Koohan Paik, co-author of the Superferry Chronicles and member of the Kaua’i Alliance for Peace and Social Justice wrote an excellent op ed in the Garden Island newspaper connecting the dots between the military expansion at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kaua’i, the struggle to stop a naval base in Jeju, South Korea, and protest movements in Okinawa and Guam.
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 ages 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 conscious should pursue de-militarization. In the words of Aletha Kaohi, “Look to within and get rid of the ‘opala, or rubbish.”
Koohan Paik, Kilauea