The assassination last week of Kim Jong Nam, the older half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, puts a human face on the wrongdoings of the Pyongyang government. The Kim regime has flagrantly and wantonly disregarded international rules, but those acts have been, in recent years at least, abstract and distant from the lives of most people. Even residents of Seoul, who live within range of North Korean artillery, go about their daily business without much concern for the potential effect of the threats from the North. Kim Jong Nam’s murder is a reminder that the North Korean government at its essence is — literally — a murderous regime and must be treated as such.
Kim Jong Nam’s mother was reported to have been one of Kim Jong Il’s favorite mistresses, but because Kim Il Sung, Jong Il’s father and North Korea’s founding leader, disapproved, Jong Nam was kept out of the public eye for years. Later he was reputed to be the heir apparent to Jong Il until 2001, when he was detained by Japanese immigration officials as he tried to enter the country under a false passport; he reportedly wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. That incident embarrassed the Pyongyang leadership and Jong Nam went into exile, living first in Beijing and then in Macau.