I began the day by joining a news conference and protest at the headquarters that is in charge of the joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States that began today. The exercise, called 2009 Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG), is the world's largest computerized command and control war game which mainly focuses on a US-South Korea attack and occupation of North Korea. The exercise was initiated in 1976 and is conducted annually in late summer.
There were about 40 activists at the event from many of the key peace and reunification organizations. I was asked to speak for five minutes as part of the news conference. US military helicopters were circling overhead and US-South Korea military personnel drove in and out of the base in a steady stream.
I counted 14 different media people at the event, something that we rarely see in the US. One of the news photographers was a young man named JiHo Park who lived with Mary Beth and I in Florida for six-months around 2002 before we moved to Maine. He came as an intern to work with the Global Network and has visited us in Maine since we moved there. We last saw JiHo in April when we came to Seoul for the Global Network's annual space organizing conference. Imagine the surprised look on his face today when he saw me at the news conference.
Following the news conference I was taken to lunch with leaders of the Pan-Korean Alliance for Reunification (PKAR). This is the group that had six of their top leaders arrested in May under the National Security Law for working to reunify Korea.
One of those arrested, Choi, Eun-A, Chief of the Publicity team of the PKAR, had just the month before chaired the panel discussion that I spoke on during our Global Network conference in Seoul. PKAR was one of about a dozen South Korean groups that had co-sponsored and helped to organize our annual space conference.
There was no doubt that I felt we had to do something to support the six who had been arrested. What was their crime? All they had done was to want to see the US-created barrier taken down that divides their country.
Lee, Kyu-Jae, Chairman of the PKAR, at the beginning of their trial (that is still on-going) said, “The measure of the National Security Law has been differently applied according to the changing governments. On same cases, the Roh Moon Hyun government legally permitted us to trip back and forth to the North Korea but now the Lee Myung Bak government is arresting us. I can hardly erase the suspicion that the [government] is trying to manipulate the national security case to overcome its crisis."
So after hearing about their arrest last May I immediately wrote up a petition and sent it around to the Global Network mailing list and very quickly more than 700 people and organizations from all over the world signed the petition. I then sent the names, along with a cover letter, to the South Korean consulate in New York City. In the letter I said the following:
Enclosed please find many pages of signatures of people from throughout the world who are outraged about South Korea’s arrest of six leaders of the Pan-Korean Alliance for Reunification.
It is obvious that your government has decided to crack down on those who believe in and practice the democratic right of citizenship. This is a troubling development for all of us.
We pledge that we will continue to spread the word about your government’s unjust action all over the world.
This situation is a test of South Korea’s commitment to human rights. If your country truly practices democracy and human rights then these six people will be immediately released and apologies will be given.
It should not be considered a crime to peacefully work for reunification of a fractured nation.
One cannot help but wonder if the hands of the U.S. are also in this bowl of disunity. It appears to us that the U.S. intends to keep South Korea and North Korea apart as a way to justify further militarization of the Asia-Pacific region.
It is sad to see your government fall for this dangerous and destabilizing strategy.
We look forward to your official response, which we will widely share.After the very fine lunch today I was invited to the office of PKAR for a two-hour meeting to further discuss these issues. Sung-Hee Choi of course translated for me. At the meeting were two older men who had been jailed by the right-wing South Korean government for their efforts to fight against the former Japanese occupation collaborators who the US put in charge of Korea after the end of WW II. One of them spent 36 years in jail and the other spent 26 years in a South Korean prison. (It is vitally important to remember that the Korean War was really an attempt by the US to extend this right-wing Korean rule to the whole country. The Korean resistance movement that had been fighting against Japanese occupation then had to next fight against the US-backed elite former Japanese collaborators. Essentially the war still goes on inside of South Korea today.)
For 50 years after the country was divided by the US, on August 15, 1945, it was virtually impossible to even talk about reunification. The National Security Law, a successor the Japanese colonial occupation laws, made it illegal to even discuss reunification. PKAR was created in 1989 and many of its members were arrested for joining the organization. Today there are still 550 political prisoners in South Korea from various reunification, peace, union, and social justice movements.
During the meeting we talked about the PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative) that the US is using today to stop North Korean ships on the high seas on the pretext that they might be carrying weapons of mass destruction. The PSI violates the basic United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty that gives every country the right of free passage in international waters. The US has pulled 94 countries into this program that was created by former Vice-President Dick Cheney and right-winger John Bolton. The US, Japan, Australia, and the UK are the biggest participants in the program today.
My own take on the PSI is it is part of the US effort to expand the NATO alliance into a global military interventionary force that will be the military arm of corporate globalization. Using North Korea as an excuse, the US is pulling as many countries into this program as possible. The US does not fear the military might of North Korea. It is over-hyped. North Korea is used as an excuse to justify massive military expansion in the Asian-Pacific region that will ultimately be used to surround China.
In the meeting today with PKAR we all agreed that a successful reunification of Korea would go a long way in helping to blunt US plans to deploy "missile defense" systems as the Korean Peninsula is now host to PAC-3, THAAD, and Navy Aegis destroyer systems outfitted with interceptor missiles. I told them that the Global Network had two major priority areas for our work: getting "missile defense" out of the Asian-Pacific and stopping US plans to deploy similar systems around Russia. We see both those regions as key triggers for expanded war.
In the morning Sung-Hee will take me to the prison where I will be able to have a meeting with Choi, Eun-A from PKAR. It will be an honor to meet her there.
I feel so good about everything I have been doing in Japan and South Korea. I am in the middle of an intense situation and can't think of anyplace that I'd rather be than on the side of people who are giving their full lives for peace, real democracy, and reunification.
I am still waiting for a reply from the South Korean consulate. I sent it to them on May 14, 2009.