Outside View: North Korea's 'I shrunk the kids' domestic policy

By JAMES ZUMWALT, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  Aug. 7, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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HERNDON, Va., Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Undoubtedly, North Korea's new 20-something leader, Kim Jong Un, was thrilled by the Olympic weightlifting competition in which the country was represented by Om Yum Chol, 20. Om won a gold medal, setting a record by lifting three times his body weight.

Most of Om's life was spent growing up under Kim's late father, Kim Jong Il, known by his people at times by various monikers, such as the "Dear Leader."

But, apparently that title lacked the commensurate "fear factor" impact to the outside world that Kim Jong Il desired. Other titles followed, such as the "Fearless Leader," the "Peerless Leader," the "Great Leader," and (a "catch-all" title difficult to repeat while maintaining a straight face) the "Dear Leader Who is a Perfect Incarnation of the Appearance that a Leader Should Have," as well as others.

(Apparently, while North Korea suffers from food shortages, leaders have no shortage of adjectives to describe themselves.)

As other gold medal winners at the Olympics attributed their success to family, coach or God, Om attributed his success to Kim Jong Il, choosing to do so by identifying him, from among the late leader's many titles, as the "Great Leader."

When Kim Jong Il died in December, his young son became the third member of the Kim dynasty to succeed to the leadership of a country founded by the current leader's grandfather in 1948 -- a country the grandfather, Kim Il Sung, decided would be kept "all in the family." Both previous Kim family members were known for their brutal rule -- a lesson not lost upon the current leader.

There is bitter irony in Om's praise of Kim Jong Il: It demonstrates the government's propaganda machine has successfully promoted the Kim dynasty as a personality cult while hiding leadership failures made readily evident by Om's own personal appearance at the Olympics.

Despite his super strength, the diminutive superman displayed physical traits typical of a generation of young adults who suffered from years of famine and malnutrition as children.

Weighing 123 pounds, Om stands just shy of 5 feet. Even at that height, he towers over North Korean military conscripts today who average just less than 54 inches (only 2 inches taller than height requirements for some rides at Disneyland). It is believed 17 percent to 29 percent of these conscripts are rejected for malnutrition-generated cognitive deficiencies.

The past few decades have witnessed the average height and weight of North Korean school children steadily decrease as those in South Korea have increased. Clearly, a "Pepsi" generation has been evolving south of the DMZ while a "pygmy" generation evolves to the north.

In Asian culture, a "Buddha paunch" symbolizes success. While all three Kim leaders displayed such paunches, it is a symbol unseen amongst the common people. A cash-strapped North Korea focuses on using its limited funds to build nuclear weapons rather than to feed its people, who are then left to fend for themselves. Defectors tell of having to eat grass or sift through cow dung to find and "recycle" kernels of corn. Famines have claimed an estimated 2 million lives.

The well-being of the North Korean population has never concerned the Kim dynasty. Its main problem has always been how best to control it.

The solution involves a combination of isolating them from the rest of the world, promoting Kim personality cult worshipping and intimidating with imprisonment those unwilling to become Kim worshippers.

As dynasty members continue to grow in physical stature nurtured by an abundance of food, the height and weight of their people continues to decline for lack of it. It is as if the Kim leadership has purposefully embarked upon a policy solution both for controlling and feeding them that seeks to miniaturize them.

With the succession of Kim Jong Un, some North Korea observers had hoped the country would undergo reform. Such hope was dashed in a recent statement by Pyongyang that reform "is nothing but a foolish and silly dream, just like wanting the sun to rise in the west."

Sadly, there is a much greater likelihood the sun will rise in the west before the Kim dynasty will give priority to the country's food shortages over its nuclear program.

The Kim dynasty's lack of concern for its people destines millions of underfed North Koreans to generate even smaller offspring in the future.

A comedy-action film was released in 1989 in the United States entitled, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." Unfortunately, in North Korea, "I shrunk the kids" is not a laughing matter -- it is a brutal domestic policy.


(James. G. Zumwalt, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer, heads Admiral Zumwalt and Consultants, Inc. He is author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields" and "Living the Juche Lie -- North Korea's Kim Dynasty.")


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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