Is he crazy? Why is he making these threats? Does he want to end up toast? These are the kinds of questions I am asked about the leader of North Korea, when I talk about my new book on 'The Psychology of Dictatorship'. 

The North Korean leader has been making 'crazy' threats against the United States and South Korea, pushing and pushing until it seems war is inevitable - even though it is clear that United States could destroy North Korea in a short time, if war actually started.

What is the North Korean leader thinking?  

Three generations of males from this family have ruled North Korea since 1948. Kim Il-Sung (1912-1994), the so-called 'Great Leader' founded the dynasty and ruled with an iron fist, with strong Soviet backing. He was succeeded by Kim Jong Il (1942-2011), the so-called 'Dear Leader', who enjoyed the backing of the Soviets and then, after the collapse of the USSR, the Chinese. Now the grand-son of the founder, Kim Jong Eun has come to power - in good 'communist fashion' inheriting the throne from his father. 

But why is the 'Great Successor' starting his rule with such terrifying threats of war, against an 'enemy' (the United States) obviously far more powerful? What is he thinking?

As a psychologist, Kim Jong Eun (probably in his later 20s when he came to power) believes strongly in the power of displacement. He knows that the North Korean people are living in terrible poverty and deprivation, while he and the rest of the ruling elite enjoy just about every luxury. Ordinary North Koreans have a lot to be unhappy about and they could easily turn their anger at the ruling North Korean elite. The solution found by the 'psychologist' Kim Jong Eun is to use displacement and turn the anger of the people against external targets. This explains the daily threats of war against the United States and South Korea, and dire warnings to the people of North Korea that 'the Americans are going to attack soon...all eyes on America!'. Anyone who questions the idea that 'the Americans are about to attack' is immediately branded an 'American spy' and punished, sometimes with death.

The 'crazy' threats made by the 'Great Successor' will continue until he and his supporters feel that the succession has been completed, and there is no threat of rivals rising up and grabbing power. During this period of 'power-handover', expect more 'crazy as a fox' threats and nuclear testing. 

See video of my new book on THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DICTATORSHIP


About the Author

Fathali M. Moghaddam, Ph.D.

Fathali M. Moghaddam, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Psychology and the director of the Conflict Resolution Program, Department of Government at Georgetown University.

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