KOREA TRIP ENDS WITH CHURCH LEADERS
I began my last full day in South Korea with a meeting at the office of Veterans for Peace-Republic of Korea (VfP-ROK). About eight leaders of the group were waiting to greet me. Sa-Mook Choi, a former tank squad commander, welcomed me on behalf of their organization and quickly pointed out the enlarged 2006 "Memorandum of Understanding on Exchange and Cooperation" between their group and the national Veterans for Peace in the US that was taped to the wall.
Sa-Mook Choi told me that in the 1950's, when he commanded a tank squad, the US brought 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons into his country and taught the South Korean forces how to use them. He said that he kept thinking to himself, "Who was the only country to ever use nuclear weapons?"
The VfP-ROK has about 4,000 members in 73 local chapters across their country. They have nine national co-chairs in the organization and their top co-chair is a former military general who founded the organization in South Korea.
The VfP-ROK was created four years ago and is still today not a "legal" organization as the current law in the country only allows one veterans organization, a right-wing group, to exist.
Before leaving their office for a lunch together, I presented them with a Veterans for Peace banner sent by Tom Sturtevant who is one of the leaders of the Maine Veterans for Peace chapter that I belong to. Tom served on a Navy aircraft carrier during the Korean War and tells sad stories about the US bombing North Korea so badly that there was virtually nothing left standing in the country. In return the VfP-ROK presented me with their banner and asked that I give it to the Maine chapter upon my return home.
In the evening I was taken to a dinner in a traditional Korean restaurant by a team of Christian church leaders who were organizing my final talk in Seoul. Following dinner 70 people, from about 30 different churches/organizations, came to hear my talk at the historic Presbyterian Church that is considered the only progressive church in the city. I was told that in the early days of the democracy movement, much of the organizing was done from this "sacred" site. Church leaders from many different denominations were present at the event including two officers from the Salvation Army.
During my talk I stressed the moral and ethical questions that are naturally raised when we consider the consequences of moving the arms race into the heavens. I suggested that there was no better time than now, just as South Korea was poised to launch their first space rocket, to begin a discussion about space inside the churches of the country.
After the talk a large group took me out to a local bar for snacks and beer. We parted remembering that I will return in October during the time of Keep Space for Peace Week and the World March for Peace & Non-Violence. On that trip I will visit some other parts of the country to spread the message about our efforts to prevent the arms race from moving into space and the need to convert the global war machine to peaceful production.
South Korean activists have been good to me. I told the folks tonight, that despite the language difficulties we have, they have all made me feel at home.
I now fly back to Japan for two days of restful time and information sharing with Global Network board member Atsushi Fujioka. On August 23 I will make the final leg of the trip home. Without a doubt this month-long journey to Japan and South Korea has been the most successful organizing trip during all my years with the Global Network. I am grateful to Global Network board Sung-Hee Choi who has done a remarkable job of coordinating the South Korea portion of this tour. She says that she is an artist, not an organizer, but she has shown real talent at bringing many people from different paths together. In my view, that stands for something good.