North Korea’s Samurai Rules
TOKYO – On December 17, North Korea announced that its supreme “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il, had died in a train carrying him on one of the many inspection tours that he had taken since suffering a stroke in 2008 – evidently part of the regime’s effort to eliminate concerns about his health. The Dear Leader’s death triggered a hereditary transfer of power, with the world’s attention focused not only on Kim Jong-il’s son and chosen successor, Kim Jong-un, but also on who will actually turn out to be the country’s true leader.
Although Kim Jong-il received his reign from his own father, North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, history suggests that a clean transfer from father to son is the exception rather than the rule. In the thirteenth century, Minamoto Sanetomo became the third Shogun of Japan of the Kamakura Period, thus placing him at the top of samurai society at the age of 12. Actual power, however, was wielded by Hojo Masako, the first Shogun’s daughter-in-law, and other members of the Hojo clan, including her father, Hojo Tokimasa. Sanetomo was simply too young and inexperienced to lead the samurai.
For the samurai, combat experience and age were decisive legitimating factors. Professional samurai would be disgruntled if given orders by a young person with no actual combat experience. It was this value system that created an opening for the Hojo clan.
We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.
To continue reading, subscribe now.
Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.
Already have an account or want to create one to read two commentaries for free? Log in