The Slaying of North Korea’s No. 2, the King-Maker

Voicing their disgust over Jungun Kim’s execution of Songtaek Jang, North Korea’s No. 2 and his mentor, Secretary of State Kerry used words like “ruthless, reckless,” and Senator McCain “aberrational.”

Actually, they are exercised over nothing, no big deal. What happened is just another confirmation of the Korean saying, “A king-maker seldom outlasts the coronation.” Not wanting to owe anyone the king simply gets rid of them. He has the motive, means, and opportunity.

If this normally sufficient explanation doesn’t trivialize the latest North Korean episode there is an aspect that lends some piquancy, though again no big deal in that closed kingdom. In addition to being king-maker and second in command, the victim was married to Gyunghee Kim, king Jungun’s paternal aunt. Not only does she emerge unscathed by the tornado of purges, Jang and his associates charged with treason, but steps right into the center stage, with no hint of the grieving widow who just buried her husband that very morning. On the contrary, she looks peppy and chipper, as if she had just come from an enormously satisfying meal.

Maybe that’s what she did, dine on Songtaek Jang’s carcass, tearing it piece by piece. For a long time we have had reports of cannibalism among the starving masses of North Korea, which, as a new fad in fine dining, could have percolated up to the upper echelons. Moreover, in her case there is an added dimension, the thrill of vengeance. In frenzy she hacks and rends him, enumerating every unauthorized intercourse he had with other women: prominent in the bill of indictment is his flagrant womanizing. But even more gratifying than quenching her own rage of jealousy is her knowledge of having finally avenged her teenage daughter who killed herself in Paris where she was going to school, unable to bear the shock of her parents’ estrangement. In a dog-eat-dog menagerie scores are settled rather cleanly and swiftly.

Aren’t they lucky, Kerry and McCain, who, after daring to run against Barack Obama for President at one time or another, are still holding exalted offices, instead of their bones rotting somewhere, flesh picked clean! So is the choir of ex-Presidents, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and the two Bushes, still alive and kicking! One sure index of a cannibalistic kingdom is absence of ex-kings, death the only mode of exit from the throne.

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11 thoughts on “The Slaying of North Korea’s No. 2, the King-Maker

  1. 북한 김일성, 김정일, 김정은 체제는 정치 집단이라기 보다는
    잔인한 조폭단체라고 믿고 있습니다.
    그래서 고모부이자 권력 이인자인 정성택을 처형한 사건은 새삼 놀랄만한 일이
    아니라고 생각합니다. 북한은 김일성이 34 살에 집권할 때 부터
    그러한 잔인한 방법으로 반대파들을 제거해 왔습니다.

    장성택은 김일성, 김정일 부자를 34년간 도와서 오늘날 김정은 체제를
    구축한 장본인입니다. 그동안 수백만의 북한 주민들이 그들의
    무자비한 압정 하에 도살되고 아사로 죽어갔습니다.

    그런면에서 저는 이번 장성택의 처형에 대해서 특별한 동정심이나
    연민같은 감정은 없습니다. 어떻게 보면 인류와 민족의 이름으로
    이미 처형되었어야 할 사람이라고 생각하고 있습니다.
    그는 김일성이나 김정일과 동일한 인류의 도살범이고, 전범자이며, 패륜아입니다.

    문제는 그런 비극적인 북한 문제를 인명피해를 최소화 하면서
    어떻게 해결해 나가느냐에 달려 있다고 봅니다.
    가장 쉽고 간편한 방법으로 군사적 폭력 사용을 생각할 수도 있습니다.
    그럴 경우 최소한 6.25 떄의 250만 보다 훨씬 많은 무고한 인명 피해를
    감수해야 합니다.
    인명을 살리기 위해서 더 많은 인명을 살해해야 한다면
    과연 누구를 위한 전쟁입니까? 이는 북한이 일인 독재체제를 유지하기 위해서
    수백만의 북한 주민들을 살해하는 거나 다를 바 없는 전범 행위입니다.

    평화의 목적을 달성하기 위해서는 수단과 방법도
    평화적이어야 합니다. 이 것이 나의 한반도 평화에 대한 개인적인 신념입니다.
    물론 그 길은 더디고 힘든 길입니다. 많은 인내를 필요로 합니다.
    그러나 가야할 길입니다.

    전쟁으로 죽어갈 한 사람 한 사람의 생명은 당사자들이나
    가족들의 입장에서 보면 통일, 평화, 남북의 정치체제 …..
    그 무엇 보다도 훨씬 소중하고 귀한 가치이디 때문입니다.

    박평일 드림

  2. Killing relatives are not rare in any political system. Even filicide occurred in Chosun dynasty. There was King Yeongjo who killed his son, Crown Prince Sado (1735-1762), by locking him into a rice chest. According to Hanjungnok (translated as The Memoir of Lady Hyegyong by Jahyun Kim Haboush), written by the widowed crown princess, Hyegyeongung Hong or Lady Hyegyeong, the whole palace was filled with the screaming sound of the starving Sado to death, for eight days in hot summer in 1762. Imagine the father King and the wife Princess who endured the screaming, not one or two hours but for eight days! In in Korean historiography however, Yeongjo is commonly described as a great King. What a creature destined to endure life he was! What did he endure during his son’s starving death? Power to life? Perhaps.

    • That was horrible. How could Yeongjo endure his son’s death agony for so long? He must have been a consummate sadist. In comparison, Jeongun of North Korea is humane with his swift executions.
      The chronicle gives us a disturbing new insight into the streak of cruelty inherent in all of us but perhaps particularly so among Koreans. We have a saying, “The water upstream got to be clean for the water downstream to be clean.” What an example to set for their subjects, brainwashed to look up to these monsters as their kings! I witnessed unspeakable deeds of cruelty among my countrymen during the Korean War. Is cruelty engrained in our DNA?

      • I am with you, Concerned Korean. What we know about ourselves should humble and teach but not crush us. Perhaps we are driven because of our checkered past, to prove ourselves in spite of the bad things we are corporately guilty of.

    • Young-jun, since my reply to you I had a call from a historian friend of mine, an expert in Korean history, who alerted me to the many unresolved mysteries surrounding Crown Prince Sado’s death. Practically every detail about it seems disputed and I am left at a loss how to react, whether to cry over his death or denounce his father’s cruelty. The only point of agreement seems Sado’s confinement and death in a rice chest, which is horrible enough and shouldn’t have happened to anyone, let alone a crown prince.
      Apologists of Yeongjo deny his ordering the execution at all, explaining the confinement as merely an attempt to teach Sado a lesson for his numerous acts of insubordination and supererogation, especially favoring the Junior Party in opposition to his father’s partiality for the Senior Party. Apparently the partisan rivalry that raged fiercely in court set father and son at loggerheads. Nevertheless, claim the apologists, Yeongjo had ordered the staff to bring the prisoner food but, under the influence of the Seniors who wanted him dead, the staff did not, starving him. Nor did Yeongjo hear his son scream, they say, because Sado’s building was quite a distance away from the king’s.
      But the prevailing view seems to be that Yeongjo had him killed, because in addition to disobedience Sado had been a dangerous psychopathic serial killer who personally beheaded over a hundred, mostly lowly servants, for minor infractions like clumsiness in helping him put on his clothes. He had also impregnated many women, mostly maid servants, including one attached to his wife, Lady Hong, the writer of the Memoirs. Understandably, she was not exactly a grieving widow. On the contrary, she was out to get him. Though she had two sons by him, one of whom later became King Jeongjo upon Yeongjo’s death, she seems to have hated Sado and supplied incriminating evidence against him to her father, a Senior Party leader, who made sure to inform and inflame the king against his son. So at least it is unlikely for her to create a sadistically callous Yeongjo who heard Sado scream and scream for days and yet didn’t lift a finger. On the other hand, her portrayal of Sado as a psycho seems suspect, because there are indisputable records showing him as an able and fair-minded administrator beloved of the common people.
      Even the immediate cause of death is contested. Despite her statement that he was found dead after eight days of starving, he could have asphyxiated long before that. According to one theory, the king, finding out early on that, contrary to his orders, the servants had sneaked in food and drink through cracks in the chest, had the chest sealed air tight with beeswax and the lid nailed down securely. Sado could have expired in short order afterwards. On the eighth day when the lid was removed, he could have been rotting for days in the sweltering summer heat, mired in his own waste, the ultimate disgrace, as no provision for its evacuation is likely to have been made.
      But Sado had a posthumous vindication. Jeongjo, his son, distraught with grief, built him a magnificent tomb fit only for a king, not a disowned and executed prince. Moreover, in shamanistic rituals and folk plays he has been deified to Lord of the Rice Chest.

  3. Ty, thank you for writing to bring awareness for others to pray for North Korea. A few years ago, I was given the testimony to read of severe beatings, extreme starvation and inhumane imprisonment of a North Korean Christian woman who miraculously survived and eventually escaped.

    In contrast it is amazing how the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been received in South Korea. How much do you feel the American occupation after the Korean war had an impact on this development?

  4. South Korea, almost totally Christian and a prosperous democracy, is the number one American success story, surpassing in some respects other beneficiaries like Germany and Japan. Compare these with what became of countries occupied by the USSR, Britain, France, or Japan.

    Staying at the Westin Chosun on my recent trip to Seoul, surrounded by MacDonalds and Starbucks, I thought I was in another US state. If anyone resents or taunts this as cultural domination or colonialism, let him reflect on what civilization really means. It is learning and adopting from others what is good for one. Individual freedom, health and long life, distinctly American values, are indisputably good for us. I foresee an Americanized globe in this century, which should be cause for nobody’s envy or arrogance. We’ll all be an open, outgoing, accepting American family.

    Your compassionate Christian testimony about North Korea is really moving. I am sure other readers appreciate it, too.

  5. This is some racy material indeed. If I could smoke, I’d need a cigarette just about now.
    Who needs drama fever when you’ve got Ty Pak!

    50 shades of “yellow” perhaps?

    • Esther, thank you for your frank, generous response. You’ve made my day.
      But why smoke even hypothetically? You have aroused all my paternal instincts and I will repeat the same thing that I have told my kids to steer them away from tobacco and other addictive substances, as they were growing up, though I am sure you are well beyond growing up, maybe even in your middle age, as my kids are. Generally this works with intelligent people, as I know you are. They’ll put up with any insult, except to their intelligence.
      Just because you don’t see the damage here and now, as you would if you stuck a knife into your hand, will you persist in the habit? I thought you had more intelligence than that and could extrapolate perception beyond the immediate present, unlike creatures with IQ’s in the two or single digits. The ravages of addiction have been shown beyond dispute….
      Well, you get the drift. I am sure you’ve written me off by now as a fuddy duddy, going off on a tangent completely missing the point.

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