The Winter Olympic Games in South Korea have created a tremendous opportunity for reconciliation between North and South Korea, a wound that has festered since the end of World War II.
To the world’s amazement, the Korean women’s Olympic ice hockey team is a combination of North and South Korean athletes. Before they played, the athletes marched into the Games together as one team. Members of the women’s hockey team also held flags showing a unified Korean Peninsula. All of this was previously unthinkable. But it is where the forward-thinking youth in both Koreas envision their future: One nation united under one flag.
Of course, the dinosaurs in the Trump administration, including President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, don’t like this and have expressed their displeasure with these young Korean upstarts. How dare they challenge decades of failed American policy in the Korean political arena?
North and South Korea are outdated vestiges of the Cold War, which, the last time I checked, ended about 25 years ago. And now it’s the North that is taking the initiative in warming diplomatic relations, according to news reports, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un extending, via his sister Kim Yo Jong, an invitation to South Korean President, Moon Jae-in to visit the North for a summit meeting. Pretty amazing. If a summit between the two Koreas does indeed take place, it would be the first in a decade, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to pour cold water on the incipient thaw between North and South Korea, the North has been welcomed with open arms by the South, and it’s the US that appears to have been left in the cold — just where we belong.
It is ironic that only 40 miles from the peaceful Winter Games lies the so-called Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), separating the two highly militarized countries. The DMZ extends two miles north and south of the border between the two Koreas, and runs about 150 miles from east to west, effectively dividing the peninsula in two.
Just north of the DMZ are mountain peaks where the North has deployed numerous artillery batteries in underground installations that can be used for conventional weapons attacks on the South Korean capital, Seoul. About 20 million people live in Seoul’s metropolitan area, which is only about 35 miles south of the DMZ.
The North’s artillery batteries give it a huge and very dangerous strategic advantage to counterattack any US or South Korean military adventures designed to prevent the North from pursuing its nuclear weapons and missile programs. An artillery attack by the North could result in the slaughter of millions of South Koreans and thousands of US troops; all the more reason to give peace a chance.
Despite all of this, the US has been a bully on the Korean Peninsula for a long time and is constantly conducting military exercises with our client state, South Korea. Plus, we still have 28,000 troops in South Korea, even after the end of the Korean War in 1953, a war in which we lost over 36,000 troops, and for what? Not much more than 65 years of headaches.
Our troop presence on the Korean Peninsula does not include our nuclear-armed attack submarines that lurk off the coast, which North Korea justifiably views with alarm. This has helped drive the North to extremes to protect itself, including the development of nuclear weapons and missile programs.
But some of our best friends, like Israel, Britain and France, all have nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. So what’s the big deal, other than our desire to constantly demonize nations and leaders we don’t like in order to justify our huge military expenditures? Of course, our own nuclear and missile programs are much larger than those of North Korea, making our immense hypocrisy on these issues blatant.
Today, other Cold War vestiges are long gone, and the world has not suffered, but is better-off. North Vietnam and South Vietnam are now Vietnam, which has become an important ally and trading partner. West Germany and East Germany no longer exist, replaced by a single nation that is also an important ally and trading partner, as well as a formidable world economic power.
Ending this North-South anachronism is the only solution for long-term peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and the entire region.
John Grula, PhD, is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists.