Kim Jong Un may never have had the chance to enrage President Donald Trump, threaten the world with nuclear war or lead the charge in dozens of human rights violations if not for his complicated relationship with his father, Kim Jong Il.
Kim Jong Il died six years ago on December 17, 2011, of a suspected heart attack. He should have been succeeded by one of his eldest two sons, Kim Jong Nam or Kim Jong Chul, but the former was assassinated after attempting to go to Tokyo Disneyland and the latter was reportedly considered too “feminine” to be considered as ruler. Kim Jong Un stepped into power as the underdog, after years of reports showed Kim Jong Nam to be the favorite of their father’s.
The former ruler of North Korea groomed his eldest son to take his place, doting on him and showing him around his office to give him a view into his future power, according to Esquire. But Kim Jong Nam was interested in partying and traveling, unlike Kim Jong Un who slowly became hardened and unforgiving towards North Korean defectors. Kim Jong Un was a serious, aggressive, child who wore Soviet military uniforms to his birthday parties, but wasn't given as much attention from his father since he was only third in line.
When Kim Jong Nam’s trip to Disneyland exposed the fact that the family used fake passports to travel internationally, his father lost faith in his ability to rule, and sent him away to Beijing, China.
When Kim Jong Il became ill in 2008, Kim Jong Un began to be groomed to take his spot as leader. Kim Jong Un wanted to inspire even greater loyalty among citizens that would prevent the kinds of defections he had grown up seeing under his father’s leadership.
So he began his time in power by further tightening rules, demanding even more allegiance and executing more people who threatened his leadership than ever before.
Kim Jong Un buried his past in order to hide the fact that his father never expected him to take over North Korea. His birth year is unknown, so that citizens can’t deduce the fact that he was third in line to rule North Korea after Kim Jong Il and recall how little support he had before he began a new regime.
“The population of North Korea don’t know that he’s the third son of Kim Jong Il. Nobody knows,” said Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former ambassador to the U.K. “Even now [Kim] did not tell North Korean public...the date of his birth. Nobody knows. Even I don’t know when he is born.”
Kim Jong Un could be insecure about his lack of experience, said Thae. This could be a part of the reason why he is so inclined to make such forceful displays of nuclear power. His insecurity could partly stem from the fact that he felt other North Korean officials didn’t respect him as much as they did his father.
“He learned that the body language of the senior leaders were quite different from those body language those leaders took towards his father and towards him,” Thae said. “Kim Jong Un just was nothing but the third son of Kim Jong Il."
Kim continues to pay his respects to his father, however. He recently visited Mount Paektu, a sacred, inactive volcano where his father, Kim Jong Il, was supposedly born in 1942 to celebrate his most recent missile launch.
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