—– Original Message —–
Why I Went to Jeju (Dispatch 5):
Because Americans believe North Korea is the aggressor.
No thanks to the American “history” that I now know as mythology (a nod of gratitude and reverence to the late-great Howard Zinn and assorted other debunkers), I’ve long suspected that the learned version of the demonized Korea, that is North Korea, was more fiction than fact. I’ve been willing to concede that much of what we read in our mainstream media about North Korea is true; the repression, how insular their society is, what whack-jobs their leaders are. But really, could they (their leaders) be worse than ours? What I’ve been more skeptical about has been the U.S.–North Korea relationship.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve done a little homework. One of the most illuminating articles comes from Jack A. Smith (Editor of the Activist Weekly and former editor of the Guardian Newsweekly). He writes, and the facts substantiate, that since the country was divided North Korea has regularly put forward four proposals to the U.S.:
1. A peace treaty to end the Korean War.
2. The reunification of Korea which was “temporarily” divided by the U.S. and Russia in 1945.
3. An end to the U.S. occupation of South Korea and a discontinuation of U.S.-South Korean war games.
4. Bilateral talks between Washington and Pyongyang
These wouldn’t seem to be extraordinary or unreasonable objectives. The quest for a peace treaty surely isn’t unreasonable. An “armistice” was declared in 1953, which means, basically, that guns could resume firing at any time. As for reunification, the country was “temporarily” divided by the U.S. and Russia in 1945. Both countries were to withdraw within a short time. Russia did, the U.S. has not; and still maintains over 28,000 troops in South Korea. It should be noted that Korea was not a belligerent in WWII, but had been occupied by Japan which, of course was. And, Smith points out, it’s essential to “know” the war games from the North Koreans perspective. Much of South Korean forces and all of the U.S. occupiers simulate a full-scale invasion and bombing of North Korea. This year’s exercise featured the widely reported stealth B2 bomber missions demonstrating our long distance capability to make the evil kingdom disappear by nuclear destruction. Imagine all this through the lens of the victims of the “carpet bombing” of the Korean War; and of those people who know of the American troops, along with their South Korean subordinates, just across the DMZ, whose bristling guns pointing their way are a fact of life. Of course, the base at Jeju is very much a part of this continual escalation and now we have Obama’s “pivot”.
The fact that the U.S. has refused bi-lateral conversation seems totally illogical. We’ve heard that line, “We don’t want to reward bad behavior,” so often by our so-called statesmen that it qualifies as diplomatic in America-speak. It would seem to me that actually talking face-to-face, at a high level isn’t tantamount to backing down or losing face. And, it very well could prevent if not a nuclear holocaust, a very bloody and apocalyptic upheaval.
Though North Korea’s young ruler, Kim Jung-un, is prone to outrageous unstatesman-like bellicosity his actions haven’t been altogether irrational in the face of history beyond U.S. militarism in this part of the world. There are other issues that would prompt a reasonable objection from North Korea: Satellite launch, sanctions and nuclear weapons. (See dispatch to follow)
Monday, April 8
Today was mostly a day of tension and drama at the gate(s). After several days here I now have a much better sense of things. I know the players and I know the general routine. As I’ve reported, every few hours during the course of each day 10-20 cement trucks queue up on the highway outside the gate. At all times there are a handful of activists close-by the gate enabling them to monitor the activity. When the signals alert them they’re on their cell phones (the Koreans seem to be even more attached to and dependent on their digital devices) and within minutes their numbers usually increase to 20-30. It’s a diverse group, mostly young (ages 20-30) and from the mainland, but there are also a couple dozen older men and women from the village who make regular appearances.
Somehow the activists had gotten wind that things would be changing. Even I, faced with a very significant language barrier sensed it. The early morning deliveries and confrontations went according to form and I had returned to my digs here to reunite with my lap-top when the town siren sounded. It’s routinely used to alert the villagers of fires, but also now to serve notice of unusual events at the gate. Racing to the action on my borrowed bike I found an animated “conversation” taking place at the Main Gate, not to be confused with the “Gate by the Bridge” several hundred feet further down the road where all previous activity had taken place since my arrival. About 20 activists had gathered to block the exiting of trucks. A handful had courageously seated themselves directly in front of, essentially under the wheels of, one of the behemoth mixers. There were only a handful of police who were doing nothing more than observing the confrontation between the activists and 30-40 private Security contractors, recognizable by their white hard-hats and black garb. Most of the primary players on both sides wore masks, concealing their identities, which made the scene all the more ominous.
The Koreans, I’ve observed, can press an argument well. They tend to be animated and very loud. Several village women seemed exceptionally capable of making their case. It wasn’t at all necessary to understand a word of Korean to know that the Security personnel were being broadly chastised and educated. To their credit, they seldom responded, affirming my sense that many of them respect, understand, and maybe even sympathize with the villagers objections. Nonetheless, it was obviously a stalemate. At one point a several Security men locked arms and aligned themselves between the truck’s front bumper and the 5-6 seated activists. The truck slowly lurched forward, driving the Security men back in attempt to force the seated activists to give way. Ten to fifteen other activists rallied to form a rugby scrum that ended in a deadlock. Surprisingly, to me, none of the Security personnel ever raised a fist or struck a blow, though the set-to was forceful.
Shortly after the Security guards retreated into the base, the activists piled up debris in front of the lead truck whose exit had been stymied, and the caravan of trucks lined up to deliver backed away. Several activists took up stations in front of the gate, but the area returned to calm. Inexplicably, however, the trucks that had been turned away after having been delayed for at least an hour, now entered the “Gate by the Bridge” following the ritual I’ve described in my earlier report. The police were a presence there, in fact probably 50 of them, and they had physically moved those activists who had planted themselves in the roadway just as had happened on every other occasion since I’ve been here.
Later in the day, preceding another delivery at the “Gate by the Bridge”, there was an altercation between several activists and Security personnel. I was not close enough to see exactly what transpired, but there were punches thrown and two activists ended up with broken glasses. Neither were hurt. I understand that one will file charges. Later in the day an activist was arrested. As I write this, I’ve been unable to learn why, but have heard he’s expected to be released today or tomorrow.
Tuesday, April 9
This morning I arrived at the “Gate by the Bridge” in time to see several “police” buses arrive in the nearby parking lot, each probably capable of carrying 60. Pretty ominous.
As I reached the Maine Gate I could see that a re-enactment of yesterday seemed to be developing. In fact, it was pretty nearly a carbon copy. Though activists emotions were equally on display there was no pushing and shoving and the truck did not attempt to move forward. The few policemen again seemed there only as rather casual, disinterested observers. Again, the trucks backed away and again the routine followed at the “Gate by the Bridge” though, on this occasion no activists took up positions in the roadway. A portentous difference—there must have been well over 100 policemen.
Update: As I’ve been writing this I’ve been seeing reports of Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. all deploying warships equipped with the Aegis Combat System in the Sea of Japan to possibly shoot down ballistic missiles launched by North Korea.