By Zack Downing, Staff Writer
When we look at the world’s community, no country stands apart from the rest more than North Korea. There are certainly disparities between the wealth and size of other nations, but Kim Jong Un’s empire is the ugliest duckling in the pond.
Obviously, we think of North Korea as an angry, unpredictable nuclear threat, and rightfully so.
Their military has missiles aimed at the western United States and their finger over the red button.
However, we often overlook the country’s citizens. They’ve been victimized by a dictatorial state we haven’t seen the likes of since Mao’s China, and none of them have the rights to their own voices.
However, every two years comes the great equalizer: the Olympics.
North Korea will be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics, standing alongside first world countries and world-famous athletes. This year’s events are especially noteworthy, as they take place in South Korea, only 60 miles from the demilitarized zone.
Unsurprisingly, Kim Jong Un doesn’t have too much respect for the Games or the countries participating in them. In fact, North Korea is reportedly staging a military parade to take place the day before the Olympics start.
They’ll be flaunting their troops and nuclear missiles, and according to sources, it’s explicitly to intimidate America and other countries threatening their power.
So, it’s forgivable that we view the North Korean competitors as enemies.
When we see the red and blue flag on the backs of leotards, we take it the same way Americans took the swastika in the 1940’s and the hammer and sickle until the 1980’s.
I think we should look at the flag in a different way. There are 22 North Korean competitors in 5 sports: Alpine skiing, cross country skiing, figure skating, speed skating, and ice hockey. I know it’s easy to see them as the bad guys, and specifically root against their success, but… should we?
Should we root FOR North Korea?
Hear me out: I don’t want Kim Jong Un to swell with any more pride than he already has, but ultimately, the Olympics are about the competitors more than the countries, and the dictator’s more concerned with missiles than medals.
Each of these 22 competitors have grown up and lived in a communist, authoritarian dictatorship that smothers information like Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
They’ve been sheltered and starved for decades, and the only form of self-expression they’ve found is practicing their respective sports.
The Olympics present these athletes with their only opportunity to leave North Korea, and fulfill their dreams of competing in the sport that’s consumed their miserable existence. These athletes will be escorted right across the border, off the edge of the earth as far as other citizens are concerned. They’ll be happy. A North Korean winning a medal would be a Cinderella story.
I know North Korea is the planet’s ultimate villain, but the figure skater with the red-and-blue flag on her back isn’t the one with the missiles, she’s suffered through the regime aiming them.
There’s one more interesting dimension to this story, and that’s the women’s ice hockey team.
Likely because of low qualification numbers, South Korea and North Korea will be banding together to form one united Korean women’s hockey team.
North and South Koreans, who have a wide range of mixed emotions about each other, will be competing side by side to try to take on the rest of the world.
The South Korean women have the opportunity to take these unfortunate athletes under their wing and not only work with them as a team, but teach them what the rest of the world is like.
The Korean women’s hockey team is just like the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team. They’re underdogs, they’ve suffered through dictators and oppression, and the Olympics are their chance to break free and shine in front of the world.
I’m not saying we should root for North Korea, but that ice hockey team winning would be the sports story of the decade. Each of the 22 athletes have broken free of Kim Jong Un’s grasp for two weeks; perhaps they deserve more than a participation trophy.