Send athletes to Iraq, if only to visit troops stationed thereI am all for peace. That is why I call chess a contact sport. I am no warmonger. But I am curious why we have not yet sent our star athletes to our troops deployed in Iraq to give them something to cheer about. I know it would be a morale boost.
Imagine Lee Seung-yeop, the country’s most famous baseball player, going to the base camp in Irbil and handing out autographs and taking pictures. The soldiers would love it! And they would get the message that their country cares and is not forgetting that they are putting their lives at risk, however safe it may be right now. It would send the message that their mission has a purpose, and that they are not just a pawn used by the government to manage its alliance between Washington and Seoul.
That’s not why they are there. Bush may have lied about the reason for invading Iraq but let’s leave the moral of that story behind. The fact is that Iraq is in the process of building a democracy and there are troops on the ground who can help the country do just that. After all, given its history, South Korea should know that.
Irbil is a relatively safe area. To this date no South Korean troops have suffered any casualties. And the area has seen nothing like the carnage that is going on inside Baghdad or in other parts of Iraq. It is beyond me why no one at the Defense Ministry or the Blue House has yet come up with the idea to send someone over to boost morale.
Wait. I know why. The troops have been deployed, but they need to keep a low profile because other than being a number on paper that the Blue House can wave in front of Washington, they have to remain absolutely still. The Roh administration’s angst that any publicity, bad or good, will make it harder to extend the troops’ term of deployment as the administration tries to balance its relations with Washington is why the troops were sent to the safest region of the country in the first place.
Once I asked Christopher Hill, who at the time was ambassador to Seoul, whether Washington would appreciate it if South Korean troops would take on combat missions. Hill didn’t bite. “Nice try,” he said.
I have talked to field grade officers and the common soldier. They say the same thing: “What are we doing here? We are trained to fight.” Don’t get me wrong. Reconstruction efforts and running job training for people in a war-torn country are crucial. It gives people hope. It gives the people something to hold on to. But these men and women are not afraid to fight. If they patrol the streets of Baghdad shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. soldiers, the Blue House could have a lot more sway with Washington instead of taking measures that are at best half-hearted. As it is, the troops will remain in the quietest corner of the country. But we could still send them a clear message that what they are doing is right and that they should be proud of it. I know I would be. So let’s send someone over to give the troops an hour of pure entertainment. It costs little, but it would mean the world to the troops.