Cheney Free Press -


Unified Olympic Korea offers hope, if somewhat tainted by reality

Write to the Point


February 15, 2018

Like many people watching the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony Friday night, I felt some pride and a sense of hopefulness during the entry of the unified Korean team.

South and North Korean athletes marching together, under the same flag and joining to light the Olympic cauldron was inspiring given their history — one beginning with bloodshed and since filled with animosity and mistrust. In light of recent events, not only between the two Koreas but also North Korea and the U.S., it served as an illustration of the possibilities if only common individuals could get together and find a resolution to differences.

But then of course, it’s seldom the common folk doing the talking. It’s our leaders, who often find it hard to put aside differences and past disagreements, favoring posturing and confrontation over discussion, compromise and resolution.

Not that I would refer to the 1950-1953 conflict called the Korean War — which has never officially ended — as a “disagreement.” Far from it.

Nor would we want to compromise and allow North Korea to continue it’s mistreatment of its own citizens under the leadership of the family Kim. Turning a blind eye to starvation, incarceration and enslavement for such offenses as complaining about the lack of food, deprivation of information from the outside world and siphoning off of resources to enrich the “Dear Leader” should never be acceptable — from any nation.

All of this was in the back of my mind as I watched Friday’s opening ceremonies, creating a mental tug-of-war between a desire for the start of a better future for the Koreas — and indeed the world — and a skepticism that anything productive will truly come from the effort. It was sort of a personal battle between heart and mind.

Because, no matter how much we think sports are free of politics, we know better. Just think back to President Donald Trump’s confrontation with black National Football League players refusing to stand for the national anthem.

One of Webster’s definitions of politics is “the total complex of relations between people living in society.” Unfortunately, sports falls into that complex, and maybe no more so than the Olympics.

The juxtaposition of Nazi Germany’s belief in the supremacy of a pure, white Aryan society vs. the dominance of black U.S. athlete Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The Black Power salute of Olympians Tommie Owens and John Carlos on the medal podium at the 1968 Games in Mexico City.

The slaughter of Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. The U.S. boycott of the Soviet Union summer games in 1980, and the Soviets follow up boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

Looking at all of this, it’s easy to see the potential political aspects of the unified Korea gesture in Pyeongchang. The skeptical, even miniscule part of me that is cynical, wouldn’t be surprised to find North Korea leader Kim Jong Un using the gracious gesture from the South and the international Olympic committee to further his regime’s control over its people or enhancing his standing among the community of nations.

And it wouldn’t surprise me to see our own “dear leader” firing back angry, juvenile, boastful counterattacks via Twitter.

Now I’m getting cynical.

Maybe none of this will happen. One can only hope and pray for more rational, calmer and gracious heads somewhere to prevail.

Despite all of the partisan shouting from the extremes, I know there are pragmatists out there.

But if it does happen, let’s also hope that the common folk of North and South Korea, indeed the U.S. and the rest of the world, will see these individuals for what they are — blustery fools. Dangerous blustery fools, no doubt, but fools nonetheless, much like the rabbit and the bear in Dr. Seuss’s “The Big Brag.”

Real progress, real resolution of differences and final unification under the banner of brotherhood can only begin with the rest of us.

John McCallum can be reached at


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