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Fwd: Why I Went to Jeju (Dispatch 7)

Sun, Apr 14, 2013

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—– Original Message —–


Why I Went to Jeju (Dispatch 7):


Because the proposed base is exceptionally objectionable.

Predisposed as I am to detest all military bases as an affront to the better nature of man, my “exceptionally objectionable” tag makes the Jeju naval base pretty awful,   I’d consider a military base perched atop a land-fill a desecration of the earth.  As far as I’m concerned their purpose does’t rise to “acceptable”.  I know of too many of them and their consequences.  
Korean scholar, Bruce Cumings has said that the naval base on Jeju cannot be defended either as critical to South Korean strategic defense or to U.S. interests.  To him, it just makes no sense.  In an interview with our own Regis Trembley (http://regtremblay.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/bruce-cumings-questions-why-a-base-is-needed-on-jeju-island/), Cumings establishes that both the U.S. and South Korea can bring plenty of fire-power to bear on their chosen enemies, China and North Korea, without building another base where it is so unwelcome.  Our warships plying the regional waters, our military bases all over mainland South Korea, in Japan (38 on Okinawa alone), and on Guam would seem to provide sufficient launching platforms for our missiles and bomb-laden aircraft.  What possible need can Jeju fulfill other than contributing to the instability of the region and being a major additional source of agitation?
But, putting aside whether or not a case for the naval base on Jeju can be made from a strategic standpoint, the idea is just fundamentally offensive.  I’ve written of the island’s history and of the wounds of the April 3rd massacre being so raw. Lest we forget, the U.S. earned the special enmity of the Jeju people for its part in that history.  Now comes the U.S. again.  The people of Gangjeong Village know that the U.S. retains wartime operational control of the South Korean as do many of the Jeju Island people and they see U.S. fingerprints all over the proposed base.  It diminishes the government-declared “Island of Peace” as little more than a Jeju Chamber of Commerce marketing slogan for the tourist industry.
When the demolition crews set about destroying the shoreline of the proposed base a little over a year ago they blasted to smithereens more than a 1km stretch of coastal basalt-formed rock the villagers call Gureombi.  After 2 months they had destroyed only 10% of the rock.  They will pour concrete over the remaining 90%.  Many Gangjeong villagers revere the rock and consider it to be sacred.
The Gureombi rock created a unique habitat.  The springs that bubbled up through it were considered purer than any bottled water. 
The fervor over this sacrilege was a measure of the offense.  Activists waged a pitched battle.  Within the first month 90 people were arrested, 20 were injured during clashes with the police and required hospitalization.  One can get a sense of the rage at http://savejejunow.org/recollection-on-the-blast-of-the-gureombi-rock-and-oppression-on-international-activists/
Of course the villagers reverence for the geology hasn’t been sufficient to stop the implacable forces arrayed against them.  Neither the protests nor the Catholic mass to pray for repentance of Samsung (the major base contractor) for destroying Gureombi held at Samsung’s headquarters in Seoul has stopped the project.
So, too, have the pleas of various environmentalists fallen on deaf ears of government authorities whose allegiances are to the military-corporate interests. 
As Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space activist Mary Beth Sullivan wrote following her visit to Jeju last year, the island, “has earned a triple crown of UNESCO recognition as: 1) a World National Heritage site; 2) a Biosphere Reserve Zone, and 3) a World Geological Park.”  You might think this would give the planners pause. 
The powers that be care not a whit.  None of it.  Not the environmental sensitivity, not the sacred nature of the coast, not the vulnerable coral reef along the coast, or the endangered species that dwell here, or the villagers in overwhelming opposition to a military base that satisfies no identifiable need makes a bit of difference.  All this leads me to find the base being built at U.S. behest, “exceptionally objectionable”.
Journal Excerpts

April 14

Unexpectedly, I left Jeju yesterday, two days earlier than had been planned.  It had been far more difficult to leave than I anticipated.  I’ll elaborate, but will first re-cap Thursday and Friday, the 11th and 12th.  
The action at the gates seems to have stabilized somewhat though the frequency of deliveries/confrontations remained high (every 20-40 minutes) and a foreboding sense of instability seemed to prevail.  Still the activists were there in stable numbers–probably at least 12-20 on every occasion.  And, still, the police showed up in unpredictable numbers–as few as 50, as many as a couple hundred, their numbers varying for no apparent reason.
On a couple occasions Friday afternoon about a dozen environmental activists who had been attending a conference in Jeju City showed up in solidarity and took a very aggressive stand.  There was much pushing and shoving, but no violence progressed beyond that.  I’m convinced that all the cameras play a major role in the behavior of both activists and the police.  
One of the most visible, but restrained activists was arrested Friday, much to the consternation of the community.  The sentiment seems to be that he was “playing within the rules” and that the police violated what seems to be their “3 warning” standard.  Villagers’ anger, I think, is pronounced because this man has been described as one of the “most beloved” community members who is very much a role model.
In my last report I mentioned the daily 11am mass conducted along the road outside the main gate.  It was established as essentially a cease-fire in the routine hostilities following an incident last August.  On that occasion riot police had disrupted the Mass to enable another cement truck delivery.  In the scuffle that followed, Father Mun, who was actually administering communion at the time, was knocked to the ground.  It was reported that one of the police actually stepped on the Eucharist which had fallen from Father Mun’s hand.  As a result of the controversy that followed, the daily Mass now is the only respite through every 24-hour period.
The lull in the action provides a brief opportunity for all the principals to reflect and, perhaps, regenerate spirit.  Each day as many as 20-40 Catholics and non-Catholics, villagers and near-by residents, participated in the Mass, all having come to lend voice to the opposition to the base.  The Mass is conducted with a powerful speaker/amplifier to enable the participation of the additional celebrants 400 feet down the road at the “Gate by the Bridge”.  At the conclusion of the Mass each day, Father Mun, would stand in the middle of this busy road and shout, more accurately bellow, to those who at the other gate–“Peace to Gangjeong.  Peace to Jeju”.  And from down the road we could hear back, “Peace to Gangjeong.  Peace to Jeju”.  It’s an uplifting, rejuvenating exclamation mark each day.
My decision to head back to Seoul Saturday was not made easily.  The send-off I received Friday night, flatteringly disproportionate with my contribution, nonetheless was greatly appreciated.  I will write further about the parting, but must, here, explain why I’m now in Seoul, two days earlier than had first been expected.
Last week I was invited to speak at a Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAM) conference in Seoul tomorrow night.  Upwards of 15 peace groups will be gathering.  The title of my talk will be:  “Sorrows of Empire: Confronting U.S. Military Imperialism”.  In as much as there had been a little lull in activity at Gangjeong last weekend and I had been told that activists there often used the weekends to take a deep breath, I felt the opportunity in Seoul was too important to pass up.  I will report on my observations in Jeju and will make the case that what is happening there is very consistent with U.S. behavior around the world.
Tuesday, Father Patrick Cunningham and I hope to visit U.S. military installations up near the DMZ.  Wednesday we’ll be meeting with mainland Korean activists and Thursday, all too soon, I’ll be heading home.
More later.



Environmentalists provide an infusion of new faces.

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