In December, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un ousted and then executed his uncle-in-law Jang Song-Thaek, until then his mentor and perhaps the second most powerful man in the country. In contrast to many previous purges, this one was heavily publicized, Jang’s arrest being shown in a special program on North Korean official television. Stories of the gruesome nature of his execution (whether by machine gun and flamethrower or by a pack of ravenous dogs) were widely circulated.
Given North Korea’s high degree of militarization and its nascent nuclear force, the main question asked at the time was whether Kim Jong-un was preparing to reverse the somewhat conciliatory stance his uncle was said to espouse. Was he preparing to attack South Korea? North Korea publicized Kim’s visits to his military and his demand that it be ready to fight. It was also rumored that Kim had been personally involved in the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan by a North Korean submarine in 2010.