Missives from an Outpost of Empire
How did I end up in South Korea? Never knew I wanted to visit the place before but the director of an anti-militarization group (www.space4peace.org ) asked me if I would go to the Gangjeong Village to witness and report on these gentle people's struggle to preserve their way of life.
The problem: there is a huge port now under construction to accommodate U.S warships. It will be able to accommodate nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers along with all the accompanying support infrastructure that implies.
Gangjeong is a peaceful village of fewer than 2,000 people who's livelihood depends primarily on raising tangerines, strawberries and fishing. One of their traditions for many years has been to go out to Karumbai Rock, a large, flat expanse of lava flow at seaside, to worship and give thanks to life.
April 2012 this all changed. Samsung, the main contractor, erected a fence around Karumbai Rock and surrounding areas and started blasting. Only fragments of this sacred rock remain.
This is all part and parcel with President Obama's foreign policy “pivot” towards the Asian-pacific region that he articulated late last year.
In some insane notion that the United States might someday “need” to go to war against China, our military planners (the military-industrial complex) have deemed it necessary to strengthen our stance of belligerence in the region. This might not be the only new naval basing in the region. We are negotiating with the Philippines and Viet Nam to be able to place naval forces there also, but South Korea, having been a vassal state of the American empire for over fifty years now, was the easiest place to get started on this new confrontational stance.
Remember the much talked about peace dividend we were going to reap with the collapse of the Soviet Empire? I do. Somehow we let that dividend slip out of our grasp. The military planners and beneficiaries of empire have again manipulated the American people to, if not support, then at least be complicit in, a new global cold war. And the people of Gangjeong Village and Jeju Island are paying an astronomical price for our hubristic and unrealistic dreams of greater empire.
My friend and I are now staying in a modest hotel here in Gangjeong village. I noticed that there are few locked doors here and there is very little crime. The people are friendly and seem to truly appreciate the life that they live. As currently planned, U.S. aircraft carriers will dock at this island paradise and perhaps 3,000 sailors at a time will take shore leave. Ask the Philippinos what that is like. Our naval base at Subic Bay supported a large industry of bars and brothels, pawn shops and tattoo parlors, and there is no reason to believe that it will be any different in Gangjeong. Philippinos know, Okinawans know, and the people of Jeju Island know.
While Americans are being told that their social security is no longer secure and that our society can not afford to take care of everyone's medical problems, could it be that we are complicit in a multi- billion dollar strategy to destroy a sacred coastal region? While we are told that huge cuts to our federal budget are necessary, we plan on supporting a hegemonic presence of military might to shore up flagging economic and moral authority around the world.
Here in Gangjeong Village life is rather spartan comparatively speaking. Electricity is readily available but is used sparingly. Bath towels are the size of an American's hand towels and bicycles and motorscooters are a common mode of transportation. But the people are content with their way of life. They have friends, family and a faith in a world that has always been kind and supportive. They have good health because of good food, clean air and water, and plenty of exercise in their daily lives. Health care is reasonably priced and readily available. Life is good for now, but the handwriting is on the wall and they rightly feel that their way of life is nearing extinction.
The naval base now under construction here is a product of outmoded, unrealistic thinking; the same thinking that brought us the recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. It is a moral catastrophe being wrought upon people who's voice in this matter is but a cry in the dark. While lecturing other nations around the world on their human rights abuses our country appears to take carte blanc to destroy the lives of anyone anywhere in the world that stands in the way of empire.
The people of Gangjeong Village say NO to the US naval basing. They say NO to war and wish that they could live in peace with all people, including the Chinese.
A huge U.S. Naval presence here means that they will be a prime target in the imagined future conflict
between the U.S. and China. Why should these gentle people pay such a heavy price for our unsustainable way of life?
Chalmers Johnson in his trilogy of books starting with “Blowback” outlines how the quest for empire crowds out democracy and that democracy and empire are really incompatible.
If we, the people cannot stop our government from these reckless overseas pursuits then I'm afraid that our form of constitutional democracy is lost. And that would be a tragedy for our children and grandchildren, not just the people of Jeju Island. - by Ken Ashe