The Unsettling Lack of Acknowledgement of Kim Jong-Nam’s Murder

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The Kim family has ruled North Korea since its formation in 1948, and from the very beginning has allegedly been involved in numerous plots to kill off family members especially any with questionable loyalty to their family. Any relative deemed a rival has been exiled or, worse, executed by their own family. While shocking in its brutality, it’s not quite surprising to hear, then, that Kim Jong-Nam, half brother of current leader Kim Jong-un, was murdered at the Kuala Lumpar International Airport last week. It serves as a reminder of the dangerous world of politics where certain leaders have the capacity to take out their own family members while countries like the U.S. do little to intervene.

However, a mystery still remains. None of Kim Jong-Nam’s family members have come forward to claim the body. North Korea is refusing to even acknowledge that the dead man is Kim Jong-Nam. A Malaysian investigation has targeted the two women who were seen approaching him in the airport with chemicals on their hands, wiping them on his face before he suffered from a seizure and died. They were supposedly instructed to wipe the chemicals on his face and then immediately wash their hands in an airport bathroom.

Both the Malaysian investigation and spies in South Korea agree that this looks like an assassination attempt orchestrated by North Korea, but the country is adamantly denying this, saying that the two women accused are innocent and should be freed immediately. However, Malaysian authorities say that the women were recruited, trained, and equipped by North Koreans who have since fled their home country.

It would not be unexpected to see Kim Jong-Nam targeted by the North Korean Government. He is the eldest son of the ruling family and, though he wasn’t thought to be seeking influence, has been on a hit list by Kim Jong-un and supposedly already survived an assassination attempt in 2010.

This power struggle in North Korea has been, to say the least, shocking in its dramatic deaths and plots of revenge. While Kim Jong-un’s merciless reputation is well known, it still seems almost unreal that these types of plots exist in the real world. It’s even more unsettling to see how far Kim Jong-un’s power reaches in his position as dictator. To see a leader in the modern world blatantly pursue power by any means necessary, including ordering the death of his own family members, is horrifying.

Having recently been at war in the Middle East fighting dictatorship and terrorism, the United States is no stranger to intervening in other countries’ situations. However, the question is then raised, why fight in the Middle East and not in North Korea where injustice such as this is also alive and well? While corruption at some level goes on in any government system, why does the United States chose to tolerate the actions of Kim Jong-un while fighting a ten year war in places like Iraq? Dictators such as Kim have been allowed to murder family members, yet we as a country do little about it. I don’t necessarily think it’s our duty to intervene in every matter of violence such as this, but since America’s campaign against terrorism and the poor treatment of civilians under dictators served as the guise under which we went to war in the Middle East, I think it reveals major inconsistencies of the ethics of the United States to ignore this issue. We cannot take on the duty of freeing every country from authoritarianism, yet I think if we have spent billions on a war that was supposed to address the situation in one place it is hypocritical to ignore the other.

Even more unsettling, however, is the North Korean government’s refusal to acknowledge this murder. Their denial of association with it, while overwhelming evidence suggests otherwise, reveals a government’s power to manipulate their reputation and the information that their citizens hear. It’s a good lesson for a citizen of any country to be aware of the power their leaders hold and how they execute it. While it may not be as severe as murdering a family member to secure power, this blatant act of violence serves as a reminder to the rest of the world that the mishandling of power in any nation is still alive today.

Claire Harvey is a second-year literary journalism student. She can be reached at cpharvey@uci.edu

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