“Kim Jong Eun is not the same man that he will be in 10 years, or even in five years,” said
Sam Wang, a Princeton University neuroscientist and author of “Welcome to Your Brain.” “The ongoing maturation we all have observed in people in their 20s is reflected in changes in brain structure.” The connections in the frontal part of the brain “are not quite done growing and developing. The frontal parts of the cortex are important for restraining impulses and making long-term plans.”
In the ranks of world leaders, the age-old reliance on old age — or at least middle-aged maturity — remains very much the rule.
Most world leaders these days take office at age 50 or older; President Obama was unusually young when he was sworn in at 47.
But there are a dozen or so rulers who came to power before age 30. About half are sons who succeeded their fathers. Their performance, today and through history, is less than impressive.
When England’s King Edward VI acceded to the throne in 1547 at the ripe age of 9, he had been raised by his father, Henry VIII, as “this realm’s most precious jewel.” Lavished with toys, the child king — who died at 15 — displayed a savage temper: He ripped a live falcon apart in one fit and later had his uncle beheaded for taking too active a role in governing the country.
One of the youngest leaders of a country today, King Mswati III of Swaziland, was 18 when he was crowned in 1986. He has reneged on more than $10 million in grants to AIDS orphans, even as he has amassed a massive personal fortune, according to the International Monetary Fund. Mswati’s response to his nation’s staggeringly high HIV infection rate was a five-year ban on girls younger than 18 having sex. During the ban, the king took a 17-year-old wife — his ninth — and then fined himself a cow for violating his own edict.
The value of humility
Reporting on North Korea amounts to a journey back to the days of Kremlinology, when Western intelligence services resorted to studying photos of public gatherings to try to suss out the power structures in isolated, secretive communist countries. Until recently, the only photo the CIA had of Kim was of a high school boy in shorts, said Jerrold Post, who was director of the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior before pioneering the study of political psychology at George Washington University.
In the young Kim’s case, his sudden ascension this week after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, comes at a very early phase in his preparation for power. “He has not had the opportunity to win the loyalty of those around him,” Post said. “There has to be a lot of uncertainty in the military and the political structure about whether he can handle the pressure and responsibility. This is very different from when his father took over; he had been designated very early and was systematically groomed.”