December 17, 2011 — Kim Jong Il was reported to have had a heart attack on a train just outside of Pyongyang, North Korea. He was the leader of North Korea, succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Il had himself succeeded his own father, Kim Il-sung, who died at the age of 82.

Like many forms of news coming out of North Korea in regards to their leadership, it’s difficult to say what actually happened. Different rumors have spread as to how Kim Jong Il actually died — South Korean news outlets claimed he died in a “fit of rage” after discussing the construction of a power plant, which may have triggered the heart attack. Pyongyang was suffering due to a lack of power, and Kim Jon Il knew that the building of a hydroelectric power plant was necessary if the country were to continue as it had been.

AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Kim Jong Il, like his son Kim Jong Un, ran a very reclusive government that controlled many aspects of daily life for North Koreans, including the media. They held over 200,000 political prisoners.

Due to economic mismanagement under his leadership (and a loss of support from the Soviet Union), North Korea suffered from the “North Korean Famine” from 1994 to 1998. Estimates put the deaths anywhere between 240,000 to 3.5 million people, all dying from starvation or similar, related health issues. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, the starvation or starvation-related deaths ranged from 500,000 to 600,000 people.

Though he certainly enjoyed more comfort and better healthcare than his people, Kim Jong Il had not been a picture of good health up until his death. There was talk of diabetes, him suffering a stroke after not showing up to a military parade, along with other indicators of Kim Jong Il’s health in a downward spiral.

There were several options when it came to a successor. His brother was a North Korean military general, and he had three sons that could take the leadership role. Kim Jong Il’s oldest son had made some negative waves as he was arrested in Japan for using a fake passport, so the power went to Kim Jong Un. Later in 2017, Il’s eldest would get assassinated by two women in a subway in Malaysia, likely a scheme from North Korea.

Since then we have seen a similar type of leadership from Kim Jong Il’s son, and North Korea has continuously climbed its way to the forefront of the world’s attention as they struggle to develop nuclear weapons in the face of a suffering populace.

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