The Cable

A Drunk Kim Jong Un Is an Angry Kim Jong Un

Morale in Kim’s inner circle probably isn’t so great as Pyongyang seems to get more erratic.


It’s not easy being Kim Jong Un. The supreme leader of cash-strapped and hermitted North Korea has to juggle building up a nuclear weapons program, going toe to toe with the American capitalist “empire of devils,” ensuring all North Korean men obey the law and get his haircut, banning sarcasm, and, of course, looking at things. It’s a tall order for one short man, so he can be excused for needing to unwind after a long day’s work with a stiff drink.

Unfortunately for the country’s military elders, a drunk Kim is sometimes an angry Kim. On Tuesday, Japanese press reported that Kim gave a fierce drubbing down to the country’s top military leaders after having a few too many.

“That none of you were able to produce not even one [sic] military satellite is a misconduct that is commensurate to treason,” Kim reportedly told senior officials during the drunken tirade, which occurred in September. As punishment, he allegedly made them stay up all night to write letters of apology.

A scolding from one’s boss is never fun. But in the brutal dictatorship of North Korea, it can be a death sentence. Since taking power upon the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jr. has reportedly consolidated power and stamped out any whiff of dissent within the country’s opaque power circles.

In September, Kim reportedly had one of his senior officials executed for simply slouching during a meeting. He also was rumored to have two other officials executed in August by anti-aircraft guns — one for proposing policies that challenged the supreme leader, and the other for falling asleep in a meeting, though those reports could not be confirmed.

North Korea’s aggressive antics, including a nuclear weapons test in September, have frayed the international community’s nerves. The U.N., with China’s support, agreed to slap new sanctions on the country in late November in one of President Barack Obama’s last major international diplomatic pushes before Donald Trump becomes president. An increasingly erratic (or drunk) Kim, armed with nuclear weapons, is probably the last thing the world wants to manage during a U.S. presidential transition, and experts predict Kim could test Trump once he takes office.

Suffice it to say, the generals on the receiving end of Kim’s drunken tirade had the worst night of their lives. Luckily, in the morning, after he’d sobered up, Kim apparently forgot what he’d done. “Why are you gathered here?” Kim asked them. “Be careful about your health because you are all old,” he added, maliciously. They reportedly began weeping with joy for the unexpected reprieve/next-day amnesia.

“The military officials probably cried because of the sudden release of tension of being executed,” an anonymous North Korean source told Japanese newspaper Toyko Shimbun. “Everyone is showing loyalty out of fear of being executed and no one dares speak against Kim.”

Photo credit: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy@RobbieGramer

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