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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Great Successor’ reveals the real North Korea

By Sunday, Aug 18, 2019 Arts & Entertainment

The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un
Anna Fifield
Hachette Book Group
Copyright © 2019 by Anna Fifield

Like Michael Wolff in “Siege,” his continuing portrait of life with Trump, Anna Fifield invokes the need for anonymity. Those less-than-brave Trumpists who spilled secrets to Wolff risked Trump’s ire, but Fifield’s sources risked all: “Many of the escapees from North Korea who appear in this book asked me not to use their real names. They are afraid that doing so would endanger family members still in North Korea.”

While our president trumpets his love affair with Kim Jong Un, a man ruling a nation Trump seems to know nothing about, Anna Fifield skillfully performs a major public service by revealing the real North Korea. In 2018 in Wheeling, West Virginia, he was ecstatic about Kim: I like him. He likes me … And then we fell in love. OK? No, really! He wrote me beautiful letters. And they’re great letters. We fell in love.

At their February 2019 second summit, President Trump called Kim “a great leader,” offering to help: “I think your country has tremendous economic potential – unbelievable, unlimited. I think you will have a tremendous future with your country – a great leader. And I look forward to watching it happen and helping it to happen.” (Emphasis added.)

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea June 30. Photo courtesy Jorean Central News Agency

In July 2019, having done nothing to halt Kim’s efforts to increase his nuclear arsenal, Trump chose to give the dictator a great photo op, walking with him onto North Korean territory: “Stepping across that line was a great honor … something incredible.”

I know you are busy but, please, if you have any time at all, get a copy of “The Great Successor,” for Anna Fifield has offered us a clear, unflinching look at the horrors of North Korean totalitarianism. At one and the same time, she reveals the new-age cunning of Kim Jong Un and his ages-old brutality. Given our president’s willingness to indulge the delusion that a man who enslaves a terrified population that is subject to his unpredictable and vindictive whim is somehow great and beautiful, Fifield offers us the opportunity to be profoundly embarrassed by what is happening in our name as Americans, and the impetus to do something about it.

Anna Fifield knows what she is talking about. Working first for the Financial Times then the Washington Post, she visited North Korea 10 times between 2004 to 2008. “I toured the monuments to the Kims and interviewed government officials, business managers, and university professors—all in the company of my ever-present regime minders. They were there to make sure I didn’t see anything that called into question the carefully arranged tableau before me.

“All the time, I was looking for glimmers of truth. Despite the regime’s best efforts, it was easy to see that the country was broken, that nothing was as it appeared. The economy was barely functioning. The fear in the eyes of the people was inescapable …” (Emphasis added)

Since the 2008 stroke of Kim Jong Il, “the regime was focused on one thing and one thing only: ensuring that the Kim dynasty remained intact. Behind the scenes, plans were taking shape to install Kim Jong Il’s youngest son, a man who was at that time still only twenty-four, as the next leader of North Korea … a young man with no known military or government background …

“I couldn’t imagine North Korea under a third generation of Kim family leadership … [But] the experts who predicted widespread reforms were wrong. Those who predicted imminent collapse were wrong. I was wrong. In 2014, after six years away from the Korean Peninsula, I returned to the region as a correspondent for the Washington Post.”

It’s Aug. 28, 2014, when “almost three years into Kim Jong Un’s tenure, I went to cover the pro-wrestling tournament in Pyongyang. The things journalists do to get a visa for North Korea … I was stunned … It seemed like a new high-rise apartment block or theater was going up on every second block in the center of the city … there was an easier air in the city. People were better dressed, kids Rollerbladed in new rinks, and the atmosphere was altogether more relaxed.

Changion Street, Pyongyang, 2014. Photo courtesy Worker’s Party of Korea

“There was no doubt that life was still grim in the showcase capital: the lines for the broken-down trolley buses were still long, there were still plenty of hunched-over old ladies carrying huge sacks on their backs, and there was still not a fat person in sight … But it was clear that Pyongyang, home to the elite who kept Kim Jong Un in power, was not a city on the ropes …”

Fifield recounts in fascinating detail the history of the Kims, the family “which has controlled North Korea for more than seven decades.” And Fifield recounts the price the people paid as power was transferred from Kim Il Sung to his son, Kim Jong Il: “A devastating famine had just begun to ravage the country, the result of decades of mismanagement by the Kim regime … it didn’t have enough arable land, and it didn’t have enough energy to produce the chemical fertilizer needed to boost crops.

“This political catastrophe coincided with a series of natural disasters: floods and droughts in the mid-1990s that wiped out what little food North Korea could produce. No one knows exactly how many people died during those years. Some experts say it was half a million; others say it could have been as high as two million … (Emphasis added)

Meanwhile, Kenji Fujimoto, the Japanese sushi chef who served the royal family, tells Fifield: “The meals prepared for Kim Jong Il by a team of chefs were lavish. There was grilled pheasant, shark fin soup, Russian-style barbecued goat meat, steamed turtle, roast chicken and pork, and Swiss-style raclette cheese melted on potatoes. The royal family ate only rice produced in a special area of the country. Female workers handpicked each grain one by one, making sure to choose flawless grains of equal size …”

And all the while the regime pressed for the best possible deterrence from a hostile world: nuclear weapons. “After the famine passed and North Korea returned to a state of mere gnawing hunger and malnutrition, Kim Jong Il began pouring his energies into the military … pouring all its energy and resources into a covert nuclear program over the years. Then Kim Jong Il blew the lid off it when his regime conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. (Emphasis added)

“By then, the leader, who was sixty-four, had started to look noticeably unwell … In the middle of August 2008, he suffered a stroke … Speculation mounted about who would succeed the Dear Leader.” Ordinarily it should have been the eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, but Kim Jong Un’s mother had other ideas. “As his favored consort, she planted the seeds of change from behind the scenes. Her influence came to be seen everywhere …”

The people had died of hunger, now survived while hungry, but, “of course, Kim Jong Un would know none of this. He was living a blissful, cloistered life in one of the family’s compounds in Pyongyang or at the beachfront residence in Wonsan, where the house was so huge that the Kim children rode a battery-powered golf cart to get around … [And] while North Korean children were eating seeds for nourishment, Kim Jong Un was enjoying sushi and watching action movies. He was developing a passion for basketball and was flying off to Paris to visit Euro Disney …

“The children had huge playrooms filled with more toys than any European toy store. There were mountains of Lego and Playmobil … There was every kind of four-wheeled toy imaginable, but Kim Jong Un also had a real vehicle and a real gun: a car his father had had specially modified so the little boy could drive it at age seven and a Colt .45 pistol that he wore on his hip when he was eleven …

“There were gardens so large that they called them parks, with artificial waterfalls running into artificial lakes. They got around the compounds in golf carts or on mopeds. There were bears and monkeys in cages. Some of the compounds had large swimming pools; some had indoor and outdoor shooting ranges…”

As for how Kim Jong Un came to rule: “Starting in 2009, Kim Jong Un was rapidly elevated through a series of increasingly powerful civilian and military positions, and the influential propaganda and agitation department began creating a personality cult around him. Among the supposed great feats it listed was that at age three, Kim Jong Un would fire a gun and hit a light bulb a hundred yards away … By the time he was eight, he could not only drive a truck, but he could drive it at eighty miles an hour …”

Back to Fifield’s return: “I saw no signs of cracks in the communist façade. Over those seven decades, the world had seen plenty of other brutal dictators rise and reign, tormenting their people while advancing their own interests … But what sets the three Kims apart is the durability of their family’s hold on the country … I wanted to figure out how this young man and the regime he inherited had defied the odds …

Reading “The Great Successor,” it’s obvious how hard Fifield worked to find anyone willing to talk about both Kim Jong Un and life in North Korea: “I set out to hear about the reality outside the fake capital, in the places that the regime wouldn’t let me visit. I found North Koreans who knew Kim Jong Un, not personally but through his policies: North Koreans who’d lived through his reign and had managed to escape it … They were from all walks of life: officials and traders who’d thrived in Pyongyang, people in the border regions who were earning their livings through the markets, those who’d ended up in brutal regime prisons for the most frivolous of offenses …

“Over hundreds of hours of interviews across eight countries, I managed to piece together a jigsaw puzzle called Kim Jong Un … What I learned did not bode well for the twenty-five million people still trapped inside North Korea …”

There are, not surprisingly, two North Koreas. One for the most loyal followers of Kim, and another for the people: “In a country of jagged mountains and rocky soil, of Siberian freezes and flash floods, the east coast area of Wonsan is one of the few spots of natural beauty. It has white sandy beaches and a sheltered harbor dotted with little islands. Wonsan is where North Korea’s 0.1 percent spend their summers. It’s their Martha’s Vineyard, their Monte Carlo …

“After he became leader, perhaps to re-create the carefree fun of his youth, he sponsored the creation of a huge amusement park in Wonsan. The city is now home to an aquarium with a tunnel through the tanks, a funfair-style mirror house, and the Songdowon Water Park, a sprawling complex with both indoor and outdoor pools. There is a twirling waterslide that empties into a series of round pools. It is a socialist paradise recast for a theme park era …

The Kim family’s huge compound includes luxurious beachfront residences for the family members, as well as spacious guesthouses for visitors, situated far enough apart from each other and shielded by trees to ensure privacy. Even among the elite, discretion is key. There’s a large indoor swimming pool at the compound and pools set into barges that float offshore, allowing the Kims to swim in the water without the perils of the open sea. A covered dock houses the Kim family yachts and more than a dozen Jet Skis. There’s a basketball court and a helipad. Not far away is a new airstrip so Kim Jong Un can fly himself into the resort on his personal plane.

“The family shares their playground with the other elite who help keep them in power. The Ministry for the Protection of the State, the brutal security agency that runs political prison camps, has a beachfront summer retreat here. So, too, does Office 39, the department charged with raising money specifically for the Kim family coffers. Since their toil funds this playground, it’s only fair they should enjoy the spoils.”

But like many dictators, Kim combines pleasure with the unending necessity to survive. And survival for Kim means nuclear deterrence: “An unusual feature of the coast at Wonsan—one not yet found in any Western Disneylands, which make do with much tamer firework displays—is the missile launching sites. Kim Jong Un has launched dozens of rockets from the Wonsan area since he became leader and has supervised large-scale artillery exercises there.

At the heart of Kim’s reign: “North Korea’s regime operates on a system based on a Supreme Leader. Kim Jong Un wielded absolute power … He immediately set about sealing the borders to make sure that there was no exodus of people or sense that his grip on the state was anything less than iron clad. He clamped down on the flow of information, employing advanced technology to catch those who dared watch a South Korean drama or listen to a Chinese pop song. He injected a new dose of terror into society, ensuring everyone lived in constant fear. The general populace came under new levels of repression, and elites in the regime who accumulated too much power risked being exiled to the far corners of the state—or worse.” (Emphasis added)

Kim shrewdly understood that not only couldn’t he stand alone, but that he needed a continuing source of income: “Kim needed a cohort of supporters around him who also had a vested interest in his success, so … he allowed more economic freedom—distinctly capitalist markets became central to most people’s lives—as a way to give the population a sense that their standard of living was improving.

And, something we know about, he diverted funds from civilian needs to the military: “That freed him up to pour all the regime’s resources into developing the missile and nuclear weapons programs, pressing ahead with breathtaking speed and accomplishment to demonstrate a credible threat to the Kim regime’s mortal enemy, the United States of America …”

He also understood contemporary politics: “In newspapers and on television screens, Kim Jong Un made sure to show himself as a man of the people. Everywhere he went—schools, orphanages, hospitals—he was tactile, smiling broadly and hugging everyone, from children to the elderly … Everywhere from foodstuff factories to medicine manufacturing plants, North Koreans were quoted pledging their allegiance to the new leader, described as the ‘eternally immovable mental mainstay of the Korean people’ …

“Small acts of private enterprise were tolerated, if not endorsed … Farmers could keep a little of their harvest to sell privately … Grasshopper traders—people who sold goods on the street and could pack up and hop away quickly—became commonplace. Corruption took off as people paid border guards and others in positions of authority to turn a blind eye to their trading and smuggling. While the state economy ground to a halt, the private economy did indeed begin to grow …”

Fifield tells us that small markets emerged everywhere, markets stocked with merchandise purchased in China by those lucky enough to gain or purchase permission to cross the border and “bring back rice cookers, high-heeled shoes, solar panels, deworming tablets, colorful shirts, cell phone cases, and screwdrivers. Sometimes they bring literal kitchen sinks. About 80 percent of the products in North Korea’s markets are made in China … Those who can’t travel set up shop as hairdressers or bike repairers, open restaurants, or sell homemade sweets …”

And because of these markets “there is now a middle class in North Korea … surveys have found that more than 80 percent of the population now makes its living through market activity …”

But all this exists because of kickbacks: “The security services extract bribes from those seeking to cross the river into China. The supposedly communist authorities have embraced the decidedly capitalist concept of tax. People running stalls in the markets must now pay 10 percent of the value of their sales to the market management office. South Korean researchers estimate that the authorities rake in about $15 million a day in stall rental fees from merchants, while other estimates suggest the state can earn almost a quarter of a million dollars in a single day by levying taxes on stall owners …  

While about 85 percent of the people get their food from these markets, “malnutrition remains a big problem, with many North Koreans still struggling to get variety in their diets. The United Nations estimates 40 percent of the population is undernourished, and stunting and anemia are still major concerns. But the explosion of market activity means that people are not dying from hunger anymore …” (Emphasis added)

Fifield provides some personal testimony: “Jung-a had to drop out of school. She finished elementary but never started middle school. Instead, several times a week during planting and harvest seasons, and for regular weeding and tending in between, Jung-a and her mother would walk for about three hours from their house in the center of Hoeryong to their small plot of land in the foothills of the mountains, where they grew corn.

“They would skip breakfast and leave their house at 4:00 a.m. to arrive at their plot, which covered about one-third of an acre, at 7:00 a.m. or so. The land technically belonged to the state pig farm, but the farm manager was renting it out in small sections to locals like Mrs. Cho—for a handsome sum … 440 pounds of corn to rent the plot for the year …

“After their morning’s work, Mrs. Cho and Jung-a … usually ate corn noodles with a soup made from ground beans. They ate it cold to avoid the cost, in both time and money, of lighting a fire to heat it. In the summer, they might have a little seasonal spinach or cucumber on the side. Then they’d get back to work … Then, at around 8 p.m., they would start the trek back home.

“With the money Mrs. Cho made from selling corn in the markets, she would buy soybeans … and with the beans, she’d make tofu at home … It was Jung-a’s job to sell the tofu from their house. ‘I couldn’t play with my friends; I missed going to school,’ she told me when I went to visit her and her mother in their tiny apartment outside Seoul … But for Mrs. Cho, keeping Jung-a at home not only helped to bring in money but also saved on another expense: school. North Korea is nominally a socialist state, where housing, education, and healthcare are theoretically free. In practice, though, everything comes at a price.

“Teachers ask students to pay them fees in return for instruction. The fees are not usually denominated in cash but in goods: soybeans, rabbit skins, things that the teacher can then sell for a profit in the market …

“After buying firewood and food for themselves—once they sold all the tofu, they bought cheaper food to eat—Mrs. Cho would make a 5,000-won profit on a good day, enough for two pounds of rice. On a bad day, because of bean price fluctuations or insufficient demand, they made no profit at all … Mrs. Cho soon found herself with constant back pain and became increasingly reliant on her daughter to earn their tiny income. So, one day, despite everything she’d heard about South Korea being full of beggars and torture being widespread, Mrs. Cho and Jung-a decided to flee.”

As for dissent, or even your basic complaining: “Min-ah told me a few years after she and her husband and their two young daughters escaped to South Korea. ‘If someone is drunk and says Kim Jong Un is a son of a bitch, you’ll never see them again.’”

Fifield tells us about Mr. Kang, one of whose businesses I was surprised to learn about: “the riskiest, and most lucrative, of all Mr. Kang’s enterprises was selling ice, a methamphetamine that was popular across the river in China and is widely used in North Korea, not least because of its appetite-suppressing abilities … Drug dealing was a risky business. The standard sentence for drug dealers and manufacturers is a couple of years in a prison camp, although there have also been reports of executions for those running large-scale drug rings …

“Mr. Kang had built a thriving business. His wife stopped working as a teacher and started working in the drug-dealing business. They had a baby. Drugs and money were flowing, and they were living well. They had a Japanese fridge, a leather sofa from China, and two TVs, one of them from Japan. They had a maid who would cook and clean for them in return for two pounds of rice a day.

“When their daughter started going to school, the teachers doted on her. They lavished her with special attention and took pains to make sure she understood the lessons properly. She was treated better than the children of high-ranking officials because Mr. Kang was giving the teacher one hundred Chinese yuan a month—about fifteen dollars—and treating her to expensive spreads in local restaurants … ‘it’s impossible to stop anyone from doing anything in North Korea,’ Mr. Kang told me in a restaurant near his new home outside Seoul … ‘You can always bribe your way out’ … At the time he left North Korea, Mr. Kang estimated that about 80 percent of the adults in Hoeryong were using ice, consuming almost two pounds of the highly potent drug every single day.

“‘Police officers, security agents, party members, teachers, doctors. Ice made a really good gift for birthday parties or for high school graduation presents,’ he said. Teenagers were using it. Even his seventy-six-year-old mother was using it—to boost her low blood pressure. For many North Koreans, taking meth became an essential part of daily life, a way to ease the grinding boredom and deprivations of their existence …”

There’s so much that’s both fascinating and so terribly chilling in “The Great Successor.” And what makes Fifield’s extended reporting so very relevant is that the official policy of this administration is to obfuscate and deny the reality of the regime we’re dealing with. Our president is intent on moving beyond negotiating with to praising and enabling one of the world’s worst violators of human rights.

Kim knows his Orwell: “There is always someone to keep an eye on you and report if you’re not sufficiently devoted to the regime … Each neighborhood is broken down into groups of thirty or forty households, with a leader who is always an interfering middle-aged woman. It is her job to keep an eye on what people in her assigned households are up to … in North Korea, a person can’t stay at a friend or relative’s house without notifying the authorities—and often, together with the local police, conducts dead-of-night raids to ensure there are no forbidden guests or that residents like Man-bok or Jung-a are not watching South Korean movies. She inspects everyone’s state-issued radio to make sure they haven’t tuned it to anything other than the state station. She checks cell phones to make sure they don’t contain unauthorized music or photos from the outside world.

“She also encourages neighbors to report on one another. If a family is thought to be eating white rice and meat suspiciously often, people might wonder how they’re making their money … If someone’s having an affair, the neighborhood leader will find out about it. This is no small matter in North Korea, which takes a dim view of women, in particular, who have premarital or extramarital sex. The couple’s transgression will be reported to their employers, and both will be put through a humiliating public criticism session …

Fifield makes this hell palpable: “Officials check how deeply citizens bow before statues of the leaders, how ardently they listen during compulsory ideology sessions, how often they try to skip out of sweeping the road at dawn. In this police state, anyone can be an informant or be turned into one: a wife, a colonel, a vegetable seller, a teacher, a coal miner, a child … Huge concentration camps in remote regions, often with bitter climates, housed anyone who dared to dissent—and often their whole family, for good measure …” (Emphasis added)

Fifield continues: “Every Saturday, and sometimes more often, citizens must also attend self-criticism sessions, where they are required to detail their own shortcomings of the previous week and often offer up those of the people around them. These are often exercises in going through the ideological motions: citizens describe how they could have worked even harder, until their fingers bled or they fainted, in the service of the Great Successor. But they can also be forums for condemning rivals or retaliating against an annoying neighbor …

“The Ministry of People’s Security performs standard policing duties and runs labor camps for those deemed to have committed ‘normal’ crimes like assault, theft, drug dealing, and murder. The name of these prison camps in Korean translates as “a place to make a good person through education.” Prisoners are generally sent to them for fixed terms and can hope to be released one day.

There’s no defense attorney, no jury of one’s peers … Some people who are thrown into the most brutal political prison camps don’t know why. There are four such camps, each covering hundreds of square miles of rugged terrain in the northern reaches of the country. They are surrounded by high barbed-wire perimeter fences, as well as pit traps and minefields, and reinforced with watchtowers manned by armed guards with automatic rifles …

“Once imprisoned, people are starved. Food is so scarce that inmates hunt for frogs or rats to eat. It’s the only protein they’ll get. They search for edible weeds, anything to supplement the ‘soup’ they’re given, the chief ingredients of which are water and salt.

Illustration of the torture of Kim Kwang-il and others in North Korean Prison Camp, forced to remain in impossible positions until they collapsed. Image courtesy UK Daily Mail

“Still, they must perform arduous work and often dangerous manual labor, sometimes for as long as eighteen hours a day. They dig mines by hand using only picks and shovels. They log trees with axes and handsaws. Farmwork is done with only the most basic tools. Women make wigs and false eyelashes or sew garments, all of which are sent to China and onward to the outside world … (Emphasis added)

In a journey that boggles the mind, Fifield takes us from the brutal prison camps to the world inhabited by the man our president now loves: “Kim Jong Un has at least thirty-three homes throughout North Korea, South Korea’s intelligence agency estimates, of which twenty-eight are linked to private railway stations. The residences have layers of fencing around them that are clearly visible from satellites …

“His main compound in northeast Pyongyang covers almost five square miles and is known as No. 15 Official Residence or the Central Luxury Mansion … some reports suggest Kim Jong Un spent $175 million on it, an impossible figure to verify. Kim had an entire office of moneymakers … generating the funds to maintain such a lifestyle. At another compound on the outskirts of Pyongyang, in the Kangdong district, Kim has a bowling alley and shooting range, horse stables, a soccer field, and a race track …”

And then there are the perks for the enablers, the new housing in Pyongyang, “in a Potemkin village, it’s the façade that matters. The entrepreneurs are funding the ambitious projects—the architecturally impressive apartment towers, fancy new museums, and recreation centers … The marquee Ryomyong Street complex, launched in 2016, houses more than three thousand apartments in no fewer than forty-four high-rise buildings, one of which is seventy stories high … ostensibly been built as a reward for the scientists and engineers who were working in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs …

Mirae Scientists Street, Pyongyang, 2015. Photo: Calvin Chua

But like so much in North Korea, there’s illusion and reality: “But up close, there were literal cracks in the façade. On Changjon Street, the Pyongyang equivalent of Park Avenue, the tiles were falling off the new apartment buildings within a couple of years. When I went to the Mirae Scientists’ Street to visit an apartment—highly choreographed by the regime’s propagandists—a woman with a key had to come turn on the elevator for us. In most cities, the most sought-after apartments are those on the high floors, the ones with commanding views, but not in Pyongyang. There, the best apartments are fourth floor and below. No one wants to live in a twentieth-floor walk-up …

“Today in North Korea, there are Italian restaurants and sushi bars, pubs selling craft beer and French fries, amusement parks with rollercoasters and other gut-churning rides, volleyball and tennis courts, and Rollerblading rinks by the river … Kim Jong Un’s cabal can shoot pool and sing karaoke. They can take yoga classes and drink cappuccinos with cute animal faces drawn into the foam. They can text on their smartphones and swing Christian Dior or Gucci purses.”

More illusion. There’s the new, improved Kim Jong Un, winning respectability from the outside world with rational outreach to China, South Korea, and the United States. “Throughout these encounters, Kim Jong Un had proved he could crack a joke, that he could turn on the charm, and that he could stroke a rival president’s ego. In every respect, he proved that he was no madman but a calculating leader with a strategy that was proceeding according to plan …

“On June 12, 2018—less than nine months after the North Korean threat to ‘tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire’—Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump walked onto a platform at the secluded Capella Hotel in Singapore. In front of carefully arranged North Korean and American flags, they smiled at each other and shook hands for what felt like minutes.

“… from my perch in Singapore, I felt optimistic about the process. I didn’t for a second think that the Great Successor was going to give up his nuclear weapons. They were his security blanket, and he needed them. The fate of Muammar Gaddafi was still in his mind.

“But he might be willing to give up some of his missiles and nuclear warheads to get sanctions relief and to normalize his leadership in the eyes of the world … Plus, for all their differences, Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump have a lot in common. Both were born into a family empire. Neither was the oldest son, the automatic heir. But both proved to their fathers that he was the right man to inherit the dynasty. And both love a grandiose construction project …

“Trump said that the North Korean leader was ‘very talented,’ ‘very smart,’ and a ‘very good negotiator.’ He added that Kim had proven to be ‘one out of ten thousand’ for the way he’d inherited the country in his twenties and has been ‘able to run it, and run it tough.’ He said the two of them had forged a ‘very special bond.’ He said he trusted Kim …

“By the end of the summit, Kim Jong Un had the better end of the deal. He got away without making any specific promise to give up his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. He simply reiterated the vague agreement he’d made with the South Korean president in April, agreeing to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula—not North Korea, North and South Korea.

“There was no mention of the ‘complete and verifiable and irreversible denuclearization’ that Secretary of State Pompeo had insisted upon the previous night. Trump had also agreed to suspend the joint exercises that the American and South Korean militaries conduct twice a year, exercises viewed as a crucial part of planning for any sudden change on the Korean Peninsula—like a coup in or an invasion from North Korea …

“And with that, Kim Jong Un had made history … He had confounded assessments of North Korea’s technical capacity to build a hydrogen bomb and a missile that could reach the US mainland. Now, he had the president of the world’s most powerful nation declaring his willingness to work together to achieve his vision …

“He had managed to convince some of the most powerful people in the world to treat him like the normal leader of a legitimate state … The assassination of his half brother in Malaysia less than two years earlier had been all but forgotten. The death of American college student Otto Warmbier even more recently had faded from view. President Trump even gave Kim a pass on the incident. ‘He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,’ Trump said after their second meeting, held in Vietnam at the end of February …

“Trump had shown just how willing he was to do a deal with Kim Jong Un, overruling new sanctions that his own Treasury Department had imposed on North Korea just a day before—apparently as a favor to his counterpart in Pyongyang. Asked to explain the extraordinary move, Trump’s spokeswoman said: ‘President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.’ …

And so we are where we’ve been for a while, only Kim has more missiles, more nuclear material, and a newfound friend in the White House. And the North Korean people are where they’ve been for a while, imprisoned and exploited. But thanks to Anna Fifield, no one in America can pretend they don’t know what’s happening.

Just as I was finishing “The Great Successor,” so totally repelled by the reality that obliterated the extraordinary revisionism perpetuated by Chairman Trump, there was this recent tweet:

It was Maya Angelou who wrote: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Please read Anna Fifield’s “The Great Successor.” We can all do better.


Additional sources

“The surprise love affair of 2018”
Mike Allen, Sept. 30, 2018, Axios

“‘We Fell in Love’: Donald Trump Describes Relationship With North Korea Dictator Kim Jong Un”
Jason Le Miere, Sept. 29, 2018, Newsweek

“Trump to ‘Hannity’: Kim Jong Un to start denuclearization ‘virtually immediately’”
Judson Berger, June 12, 2018, FOX News

“Donald Trump hails ‘great leader’ Kim Jong-un at Hanoi summit”
Julian Borger, Feb. 27, 2019, UK Guardian

“Shocking sketches emerge of life in North Korea’s gulags showing how prisoners resort to eating mice and snakes and were beaten until they vomited blood”
Ted Thornhill, Luke Garratt, Feb. 18, 2014, UK Daily Mail

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