Can You Feel the Love Tonight?

So, how does a 27-year-old man show that he is the father of a nation  — and the figurative father — of 24 million people?

Simple: you show him caring for those people in a very fatherly way.

This is Kim Jong Un from a Korean
Central News Agency photo describing his visit to Korean People’s Army Air Force Unit 354. The news article that goes with this photo is the usual stuff you’d read from the KCNA about a visit of the Great Leader (any North Korean Great Leader) to any outpost of the state in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He observes with great interest, he takes part in a very personal way in how the soldiers live and train, he exhorts their commanders to take good care of the soldiers who in turn tell of their love for their leader and their country (pilots singing songs while they fly over Pyongyang), and finally he shows he cares for the soldiers themselves by (in this instance) making sure they have enough water in their bathhouse and that it is the right temperature (checking it “personally”).

This is typical of all of the stories I’ve ever seen and Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Now, I will not pretend I’ve made anything resembling an exhaustive study of North Korean propaganda. It’s a hobby for me, and I’m an amateur. But what I never saw Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il photographed doing was what Kim Jong Un is doing in this photo — hugging two air force officers.

No, he’s not just hugging them. He’s holding them. He’s comforting them. My guess is the two men are weeping, expressing their gratitude. (Whether it is real or faked is a question for another time.) The KCNA story does not explain the photo, and does not caption it (at least it does not do so in English; it may do that in Korean). There is a tenderness communicated by the photo. Even Kim Jong Un knew (or was well-coached) on how to look for this photo. He’s not quite the Virgin Mary with an all-knowing, all-caring and all-forgiving smile. But he is not bewildered either. He looks like a man who is comforting small children, and is slowly growing comfortable with that role.

This is, I think, an interesting way to construct an image of fatherly care for a young man who otherwise has no accomplishments of his own. Kim Il Sung could at least claim to have made the revolution and defeated the Americans in 1953. Kim Jong Il could at least claim to be Kim Il Sung’s son, and co-ruler during the last decade of the elder Kim’s life, who made North Korea a nuclear power and sent rockets into space. Both men could at least claim they were strong protectors. Kim Jong Un can claim … well, not very much.

Except that he cares for his people.