Paul Greenberg

Kim Jong Un, aka Outstanding Leader, is still seeking to consolidate his hold on power in the horror state formally entitled the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- a quadruple irony, for it is really none of the above. Its current tyrant is busy conducting a classic purge of his rivals, or just those he suspects might be someday.

In his latest and most sensational move, the latest Kim in that dynastic line of Communist dictators had his own uncle denounced, stripped of all his titles, arrested and paraded out of a party conference in Pyongyang -- all duly recorded by North Korean state television to be broadcast the next day. Whereupon he was dispatched without further ceremony.

There is a protocol in these matters. It was not enough that this once powerful official be executed. Any trace of him in official records had to be extirpated. Officially he is now lumped in with "anti-party elements," his name unmentionable, his image airbrushed out of party annals, TV documentaries, wherever else it might appear in North Korea's authorized history -- and there is no other kind in that prison camp of a country.

Comrade Jang Song Thaek, once No. 2 in the regime's power structure, isn't even a face in the crowd any more. To use the newspeak of George Orwell's "1984," he has become an unperson. Not only has he ceased to exist. Officially he never existed. Not just the man but any memory of him must be effaced. No wonder the regime's elite is all a-tremble, not knowing who will be next, let alone why. That's the very purpose of a purge: to terrorize.

A classic purge in a totalitarian society doesn't portend fear and trembling just at home. It can be a sign the Fuehrer, Generalissimo or Outstanding Leader is harrowing his ranks in preparation for war abroad. Just as Hitler's night of the long knives and Stalin's Yezhovshchina presaged the next world war. What better way for Outstanding Leader to ready his country for another strike at the other Korea, whose freedom and prosperity are a constant reproach to his own deluded rule? And this time his nuclear-tipped missiles might actually work.

It's all so familiar. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the totalitarian state and state of mind will recognize what's happening in North Korea today: a classic political purge. This is one for the books, specifically the various editions of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, which were carefully edited to conform to the party line, whatever it might be at the time. Old Bolsheviks, no matter how prominent they might once have been, had to be cropped out of history. Trotsky, Rykov, Zinoviev, Piatakov, Kaminev, Bukharin ... all had to be purged.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.