What is the national sport of Korea?
I think I have you thinking already, at least the ones that are not staring blankly and going “huh”. Some of you are probably thinking something like “The national sport of South Korea is Baseball and the national sport of North Korea is Gymnastics.” Perhaps you thought of soccer or maybe Taekwondo or Korean Wrestling. Maybe perhaps you thought of Kumdo, Korean swordsmanship. But in truth, it is none of those.
The real national sport of North and South Korea is chicken.
For those of you unfamiliar with this game (including perhaps my small but enthusiastic following in Southeast Asia), here is how chicken works. You have two people in their cars driving towards each other in a collision course, accelerating as they go. The object of the game is to keep driving towards the other car until he turns out of the way. First one to do so loses. If both of them turn at the same time, than the game is draw. If they crash into each other, then the game also counts as a draw with the added bonus of both drivers dying.
There have been numerous attempts to explain what has been happening on the Korean Peninsula in that past month or so. The mostly likely explanation is that Kim Jong Il is trying to create a situation where he can assure the military that yes, his son Kim Jong Un who was recently made a four star general in the Korean People’s Army despite not having any military experience at all had what it took to lead North Korea. Kim Jong Il’s health has been fading recently and it probably shall not be long before he joins his dad, Eternal President Kim Il Sung in the great hereafter. He knows full well that this situation could lead to a power vacuum, with numerous factions fighting each other and the country collapsing. So he is trying to prop up his son as much as possible by giving him ample opportunities to appear to be a tough guy.
On the other side of the DMZ, the South Koreans elected this guy by the name of Lee Myung Bok. This guy was elected in 2007 when South Koreans, who had spent the previous couple of years trying to be nice to the totalitarian dictator to the north of them only to realize that that did not stop him form developing nukes and threatening them with them, decided they were tired of playing Mr. Nice Guy. One of the first things he did was say that North Korea, a country that is totally incapable of feeding itself, would not get any more aid from South Korea until it let go of its nuclear program. Let’s just say that Kim Jong Il did not like that. This along with the above mention succession issue sheds light on the reason for the North’s provocative behavior.
So now you have the following situation. The North wants to look tough so it can send a message to its people that the heir apparent has what it takes. The South at the same time does not want the North to think that it can bully them around. The end result of you have two of the world’s largest militaries rushing towards each other in order to see who would get out of the way first.
Like I said, it is a game of Chicken, with nuclear weapons.