The first article I'd ever read about the succession in North Korea was in TNR.com on September 29, 2008. It was written by Sahil Mahtani, one of this year's crop of researcher-reporters, who has now gone off from a place that valued him very much to Mumbai where he will cover financial institutions for the Wall Street Journal. He has listened, he wrote me last week, to "the hoofbeats of the horse of history." Indeed, he has. Imagine a greater contrast than the one between Mumbai and Pyongyang.
The only truly modern contrivance in Kim Jong Il's communist state is its well-armed and soon-to-be-nuclear military. The rest is almost primordial with poverty that is an echo from the plague years, except that it goes on and on...and on. I suppose its torture chambers--this is a country in which all sorts of torture are routine--may also be up-to-date. But its rules of succession are not.
Papa anoints one of his progeny, excluding his daughter, of course, to become the Maximum Leader. Sahil was the first to notice that his young son (no one seems to know how young) was his favorite. Two others were disqualified. One was a thug. Why would that disqualify him from the inheritance? Well, he is an unserious thug. The second, the father thought too "girlish," which either means gay or not thuggish enough, thuggish in a serious way, that is: he wouldn't kick the b'jesus out of anyone.
So Kim Jong-un it is. But not until 2012, by which time Secretary Gates will either have left office or stopped reassuring Seoul that there's nothing to worry about from its northern abutter.