THE 2018 Winter Olympic Games kicked off today, February 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. With an estimated four billion viewers across the globe, it carries the significance of North and South Korea uniting and marching under a common flag, and having a unified Women Ice Hockey team. The specially chosen theme of the Games is Peace, and it emphasises the clear possibilities of peace and unification of a homogeneous people split now for 73 years, not because they wanted it, but because the super powers simply decided to use them to play Ping-Pong.
Twenty-three North Korean athletes will also participate, additionally, 230 cheerleaders will travel South accompanied by an orchestra. The opening ceremony is expected to blend aspects of Korean history and culture.
Youthful President Kim Jong Un had indicated in his New Year Message that North Korea, for whom unification with the South is like a religious injunction, wants not just dialogue, but a quick resolution of issues. His position strengthens the hands of South Korean President Moon Jae-In, the child of North Korean refugees and an open advocate of reunification. Moon who had been victimised in the past for advocating the peaceful reunification of the Koreas, insists on dialogue despite the opposition of the United States which has for over seven decades, painted North Korea as the Devil’s Empire that must be destroyed, if need be, with nuclear weapons.
President Moon is himself over the moon, he enthusiastically told the Press that North Korea’s participation would be: “a great opportunity to send a message of reconciliation and peace to the world.” His government has already requested that the US-South Korea Joint Military exercises code-named Key Resolve and Foal Eagle involving 300,000 troops which fall within the Games period, should be postponed.
One country for whom the chiming peace bells in the Korea is not pleasing to the ears, is the US which continues to beat noisy war drums trying to portray Kim Jong Un as a lunatic and North Koreans as a bellicose race of war mongers. It continues to warn South Koreans against peace with their brothers in the North urging them rather to purchase more American weapons.
The composition of the American Delegation to the Games is its way of saying that it sees them, not as sports that can unify peoples and countries, but as a continuation of the politics of war. It is led by Vice- President Mike Pence who is accompanied by General Vincent Brooks, the Commander of US Forces in the Korea and head of the United Nations Command. Another prominent member of the Delegation is Brooks’ predecessor, General James Thurman. Although it is a sports arena where healthy competition is ordinarily expected, Vice-President Pence’s guest accompanying him to the Games, is Mr. Fred Warmbier, father of Otto Warmbier, an American imprisoned in North Korea, who went into a coma, never regained consciousness before dying on June 19, 2017 on American shore.
The Warmbiers were guests of President Donald Trump at his 2018 State of the Union Address during which he pointed at them as “powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world.” The Warmbier’s presence at the stands of the Games maybe a way of America reminding the world that it is at war with North Korea and that technically, the war between the two Koreas is not over. It may also be a way of trying to provoke North Korea, and elicit empathy from the South Korean public. It could also be a way the Americans hope to wreck the United Nations General Assembly’s call for an “Olympic Truce.”
Given the fact that the US and North Korea have been on the war path for over seven decades, I had often wondered about the cyclic ritual of American citizens travelling supposedly on their free will to North Korea, getting arrested and convicted with America reacting angrily, declaring the convicts innocent and then getting them freed. That was until 2009/2010 when I met an American in Western Sahara who talked about his plans to visit North Korea. I wanted to understand his psychic; why would he travel to a country he might be jailed? He said it was a religious obligation to go and evangelise in an Evil Empire, set the captives free and proclaim freedom from communism. So to him and his ilk, it is a religious and ideological obligation which they need to fulfill.
This may explain why Americans enter that country legally or illegally, and violate the laws; primarily because they are religious fanatics, ideological extremists, agent provocateurs or spies. For example, Otto Warmbier was supposed to be going to Hong Kong for a Study Abroad Programme. When he got to China, he decided to go to North Korea where CCTV footage at 1.57am showed him in a restricted ‘Staff Only’ part of the hotel attempting to steal a large government message to North Koreans. He was later to say he wanted to take it to the Methodist Church he attends in US as evidence of the system in North Korea. An American Coroner Report showed no evidence that Warmbier was subjected to torture.
There was the case of 85-year-old Merrill Newman, a veteran of the 1950-53 Korean War who was arrested in October 2013 accused of contacting former combatants in North Korea for an hostile act. Following a bargain with the US, he was released after 42 days. Back in America, he confessed to the crime. Kim Dong Chul was arrested in 2015 for alleged espionage but claimed he was only engaged in underground evangelism. Kenneth Bae arrested in December 2012 for spying, claimed that the plan of Operation Jericho he was caught with was for evangelism and not military purposes. He got 15 years but like all other American convicts, was released within two years.
There was the drama that was the case of Matthew Todd Miller who on entering North Korea on a tourist visa, tore the visa and claimed he was seeking political asylum. There is another incredible story. Two American journalists; Euna Lee and Laura Ling entered North Korea illegally in March 2009 claiming they strayed in while filming refugees. They got nine years but were released to former President Bill Clinton as a goodwill gesture when he visited the country.
In my analysis, America does not want the Koreas to reunite because amongst other reasons, it sees the South as its territory which must remain under its control; it must dictate any peace process; it is still in the Cold War mode; must continue to sell its arms to South Korea and wants to retain that country as a military satellite in the Korean Peninsula.