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For the first time in over a decade, the so-called Korean uni­fi­cation flag has made an official appearance at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“For quite some time now, South Korea has been very con­cil­iatory and really wanting to overcome past divi­sions,” Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Pol­itics John Grant said.

“The Korean people have a very strong sense of being one people.”

The first time the North and South Koreans marched in unison at an inter­na­tional ath­letic com­pe­tition was at the 2000 Olympics in Aus­tralia, and they have done so eight more times since then. Grant, along with Pro­fessor Emeritus of Pol­itics Will Mor­risey, who retired in 2015, and Assistant Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Adam Car­rington said Korea’s effort toward sym­bolic uni­fi­cation does not sur­prise them.

“When I was young, espe­cially into the 80s, it was very common to have lots of demon­stra­tions in the South, par­tic­u­larly from stu­dents, for uni­fi­cation,” Grant said.

“It’s not really a political issue in the sense of ‘Oh we want to be under Kim Jong Un and the com­munist gov­ernment; it’s ‘We want to be united as one people, and we don’t like the division.’”

Car­rington said he noticed the same ide­ology 10 years ago in Philadelphia among his South Korean room­mates.

“They would say, ‘I’m from Korea.’ Now, when you would say, ‘Which one?’ of course they would say, ‘Ok, well, South Korea,’ but they them­selves wanted to say ‘I’m from Korea.’”

Mor­risey com­pared Korea’s and the United States’ expe­ri­ences with civil war and the coun­tries’ efforts to re-establish union.

“In the American civil war, the two sides dis­agreed about both the re-estab­lishment of political union and, cru­cially, the char­acter of the regime which would rule that union: com­mercial republic vs. a slave-based oli­garchy,” Mor­risey said in an email. “In Korea, the regime issue is com­mercial republic vs. com­munist tyranny. Both sides agree in prin­ciple to union, hence to allowing the ath­letes to com­mingle, while con­tinuing to be in a state of antag­onism respecting the regime they hope will rule that union.”

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attended the Olympics with the North Korean del­e­gation last week. She is the first member of the North’s ruling dynasty to visit South Korea since the 1953 armistice fol­lowing the Korean War.

“Part of the war-like attitude of the North is con­nected to pro­pa­ganda,” Grant said. “They’ve gotten a huge pro­pa­ganda victory out of this in that they have all the major American news­papers talking about it and saying nice things about North Korea as a whole too, which is kind of striking.”

Almost two weeks ago, CNN pub­lished a par­tic­u­larly pos­itive story about Kim’s presence at the games. Mor­risey noted that “gushing over leftist tyrants and their rep­re­sen­ta­tives” is not new for the news media in com­mercial republics, as was the case with Lenin, Stalin, Khr­uschev, Mao, Ho Chih Minh, Gor­bachev, at least with regard to some members of the media industry. He also ques­tioned Kim Yo Jong’s authority to nego­tiate on her brother’s behalf.

“It is rea­sonable to think that she and/or some of those accom­pa­nying her are there to get a better sense of the South Koreans — assessing the strengths and weak­nesses of their enemies,” Mor­risey said. “In pol­itics, there’s no sub­stitute for face-to-face expe­rience.”

Pro­fessor of History Paul Rahe saw Kim Yo Jong’s visit as an example of one of North Korea’s important diplo­matic strategies, which is an oscil­lation between “thuggish threats” and a “charm offensive.” The effect of this strategy on nations like the U.S., he said, is akin to Stockholm Syn­drome, in which hostages psy­cho­log­i­cally develop an alliance with their captors as a way to survive.

“There was a time when there were a lot of air­craft high­jackings, and the high­jackers would ter­rorize the people on the plane to keep them in line,” Rahe said. “But they’d also feed them, because they were useful as hostages. And this com­bi­nation of bru­tality and kindness is dis­arming. And so you would have this phe­nomenon of people on the planes that were high­jacked defending the high­jackers.”

Rahe said the North Koreans produce the same effect on the U.S. after threat­ening them and their own southern neighbors with missile attacks.

“They sud­denly turn on the charm offensive,” he said. “They send this pretty girl down to charm everyone. Now, she’s also a thug and tor­tures people. So the effect of it is, they make you afraid, and then they elicit relief and warm feelings. And the sense that you’ve got to cope with this somehow, wanes.”

Rahe also empha­sized that the America is expe­ri­encing an era of “extreme par­ti­sanship,” causing some media to become a mouth­piece for North Korean pro­pa­ganda.

“In some corners, this will elicit warm feelings about Kim Jong Un and what a fine man he is,” he said. “When domestic fac­tion­alism becomes suf­fi­ciently intense, people can look at enemies of their country as friends.”

Grant pointed out China’s influence in holding up the North Korean regime, explaining that the regime would likely fall if China removed eco­nomic support. Mor­risey also noted that, while China should be more worried about North Korea’s nuclear weapons than the U.S. is, since the two share a border, China has made no effort to stop North Korean nuclearization.

“If the Chinese and North Korean regimes coor­dinate their strategies, a nuclearized North Korea might serve as a par­a­lyzing factor in any sub­stantial move against Chinese encroach­ments into the ter­ri­torial waters of the mar­itime coun­tries in the region,” Mor­risey said.

Rather than being an anomaly, the amount of pol­itics involved in this year’s Olympics rep­resent “business as usual,” according to Mor­risey.

“When most of the regimes involved are com­patible, the games take on that purer, Avery Brundage air of wholesome ath­letic com­pe­tition; when the regimes are incom­patible, the political under­current becomes more obvious,” he said.

The Cold War, for example, was a highly-politi­cized time for the Olympics as both sides saw the games as a way to prove ath­letic prowess.

The 1980 winter games in Lake Placid, NY were mem­o­rable pre­cisely because the under­rated U. S. hockey team defeated the pow­erful Soviet team in the semi-finals, before defeating Finland and winning the gold medal,” Mor­risey said. “The other famous example was the 1936 games in Berlin, an occasion which Hitler intended as an exhi­bition of Aryan prowess, only to be frus­trated by the victory of Jesse Owens in track.”

While pol­itics can often become a focus during Olympics games, Car­rington said the sit­u­ation is actually more of “tem­porary alternate reality” in which people can express hope for things that are, in reality, very far from occurring.

“If you asked the people I knew from Korea, they would admit that they were nowhere close to an actual unified Korea,” Car­rington said. “It was more that if all things could be perfect and equal, that’s what they would want, not that the Olympics or any gesture like that is somehow going to overcome the massive dif­fer­ences between the regimes and the very volatile history between them.”