Are the elites in Pyongyang all that different from those in DC or NYC or most anywhere else?
"Gee, I wish we had one of them Doomsday Machines."
-- Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott)
In the U.S. War Room, Soviet ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull) reveals the existence of his country's Doomsday Machine to the American security brain trust, including President Merkin Muffley and technology genius Dr. Strangelove (both Peter Sellers) as well as General Turgidson.
It's probably not the most inspired tribute to a fine actor who left behind lots of distinguished work, but when I think of the late George C. Scott, I can't help but think first of his gum-chewing, blithering Gen. Buck Turgidson. And there aren't many more cherishable moments that the one in the above clip when the general is brought around from his cynicism at first hearing about the Russians' Doomsday Machine, which will destroy all life on earth ("Oh, what a load of commie bull!") to the slavering awe and envy of his declaration "Gee, I wish we had one of them Doomsday Machines."
Not long many of us woke up to the surprising news that the uncle and supposed regent of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un, Jang Song-thaek, had been quickly tried for dastardly bad stuff and summarily executed, gone, goodby. Since we know so little about the inner workings of the government in Pyongyang, commentators were reduced to rearranging and hastily relabeling such pieces of the North Korean People's Republic puzzle as they possessed.
It was a pretty safe conclusion that somebody or bodies in the upper ranks of the North Korean government had perceived Jang as a threat to, well, something -- that something being, most likely, the continued health and well-being of those same upper rankers. Not surprisingly, even given the shroud that obscures so much of what goes on in North Korea, within a few days, the murky picture began to assume certain shapes, and the shape above all that seemed to emerge was good old-fshioned Taking Care of Bizniz.
At that stage of "knowledge," I couldn't help thinking that there were princelings of the elites all over the world drooling with Buck Turgidson-like envy at their North Korean counterparts' dramatic demonstration of their version of a Doomsday Machine, which could deal with the discovery of perceived enemies by means of swift pro-forma trial and just-as swift-elimination -- who wished, in other words, with drooling fervor that they had one of them Doomsday Machines.
Jang Song-thaek and beloved nephew Kim Jong-un, the North Korean sort-of-strongman, in happier times, when all they had to fret over (not counting their people's desperate poverty, which apparently didn't count) was a war expected to start "without prior notice"
It does appear that Uncle Jang had indeed been naughty.
The rout of his forces appears to have been the final straw for Mr. Kim, who saw his 67-year-old uncle as a threat to his authority over the military and, just as important, to his own family's dwindling sources of revenue. Eventually, at Mr. Kim's order, the North Korean military came back with a larger force and prevailed. Soon, Mr. Jang's two top lieutenants were executed.
The two men died in front of a firing squad. But instead of rifles, the squad used antiaircraft machine guns, a form of execution that according to South Korean intelligence officials and news media was similar to the one used against some North Korean artists in August. Days later, Mr. Jang himself was publicly denounced, tried and executed, by more traditional means.
His highly unusual public humiliation and execution on Dec. 12 set off speculation about the possibility of a power struggle within the secretive government. But in recent days a more complex, nuanced story has emerged.
During a closed-door meeting on Monday of the South Korean National Assembly's intelligence committee, Nam Jae-joon, the director of the National Intelligence Service, disputed the North's assertion that Mr. Jang had tried to usurp his nephew's power. Rather, he said, Mr. Jang and his associates had provoked the enmity of rivals within the North's elite by dominating lucrative business deals, starting with the coal badly needed by China, the North's main trading partner.
"There had been friction building up among the agencies of power in North Korea over privileges and over the abuse of power by Jang Song-thaek and his associates," Mr. Nam was quoted as saying. Mr. Nam's comments were relayed to the news media by Jeong Cheong-rae and Cho Won-jin, two lawmakers designated as spokesmen for the parliamentary committee.
South Korea was a major market for the North's mushrooms, clams, crabs, abalones and sea cucumbers until the South cut off trade with the North after the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship in 2010, forcing the North Korean military to rely on the Chinese market.
But when Mr. Kim succeeded his father two years ago, he took away some of the military's fishing and trading rights and handed them to his cabinet, which he designated as the main agency to revive the economy. Mr. Jang was believed to have been a leading proponent of curtailing the military's economic power.
Oops! Funny thing how that happened! Probably Uncle was just safeguarding the money for the benefit of the people of North Korea. You don't suppose he was living a more, um, comfortable lifestyle, do you? For shame!
According to accounts put together by South Korean and American officials, Mr. Jang and his associates resisted. When a company of about 150 North Korean soldiers showed up at the farm, Mr. Jang's loyalists refused to hand over the operation, insisting that Mr. Jang himself would have to approve. The confrontation escalated into a gun battle, and Radio Free Asia reports that two soldiers were killed and that the army backed off. Officials say the number of casualties is unknown, but they have received similar accounts.
Mr. Nam said the fact that such behind-the-scenes tensions had spun so far out of control that Mr. Kim had to order his own uncle's execution raised questions about the government's internal unity.
"The fissure within the regime could accelerate if it further loses popular support," the lawmakers quoted Mr. Nam as saying.
Mr. Nam pointed to Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, the top political officer in the North Korean People's Army, and Kim Won-hong, the head of the North's secret police and its intelligence chief, as the government's new rising figures since Mr. Jang's execution, the two lawmakers said.
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