The Olympics in the Korean Crisis

01/10/2018 06:01 pm ET Updated Jan 11, 2018
PyeongChang winter olympics logo, 2018. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The winter Olympics in South Korea next month is a golden opportunity for bringing the deadly Korean confrontation between America and North Korea to an end. Indeed, this Olympic celebration could formally end the Korean War and enable the two Korean states to become one country.

The Olympic games in ancient Greece were more than athletic competition. In concert with other Pan-Hellenic athletic and cultural celebrations, the great athletic and cultural festival at Olympia was definitely a golden opportunity for the Greeks to know each other better. They competed naked for the love of Zeus. They run, jumped, threw the javelin and discus, boxed, and wrestled. They competed in the pentathlon, pankration (a fierce boxing and wrestling game), and chariot races. To avoid corruption, athletes were reminded that only the speed of their feet and the strength of their bodies would bring victory, not money.

In his dialogue, “Anacharsis,” the second century writer Lucian, gives us a sense of the “incredible pleasure” of seeing the athletes compete and win: standing in the cheering crowd watching the handsome, powerful, and courageous athletes struggle with determination and passion for victory. Being there, in the stadium, Lucian assures us, we would not be able to stop applauding.

Greeks also competed in music, poetry, prose composition, painting and acting. They danced and feasted together. They honored and celebrated their traditions and civilization. Poets recited the epics of Homer. Politicians presented their views. The Greeks expected the Olympics would diminish and eliminate conflict and boost their Greek identity. In fact, all conflicts and wars ceased during the Olympics.

In the case of the Olympics in South Korea, the history and culture of the Greek-inspired modern Olympic games require that all war preparations in North and South Korea and the United States cease. The US would win world acclaim by encouraging discussions between North and South Korea and, unilaterally, declaring its willingness to welcome the unification of the Korean peninsula in ways agreed to by North and South Korea.

Why should the US, especially under the belligerent Trump administration, abandon its decades-long strategy of a divided Korean peninsula?

There are two good reasons for a new policy. The first is taking the Olympics seriously. Despite their current commercial face, the games are more than selling Coca-Cola. They are the light that keeps civilization alive. They are the expression of virtue.

The second reason is that North and South Koreans don’t like America. They are one people and want to live in the same country. They know that the only serious obstacle to Korean unification is America.

According to David Fields, Center for East Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Korean-American complex is like a precarious iron tower, which is strong but brittle, ready to collapse from any unexpected action like a preemptive strike of North Korea by the Trump administration.

On January 5, 2018, Field said that the American footprint on Korea has been heavy. The American divided Korea. The South Koreans have a sense of grievance against America. They would like to see the United States get out of their country.

The sentiments against America are stronger in North Korea. In fact, dislike of America explains the determination of North Korea to arm itself with intercontinental missiles and nuclear bombs. In other words, North Korea sees nuclear weapons as its only defense against the irresponsible threats from Trump.

The Olympics, however, may be creating a climate that the two Koreas might work out their own united future, which could be a future without nuclear weapons. For example, a united Korea could propose a universal nuclear disarmament.

What a more auspicious triumph of the civilization of the Olympics than a world without these terrible ecocidal and genocidal weapons.

Our planet in 2018 is very close to nuclear war. The election of Trump in the United States has pushed the war party to the forefront of US foreign policy. Second, the provocative and irresponsible statements by Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un have inflamed war passions on both sides.

In a January 8, 2018 seminar in Washington, DC, Shibley Telhami, fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that, “A military option [by the United States against North Korea] is unthinkable. It’s not just risky, it’s unthinkable.”

Such an unthinkable confrontation, however, might become a world conflict with catastrophic consequences for the people and ecology of the planet.

Our planet in 2018 is also going through the beginnings of global warming. Storms are violent, frequent and unpredictable. Draught and too much rain with fierce winds and wildfires have been devastating America and the rest of the world.

Industrialized agriculture, like a giant octopus, is spreading its poisons in the food we eat and the water we drink. In addition, it pollutes the atmosphere, the oceans and the land. The results of such pernicious effects are too many landless people and too much hunger in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The natural world suffers the most from this mechanical and chemical farming. Not only is the honeybee on the verge of disappearance but countless other animals and plants are forced to extinction.

For these reasons we need peace in the Korean peninsula. Such peace might concentrate the mind on the existential threats of global warming and industrialized agriculture.

Let the Olympics next month heal the deep wounds of Koreans and Americans. America will have nothing to gain from provoking another Korean war that may become a world war. It has immortal glory to gain, however, by allowing the Korean people resolve their differences alone.

Part of such an Olympic victory may also be humanity’s greatest happiness ever: to rid the world of its gravest threats yet: nuclear weapons.

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