B-52s on practice missions to South Korea as a signal to Kim that there will be hell to pay if his bellicose words turn into action.

Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, played a provocative game during his years in power, but he was clever enough to know which lines he dare not cross. Foreign affairs and military analysts in the U.S., Japan, China and South Korea are not at all certain that North Korea’s new, unseasoned leader knows when to stop. Kim Jong Un may not actually understand his power is built on illusions.

It has always been assumed that North Korean leaders rattled sabers now and then simply to solidify their own power by stirring up the patriotic passions of their captive people. As warlike as they may have sounded, the old leaders generally did not seem crazy enough to provoke a war with the United States in which their regime would almost certainly be toppled.

The new Kim, surrounded by a huge army and a horde of sycophants, may not understand the precariousness of his position. Living amid a Stalinist fantasy as he does, Kim might actually think war would be a glorious fulfillment of his own exalted purpose on the planet, instead of a horrific, blood-soaked end to his family’s wicked dynasty.

It would be gratifying to see the pudgy-faced punk of Pyongyang meet an ignominious end. Unfortunately, it is not likely to happen without a cruel war that would be disastrous for Koreans, both North and South.

Kim Jong Un is a caricature of a tyrant, a person too silly to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, he is a fool with real power to destroy, and the misery he could bring about is no laughing matter.