For those of us who long predicted that the world would someday end at the Dorito-stained fingertips of a paunchy nepotist with too much free time, Kim Jong-un’s little warlike ambitions come as no surprise. Born in 1983, North Korea’s Dear Leader is a member of Generation Y. If the State Department and other responsible world agents are to handle his militaristic temper tantrum appropriately, they must first understand the personality type of his cretinous peers. Cultural artifacts, ranging from the blog-writings of the Huffington Post to the social patterns of suburban American high schools, can be of valuable diplomatic assistance.
To understand Kim Jong-un’s mindset, we must first look to the experiences of his parents.
Kim’s parents, the late North Korean dictator and teenager of the 1950s Kim Jong-il and his Baby Boomer bride Kim Young-sook, began their arranged courtship during headier days, marrying in 1974 as the freewheeling anti-Nixonian idealism of the Vietnam War era was bleeding into cultural and agricultural ennui.
Removed from his English-language education at the University of Malta and his youthful service in the Marxist Children’s Union, the older Kim drifted into a pre-arranged life as the North Korean Communist Party’s propaganda secretary. The work was fine, sure, but serving under his father, Kim Il-sung, took a toll on his self-esteem and he started to feel just like every other poor “oppa” catching State Transport in the morning. At night, he stayed up in his wood-paneled basement and spun his favorite LP’s: “We Shall Hold Bayonets More Firmly” and “The Joy of Bumper Harvest Overflows Amidst the Song of Mechanization.” But there was still something missing, a sense of “what have I become?”
Kim Jong-un’s birth in 1983 gave Kim Jong-il immense joy and a renewed sense of purpose. Unlike his disappointing older brothers Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-chul, Kim Jong-un would be the son his parents could really be proud of. Cradling him in her arms and buying him all the toys he wanted, his mother called young Kim her little “Great Successor,” and so too, she knew, would the citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic. Chauffeured by top generals to his soccer practices and zither recitals, Kim Jong-un was frequently feted with the Fatherland’s most prestigious participation trophies.
At boarding school in Switzerland, Kim Jong-un was moody and temperamental, holing up in his dorm watching NBA basketball and playing video games while his roommates flirted with girls after lacrosse practice. He came out of his shell a little during sophomore year, treating peers to pizza deliveries with his credit card and doing the occasional bong rip with the theater kids behind the faculty parking lot, but still his potential was going largely untapped. His greatest humiliation came at the springtime “Girls Ask Guys” dance, where the upperclassmen slipped a photo of him coming out of the shower into the year-end slideshow.
Chastened by his humiliations and desperate for credibility, Kim as a young man immersed himself in buying the latest tech gadgets for himself and staying on top of digital trends. He routinely slipped into Pyongyang’s hottest nightclubs by dropping his middle name — his military uniform unbuttoned two buttons down, his Blackberry filling up with numbers of the Republic’s most eligible potential brides. Though most of his female entourage insisted that they only liked him “as a friend,” Kim nonetheless tagged himself in countless of their Facebook photos, his arm affixed authoritatively around their shoulders.
After his father’s death and his promotion to the supreme leadership, Kim vowed to live up to the trajectory that his parents had designed for him. His father’s youthful ideology, rooted in the tradition of juche, was admirable, but his father had been ineffectual on the world stage, a weak-kneed academic in a position that requires a straight baller.
With his closest ministers Kim Chol, Kim Yong-nam, Pak Pong-ju, and “Turtle,” Kim Jong-un has consolidated his military strength, boasting of his nuclear missiles to all of his father’s lame old friends at the U.N. and crafting official policy indicating that it’d be pretty sweet to fire them at people. With the help of his state media outlets UnProgress and UnFeed, he has fed his loyal followers the most viral-ready gifs and memes animating his importance.
Kim’s humorless and self-indulgent quest to unite his homeland of Korea, as his father dreamed of but had the moderate good sense to avoid, stems from a sanctimony and extremism shared by Gen-Y’ers all over the world, including in the United States.
While starry-eyed, hip-swinging Boomers merely sought to effect a little change with their ideas, man, their Gen-Y offspring view themselves as the anointed torchbearers of those ideas. They think they’re on a crusade of supreme importance to finish their helicopter parents’ work, which seems sacrosanct in their eyes.
While the American Boomers held peace signs and staged fun sit-ins at ROTC offices, pot smoke wafting about their tie-dyed headbands, Gen-Y’ers occupy public parks, defecate on cop cars, and declare high-tech, Internet-powered socialist revolution. While Boomers invented a new politically correct manner of speaking, which for years was lightly mocked as a symptom of over-education and pro-Clinton liberalism, their children in online media now aggressively force the resignations of anyone who makes an off-the-cuff remark.
Generation Y, the most special and self-important generation of all time, will push their parents’ values to dangerous new extremes, whether those values involve the role of progressivism in America or the forceful unification of the Korean mainland.
Secretary of State John Kerry must tread carefully in his dealings with Kim Jong-un. North Korea’s Reagan-baby savior didn’t become a trending topic and a friend to Dennis Rodman overnight. Kim’s ego must be carefully massaged. This is no mere third-world rogue leader we’re dealing with here. No. Much to the contrary, this guy is the man. And he’s aiming to make Daddy proud.
Patrick Howley is a reporter for The Daily Caller and an expert on North Korea. Follow him on Twitter.