“Living Along the Fenceline” in Jeju

The Stars and Stripes reports that “Naval base puts S. Korea’s ‘island of world peace’ in hot spot”:

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea — This country’s southernmost major island is a study in contrasts.

A popular tourist destination, Jeju boasts some of the world’s most beautiful scenery and is one of 28 finalists in an international competition for selection as one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature.” Yet it’s also home to a number of cheesy tourist stops, including Jeju Love Land, a sexual theme park.

In 2005, the South Korean government officially recognized Jeju as the “island of world peace,” and then-President Roh Moo-hyun said he would do his best to make it a “center of peace in Northeast Asia.” But South Korea is now building a naval base on the island for the expressed purpose of enhancing its ability to police its vital shipping lanes and respond faster to any North Korean threats.

Critics suggest that once the base opens in 2014, the U.S. will use it extensively, with the goal of keeping an eye on China. That, they say, could make the “island of world peace” a target the next time hostilities erupt in the region.


The base could also prompt China to hasten the buildup of its naval firepower, further heightening tensions on the Korean peninsula, [Yang Mu-jin, a professor of politics and unification studies at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul] said.

The South Korean government has tried to downplay the social and political implications of the base and have even drawn comparisons to the U.S. military in Hawai’i as an example of good military-civilian relations:

“The project is not aimed at building a military-only base for war,” the ministry’s August report said. “It is targeted at preventing war by strengthening maritime sovereignty, realizing peace and supporting other naval warships of South Korea.”

Pointing to other “successful civilian-military harbor complexes” like those in San Diego and Hawaii, the defense ministry said the naval base and the island of world peace “both can coexist in (a) mutually complimentary manner.”

But in Hawaiʻi, we know that this is rubbish.   The military has taken a terrible toll on local communities and the environment.  It was the force that drove the regime change and occupation of the sovereign and independent Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.   The South Korean Defense Ministry erroneously referred to “successful civilian-military harbor complexes” in Hawaiʻi.   Pearl Harbor is not accessible for civilian use.   Warning signs along the shoreline of Ke Awalau o Pu’uloa make it clear that despite Hawai’i’s otherwise strong shoreline public access laws, the water is off limits.

Meanwhile, the documentary film “Living Along the Fenceline”, which was screened at the 12th annual Women’s Film Festival in Jeju, exposes the social and environmental costs of military bases around the world, including Hawaiʻi.  Director Lina Hoshino and Co-producers Gwyn Kirk and Deborah Lee attended the film festival.  The Jeju Weekly reports:

One expat asked the most provocative question of the evening. He asked Ms. Kirk if she thought Jeju Island and its forthcoming naval base represented an inevitable pattern around the world for the creation of more military bases. Ms. Kirk answered she believed the US will inevitably want to build more bases if US imperialism continues to grow. She conveyed that if we can imagine a different kind of future that actively addresses climate change, use of resources, etc… then it is not inevitable. We need a change in leadership and attitude in the US and US allies, including South Korea, who should refuse to have a US military base in the country.

Answering another question, Ms. Kirk said today the United States government spends half of its tax dollars on the world military system, not including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A grassroots campaign advocates spreading the money from the defense budget to other social programs including education, health care, care for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities, and domestic violence shelters. Unfortunately, these programs are being cut because of the economic crisis. But, the military budget remains intact.

Secondly, Ms. Kirk said there is another campaign to educate people about the military worldwide. People are unaware about the US’s worldwide military presence and are often shocked by the actual number of bases. This film is part of this education campaign.

Ms. Kirk hopes the film inspires people to think about what a military base means in their communities. She said it is important for people to be clear what happens when a military base is installed in a new location. She said, “It is tempting to think military bases will bring jobs. The reality is military spending generates the fewest amount of jobs of any government spending.” The military is a capital intensive industry, not a human capital intensive industry. The same amount of money spent on a military base spent on education or health care would generate far more jobs.

Terri Keko’olani with Hawai’i Peace and Justice and DMZ-Hawai’i / Aloha ‘Aina is featured in the film.



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