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Despots and Disease: Gossiping over Kim Jong-Un

Illness can often fall into the category of the obsessive, becoming a sport for mugs, sufferers and observers alike. The following often feature: the hypochondriac, the speculator of disease, the gossip about how far gone a person is who has contracted something or rather. When it comes to tyrants, such speculation becomes a thrill of sorts, with rich lashings of Schadenfreude. Rome’s notorious consul Lucius Cornelius Sulla and despot of the Republic was one who perished to phthiriasis, that lousy disease of antiquity characterised by stubborn lice, lesions, itching and death. His demise brought cheers from Pausanias, while Pliny thought Sulla’s victims more fortunate than him, whose “body ate itself away and bred its own torments”.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un was never one to be accused of fitness. Fleshed over, looking every bit the glutton, he has been facing the doctors as a prisoner does the firing squad. Recent rumours of his ill-health have seen much column space dedicated to pseudo-medical commentary, marked by voyeuristic relish. The North Korean leader, according to the New York Post, “weighs about as much as the average-size sumo wrestler, smokes like a chimney and comes from a family with a history of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.”

Aside from the tabloid titterers, North Korea watchers have been casting their eye in the direction of Kim’s health for a time. At stages, the material is comical – again, disease and physical constitution as obsession. Take Anna Fifield of the Washington Post, who states, with self-satisfied precision, that the leader is five feet, seven inches tall, weighing about three hundred bounds, with a body mass index of 45 – “extremely obese”, she reminds us. Her book, The Great Successor, details those wearying moments of ill-health: the fact that Kim was “huffing and puffing” relative to his South Korean counterpart as they shovelled “dirt onto the base of a pine tree during their first meeting”; that at the age of 30, he vanished for six weeks “apparently the consequence of severe gout, and returned with a walking stick.”

This month, Daily NK, based in Seoul, reported that Kim had undergone a cardiovascular procedure and “continues to recuperate form the procedure at a villa outside Pyongyang.” It did not have much to go on, but drawing drops of blood out of hard stone is something of a specialty for students of North Korean power. Readers were still thrown a morsel or two to consume. Kim had, for instance, undergone heart surgery at Hyang San Hospital, a procedure undertaken by a doctor from Kim Man Yoo Hospital. “In a phone call with the source on April 22, Daily NK learned that Hyang San Hospital was designated for the exclusive use of the Kim family in 2014 after the North Korean leader began suffering from ‘medical issues’.”

The area had appealing geographical features, being away from the conspicuousness of Pyongyang. It also had sentimental value, with father Kim Jong-il having built the hospital in the wake of his own father’s death. (Kim Il-sung had fallen gravely ill at Hyang San Villa in 1994, dying there of a “severe myocardial infarction along with a heart attack” after being stranded by heavy rains.) The hospital itself, according to the source Daily NK loves to milk, does not want for anything, equipped with the best from Germany and Japan, with the doctors being “the best of the best even though they live in Hyang San.”

Now, the delightful plump despot is being fussed over with degrees of venom and curiosity. Will be fall victim to a team of too many doctors? The People’s Republic of China have sent a team to the DPRK to advise on the situation, including a senior member of the Chinese Communist Party’s International Liaison Department.

With enthusiasm, CNN flung itself into the rumour mill. Last Tuesday, the network’s chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto had received news from a US official claiming that Kim’s “health is in grave danger following a surgery.” The BBC’s Laura Bicker preferred to go to South Korean sources instead, and found little to fuss about. “An official from the presidential office in Seoul has said that there are no particular signs or developments within North Korea amid reports that Kim Jong-un is seriously ill after heart surgery.”

The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s attack dog in the British press, shows no such reserve. “North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is in a vegetative state, according to unverified reports.” One of those is drawn from Japanese newspaper Shukan Gendai, not a source you would expect Sun reporters to consult. But all of these pale before the social media swirl that Kim is already somewhere in totalitarian paradise, with Hong Kong Satellite Television’s vice-director Shijian Xingzou claiming that he is dead.

The Kim story, if it could be called that, also has the addition of a ruthless female annex, sexed up in the analysis and given the Lady Macbeth flourish. Kim Yo-jong, over whom tabloids masticate over, is already being appointed successor by press outlets. And my does she promise to be vicious. The Daily Mail, never one to disappoint in matters macabre and shallow, is already wondering what will happen if she were to occupy the position of her brother. “Kim Yo-jong could be even more ruthless than her brother has been in his eight year rule, experts warn.” Attempting to coat the claims with a varnishing of professionalism, the good Mail drew on the “totalitarian” expertise of Professor Natasha Lindstaedt. “I don’t believe that her being a woman will weaken her position if she takes over as leader.” Illuminating stuff.

Other news agencies of sober calm, such as Reuters, have been cautious to the point of being tedious. Their approach: Wait and see. “Reuters was unable to immediately determine what the trip by the Chinese medical team signalled in terms of Kim’s health.” How dull.

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  1. HumeAndTwain

    All reports aside, few tears by non-crocodiles will be shed when this individual’s time on the planet comes to an end.

  2. Uta Hannemann

    It is going to be interesting to see who is following into Kim Jong-Un’s footsteps eventually and whether Russia or the USA will find an open door!

  3. Joseph Carli

    Until the time comes when Aust’ can demonstrate that it has the collective intellectual capacity to reject out of hand the lying bullshit of a despotic media mogul that sells the snake oil medicinal compound of a ruling class like it was ambrosia of the Gods to get elected time and time and time again regardless of their criminal actions and social disregard of the poor, weak and vulnerable, I hardly think we are in a position to judge even the most tyrannical, despotic dynastical arseholes in the known universe as unworthy of ruling over an adoring public!

  4. JANO from the Gong .

    Strike me Rome !!!!

  5. Harry Lime

    I wonder if Donny Dipshit has tweeted his fondest to “Rocket boy?” He’s bound to be sizing up his mouth for another foot job.

  6. Matters Not


    Until the time comes when Aust’ can demonstrate that it has the collective intellectual capacity to reject out of hand the lying bullshit

    Indeed! We have identified the enemy – and it’s the collective us. Lies etc only work when they are believed. So look in the mirror.

  7. Phil Pryor

    How many leaders over history’s pained journey have been genuinely admired, respected, even loved, with a factual basis of achievement and humane generority? You’d count them on the fingers of a nematode worm. Leadership has usually been about greater or lesser efforts at murder, revenge, thieving, polluting, acquiring, occupying, humiliating, enslaving, exploiting, avenging, repressing, controlling, devising, ordering, enforcing, all that just for a start. So, many a wormy mediocrity has been able to self enlarge the manifestation of a dinosuarial erection of “personality”, poisonous to most except the fellatio friendly followers. They have always used military, mystical, magical, moneyed, superstitonal, executive powers and methods, but only in collaboration with the faithful, loyal, submissive and well trained. Murdoch knows all this and can dispense of intimidating lying rubbish behind a smokescreen continents thick, and putrid. Julius, Napper, Attila, Adolf, Benito, Kim, Juan, Saddam, all are varitations on life’s little political bleeding piles, our reward or discomfort. Trump is a modern distillation of all that be might wrong in hoping for decency, or decently hoping for real political hope. Never has the gap been wider between our needs and expectations and the team of shitty duds scattered around the world, in office, getting noticed, accumulating riches, missing the whole eternal civilised POINT.

  8. Phil

    Politicians; I wouldn’t piss on one of them if they were on fire.

    If I did some of the males in their ranks might get some benefit, at least some of them would smell like a man. I said some.

  9. Jack Cade

    The thought struck me today – reading some of the questions posed by Americans of Quora, often about how good do other countries soldiers think the American soldiers are (usually the answers could be summed up as ‘they are rubbish’) – that the US people and the North Korean people know as little about the outside world as each other. This was prompted by watching Pompeo saying that the Chinese had been ‘devious’ followed by a 2017 interview with former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown saying he got the UK out of Iraq as soon as he got the top job because ‘I knew that the Americans knew there were no WMD, and that they lied to us and the other allies (NB – I wonder who the other allies were?) throughout. They invaded Iraq because they wanted a change of regime, nothing else’.
    He would not be drawn on whether Blair knew, but left it pretty obvious that he thought so. And ipso facto, Blair = Howard…

  10. New England Cocky

    @Jack Cade: The WMD were always “Words of Mass Deception” and the intention of the imperialist Iraq War of the USA (United States of Apartheid) was always possession and control of the Iraq oil reserves, both proven and unproven, which ranks with Iran, the other present “enemy” of “American Democracy” (along with Trumpery and the republican Party). The chief beneficiaries of this imperialism were the US multinational oil corporations and the NE military industrial complex producing war materiels.

    The US CIA had fostered, protected and funded Saddam Hussein since they picked him up from the gutter of Tikrit, then set him up to assassinate the Bar’th Party leadership to gain political power in Iraq. He followed US directions while dictator and the CIA provided everything required by his regime. This included anti-personnel gases used to exterminate thousands of Kurds and Marsh Arabs. The demise of Saddam Hussein occurred when he questioned the “theft” of over pumping oil from by field shared with one of the Gulf States and threatened invasion after seeking permission from the US State Department. The US then reversed their support and made Saddam Hussein out to be the aggressor.

    The rest is sad history. There is little doubt that Tony Blah knew the full story and chose to ignore any UK military intelligence to the contrary. The subsequent invasion of Iraq post 9/11 bore little relationship to the events at the Trade Centre in New York because only one of the alleged attack party numbering about 20 was an Iraqi, and about 16 were Saudis. Never let the truth get in the way of a good old fashioned profiteering war.

    Little Johnnie Howard was in New York on 9/11 and recognised a political opportunity to ingratiate himself with Shrubya Bush a la “All the way with LBJ” while satisfying his desire for war service without the frontline dangers. The commitment of Australian military personnel to Iraq and Afghanistan remains a dark stain on Australia history that has cost the Australian taxpayers BILLIONS in public infrastructure funding for assets that would benefit Australians rather than funding US imperialism.

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