The official cause of death? “Fatigue.” During a train ride. Make of that what you will.
So we lose Havel and the anti-Havel in the same day. What a shame that Hitchens didn’t get to write either obit. The BBC:
His death was announced in an emotional statement read out on national television.
The announcer, wearing black, said he had died on Saturday of physical and mental over-work.
The BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Seoul says his death will cause huge shock waves across North Korea.
South Korea’s military is on “emergency alert” just in case the North does something rash. That could happen inadvertently, if the chain of command starts to break down under the weight of power struggles and NK units go rogue, or intentionally if the NorK leadership fears mass military desertions or a popular uprising inspired by the death of the camp-commandant-in-chief. Frankly, I wonder if North Koreans are physiologically capable of that; as in any cult worth its salt, they’ve been brainwashed and malnourished to the point where resistance may now be literally unthinkable. But never underestimate the paranoia of a totalitarian regime: Kim Jong-un, or whoever’s running North Korea, may conclude that the only way to keep the people timid, distracted, and united is by picking a fight with the enemy. That won’t end well for them if it escalates to actual war, but a limited provocation — like a new nuclear test, for starters — might be enough of a show of force to keep everyone at home in line.
Lots more tomorrow on this, needless to say, but for now re-read this excellent Robert Kaplan piece in The Atlantic from 2006 anticipating what will happen on the peninsula when North Korea falls. A taste:
What should concentrate the minds of American strategists is not Kim’s missiles per se but rather what his decision to launch them says about the stability of his regime. Middle- and upper-middle-level U.S. officers based in South Korea and Japan are planning for a meltdown of North Korea that, within days or even hours of its occurrence, could present the world—meaning, really, the American military—with the greatest stabilization operation since the end of World War II. “It could be the mother of all humanitarian relief operations,” Army Special Forces Colonel David Maxwell told me. On one day, a semi-starving population of 23 million people would be Kim Jong Il’s responsibility; on the next, it would be the U.S. military’s, which would have to work out an arrangement with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (among others) about how to manage the crisis…
The North Korean People’s Army is simply too big to be kept happy and well fed, so the regime concentrates on keeping the elite units comfortable. The defector I spoke to—a scout swimmer—told me that while the special-operations forces live well, the extreme poverty of conventional soldiers would make their loyalty to Kim Jong Il in a difficult war questionable. Would they fight to defend the KFR if there were an unforeseen rebellion? The Romanian example suggests that it depends on the circumstances: when workers revolted in 1987 in Brasov, the Romanian military crushed them; when ethnic Hungarians did so two years later in Timisoara, the military deserted the regime.
How loyal will the military be to new supreme honcho Kim Jong-un? On the one hand, the old guard was reportedly fulsomely obsequious towards him when the regime started rolling him out last year as the heir apparent. Could be that they were acting that way simply to avoid being sent to Camp 22 by his pop if they didn’t, but it could also be that his pedigree as a Kim is enough to warrant absolute devotion. Remember, this is a country so deeply, insanely cultish in its worship of the leader that Kim Il-Sung — Kim Jong-Il’s father, and a man who’s been dead for nearly 20 years — is technically still president. (Hitchens famously described this more-Orwellian-than-Orwell arrangement as a “necrocracy.”) On the other hand, is the North Korean military really going to take orders from … this guy? C’mon.
Whatever ends up happening, it almost certainly won’t be good. Isn’t it always that way? Here’s the official North Korean TV announcement. Heart-ache.