Dispatches from Jeju Island, So. Korea

Dud Hendrick, Veterans for Peace, is sending periodic reflections and updates on his time in Jeju Island.

First report:  
Why I Went to Jeju
  1.  few Americans know what is happening on Jeju.
  2.  few Americans know of the extraordinary role America has played in Jeju’s history.
  3.  Americans know little of U.S. conduct in the Korean War.
4.  Americans know little of the nature of the U.S.-South Korea relationship
5.  the proposed base is exceptionally objectionable.
6.  Americans believe North Korea is the aggressor.
7.  I am a citizen of the empire.
8.  what is happening is reflective of America’s world-view.
9.  it’s about empathy.
Note:  I’ll elaborate on each of the above in the days ahead.  What I’ve written might provide some context to the presently very inflamed rhetoric we are hearing from North Korea. 
Back-drop:  Thursday March 28th– while sitting at Detroit International Airport waiting for my flight to Korea I learned the U.S. had announced it was sending two Stealth bombers to Korea.  Now in Seoul, I’ll admit to some heightened anxiety as we passed over Pyongyang, thinking it would be just my luck if Kim Jong-un were to mistake our commercial airliner for a B-2.
Now, this morning, March 30 in Seoul, I have learned that the B-2’s had completed their round-trip from Missouri after dropping inert bombs on the bombing range on the Korean island of Jik Do.  
The two links referenced below offer two perspectives, the first from North Korea, the second that of the U.S., to this extraordinary and yet totally consistent act of the U.S.
Yesterday, Saturday the 30th in Seoul, I spent the majority of the day with Father Pat and two leading Korean human rights activists, Regina Pyon–a prominent player in the Jeju protests, and Susanna Kim, another anti (U.S.) base leader.  Regina and Susanna, witness their strident roles in the protests against the U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek, Korea in 2003-7,  struck me as Korea’s Diane Wilson or maybe it’s the other way around, but they are kindred spirits.  
As I address the enumerated responses to the question, “Why I Went to Jeju”, in the days ahead I’ll return to my conversations with Father Pat, Pyon and Kim but one subject, the B2 mission, is relevant to 4) Americans know little of the  nature of the U.S.-South Korea relationship.  I learned that acquisition of the Jik-do Island as a bombing range came about in 2006 over the objections of the people of Gunsan, a near-by coastal city.  Citizens there resented the noise and environmental impact.  
Subsequent to an “ultimatum” delivered by the then commanders of the U.S. 7th Air Force and the Eighth U.S. Army, that the U.S. would move its A/C abroad should the Koreans not relent, the U.S. had its way.  In part, the U.S.’s case rode on the Status of Forces Agreement imposed on Korea–indicative of the uneven partnership between the allies and entirely consistent with the U.S.-Korea dynamic.  Big brother gets its way.  In his work to include The KoreanWar, noted Korean scholar, Bruce Cumings, casts daylight on U.S. control of South Korea’s military and it’s foreign policy.
Today, Pat and I will visit the War Museum, tomorrow on to Jeju.

=From: Dud Hendrick [mailto:dudhe@myfairpoint.net
Sent: Wednesday, April 03, 2013 8:04 PM
Why I Went to Jeju (Dispatch 2)

Because few Americans know what is happening on Jeju.

            Jeju, lies about 60 off the southern end of the Korean peninsula in the East China Sea where a much resented naval base is being constructed that will provide harbor for American warships.  Local activists along with others from around the world have been protesting this obscenity for over six years.  Some have been arrested, some beaten and injured, and some have engaged in life-threatening prolonged fasts.  Their resolve and work continues.  

Tuesday, April 2nd

Lots has transpired.  I’ll try to cover the high-lights without waxing unnecessarily.

Sunday in Seoul Father Pat Cunningham and I visited the grounds of the War Museum in the middle of the city only long enough to express our shared reaction to the children clamoring over the tanks and artillery guns and playing among the military a/c.  For generations to come we can expect Korea to provide fodder for our campaigns thanks to the glorification of war.  To think it would be otherwise simply because the millions of lives lost accomplished nothing beyond hardening the lines between North and South Korea would be naive.  Maybe the nearby humongous (620 acres) Yongson Base, home of the U.S.’s 8th Army, plays a role in this glorification.  We walked much of the perimeter of this prime real estate, across the street from the B52 and the various other relics of the Korean War, and close by Korea’s Ministry of Defense.  We also then wandered down what had been a seamy row of brothels, tattoo parlors, and bars up until 15-20 years ago.  The Korean government has managed to impose at least a superficial dress-up.  The street is now lined with chic up-scale shops, mostly of the haberdashery variety and the patrons, still military types– often with Asian women on their arms.  It all now has a veneer of respectability about it.  Hard to say how deep that goes, but there are still also many tawdry souvenir shops as well.  T-shirts bearing clever reference to boobs or the f-word as it might be applied to assignment in Korea seem to be  the “hot” items–never mind how those slogans might play with the locals.

Note:  After my stay on Jeju, before heading home, I hope to visit a couple of our bases along the DMZ to get a first-person impression of the consequences of our military empire as experienced by the neighbors of these more remote outposts.  Sources tell me that the scene is not too distant from that with which we veterans of the ’60’s were familiar and now recognize as being a revealing indicator of the imbalance of power, male vs female, host vs imperial “guest”.

Walking the perimeter of Yongsan also reminded me that it is home to the Dragon Hill Lodge (google it for a run-down on the amenities).  For me it’s symbolic of the imperial presence our Baghdad embassy, the Kabul Embassy and all our other princely facilities must represent to our “hosts” everywhere.

Monday, April Fools Day, we, Father Pat and I, arrived at Jeju Airport after the 1 hour flight down from Seoul.  Though I knew of Jeju’s size (45 miles east to west, 40 north to south)  and population and had some notion of it being thoroughly in the 21st century I nonetheless was surprised by it’s size (2/3rds of the island’s 600,000 live in Jeju City) and apparent commercial vitality.  The countryside is geographically exciting, dominated by Korea’s highest mountain, the volcano Mt Halla (6400ft).  The hour bus ride down to Gangjeong Village, inevitably (it would seem) to be home of the controversial naval base took us by up-scale tourist resorts (Jeju is Korea’s “honeymoon” island), Brunswick-size towns, villages and rural countryside.  A ton of greenhouse industrial-scale greenhouse gardening going on and many small fields of citrus groves and vegetables.

We arrived in the late afternoon, time enough for a walk-around of the base, apparently now vastly different than it had been during Regis’s visit in September and even Carolyn Coe’s in November-December.  I am sending photographic evidence of this “progress”(?).  

This, of course, is all happening against a back-drop of escalating verbal salvos between the U.S. and N. Korea.  Both in Seoul and here on Jeju though I’m not sure how it would manifest itself, there seems to be no evidence of heightened tensions.  As much as I can discern, it’s not the subject of conversation.  

Next:  The scene at the gate and “Why I Came to Jeju”—Because few Americans know of the extraordinary role America has played in Jeju’s history.

P.S.  Incidentally, Bruce and Regis have paved the way for any VFP member, Maine resident, probably any American (in spite of the history).  Dropping their names assures one of an immediate embrace.

From: Dud Hendrick [mailto:dudhe@myfairpoint.net
Sent: Friday, April 05, 2013 2:20 AM


Why I Went to Jeju (Dispatch 3)


            Because few Americans know of the extraordinary role America has played in Jeju’s history.


Following WWII the U.S. effectively replaced the defeated Japanese as occupiers of Korea.  General MacArthur proclaimed, on September 7, 1945, that forces under his command, “will today occupy the territory of Korea south of 38 degrees north latitude.”  Within a few weeks there were 25,000 American troops in southern Korea.  Ultimately, the number would reach 72,000.  In 1945, Syngman Rhee, a Korean national, who had been educated in the U.S. and had lived there for most of the preceding 40 years, was flown by U.S. military aircraft to Seoul and was appointed head of the Korean government.  During the ensuing months, the right-wing Rhee’s paramilitary forces under “operational control” of the U.S. military began a ruthless cleansing campaign, brutally repressing dissidents, generally identified as communists.

On Jeju, the traditionally independent islanders who had been savaged by the Japanese occupation, were particularly resentful of Rhee’s heavyhanded measures.  When the U.S. subsequently announced its abandonment of a commitment to organize Korea-wide elections in favor of a separate regime in the south tensions erupted on the island.  On April 3, 1948, Jeju protesters were fired upon by Korean security personnel.  What became known as the Jeju Massacre had been ignited.  Reports vary.  As many as 80,000 islanders of a total population of 300,000 died and more than half of the 400 island villages were razed.  All of this was done under the authority and collaboration of the U.S.  

Journal excerpts:

Tuesday, April 2
Tuesday, my first full day in Gangjeong, indoctrination day, began with a confrontation at the gate.  To set the scene–  There are several gates into the base, one presently being the primary access point for the scores of cement trucks that make their way onto the base periodically through the day. The cement being trucked will be poured into forms to create the tetra-pods (see photos: Dispatch 2) which will shore up the breakwaters being constructed to protect birthed warships from stormy weather.  It’s an exposed coastline here and it seems a reasonable expectation that the not uncommon typhoons will reveal the inanity of this project on this basis alone.  Arriving trucks queue up across the bridge from the gate.  Other trucks, having discharged their load have queued up inside the gates awaiting return to the cement plant.  Outside the gate the entrance is clogged with mostly logs, piled there by the activists along with their protest signs.   As the hour approaches for the trucks to roll the more enraged or foolhardy or courageous activists take up positions directly in the roadway, others line the sides with signs.  Many have their iPhones, Androids, or the like.  Cameras everywhere.  In addition to all the handhelds (the police and security have theirs as well) probably a half dozen surveillance cameras perched atop the wall, lampposts, and telephone poles monitor the gate from every angle. 
Note:  I’ve been betting on the surveillance cameras not being my undoing as I’ve been casual about concealing my identity.  As you’ll see in photos, many activists wear masks.

What follows has been pretty much a routine choreographed event for the past few months.  A column of police arrive, maybe 40-50, most of whom appear in their 20’s.  The  warning that we disburse is ignored.  Other security personnel throw the debris to the roadside and the police pick up and carry aside the refuseniks.  All parties seem to avoid being physically violent.  Some of the protesters loudly make their cases against the base—it’s an environmental desecration, it makes a mockery of the island’s history and designation as the “Island of Peace”, it’s an illegal seizure of private lands, it will disrupt the harmony of a community, it will compromise the culture, etc., etc.  For the most part the police are impassive.  Once the protesters move or have been moved to the side, police encircle those who seem inclined to return to block the caravans preventing them from doing so.  Incoming and out-going trucks all pass.  The police leave, the protesters pile the debris once more in front of the gate and life resumes.  


I’ve been told that the delays have jeopardized some contracts.  At this point the specifics aren’t clear to me, but the protesters feel they have an outside chance that these delays could queer the whole deal.  It seems improbable given the magnitude of the work done but, of course, I’m new to the scene.  I’ll be exploring this issue as the days go by.


To return to my experience.  On Tuesday morning, I observed and participated in the ritual.  Basically, it was uneventful and not terribly threatening.  There’s no way of telling how the next days will go, of course, but there’s concern that the accumulated delays are fraying nerves.  


Sadly, the number of activists these days has dropped to 20-30, mostly young, idealists.  I believe the ranks now are predominantly from the mainland, though I could be wrong. 


Wednesday, April 3   
Early a.m., as planned, Regina, Sunghee Choi, Patrick, Chomsky (elder Hawaiian surfer-woman activist) and I set off by van driven by a young Korean whose name I haven’t yet gotten.  We were one of several car-loads going to the April 3rd Peace Park about an hour’s drive, not far from Jeju City.  As we were leaving town we realized the ritual at the gate was about to take place so we had the opportunity to participate in it before venturing on. The confrontation that followed, judging from my brief experience, ran according to form and we were back on the road 15 minutes later.


Acknowledgment of April 3rd, the anniversary of the beginning of an egregious massacre of 1948-1950, was suppressed by the government for decades.  Basically it was erased from history.  No mention in school text-books.  Family members of those who had been designated communists were also tagged as being Communist sympathizers and discriminated against. 


In 2005, then-President Roh Moo-hyun, apologized to islanders for the massacre and designated Jeju an “Island of World Peace”, an honorific that makes the construction of the naval base ironically all the more offensive— a point often made by the anti-base activists.  Connecting the massacre and the base as both being attributable to militarism, was the purpose of our pilgrimage to the Peace Park.  Korea’s Prime Minister, Jung Hong-won, would be presenting a speech at the commemorative service.  In attendance would be thousands of Jeju VIPs as well as many survivors (see photo below) of the massacre.  Both the media and security would be out in full force.  The reaction to our demonstration would be mixed at best.


Sung Hee and Regina were heroic.  They positioned themselves strategically (Sung Hee in front of one of the megaton video screens) and unfurled No Base banners.  Immediately security personnel who had been very aware of us, in fact keeping us under surveillance (A credit probably to the prominence of both women), encircled the women and quickly escorted them to less visible locations.   In both cases crowds of supporters and the curious were drawn and the women capitalized by launching into educational lectures.  Pat’s job and mine were to record the events.  As I’ve said above; they were both heroic.  The footage might interest Regis. 
In the afternoon I was given a personal tour of the Peace Memorial Hall at the Peace Park by Sunghee and sculptor Koh Gilchun.  Here is found the incriminating evidence I’ve found so evasive.  There is ample verification of U.S. complicity in the Jeju massacre.  Unfortunately, though we spent three hours there I was not afforded the opportunity to record much of the documentation and am committed to returning to do so.  Hence, more of this important piece later.
Koh Gilchun’s iconic sculpture outside the Peace Memorial Hall depicting a mother and infant who were shot to death trying to escape the massacre.
Born on Jeju, Gilchun has become an internationally renowned artist. His powerful sculptures depicting the atrocities of the massacre are a centerpiece of the museum.   He will be exhibiting in California in the fall.  His good friend, Regis, has featured Gilchun’s work in his film. Perhaps the chapter might bring him to the east coast to accompany presentations of Jeju:  In the Crosshairs of War (working title).
The day wasn’t over.  In the evening we attended a “book concert” which was a fund-raiser for the Anti-base movement in Jeju City.
And so it goes.  Back to you in a couple days.
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