Hello everyone! Welcome back to “Karl’s Korner”, a historical segment written by myself, Karl Zingheim – Ship Historian of the USS Midway Museum!
As we approach the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics hosted in South Korea, we are taking the time to look back 30 years ago when Midway had a special connection to the Olympics.
The Winter Olympic Games in South Korea are not the first time the Asian nation has hosted such a famed international athletic contest. The Summer Olympics of 1988 were centered in the capital of Seoul in September and early October. South Korea was only the second Asian nation at the time to host the games, and the 1988 Olympics were beset by political controversy and international tension, some of which still rings a familiar tune this time around.
For South Koreans, the 1980s were a turbulent period as years of strong economic performance brought their nation to the forefront of industrial powers, but domestic political unrest reflected profound dissatisfaction with autocratic presidential rule. Riots were common on the streets of Seoul as demonstrators demanded democratic political reforms. The arrival of the games was met with mixed emotions as some saw the hosting as an attempt to showcase and legitimize a controversial government.
The international situation was troubling as well for the region. The tensions between the two Koreas was as high as ever in what would be the final years of the Cold War, and the confirmed bombing of a South Korean airliner over Burma by North Korean agents the previous November underscored how dangerous the relations were. Furthermore, the horrific memories of the terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics were never far from organizers minds.
Even the hosting of the games brought controversies to the embattled peninsula when North Korea’s government demanded co-participation in providing venues for about half the sporting events. Although a dual hosting arrangement was explored in committee, no work on establishing cooperation on both sides of the DMZ developed. North Korea officially boycotted the games, with Cuba’s support, but few were willing to trust that matters would rest there for the duration of the games.
In this environment of fear and distrust, special security arrangements were developed. South Korean police and military units increased patrols around Seoul and the sporting complexes, and reinforced surveillance nationwide. The U. S. Seventh Fleet, based in Japan, also stood by with its own forces, including a certain aircraft carrier. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, the security director for the Olympics, Hwang Kyu Woong, observed, “At the peak Olympic events, such as the opening ceremonies, we’ll have 100,000 security police available. The seacoasts will have reinforced guards, and I’m told the American Seventh Fleet aircraft carrier Midway will be in the waters off Pusan. We have no doubt that we are ready to provide a peaceful Olympics.”
The USS Midway was indeed not far away, although she did take time from her patrols to make a port visit to Pusan during the games. A familiar stop for Midway crewmen, Pusan did in fact host the Olympics’ soccer matches, and the excellent rail system permitted jaunts to the main venues at Seoul’s Olympic Park.
For several days during the games, the streets and shops were thronged by people form many lands, making the visit even more exotic for the Midway’s crew. Though the games themselves had their own sporting controversies, happily, no external threats or incidents took place. As the Midway looks on to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, we are certain history will repeat itself.
On February 9, 2018, we will be hosting a special Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony Viewing Party! Do you have your free ticket?
As always, thank you for looking back in Midway history with me. Watch out for the next Karl’s Korner post next month.
Launch em’… until next time,