Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2012

Kim Jong Un

Villainy is often in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes the more heinous the crime, the more clinging the adulation. It should be no surprise that the four rogues in this year's TIME 100 have supporters. That is a measure of their influence: the willingness to defend partisan ideologies with weaponry.

Spellbound North Koreans see Kim Jong Un, 29, as the incarnation of the tenets of self-sufficiency established by his grandfather and father, the first and second emperors of the communist dynasty. But autarky and a war footing are not paths to prosperity. Hence gulags, famine and privation; hence nuclear arms and military adventurism to wrest what Pyongyang calls concessions (what others would construe as aid) from friend and foe. Might the Swiss-educated Lil' Kim, in power just four months, detour from the way of his forebears? Prosperous northeastern Asia will remain unpredictable until he provides the answer.