(Yes, we’re still talking about the Olympics, because #WhatWouldLeslieDo?)
North and South Korea will walk together in the Olympics opening ceremony under one flag for the first time since 2004 and will play together (in women’s hockey) for the first time ever. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong will even meet with South Korea President Moon Jae-in.
This kind of coming-together-in-the-name-of-sportsmanship-and-international-cooperation moment sums up the idealism of the Olympics, but “Peace Olympics” is quite a name to live up to.
But it’s a big difference
The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, North Korea demanded a joint Pyongyang-Seoul Olympics and the opportunity to host the opening ceremonies. South Korea said no and North Korea didn’t participate at all.
This year, Kim Jong-un gets positive press and a chance for a diplomatic victory. Plus, Moon favors diplomacy towards North Korea, in contrast to the dick-measuring contests that President Trump engages in.
Combined with a shrinking US State Department with no diplomat to South Korea, the US-South Korea relationship is weakening. Dangling peace is a chance for North Korea to drive a deeper wedge.
Still, optics are powerful
But let’s be clear. Korea was one country for centuries, split by outside actors disregarding the people’s wishes. And it was arbitrary; if you were on the southern side when the border went up, then you got lucky.
My grandfather did, his brother didn’t, and families like mine have been separated ever since. The demilitarized zone between the two countries is a physical embodiment of the psychic scar that Koreans carry, made worse knowing the human rights abuse to the north.
This is a photo op in North Korea’s favor, which gives me pause. But despite all my skepticism, a part of me still feels hopeful for the sight of a unified flag.
—Jessica Yi, editor, who will cry if Kim Yuna lights the Olympic torch