Donald Trump has been yammering about making South Korea pay for American services.
I doubt he knows anything about South Korea, other than he may have a property there.
In 2002, I accompanied the American soccer team’s visit to the DMZ between South and North Korea, while the team was preparing for the World Cup.
The federation was kind enough to allow journalists covering the team to come along, on a separate bus.
We all walked from a staging area toward the buildings at the border. Officials had told us to dress conservatively – no shorts – and not to wave or smile at people on the other side. They impressed on us that this was serious business.
We had been told of the time in 1976 when North Korean soldiers attacked with axes, killing two American soldiers who were pruning a tree.
Since then, security had been even higher. Soldiers from both Koreas stood a few feet apart, glaring at each other. They worked short shifts, to remain at peak alert.
Behind the South Koreans on the front line were American soldiers, in great shape, well-spoken, the best and the brightest. These were not hired hands, to be withdrawn over a labor dispute. These were warriors, guarding what President Clinton once called “the most dangerous place on earth.”
When we walked back to the buses, we were made aware of barracks where soldiers from South Korea and the United States were waiting, literally seconds from possible combat. These were partners, protecting a flourishing democracy, in effect standing guard for much of Asia and the world.
I remember DaMarcus Beasley, one of the most observant of American players, shaking his head and letting us know he had come with no idea what went on there. But now he did.
Everybody heading back to the buses seemed reflective. Some younger Korean journalists told us their parents and teachers had not impressed them about the danger a few miles north. Anybody with normal learning ability would have realized the serious issues at that border.
As President Obama said Friday at the nuclear summit: “Our alliance with Japan and the Republic of Korea is one of the foundations, the cornerstone of our presence in the Asia-Pacific region. It has underwritten the peace and prosperity of that region.”
The American presence at the DMZ -- and backing up Japan -- was not some hotel deal to be re-negotiated, in Trumpian fashion.
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.