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Where in the world is Kim Jong-un?

In the hours after Kobe Bryant’s death, anyone following the story as it was breaking would concede that it was a total mess. The frenetic pace of “This journalist tweeted that his children were on the helicopter, but retracted it!”, “This source says the pilot is alive” and “This source says Vanessa Bryant was on the helicopter!” was overwhelming, and it took a while for a definitive story to come through. 

The reports of possible bad health, death or brain-deadness of North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un is just like that but over the span of weeks with no definitive story and millions of lives hanging in the balance. I will attempt to unravel the horrible mess that are the rumors surrounding Kim Jong Un’s health, in chronological order. 

April 15:  Kim made no appearances at celebrations of his grandfather’s birthday, a celebration which he would under normal circumstances not miss. This was mostly used as evidence when the real story broke.

 April 21: US intelligence was monitoring reports on Kim’s health, claiming that he was in ‘grave danger’ after cardiovascular surgery that occured on April 12. Shortly after, MSNBC anchor Katy Tur tweeted that she had a US intelligence source that Kim was in a vegetative state, but later deleted that tweet out of an “abundance of caution.” 

April 25: US intelligence went totally dark, and no new information was coming from any US sources. Conflicting reports from other countries began to come out, with Japanese media stating that Kim was in a vegatative state and a Chinese state-backed television program reporting that he was dead

April 26: To make things even more confusing and impossible, South Korean intelligence reported that Kim was ‘alive and well’.

May 1: With almost another week of speculation and thoughts that he may be dead, it now seems that Kim truly is alive. After releasing unconvincing pictures of his opening of a fertilizer factory in Pyongyang, the state media released video that seems to be date-verified and prove that he’s alive.

The rumors of Kim’s health, anonymously substantiated by various intelligence agencies and blasted around the world by media outlets, go to show the embarrassing extent to which the world has absolutely no clue what is happening in North Korea. Furthermore, during this time of his potential death, there was no obvious heir, with media reporting that anyone from his sister, generals or uncles being potential rulers of North Korea. To make matters even worse, it seems that U.S. intelligence has no clue where North Korea is hiding their nuclear warheads. 

While it is possible the U.S. knew his condition prior to Kim’s trip to the fertilizer plant, they may not have been in the diplomatic position to say anything about it. Regardless, the fact still stands: the ruler of a nuclear-armed rogue nation with no line of succession could not be ascertained alive or dead on the world stage for over ten days without the help of North Korean state media. 

There is a perception among Americans that the C.I.A. is just lying in wait, totally prepared to do whatever must be done in the case of chaos in North Korea. Let this incident put that myth to rest. We have no idea what is happening in North Korea, and are not even close to prepared for the death of their dictator. 

graham10@stolaf.edu

Logan Graham ’23 is from Warrenville, Ill. He majors in philosophy.