In my mind’s eye, at some point tomorrow, Kim Jong-il will find time to celebrate his 68th (or 69th) birthday in the company of the army of doppelgangers who stealthily stand in for him at various public functions. “Here’s to the Japanese scholar who thinks you’ve been dead since 2003!” Kim Shady #1 might say; “Cheers to that pancreatic cancer that was supposed to take you out in the fall!” Kim Shady #2 could toast. And so on.
That’s because until Kim Jong-il met with President Clinton in Pyongyang on August 4th, 2009, the South Korean and Japanese media were busy filing Dear Leader Disabled List reports, painting death bed scenarios that had youngest son Kim Jong-un stepping in at any moment. And although the grandly choreographed Laura Ling–Euna Lee release meeting put an end for the most part to this feverish speculation, reports have begun to trickle out once more in recent months that Kim Jong-il is sick, relying on intensive dialysis treatment to keep himself going.
The great irony is that while Kim Jong-il seems to have survived another year, his Hermit Kingdom has in the past twelve months taken very poor care of itself, engaging in some early 2009 nuclear sabre rattling that led to more U.N. sanctions and pushing through a disastrous end-of-year currency redenomination. Some analysts believe Kim Jong-il may be getting senile; others point to, respectively, pressure from military hardliners and Young Son baby steps as being responsile for these foolhardy moves.
Regardless, for those North Korean citizens who do not bear a striking physical resemblance to successor-in-waiting Kim Jong-un (presumably, he too will need an army of Kim Shady’s), the future remains grim. Unless pops can make good on that silent birthday wish and figure out a way to quickly back North Korea out of a very tight corner.