Monday, September 5, 2011

Koohan Paik on the True Defenders of Jeju Island, Hawai'i, Guam, Okinawa, South Korea, & the rest of the Asia-Pacific

(Grafitti image: "An artist's focus on social causes: Gill Chun Koh, April 3 artist and activist")
True Defenders by Koohan Paik When I was a child in South Korea during the 1960s, we lived under the repressive dictatorship of Park Chung-hee. Anyone out after 10 p.m. curfew could be arrested. Anyone who tried to protest the government disappeared. A lot of people died fighting for democracy and human rights.

Today, the South Korean people carry in living memory the supreme struggles that forged the freedom they currently enjoy. And after all they’ve sacrificed, they are not going to give that freedom up. So it is no surprise that the tenacious, democracy-loving Koreans have been protesting again — this time for over four years, non-stop, day and night. They are determined to prevent construction of a huge military base on S. Korea’s Jeju Island that will cement over a reef in an area so precious it contains three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

This eco-rich reef has not only fed islanders for millennia, but it has also been the “habitat” for Jeju’s lady divers who are famous for staying beneath the surface for astonishing periods of time, before coming up with all manner of treasures. Even during South Korea’s times of unspeakable poverty, subtropical Jeju Island was always so abundant with natural resources and beauty that no one ever felt “impoverished” there.

There happens to be a very strong connection between Jeju’s current troubles and business-as-usual on the Garden Isle. You see, the primary purpose of Jeju’s unwanted base is to port Aegis destroyer warships. And it is right here, at Kaua‘i’s Pacific Missile Range Facility, that all product testing takes place for the Aegis missile manufacturers.

On Aug. 29, when Sen. Dan Inouye was here to dedicate a new Aegis testing site, he said, “We are not testing to kill, but to defend.” It would have been more accurate if Inouye had said, “We are not testing to kill, but to increase profits for Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, no matter how many people are oppressed or how many reefs are destroyed.”

Four days later, on Sept. 2, I got a panicked call from a Korean friend that there had been a massive crackdown on the peace vigil in Gangjung village to protect Jeju’s reef from the Aegis destroyer project.

More than 1,000 South Korean police in head-to-toe riot gear descended upon men and women of all blockading construction crews from access to the site. At least 50 protestors were arrested, including villagers, Catholic priests, college students, visiting artists and citizen journalists. Several were wounded and hospitalized. My friend told me, “We fought so hard for democracy. And now this. It’s just like dictatorship times.”

Another reason the Koreans are so angry is that their government has been telling them that the Aegis technology will protect them from North Korea. But Aegis missiles launching from Jeju are useless against North Korea, because North Korean missiles fly too low. In a 1999 report to the U.S. Congress, the Pentagon verified that the Aegis system “could not defend the northern two-thirds of South Korea against the low flying short range Taepodong ballistic missiles.”

So if Aegis is no good against North Korea, why build the base? Again, this is not about defense, this is about selling missiles (and increasing profits for Samsung and other major contractors on the base construction job).

There is a strong similarity between resistance on Jeju (where a recent poll showed 95 percent of islanders are opposed to the base) and concurrent uprisings on Guam and Okinawa, as well. All three islands are slated for irreversible destruction to make way for Aegis destroyer berthing.

And who wouldn’t protest? Like us, these are island peoples who care passionately for their reefs, ocean ecosystems and fisheries. I have heard certain Jeju Islanders say they will fight to the death to protect their resources.

Today, the mayor of Gangjung himself, along with many others, languish in prison because of their uncompromising stance against the Aegis base. Fortunately, people across the Korean peninsula and beyond, are heading to Jeju to support the resistance movement.

Without peaceful warriors like them, there would be no more reefs, no more coral, no more fish, no more nothing. They are our true defenders, not the missile manufacturers, as Inouye’s sham logic would have us believe.

As the Pentagon conspicuously ramps up militarization in the Asia-Pacific region, individuals of good conscience should pursue de-militarization. In the words of Aletha Kaohi, “Look to within and get rid of the ‘opala, or rubbish.”

Koohan Paik, Kilauea

Letter to The Hawai'i-based filmmaker's "Living at the 'Tip of the Spear'," published on May 3, 2010 at The Nation makes clear the devastating environmental and human costs (with a focus on Guam) of proposed U.S. military expansion plans in the Asia-Pacific:
...Many people think of Guam only as a giant military base, the nexus of US forward operations in the Pacific islands--"the tip of the spear," as the Pentagon calls it. That has certainly become its primary fate. The base occupies fully a third of the island and is off-limits to civilians, including the indigenous Chamorro people, who claim the oldest civilization in the Pacific. Even during my childhood, though I barely noticed it at the time, there was the constant background drone of B-52s roaring overhead to and from Vietnam, and submarines cruising the coasts. Such is the island's current trauma, after an agonized history that has included repeated invasions and four occupations of varying degrees of brutality over four centuries--by Spain, Japan and twice by the United States...

I returned to Guam for a monthlong visit with old friends this past November. I was stunned to find the forests of my childhood being replaced by tarmac at an alarming rate; the remaining wild beaches and valleys being surveyed as potential live-fire shooting ranges; and an enormous, magnificently rich coral reef slated for dredging in order to build a port for the Navy's largest aircraft carrier. I witnessed the rage and hurt, exploding suddenly--and so unexpectedly--from the Chamorro people and other island residents, who have had no say in the planning of cataclysmic changes that will turn their homeland into an overcrowded waste dump for the creation of the hemisphere's pre-eminent military fortress.

My friends told me it's all part of what's called the Guam Buildup...

The upcoming changes are all aimed at fulfilling a Pentagon vision set forth in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. The "Guam Buildup [will] transform Guam," says the report, "the westernmost sovereign [sic] territory of the United States, into a hub for security activities in the region," intended to "deter and defeat" regional aggressors. Guam will be ground zero for mega-militarization in the Pacific and beyond. John Pike of, a Washington-based think tank, hypothesizes that the military's goal is to be able "to run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia [an Indian Ocean atoll owned by Britain] by 2015," "even if the entire Eastern Hemisphere has drop-kicked" the United States from every other base on their territory.

The swell of US military activity in the Pacific is not confined to Guam. All across the hemisphere, island communities are inflamed over a quiet, swift rearrangement and expansion of US bases throughout the Pacific--on Okinawa (Japan); on Jeju (a joint US-South Korea effort); on Tinian (in the same archipelago as Guam, but part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands); on Kwajalein and the rest of Micronesia; and on the Hawaiian islands of Oahu, Big Island and Kauai. The US Pacific Command calls it an Integrated Global Presence and Basing Strategy. These imperial intentions have barely registered in the American media, despite gargantuan expenditures and plans. Nonetheless, this projection of American colonial assumptions and aggression is taking its toll throughout the Pacific Rim...

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