North Korea seems very keen of late to let everyone know that it is prepared to start a global thermonuclear war. The United States is taking the threat seriously, deploying antiballistic missile defenses along the Pacific Coast, and South Korea is threatening a “strong response in initial combat without any political considerations.” There is some question as to whether or not North Korea is technically capable of actually waging such a war, and it seems that nobody has told Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s Supreme Leader, my new favorite joke:
Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?
A. To escape North Korea’s long-range missiles.
In 2001, it didn’t seem that Kim Jong-un’s fingerprints might one day adorn the red button. In those heady days, a different Kim was in line for the throne: Kim Jong-nam (above right), the eldest son of Kim Jong-il. Things went bad for Kim Jong-nam when he was detained at Narita International Airport in Tokyo. The charge: traveling with a fraudulent passport. Specifically, he attempted to pass himself off as a Dominican named Pang Xiong (which translates as “Fat Bear” in Chinese). Japanese authorities, who know a fake Dominican when they see one, deported the heir apparent of North Korea to China.
Kim Jong-nam and his immediate family were attempting to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
All of this was pretty embarrassing for Kim Jong-il, the Shining Star of Paektu Mountain, who thus canceled his own planned Chinese excursion. Kim Jong-nam quickly fell out of favor with his father, and was replaced by Kim Jong-un in the line of succession.
Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-un are half-brothers. The older brother was born to Song Hye-rim, mistress of Kim Jong-il. The younger of the two was born to Ko Young-hee, a Pyongyang opera star. There is a middle brother—Kim Jong-chol—but Dear Leader considered him too feminine to lead a manly state like North Korea.
Life in Exile
These days, Kim Jong-nam reportedly lives in China, and makes frequent, extended visits to Macao, the Vegas of Asia. He is believed to have a pretty hearty appetite for booze and women. Officially, he has not defected and still lives in North Korea, though he didn’t bother to attend Kim Jong-il’s funeral, nor did he attend Kim Jong-un’s coronation. There are reports that Kim Jong-nam is opposed to such hereditary transfers of power, and believes North Korea must reform or perish. “As a matter of common sense, a transfer to the third generation is unacceptable,” Kim Jong-nam allegedly wrote in an email. He’s not bullish on his half-brother, either. “The power elite that have ruled the country will continue to be in control ... I have my doubts about whether a person with only two years of grooming as a leader can govern.”
His ongoing relationship with North Korea is “a very sensitive question, I can not answer.”
As for his family life, we know that his mother was eventually exiled by Kim Jong-il, and that she died alone in Moscow. Kim Jong-nam’s son attends a private high school in Mostar, Bosnia. (The son’s name is Kim Han Sol.)
The upshot is that Kim Jong-nam was passed over for having, in his father’s view, “less than reliable” judgment. Which means that Kim Jong-un, who is threatening to bring about a nuclear apocalypse, was considered the dependable one. All this because Kim Jong-nam wanted to go to Disneyland. If only he’d showed a little more restraint, Disneyland would have come to him.