North Korea is unlike any other nation in the world. They’re cooped up, living in their own secluded way of life. We, the United States, were defeated and to this day lays the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where the United Nations keep guard 24/7. It’s a nation with a unique ruling of a dynastic dictatorship, the first of its kind in fact. Today in 2013, Kim Jong Un rules this land, the third to claim power. Before him was his father, Kim Jong Il, who was born in 1941 in a refugee camp and died in 2011. Many events occurred in his life, but North Korea documents each step of his development in a praising manner. It’s difficult for scholars to sort through, but many first-hand witness accounts give a glimpse into the truth, which I’ve analyzed from Horney, Freud, and Fromm’s theories.
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In the light of the first dictator, his father, Kim Jong Il’s life was filled with lies. His first government position was in propaganda and he consciously not only spread the lies, but created many himself (Dufour, 2011). His propagandist work was an example of Karen Horney’s protective device of power. Ever since childhood, this man has known that living up to his father’s legacy was mandatory and he knew that an entire nation would be judging every move he made. By taking control of propaganda, he could ease the hostility he felt from the peoples’ potential judgment and protect his sense of prestige. Along with the potential hostility came a fear of humiliation; by putting himself on a pedal stool of perfection through his propaganda, he was able to assure himself that those negative feelings would never be felt. He ensured that they’d never align with his ideal self-image, that is, where he was capable to follow in his father’s footsteps of power.
His ideal self was the perfect child of the great ruler: Kim Il Sung. Horney states that someone with an idealized self-image views him/herself with infinite powers and unlimited capabilities, which was how Jim Jong Il viewed himself. Again I emphasize his deep desire to be perfect. Every day of his childhood he had to be reminded of his father and his power, and that he had to meet those high standards (Jong Il Kim, 2013). His quest to meet that exemplified his neurotic search for glory. He had neurotic claims as well, but it wasn’t only him making those claims; it is the whole nation. Kim Jong Il lived in a fantasyland where he praised the propaganda of himself so much that he began to believe every word. Along with his belief, his people fell prey to the lies too. He ultimately lost touch with reality in his efforts to make himself worthy to his father. Additionally he demonstrated Neurotic pride in the sense that he believed his idealized image he created instead of realizing who he truly was. He had many years to build up his personal image as well with the help of the lies even his parents told.
Before he became involved in North Korea’s propaganda, Kim Jong Il lived a childhood filled with lies, all shaping his future in a strong way, how Horney’s basic assumption of childhood suggests. His young experiences made him grow into a manipulative liar, using that skill to persuade an entire nation. Though he’s always been praised as a wonderful being, his childhood was anything but. There are official records that dilute the truth, but additional documentation and eyewitness accounts imply much darker accounts.
As Kim Jong Il was rising to power, his family was assigned to a lavish military house. Nearby, there was a pond where Kim Jong Il and his two brothers would love to go play and swim. According to the biography Kim Jong Il: Brief History, the official reports are that his older brother died in that pond by an accidental drowning incident (1998). However, many witnesses have come forward, stating that Kim Jong Il drowned his brother smiling, laughing, and happy as he held his family member’s head under the water until he stopped moving. Afterward, his mother and father fabricated the drowning story and continued to praise their perfect little son, who would come to rule thousands (Dufour, 2011).
His family’s conscious effort in hiding the truth of the incident falls under Freud’s concept of suppression. The parent’s knew the event would create anxiety in not only their son, but also their family and any others who could potentially find out. After years and years of telling this lie, it would end up repressed in Kim Jong Il’s mind, to his unconscious. That repression was a defense mechanism against the anxiety inducing memory, putting the true recollection right next to his unconscious drives, urges, and instincts: all of which being extremely active. In his adult life, he may not be able to draw on the memory directly, but it would all interact with the urges, instincts, and drives, influencing his adult decisions.
Even if the memory of murdering his brother resurfaced into his conscious, it would be, according to Freud, distorted, pleasant, and non-threatening. His id would be responsible for this, controlling his pleasure senses and making sure he’s as happy as can be. His ego would be incredibly out of line by his adulthood too, because his ideal self, or superego, would have spent a lifetime encouraged by the nation to flourish.
Kim Jong Il led a playboy lifestyle in his adulthood, and this would be largely be due to the death of his mother. He was only seven when his mother died, leaving him without that caregiver’s influence (Jong Il Kim, 2013). His Oedipal Complex arose in adulthood as sexual desires increased, demonstrating his motherly desire. In the documentary by Dufour, a refugee who used to have a high governmental standing tells of the lavish parties his leader used to hold in the 1990s (2011). There would be a large hall with decorated tables for dining and a cleared space for dancing. Kim Jong Il would invite the best of the best: high ranking government officials second in command to himself, military leaders who he commanded directly, but most importantly he invited actors and actresses that he had once kidnapped to star in his propaganda filled films. One time at these parties, he went up to three of the actresses, who he claimed to be the most beautiful women in not only North Korea, but also in the world. He went up to those ladies and ordered them to strip entirely. Once they were standing in front of their leader entirely naked, he ordered them to dance with him. They complied, fearful of his position of power.
When he noticed all the stares of his VIP guests, he projected his Oedipal need for these naked women onto others by ordering his top governmental men to join him in the dancing. By seeing others do as he so desired, he projected, a defense mechanism, the doubts he had onto the others, giving him the assurance that his wants were acceptable in his mind. Though in reality those men, according to the refugee who had been one of those forced to dance, only did as he said in fear of the consequences that would follow if they had not complied (Dufour, 2011).
According to Freud, some degree of a sex drive exists within all of us and we all choose a path to satisfy it in our life. In the United States, we have cultural norms that can influence the path we take, but Kim Jong Il had complete freedom to do as he pleased sexually; he was the supreme ruler’s child, after all. He had a number of mistresses who were kept secret from the public, but his father wanted him to marry a respectable lady. That marriage became public in attempt to give him better publicity. It was she who birthed Kim Jong Un, the now leader of the isolated nation (Jong Il Kim, 2013).
Additionally, Freud believed that everyone everywhere was born with primary narcissism. This is where infants care about their own needs before others; it’s a survival instinct that most of us grow out of. However, Kim Jong Il never grew out of this. As I’ve mentioned earlier, his life has been loaded with propaganda of what a perfect child he was. The lies began at his birth where his family claimed he was born on top of a scared mountain and at the time of his birth, as star appeared along with a double rainbow (Jong Il, 1998). But as I mentioned earlier, the truth is that he was born in a refugee camp outside of North Korea (Dufour, 2011). That primary narcissism however grew within him and gratified his self-image. His narcissism got to the point where he believed he was so superior that every grain of rice he consumed had to not only be grown on the mountain he’s claimed to be born on, but that every grain of rice had to be inspected. Additionally, he didn’t care for the people of his country. In the documentary Children of the Secret State, they exemplified his cold-hearted narcissism by describing the rare fertile land in North Korea, and ordered local farmers on that land to grow opium instead of food (Garapedian, 2000). This is a perfect example because it describes his own personal interest and the lack of care for his people.
Yet in order to rule a nation, Kim Jong Il had to trick his people into believing that he cared. He did this through emphasizing what he called the Juche idea. It was an evolved form of Marxist beliefs, catered to the North Korean people’s ideas. This idea originated with his father, Kim Il Sung, and was later implemented because Kim Jong Il felt he had to prove himself worthy of his dynastic power. Juche encouraged the entire nation to follow nature’s flow and not succumb to powerful desires (Jong-Il, 1996). Erich Fromm’s overall basic assumption with his theory was that humans had lost touch with nature, the stem of humanity’s problems. It’s interesting to look at such a broken, starving nation and know that, from Fromm’s belief at least, the second leader had some healthy traits. Kim Jong Il believed that humans were social creatures, which fits under the human need of relatedness. Juche not only encouraged relatedness for himself and his people, but rootedness as well. He ordered his people to accept the circumstances of life they found themselves in and be happy with everything they’ve got. Or in other words, he encouraged all to feel at home with the world.
But this act of Juche-spreading was in order to make sure the citizens stayed obedient. It encouraged healthy aspects, making the idea sound incredibly appealing. But as I’ve just mentioned previously, it discreetly encouraged his citizens to remain obedient. It encouraged them to give up what Fromm called the burden of freedom and use the authoritarian mechanism of escape from it. That is, Kim Jong Il basically demanded, through Juche, that the people give up their independence and fuse themselves with the idea, as well as North Korea’s government in order to acquire strength (Jong-Il, 1996). It was the most productive way to manipulate his people, instead of other options like encouraging the mechanism of destructiveness, where the citizens would do away with people and not depend on relationships. There was an aspect of conformity in Juche as well though. The people of this nation don’t get to choose their lives. If they’re obedient and praise the government entirely, then they’re rewarded. Through this, they lose a sense of individuality. And to further that conformity, they don’t get to choose their careers. Children of good families are chosen to go to the best schools in Pyongyang, than jobs are determined for them (Fleury, 2012).
Additionally, the people of North Korea are unified through a strong hatred of the Japanese. Many decades ago they were at war with each other and the pride that came from that is still eminent. Kim Jong Il even created the propaganda slogan “Let us produce, study and live like the anti-Japanese guerrillas!” Referring to the guerrilla style warfare the North Korean army used as a successful tactic (Kim Jong Il: Brief History, 1998). Veterans of that war became decorated war heroes, passing down their pride to younger generations. Even little toddlers, the grandchildren of these veterans, expressed hatred toward the Japanese because of Kim Jong Il’s efforts (Fleury, 2012). But this was a major unifying factor for the people and with it came healthy character orientations in Kim Jong Il and his people. Through this and Juche, they experienced the working orientation. They were encouraged to be creative and have self-expression, but it was limited. As long as it fell under the regulations of Kim Jong Il and North Korean pride, it was permitted. It was so encouraged in fact, that Kim Jong Il demonstrated his creativity by getting into the film industry himself. His many productions were all propaganda based, but media was huge in his prime. He even adapted Godzilla into his very own anti-Japanese creation (Dufour, 2011). And through the Japanese hate, stemmed Fromm’s loving orientation. In every single documentary I’ve watched, I’ve witnessed how prideful of the nation the people are. Everyone seemed to admire their dear leader Kim Jong Il and was incredibly respectful.
However, their leader demonstrated the non-productive orientation of hoarding. North Korea has had quite the food crisis time and time again, having many nations and organizations pitching in on helping when he came asking for help, but the food rations given were not given to the poor starving children. In Children of the Secret State, a black market is shown where giant packages of rice were stolen and sold for a hefty price. The documentary went further in interviewing refugees who stated that Kim Jong Il had the food given to him and his royal family first. The second to receive food rations were high standing government officials, then lastly to the military. This left thousands without food (Garapedian, 2000). This is a perfect example of Kim Jong Il hoarding the food rations. He further shows his true disregard for others, giving means of survival to those he deemed important and to his advantage.
Overall, North Korea is looked upon negatively. They’re an unstable and unpredictable nation with a unique ruling. Though Kim Jong Il has recently passed, his existence was extremely important for the progression of his nation. His entire life was filled with propagandist lies, deeming him an unhealthy person from Horney and Freud’s beliefs. Interestingly though, he demonstrated some healthy traits from Fromm’s theory, but still inevitably had it accompanied by overall neurotic traits. Human beings are complex creatures and it takes a lot to completely understand them, even with someone as controversial as Kim Jong Il.