North Korea Gets the Gold in Olympics Propaganda

Intelligence

Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games are underway in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea. So far, the world has not come to an end.

The U.S. team is in attendance, despite discussion in December that they would stay home out of security concerns. This is altogether a good thing, as anyone who watched 17-year-old Redmond Gerard’s improbable come-from-behind gold medal victory in the snowboarding slopestyle event on Saturday will attest.

Pence tries to keep everyone focused on the threat

Vice President Mike Pence attended the opening ceremonies, where he sat in the Korean booth, with not just ROK President Moon Jae-in, but with DPRK envoy Kim Yo-jong, only sister to DPRK strongman Kim Jong-un. The western media, ever eager to make the Trump administration look bad, fawned over Kim, and criticized Pence for remaining seated while the joint North-South Korean delegation marched into the stadium.

Some went as far as to compare Pence’s actions to the NFL players who knelt during the national anthem this past season, once again completely missing the point of why those protests bothered so many people. But Pence had said beforehand that he was going to Korea to counter the DPRK propaganda.

The host nation quickly gained a reason to brag when short-track speed skater Lim Hyo-jun set an Olympic record to win gold in the 1500-meter event. And perhaps most significantly, the much-awaited joint Korean women’s ice hockey team took to the ice. Unfortunately, not even the bizarrely captivating DPRK “cheer squad” could spare the team from an 8-0 defeat at the hands of Switzerland, who took home the bronze four years ago.

An aide to the VP told Axios’s Mike Allen that Pence would “remind the world that everything the North Koreans do at the Olympics is a charade to cover up the fact that they are the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet.” And the cheer squad is Exhibit A.

North Korean Propaganda at its best

They’re just… weird. We’re used to everything from the North being choreographed, but even the scene of the squad arriving at the airport seemed scripted. Clearly, the DPRK leadership takes the same approach to praising its athletes as it does to praising its despots. Even the most hardcore cheerleaders from Texas aren’t this perpetually perky. It’s almost as if their lives were in danger if they didn’t perform perfectly.

The cheer squad is one way in which, as Pence warned would happen, Kim Jong-un is “hijacking” the PyeongChang games for his own propaganda purposes. And the western media seems to be letting him get away with it.

The Olympics are a chance for the athletes of the world to compete against each other outside of politics. Sure, politics always creeps in, but Kim is taking it to a new level, predictably. The North Koreans live by Oscar Wilde’s maxim that “the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.”

And as long as people are talking about the bubbly cheer squad and their picture-perfect routines, they’re not talking about the fact that North Korea remains the most repressive regime on the planet. This is, after all, the country that employed a nerve agent to kill its leader’s brother in a public airport. The United Nations estimates are between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners currently confined to North Korean labor camps. One wonders how many failed Olympians, cheerleaders, or families of failed Olympians and cheerleaders, might join them in the coming weeks.

North Korean athletes deserve our respect on the ice and on the slopes. But Kim Jong-un is making a mockery of the games with his attention-mongering. That’s not the path to peace.

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin

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