I haven’t been watching the Olympics, I freely admit. I’ve never been a sports fan at all – just can’t get interested or excited about it. That said, these Winter Games have been more interesting than usual for me, and it’s not because of our hometown pride Erin Hamlin (though I wish her well). For me it’s all about the ongoing conflict/standoff over the Korean peninsula, and in that regard, the person who should be taking a gold medal home from these games is President Moon. And that medal should be the Nobel Peace Prize.
He certainly deserves it, even if the detente between the two Koreas falls apart. At a time of almost unprecedented tension, and despite the overbearing patrimony of their American “ally”, the South Korean president agreed to what was a stunning demonstration of unity in the midst of one of the most broadly watched sporting events in the world. Sure, it was symbolic, but symbolism can be powerful and it can drive policy. North and South Koreans marching in under a unified flag provided such a stunningly memorable image, I am likely to remember this Winter Olympics far longer than any previous ones. (And I have seen far less of it, as it happens.) The Trump administration seemed flummoxed over this; they deployed Pence, spouting some bellicose rhetoric, but it fell kind of flat.
Brilliant move on Moon’s part. It also helpfully exposes the ugly truth of the Korean conflict. The main dispute is not between North and South Korea, but rather between North Korea and the United States. That’s why our government seems so uncomfortable with the idea of the two Koreas talking to one another. What’s not to like? Perhaps the prospect of eventual economic integration of Northeast Asia outside of the rubric of American economic power. Scary stuff.
Still, we’re number one in another way, and we proved it this week. We just saw yet another mass shooting at a school, this one in Florida. We get the gold medal in gun violence, hands down. And until we elect people who are expressly determined to do something about this terror, we will suck as a nation. Let’s not suck. Let’s get rid of the NRA-funded bums who run Congress and send some progressive legislators to Washington who couldn’t care less about the gun lobby. Time to fix this.
Sometime in the coming days, the North and South Korean Winter Olympic Teams will march together under a unified flag, and the Women’s Hockey Teams will play on the same side. And it looks like it’s happening, now that the International Olympic Committee has said it’s okay. Think about that statement for a moment – did they really need to deliberate on this? It’s just a freaking game, people. If it provides a means of reducing tensions, why would your cheesy rulebook ever stand in the way? Score one for President Moon Jae-in, over the objections of his country’s hardliners and, of course, the United States.
Think it strange that the U.S. would be against a lessening of tension? Well, it’s not just a Trump thing. There’s a deep imperial institutional bias against ending that conflict, and it manifests itself in a host of different ways. Just Wednesday of this week I saw an NBC story about the North Korean woman who allegedly blew up a South Korean airliner; she is out of jail, living in exile as a defector in South Korea. The bombing was decades ago – so why did the network decide to dredge this story up now and hang it around the father of the current North Korean leader’s neck? I would say that NBC is about as close to the core of the U.S. foreign policy establishment as any institution can be. With a lot of positive stories coming out about the glimmer of North/South detente in Korea, it’s no surprise that this old chestnut would bob up to the surface.
Of course, blowing up an airliner is a heinous crime. We’ve done it – recall the shootdown of the Iranian Airbus back in July 1988, to say nothing of our support for CIA asset Luis Posada Carriles’ downing of the Cuban airliner carrying their Olympic fencing team in 1976 (the perpetrator now living unmolested in Miami). Of course, so too is blowing up a whole country. We’ve done that, too … to North Korea, for instance. Putting that aside for a moment, it seems clear to me that we have a strong resistance to defusing this Korean bomb. When obvious peaceful solutions are available and remain untried, it’s reasonable to assume that there are other considerations at work.
Consider this: the Korean conflict gives us a strong foothold in Asia. When it flares up, the many of the regional players turn to us. It provides justification for our massive military presence in the south and substantial presence elsewhere in the region. Most importantly, the conflict prevents greater international cooperation leading to full integration of that region’s economies, independent of the American-dominated global system. That, I suggest, may be the nightmare scenario that keeps our planners awake at night – not the prospect of nuclear war.
Changing our priorities in Korea is going to take real work. It goes way beyond party and personalities.