For a moment, it looked like even before Friday’s opening ceremony the London Olympics were off to a visionary start. On the first day of competition, just before a women’s soccer match between North Korea and Colombia, an introductory video shown on big screens in the Glasgow stadium displayed the flag not of North Korea, but of South Korea.
Shock! Horror! The North Korean team stormed off the field, and refused for a while to come out and play. The game was delayed. The incident spawned a host of headlines such as the Wall Street Journal’s “North Korea Outraged Over Flag Flub,” and, from the Associated Press, “Chorus of Apologies at Olympics for North Korean Flag Flap.” Members of a CNN panel denounced it as a “national insult” to North Korea. The Olympic organizers issued groveling apologies to North Korea. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge called the flag mixup “most unfortunate.” As for British Prime Minister David Cameron, he tried to excuse it as an “honest mistake,” leading to headlines such as that in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper: “David Cameron joins scramble to placate North Korea after flag fiasco.”
Seems to me they’re all apologizing to the wrong Korea. If any nation had rights to be insulted by the mixup, it was not North Korea. It was South Korea.
The differences could hardly be more stark. The North is home to a regime that for three generations of dynastic totalitarian rule has starved, stunted and oppressed its population, while threatening the free world. North Korea’s chief exports and policy contributions to the planet have been missiles, narcotics, counterfeit currency, terrorism, kidnapping and nuclear blackmail. If members of its athletic teams deserve sympathy for any flag mixup, it is mainly because they have no reasonable choice but to march in lockstep with the murderous regime that has dispatched them to compete in the Olympics. Under North Korea’s monstrous system, any show of disrespect for authority can result in the exile not only of the offender, but of three generations of his or her family, to the slave labor gulag with which the ruling Kim dynasty maintains its grip on power.
South Korea, by utter contrast, shed authoritarian rule more than 20 years ago, to emerge as a thriving democracy. South Korea’s economy ranks among the world’s top 20. Its chief exports include assets as ships, cars and high-tech communications equipment. South Korea’s athletes have real reasons to be proud not only of their personal prowess, but also their country’s achievements.
The day may come when the Korean peninsula is reunited. When that happens, it is devoutly to be hoped that the flag flying over such an event will be that of South Korea, not the North. In that context, the London Olympic organizers are hardly guilty of the worst mistake they could have made with those Korean flags.
Actually, if truth in advertising is a genuine concern of the organizers of the London Olympics, they owe all of us an apology merely for listing North Korea, in these Olympics, under its official name: “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” Anyone remotely acquainted with the character of the Pyongyang regime surely knows that this official name is rank propaganda, a.k.a. a string of lies. North Korea is in no way “Democratic,” neither does it belong to its “People,” nor is it a “Republic.” It is a totalitarian prison state. And dignifying North Korea’s regime with groveling apologies, no matter what the gaffe, is an act far worse than any mixup of flags — all the more so for being deliberate, rather than what was apparently an accidental flag flub. In the interest of human decency, it would be entirely appropriate for the apologizers to now apologize to the world for their apologies to North Korea. But don’t hold your breath.