Kim Jong-il and His Odd Mourners

27 February 2012 by Wes Bredenhof

This appeared in the January 2012 issue of Reformed Perspective.

The death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il on December 17 captured the world’s attention.  The bizarre lifestyle of the autocrat had long been the butt of jokes.  Still, his nuclear ambitions had kept the world on edge.  A number of years ago, President George W. Bush identified North Korea as part of an “axis of evil.”  Internally, Kim Jong-il held most North Koreans in a holding pattern of poverty and oppression.  There’s no point in even speaking about religious freedom in North Korea, because there is none.  It is one of the most awful places to live on earth.

How odd then that news broadcasts showed crowds of North Koreans mourning the death of Kim Jong-il.  News anchors and correspondents noted that the mourning seemed to be perfectly choreographed for the cameras.  There was little credibility in these public displays of grief.  No one could believe that North Koreans would actually be sad at the death of this evil man.

But it is possible that the grief was genuine.  There is a documented and well-researched psychological phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome.  When someone has been under the control of an abductor for a long period of time, eventually they may start to develop feelings of affection for their captor.  They may begin to feel protective of the one who has done this evil against them.  Perhaps what we saw in North Korea was the result of persuasion by threat of brute force.  But it could also have been a case of Stockholm Syndrome writ large.

At first glance, Stockholm Syndrome seems strange.  Developing a love for your captor?  But as believers, we know this happens more than we care to admit.  Paul wrote of the struggle that he experienced with the remnants of the sinful nature – “the law of sin” that held him captive (Rom. 7:23).  How hard it is to break free from the love of this evil!  Part of growing in grace means that we stop mourning for the death of our captor.