Kim Jong-Un, Musings on the Kaiser, and the Myth of the Rational Actor

I've seen a number of opinions over the last few weeks, which argue that ultimately, we've nothing to fear from Kim Jong-Un, and that he'll back down in the face of the American nuclear deterrent.


I hope I am wrong, but I have my doubts about this.

Kim Jong-Un, Musings on the Kaiser, and the Myth of the Rational Actor

We know next to NOTHING about Kim. There are rumours that he was schooled in Switzerland, but this has never been substantiated, and it feels unlikely to me, based upon the little that has emerged of his character. This is a guy who has never been told 'No', who exhibits a dangerous combination of an inferiority complex, mixed in with a huge streak of narcissism, and it worries me immensely.


I was thinking about this, this morning. As a historian, Kim reminds me in some ways of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Wilhelm II is mostly remembered for generally getting the blame for starting the First World War (although I don't propose to get into that here). He was undoubtedly a deeply destabilising factor, but there are, as always, REASONS for this.


Wilhelm II's grandfather, Wilhelm I, and his father, Frederick III, both died in 1888, a year which became known in Germany as the Year of the Three Emperors. Frederick III, in fact, reigned for only 88 days. In essence, the grandfather, a man born in the eighteenth century, who had fought in the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815, was succeeded by a much younger man, in the grandson, who held very modern ideas, and who wanted to make his mark. Echoes of history here.


Wilhelm II was 29 when he became German Emperor, and one of his earliest actions of note was the dismissal, in 1890, of the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who had dominated German politics, in one form or another since 1862. Wilhelm II clearly saw him as a rival (sounding familiar) and moved to eliminate his political influence entirely (although Bismarck got to live out a peaceful retirement, and wasn't executed by firing squad, a la Kim).


Wilhelm II also had his pet projects. He instituted a personality cult (although this was modest by later 20th century standards), and was absolutely pivotal to starting a naval arms race in the North Atlantic (again, does this remind you of anybody?). He was also highly prone to making emotionally-charged and provocative speeches (and who is singing from this hymn sheet today?).

Something Wilhelm II went to great lengths to hide, and which clearly damaged him psychologically, was his withered left arm, which in adult life was 6 inches shorter than his right arm. It is actually rather difficult to find a photograph which demonstrates this, as he was almost always photographed with this arm either behind his back, or resting on the pommel of his sword. To me, Kim also shows signs of emotional damage, in his behaviour, although if there's a physical reason behind it, I'm not aware of what it is.

This is by no means an attempt to make a direct analogy. The point of it is to underline that history has always been full of pivotal statesmen, who may not always act rationally. Wilhelm II was a flawed man, not an evil one. He did not, for example, order the assassination of his own brother, and nor did he have Kim's evident sadistic streak. He would send messages via newspaper interviews, not by the state sponsored murder of foreign nationals (Otto Warmbier RIP).

Back to my original point, we know nothing about Kim, the evidence we have suggests that he is not a rational actor, and yet many continue to believe he will 'see sense', simply because they would.


I fear we're making a big mistake if we don't take this very seriously indeed.


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What Girls Said 7

  • 3d

    As brutal, unempathetic, unsympathetic, and savage as the fat boy may be... I don't think anyone has solid grounds for calling him "irrational".

    In fact, given the power structure that he inherited, Kim has shown a frightening degree of RATIONALITY in **holding on** to that power.
    Cold, murderous, purely mercenary rationality... but, rationality nonetheless.

    Even his more provocative actions are easy enough to understand once we remember that the DPRK's citizenry is genuinely convinced that their country has been valiantly at war with the big, bad American bullies for, what, 67 years now?
    He knows we won't attack unless our hand is truly forced. We can't abide the bloodshed of millions in Seoul as collateral damage, and the fat boy knows it. But if he launches enough missiles into the ocean, then he'll get the REACTION he wants from our leadership — which he can then broadcast all over state media as trumped-up (hehe look how I did that) "proof" of the perpetual US military "threat" on the DPRK's doorstep.

    __

    In fact, given your last paragraph, it seems you're conflating RATIONAL actions with MORAL actions — or, at the very least, with actions that are NOT IMmoral.

    Uh...

    Well...

    ... #nope

    I mean... Dude. You do get that THE WHOLE REASON why "morality" is even a thing, is that it directly conflicts with rationality in lots and lots and lots of ways... right?
    If "evil" were the opposite of "rational" — as your last paragraph (and, by extension, this entire piece) strongly seems to imply — then the concepts of "good" and "evil" wouldn't even need to exist. They'd be redundant.

    __

    What, exactly, has Kim done that is irrational?

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    • 3d

      Good, good point about morality / rationality.

      I do think his recent brinkmanship has become increasingly irrational, personally. A year ago, I would have agreed with you, that he's going to get away with it, and would have been able to portray himself as the 'winner' in this confrontation.

      I'm just not so sure now.

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    • 3d

      Do you know, I didn't know that, and that is a very interesting factoid indeed. Makes a lot of sense, when you think about it.

      I wonder if the same would still hold true today?

    • 3d

      I have no doubt whatsoever that it would be even MORE true today... considering that even today's welfare class (in our countries, at least) has a standard of living, access to health care, etc. that only the upper-middle-class and above — and perhaps even just the upper crust — would have enjoyed in the '20's and '30's.

  • 8h

    A rational actor in a political context does not mean they act rationally. It simply means that they act in what they perceive to be in their own self interest. So far, everything fat boy has done is very rational and he will drop a nuke when it becomes in his self interest to do so.

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  • 8h

    you lost me when you said he has an inferiority complex combined with a narcissism streak. narcissism is a personality disorder that both stem from the same root. the narcissist manipulates other people through various means as a defense mechanism to keep people at arm's reach. they behave in a way that makes others think that they have a grandiose view of themselves but that just shields people from getting to know the real person deep down. watch the movie scent of a woman. al pachino plays a classic narcissist. kim jung un is nothing like a narcissist. he is simply an evil ego maniac that is capable of satanic level evil. it is morally and strategically wrong to allow him to continue to be in control of nuclear weapons. the main problem is- for the north koreans- the war NEVER ended. and legally speaking, that's true. it was only an armistice. we are still OFFICIALLY at war with north korea. now that they have nuclear weapons they won't hesitate to use them against south korea or the united states in order to win the war and take over south korea. they will use their nuclear weapons to threaten the united states into staying out of the war when they attack the south- the fear that they might nuke the US mainland might scare public opinion into bailing on the south koreans. they will force us to fight a defensive war that can't be won- just like vietnam. i say we fire hundreds of low altitude tomahawk cruise missiles as first strike weapons from off shore submarines. destroy their artillery pieces aimed at south korea. use stealth bombers to fly in invisibly and launch close range tactical nukes to destroy their nuclear weapons. use b1 bombers to fly in so fast and take out their response forces. and use b52 bombers to drop about 100 MOAB mega bombs to completely suppress them and make them too busy trying to rebuild themselves to worry about counter attacking. if i were the first female president north korea wouldn't even be on the map anymore after the first nuke threat. china is a barking dog. they won't back korea because they'd be cutting their own throat to go to war with us. their country would be destroyed overnight without our economy to back them. especially when they own all of our debt that i'm sure we won't feel obligated to pay if they declare war on us.

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  • 3d

    Many Korean lives in japan-i really hate North Korea

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  • 3d

    Thanks for an informative take!

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  • 3d

    I agree completely. Not sure what else to say.

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  • 21h

    Jong is an idiot, like his father.

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What Guys Said 23

  • 5d

    1. The left seems to have a blind naivete about the important actors on the world stage. Of course we can negotiate and come to agreements with terrorists; there should never be any reason for a show of force. We can trust Kim Jong-Un to behave rationally because any man would appreciate the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear weapon launch.

    Of course, the left also demonizes anyone with whom they disagree, so any conservative politician is smeared with the ugliest accusations and name calling. According to the left, Donald Trump is more dangerous than Kim Jong-Un. The left would like for us to live in a world that comports with their view of Utopia, but in the meanwhile, they cannot accept and accommodate the truth of the world in which we actually live.

    2. Waiting until a madman launches a nuclear missile would be a horrible mistake. We cannot have blind faith that our anti-missile capabilities would prevent a North Korean weapon from reaching its target. One nuclear explosion will have drastic consequences for the entire globe. How can anyone be alarmist about the possible eventual consequences of global warming but cavalierly ignore the imminent and undeniably real consequences of a nuclear explosion?

    3. We study history to learn from our past. Your observations are very salient. When people talk about negotiating with terrorists, I remind them of the Munich Agreement and how Neville Chamberlain foolishly thought that he had accomplished "peace for our time." Ignore history and you are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

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    • 5d



      I agree about the ludicrous remarks about Trump being the danger, and not Kim. Fed up to the back teeth of hearing that one.

      Likewise, whereas we all *hope* that the anti-missile technology will work, how do we *know* that it will?

      Lots of failing to learn from the past at the moment, I feel.

      Loved your point about being cavalier about a nuclear missile launch, whilst gurning on and on and on about global warming, btw!

  • 5d

    Well if he does launch an attack it'll be Guam that takes the hit not the actual nation.

    Wake Island isn't that far from there and we have bases and ships in South Korea, which means that the South Korean army will begin to mobilize and we're begin using our ships to destroy their coast and navy. To prepare a beachhead for an invasion.

    Use wake island for bombing runs while we ferry our military over there.

    Or we could go the silent route, arming and convincing the populations farthest from the capital and major cities to rebel. Since they'll be the ones not as brainwashed as the ones near the capital and major cities and they'll be the ones that are starving the most.

    Once we do invade we go about things the same way we did in the first war, killing any military units we find and protecting and feeding the civilians.

    China will most likely not participate in the war due to the fact that North Korea isn't worth fighting for to begin with and they have nothing of value there. They even threatened to help us out and send in troops into North Korea the last time Kim got testy.

    It would b a long war but one we would have a overwhelming victory in.

    Our defense systems can probably shoot down any nukes that do come our way and North Korea doesn't have to many of them, if they do hit it'll be the coastline that takes the hit.

    https://youtu.be/3WyrYBrOC1o

    Most likely what will happen though is the same thing that has happened the last 100 times someone from the North has threatened us.

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    • 5d

      You are one the idiot that believes that, force is answer to this sensitive matter really.
      American military is in one respect the most idiot military force in the world and I will prove it. We lost almost every war after the WW2 , Korea, Vietnamese, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria with the so called most advanced tech in the world that can't even deal with common people with Ak-47. We don't even win the 2nd world war cuz look at the stats and military loss.
      These things don't work in Asian side and capital usually mean nothing to them.
      Do you know Why we always lose?
      cuz We are the liars and attackers, you can't attack a nation and expect its people to cooperate with you like the terrorist in Afghanistan (which are quiet frankly freedom fighters cuz 9/11 was not their fault at all), we are attacked the Iraq based on huge lie and were beaten by common people. We created the al-Qaeda in 1970's and engineered the so called terrorist or freedom fighters like common people call them.

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    • 4d

      @Rissyanne I am not against common people that fight for their wicked ideology and planning, I am against the one that is calling the shots. They don't care about the lives of the our soldiers o the local population, they have to showcase their weapons and I am trying to show you the image of weak America which Asians visualize and you can't fight them cuz they are telling the truth. They made us believe us, we are immortal but history is totally different and thing like this drives a Mad man like Kim Jong.

    • 4d

      or sorry

  • 5d

    Kaiser Wilhelm wasn't responsible for ww1 and I don't get while people say that, it was a European land war writ large, european history is full of them and this was just another that happened to have more significance

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    • 5d

      Agreed, he was merely a convenient scapegoat.

      He'd been a bogeyman for much of the world for the previous decade or more, so I can entirely understand why so many people blamed him, but the causes of the war are far more complicated than that.

      But that's for another time.

  • 5d

    I truly despise people who down play foreign politics.
    History would dictate that it's just flexing, but remember nearly all countries prior who sat back and did nothing caused the downfall of their leaders... namely Saddam. When he cooperated with the Americans he was hanged. NK realizes the threat of western powers on their regime.
    Within the short span of 6 mos we have seen a rise in global tensions. Shocking, i know, trump is 100% behind these rising tensions as there is a lack of leadership and accountability within the white house.

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    • 5d

      Interesting points.

      I always felt that Saddam was a victim of his previous successes. There was nobody within his regime who would stand up to him, and I think he was pretty delusional at the end.

      I never really understood why he never let the weapons inspectors in, as there wouldn't have been a reason for war with no WMDs. Which he didn't have, all along.

    • 5d

      He didn't, none the less, it doesn't help prospects with north korea at the moment.

  • 5d

    Very insightful. Another major difference would be the type of people that both leaders presided over - Germany was a rising power of well educated and mostly enlightened people - North Korea is an impoverished state with a bloated military and a brainwashed, starving populace.

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    • 5d

      And that is an excellent point, and one which is frequently overlooked.

      Wilhelmine Germany was well-educated, and very enlightened - nobody living in those times could have imagined that the totalitarian Nazi state was on the horizon. Kim is already presiding over something very similar to Hitler's state, in terms of its authoritarianism and the cult of the state above the individual.

      And, although Wilhelm II liked to *portray* himself as an absolute monarch, he was not, and there were checks and balances in the system, on the exercise of his power. There is nothing like that with Kim, as far as we know.

  • 5d

    But…what do you want to do about Kim now? It’s kind of late, since he has nuclear weapons. If you’ll invade him, he’ll use them, because at that point, he has nothing to lose. If you’ll wait, he might invade South Korea, which, at first, would be devastating for south, thanks to numbers, later on the south with help of rest of the world (hopefully) would get the upper hand. But the nuclear missiles are still there. So…once the tie will turn, he might launch them.
    So…what do you want to do? Wait it out? OK, how long? 100 years? Starve them to death? China is the problem, the give them food. The problem is, that regular people would suffer from that. So…not very effective. Other thing, what comes to my mind, is just anti-missile protection. Rail gun, laser, or good ol’ missiles. Shoot ‘em down. And doesn’t these systems being deployed? But it’s controversial, because China feels threatened by that. My „game-like“ approach would be: deploy reliable missile defense, then provoke them to launch their missiles, take them down, then invade, annex the north to the south, unify the Koreas under south’s government, since there people don’t suffer from hunger and other nasty things, and…go home. But, unfortunately, real life isn’t game.

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  • 3d

    Kim Jong-Un is a bloody dictator taken away by his own rethoric.
    He'll end in some local cleanup , a bullet in the head.

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    • 3d

      Will wonders never cease? You and I agreeing on something! Have a recommend!

    • 2d

      Apparently he has a son now. Maybe they'll end up with another little tyrant. I wonder if Fat Boy Kim IV will be even more obese than his predecessors?

  • 5d

    This is on the USA hands cuz when North Korea was testing Atomic bombs froim 2006-14 and no body take them seriously and call them idiots that have no idea about Atomic bombs at all,

    Now whole world is laughing at us cuz of comments like it will take North Korea min 10 years to develop the IBCM , they did it in months
    Then don't worry guys, they don't have any capable warhead now they have 60 of them,
    Seriously I mean we are lied to again and again,
    1) You call the liars and urge them to improve
    2) Then when they show their seriousness by testing IBCM (we call the idiots, it takes 10 years to develop anything like IBCM)
    3) When they successfully test it, you threatened him and made him hero in the eyes of common people and again call him idiot, You don't have warhead for missile, you don't have warhead for missile.
    4) Now there are reports confirming that, he have almost 60 of them.

    We force them or urge them to built these weapons by not taking them seriously. Now you can't do anything about it cuz we used atomic weapon once and if we just press the button in next 20 sec almost every nation having nukes will start using them on us cuz we trigged the WW3 and you cam't physically attack them cuz "He have nukes and sympathizers like China and RUssia.

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  • 3d

    Thank you

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  • 1d

    If nukes hit the US, I fully believe it will be OUR OWN GOVERNMENT nuking us from their bunkers.

    www.bleedingcool.com/.../...he-End-034-600x947.jpg

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  • 3d

    dangerous man

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  • 4d

    Trump will declare a battle on North Korea because that's what every Republican president has done before him. Every Republican president has gone to "war" because they like letting a bunch of poor people die so they can line their pockets with cash from weapons contractors.

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  • 5d

    I do think he's a joke, yes. I don't think he'll do anything to anyone. This boy just likes to mouth to prove some kind of false strength.

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  • 10h

    Crazy is as crazy does...

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  • 3d

    you have been played lol go study your history there will be no war

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  • 3d

    Actually, I don't think we need to fear North Korea so much as Russia. Kim is a bit of a wildcard, but his country is impoverished and lacks drive; Putin is very popular among his people. his country is becoming more powerful and is making more friends among countries that don't trust the West, and the Russian people and their allies believe they're on a road toward greatness. I think Putin is more like the Kaiser than Kim [though I'd compare Putin to Stalin rather than the Kaiser].

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    • 3d

      Russia has been trying to make friends with countries that are opposed to us since WW2 ended. They're a pale shadow against the Soviets. Even if they're getting more powerful, they're nothing we haven't dealt with before and nowhere near as powerful as they used to be.

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    • 2d

      @tyber1 Nazi Germany wasn't exactly loaded with food either. Also, you're a historian, and I mean sure, history does repeat itself to an extent, but nothing is ever entirely the same. Just because Russia's situation now is not entirely like Germany's in the 1930's doesn't mean Russia can't rise again. Also, you have to remember that Germany lost its colonies after the first war which deprived of much income, yet it still manage to rise again. Russia still has strong ties to other Post Communist states, and is making them closer. Also, Putin has improved the living standards of Russians since the early 90s despite Western sanctions, and Hitler improved those of the Germans, though both their peoples went through hardship. Also, Russia is making ties with other nations around the world that Germany didn't quite manage to do. I mean, their situations are different, but I do think Russia has enough advantages to one day regain its former power, if not surpass it.

    • 2d

      Oh wait sorry, I said you're a historian, I thought you were the author. Never mind, we're both two guys just speculating.

  • 5d

    Let's send a bunch of tough-sounding tweets, that will teach them, right?

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  • 3d

    Interesting

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  • 1d

    I think he is rational but he's not so humane.

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  • 4d

    We should not attack because Barack Obama may raise a Communist militia to attack the USA on its own soil

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