Kim Jong Un was adorable as a child. He had big puffy cheeks, a funny smile, and made military salutes from an early age. His parents — or perhaps his caretakers — liked to dress him up in military uniforms. And that’s how he’s portrayed in baby pictures released this week by North Korean state television.
Clothed in military uniforms complete with shoulder boards, collar insignias, and an officers cap, Kim appears to be between the ages of four and six. He is pictured drawing. In another photograph, he is pictured saluting someone off camera.
The photographs, which were displayed during a performance of the Moranbong Band girl group, appear aimed at reinforcing North Korea’s cult of racial purity. North Korea’s national ideology is built on the notion that Koreans, as a people, are far more pure and innocent than any other race. As a result, they require a strong, paternal leader to guide them through a wicked world that is far too cruel for for ordinary Koreans.
These photographs of Kim play on both notions: presenting the country’s future dictator as a wholly innocent, quite adorable child while also casting him as a military leader from birth. That notion of Korean purity and vulnerability — inspired in part by the country’s long history of foreign invasions — serves as the basis for the North’s constant wartime footing.
Because history has made the vulnerability of the Korean nation all too obvious, the rule of the Kim family and the military state they oversee comes to be seen as a historical necessity. It’s an argument made popular by B.R. Myers in his book The Cleanest Race.
It’s important to note that there is no way to verify that these photographs are in fact of Kim Jong Un. They could very well be doctored. Regardless, they are part of a cynical attempt to perpetuate a national myth that has helped prop up a murderous regime. A United Nations report from earlier this year described a mechanism of repression that made torture, execution, and forced starvation a matter of North Korean state policy.
North Korea of course gears its propaganda efforts toward attempting to justify such policies. And a constant threat of war is central to that effort. In a series of images released along with and shortly after the publishing of Kim’s baby pictures, the country’s supreme leader is seen inspecting the country’s military forces.
He is of course met by adoring, tearful crowds:
Here, Kim inspects a firing drill carried out by a female artillery unit, probably the women belonging to the unit above:
Here, he visits with an aviation unit:
The message? That adorable baby has grown to be a man tough enough to keep North Korea safe in a hostile world.
Isaac Stone Fish is associate editor at Foreign Policy. Previously a Beijing correspondent for Newsweek, he wrote stories on such subjects as the Dalai Lama’s effect on international trade, China’s love affair with rogue states, and crystal meth in North Korea. His articles have also appeared in the International Herald Tribune, the Economist, and the Los Angeles Times.| Argument |