First base isn’t Tokto, and a soccer game isn’t warfareIt’s funny. Right? How some little islands have united the whole of the Korean Peninsula on a scale equal to that of the 2002 World Cup. But don’t worry; there won’t be a war. Not over some rocks in the middle of nowhere.
Unless... unless someone is stupid enough to actually try to set foot on them. Beware ― there are dogs on Tokto. Did you know that? Not just one; at least three. (I saw them on TV.) Nah, nothing short of a landing will plunge two rational countries into armed conflict.
But there will be other occasions on which South Korea and Japan will slug it out, and we don’t have to look any further than the next time the two countries hold an exhibition soccer match. The last time I saw a TV station advertise a Korea-Japan exhibition match, the ad compared it to a 16th-century naval battle in which Korea defeated the invading Japanese forces.
Call it a coincidence, but a Korean TV station is currently running a historical drama series on weekends with the admiral responsible for that great victory ― Yi Sun-shin ― as the main character. Kudos to the producers, who could not have planned it better. I believe the invasion of the Korean Peninsula is scheduled to begin with this weekend’s episode. If you’ve ever wondered why Admiral Yi got himself a statue in the middle of Seoul and not King Sejong, who invented the Korean alphabet, well, you are reliving the relevant history right now, though with less violence. At the end of the day, a very simple fact keeps this vicious cycle going: People can forgive, but not forget.
And yet, we should forget ― at least, when it comes to a soccer game with our neighbor. The next time the two nations meet on the field, there should be a clear understanding of the rules. No one wears a T-shirt underneath his jersey with Tokto drawn on it. There is to be no I-told-you-so-chest-pounding, no finger-pointing to the sky, and no look-at-me celebrations with the intent of insulting the other side. None of that should take place.
The anger of the Korean public has spilled into the streets, with a great deal of media attention, and I think sports, in its own way, can do its part to cool things down. Booing is allowed, but not when the other side’s national anthem is played. Sounds impossible, but nothing’s impossible, if we let the rational part of our brain take command once in a while.
Nevertheless, to no one’s surprise, there are already signs that sports is becoming a victim of this whole affair. Choi Hong-man, a former ssireum athlete, is to take on a Japanese opponent today in his first K-1 no-holds-barred fight, and the match is being viewed the wrong way. Promotional placards posted in downtown Seoul are urging Choi to “defend Tokto.”
Meanwhile, some sports tabloids have used the Tokto metaphor to describe Choi Hee-seop’s competition with a Japanese baseball player for the first-base slot with the Los Angeles Dodgers. First base, these tabloids, say, is Tokto.
Folks, this is not how we should react and act. We are living in an age of idiots, but that does not mean we have to behave like one. At least not on the field. Or am I worrying too much?
by Brian Lee