Becoming Kim Jong Un Book Summary - Becoming Kim Jong Un Book explained in key points
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Becoming Kim Jong Un summary

Jung H. Pak

A Former CIA Officer's Insights into North Korea's Enigmatic Young Dictator

4.2 (61 ratings)
23 mins
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    Becoming Kim Jong Un
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    Kim Jong Un inherited the legacy of both his father and grandfather.

    For many North Koreans, their leader Kim Il Sung was a hero.

    Beginning in 1948, he ruled over the country for almost 50 years, and his people truly believed in his power and greatness. Portraits of Kim could be found everywhere –⁠ in homes, offices, stores, classrooms, and other buildings. His birthday became a national holiday, and at his funeral, attendees cried out, “Father!”

    But as supreme leader, Kim Il Sung laid the foundations for his successors’ brutal regimes. He imprisoned political opponents and carefully shaped the education system to instill obedience. He promoted the idea that he had superhuman, almost godlike abilities. And he made a scapegoat of anyone deemed not sufficiently faithful to the revolutionary spirit.

    This was the legacy he imparted to his son, Kim Jong Il, and grandson, Kim Jong Un.

    The key message here is: Kim Jong Un inherited the legacy of both his father and grandfather.

    Education was particularly important to Kim Il Sung, who saw it as essential to promoting loyalty and raising obedient North Koreans. He frequently made trips across the country to reinforce the image of himself amongst his people and woo them with his charisma – or, alternatively, scare them into believing there was a cruel world outside North Korea that intended to do them harm, and that only he could protect them.

    If Kim Il Sung set this path in motion, his son, Jong Il, advanced it. Long before his father’s passing in 1994, Jong Il had been designated as his father's successor. And, like his father, he cultivated an image of himself as a mythological figure and paragon of Koreanness. Massive sculptures, artworks, monuments, films, and works of literature were created in his honor. He expanded the political base his father had begun, exiling or discrediting dissenters and continuing to indoctrinate the population.

    However, Jong Il’s rule was marred by the dissolution of the Soviet Union, one of North Korea’s most steadfast allies and economic supporters. Democracy began to flourish in Asia and indeed the world –⁠ which made North Korea, with its Marxist-Leninist politics, seem increasingly alone. This led the country to isolate itself further, strengthening internal security measures and even more ruthlessly rooting out dissent. It also, of course, began developing its nuclear weapons program, which it saw as a necessary and powerful deterrent.

    This was the legacy that Kim Jong Un was born to. And from childhood, he recognized that he was, in some sense, the heir to the throne. 

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    What is Becoming Kim Jong Un about?

    Becoming Kim Jong Un (2020) tells the story of the North Korean dictator from his childhood as the son and grandson of two infamous Korean leaders through to his momentous summit with American president Donald Trump. Setting aside the insults and jokes about Kim that the media and internet often perpetuate, it takes a serious look at Kim’s enigmatic persona and behavior and diagnoses the grave threat that he and his nation⁠ pose to the world.

    Who should read Becoming Kim Jong Un?

    • People fascinated by international politics and global issues
    • History lovers
    • Anyone with an interest in modern Asia

    About the Author

    Jung H. Pak, PhD, is a former senior CIA intelligence analyst responsible for Korea-related issues. She’s also a former senior fellow and former SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies at the Brookings Institution. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Foreign Policy, USA Today, and the Hill.

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