Dokdo, nationalism and the decline of ssireum redux

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Dokdo, nationalism and the decline of ssireum redux

As a South Korean, I am required by law to memorize the “Dokdo Is Ours!” song. But shouldn’t there be a law dictating a separate song for the Tsushima islets (Daemado) as well? Wait. There should definitely be a law making a pilgrimage to the Dokdo islets mandatory because that’s how much “emotion” we seem to have attached to them.
I had some encouraging mail in response to last week’s column from the likes of Robert Kawaratini in Tokyo, who agreed there should be boundaries to nationalism when it comes to playing a game on the field. Then I had some not-so-friendly terse single sentences from other readers.
The last time I wrote on the same subject consecutively was when I dealt with Apolo Anton Ohno, a U.S. skater and his popularity among South Koreans, and it happened only once. This is now the third time that I am writing about the same subject, and the reason is that there seems to be truly no end to the whole Dokdo affair, and, just as with rumors, the phenomenon has become a self-feeding monster that continues to grow every day.
“Dokdo” is now everywhere. Major South Korean companies have launched ad campaigns featuring the islets, while online games are offering special content in which the islets appear. I told you last week about my friend who had to drive his Honda with sunglasses on at night. (He was exaggerating.) He now says that he is considering putting his Doberman permanently inside the car with the windows open. (He was not kidding.)
Let’s hope these are all extreme cases because, as it is, with a little spark we could ignite a major disaster. Let’s hope TV commentators have the guts to condemn acts by our athletes who try to display their nationalism in the wrong form on TV, instead of encouraging nationalism on the air.
Already, some Japanese sports columnists have picked on “Dokdo Is Ours!” banners displayed by the South Korean national youth team recently and criticized the country for being emotional and putting no boundaries on politics. Some Japanese have probably also seen the “Dokdo Is Ours!” banners displayed by the Red Devils, the national soccer team’s loyal fan club, at one of the team’s recent games in Saudi Arabia.
If we are to show some nationalism consider this: The Shinchang ssireum team is currently on strike, leaving only one professional team, the LG ssireum team, intact. There are fewer than 50 athletes in this country engaged in a sport that is supposed to be a traditional one. Japan has about 800 sumo wrestlers, with four exclusive sumo stadiums. If we could funnel just a fraction of our interest in the Dokdo islets to revive this sport we could save ssireum in the blink of an eye. It is in matters such as these that nationalism should be displayed.
So, for a change wouldn’t you love to see Darth Vader beating the Jedi to a pulp, the ant crushing the bus, however unlikely that may sound? Just once, we should leave the Dokdo issue to the politicians. It would be unlikely... but it would be very cool. No, let me correct that, it would be grand. Sports should be used to glue people together. But not in this way. Not to groom hatred.

by Brian Lee
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