Demise of the Dictators
President Obama and other top U.S. officials watch a live feed of the Navy Seals' raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

Three polarizing world figures died in 2011 amid unprecedented turmoil in the Middle East, the United States' withdrawal from an eight-year war in Iraq and continued fear in world markets.

Osama Bin Laden, Moammar Gaddafi and Kim Jong Il seized headlines with their unexpected and shocking deaths as the news about Bin Laden and Gadaffi sparked widespread celebrations , while Kim elicited statewide sobbing .

Bin Laden's death captured Americans' attention late Sunday night May 1 when Obama announced that the mastermind behind 9/11 had been killed by a small team of American Navy SEALs.

"Justice has been done," Obama said.

People celebrated in front of the White House and around Ground Zero, where hijackers directed by Bin Laden had steered commercial jetliners on Sept. 11, 2001, into 1 and 2 World Trade Center, causing them to collapse and kill some 2,750 people.

Gaddafi was captured by Libyan rebels who found the former Libyan dictator cowering under a road near his hometown of Sirte.

Videos showed Gaddafi bloodied and wounded surrounded by his captors, who cheered wildly for his detention. Gaddafi died shortly after those videos were taken.

North Korea state media reported that Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack this past week. The former leader who had once starved his own people, was well-known by Americans as the man bent on creating a nuclear program for his country. The North Korean government announced on Oct. 9, 2006, that it successfully conducted a nuclear test for the first time.

One of Kim's sons, Kim Jong-un, was appointed the leader of the country as diplomats are uncertain of what it means for the future of relations with North Korea.

Bin Laden's death gave a temporary poll bump to Obama and Gaddafi's fate left Libyans to figure out the future of their government, but Kim's death renewed the discussion of a unified Korea.

An erasure of the 38th Parallel would most immediately provide unprecedented economic help to the emaciated North as the country has suffered for decades from severe isolation under North Korean communism.

An op-ed in The New York Times argued that China might try to "adopt" North Korea as a pseudo-province.

China, the argument goes, would want to embrace North Korea with the promise of economic reform in order to deflect the United States and its ally South Korea from grabbing influence in the longtime communist bastion.

"For China, the uncertainty surrounding North Korea comes against the backdrop of Mr. Obama's 'pivot' to Asia and assertion that the region is America's new strategic priority," the article said.

2011 provided a spark for reform, but North Korea, Libya and others will have to wait until 2012 for results. -- Joe Deaux

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