This article was written by Alex Hollings and originally published on

A few days ago, headlines around the world suggested that North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, was in critical condition following surgery. Almost immediately, questions arose about succession. After years of fiery bluster and threats of nuclear war out of the North Korean government, many wondered if relations between our two states might warm with someone new at the helm.

But then, just as quickly as the story broke, it slunk back into the shadows of unconfirmed reports. Now questions remain about what really happened to Kim, what the status of his health really is, and whether or not there’s a clear line of succession in the event North Korea’s despot does pass away.

Why is it so hard to know what’s going on with Kim Jong Un?

For many Americans, it can be difficult to really appreciate what life is like inside North Korea’s borders. In fact, the North Korean government takes great pains to ensure that visitors and the media see and depict only positive views of the nation and its government. In the modern world, North Korea represents a vestige of a simpler time, with limited connection to the world at large and an intensely regulated culture that places Kim, his father, and grandfather in a near-deity role.