The Evil In Pyongyang

TNR's editors critique the Kim Jong-Il coverage:

There’s nothing wrong with pointing to a mad dictator’s quirks or attacking authoritarian regimes through humor. (We ourselves have done it with our intermittent "Today in Despotism" series, which chronicled and mocked the exploits of dictators as told by their official government media outlets—and in which Kim invariably played the starring role.) But now the obsessive documenting of Kim’s eccentricities threatens to overshadow the most basic fact about him: No single person who lived in the last few decades has inflicted as much suffering and cruelty on others.

Jordan Weissman explains how the Dear Leader killed "between one million to three million" in a government-caused famine:

The demise of the USSR threw North Korea's entire economy into chaos, and agriculture was among its most important casualties. Without imports of cheap fuel (self-sufficiency had its limits), the country's industrial base fractured, and production of fertilizer dwindled. Farm yields plummeted, and the government started a campaign urging citizens to consume less. Its cheery slogan: "Let's eat only two meals a day."

It was against this background that the Kim Jong Il took power. The country was at a crossroads, says Marcus Noland, a leading expert on North Korea at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. With the USSR gone, the prospects for a small, isolated, neo-Stalinist regime looked rather grim. The government could have opened up its economy, much like Vietnam did with great success. Instead, North Korea chose to stay frozen in time.