My son Julian was a high school debater and now coaches high school debate. He recently told a friend of his (John Hines) to contact me who was on his way to South Korea. John told me that the high school debate topic for the next year will be "Whether or not to decrease U.S. military presence in Asia."
John was being sent on a mission to Asia to do advance research so that American high school students would have a base of knowledge to turn to as they debated the issue in the coming year.
I put John in touch with our Global Network board member Sung-Hee Choi in South Korea and she arranged to take him on a fast-paced tour throughout her country to meet peace and reunification activists. Below is one of John's reports from one meeting. You can see more of his reports at his blog here
THE TRAGEDY OF THE LOVELY COUPLE
August 5th began with Sung-Hee and me meeting and interviewing Professor Kang Jung-Koo of Dong-Guk University. Professor Kang will soon retire from the Department of Sociology where his research interests include Korean reunification and contemporary Korean history. Professor Kang is also the director of the Research Institute for Peace and Reunification of Korea, and is affiliated with an activist organization called SPARK (“Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea”). The interview was conducted at the SPARK offices in Seoul and lasted just under two hours. Professor Kang is a very controversial figure in South Korea whose statements regarding the Korean War and reunification of Korea have landed him in court for violating South Korea’s National Security Law. Our interview begins with him explaining why the South Korean Government has prosecuted him.
Professor Kang: In the year 2005 which marked both the 60th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan and the 60th anniversary of a foreign military presence by the United States and thus our forced division, I began arguing that we should celebrate this 60th anniversary with a withdrawal of foreign military forces from South Korea. Also, during this time I wrote an article on the Internet about the General MacArthur statue in Incheon where I argued it was time to get rid of that statue because he was at the forefront of our country’s division. In fact, he advocated dropping as many as 26 Atomic bombs on North Korea; therefore we should not continue to honor his memory with this statue. I have also been very publicly critical of the US military’s actions during the Korean War. For all of these reasons I am now being prosecuted for violating our National Security Law.
My main argument is that if there had been no intervention by the US into the internal affairs of liberated Korea at the end of World War II, Korea would never have been divided and we would not have had to suffer the tragedy of the Korean War. IF the US did not intervene in the Korean War, the war would have ended in a month without the killing of as many as 3 million Koreans and 1 million Chinese. IF there had been no intervention in 1950 during the first period of the Korean War, we would not have suffered such a tragedy. The Korean War was a war of reunification and would have ended quickly and resulted in a unified Korea.
The professor explains to me that his case has gone all the way to the South Korean Supreme Court and he has received a suspended sentence of two years in jail for advancing this argument in his academic writings and public advocacies. He is currently awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court to discover whether or not he will serve prison time for arguing that the US military should never have intervened in the internal affairs of Korea. At this point I ask him to elaborate and explain the historical hypothetical he has advanced.
Professor Kang: The US is 90% responsible for the division of Korea. If there had been no forced division there would never have been a civil war. By 1950 both the US and Russian militaries had left Korea (the US military left in June 1949, and Russia’s military left in December 1948). On July 1st, 1950 the US military returned to Korea in order to intervene in our civil war. Therefore the civil war is a product of interference by foreign powers.
Even though Korea has been divided for over 65 years, I think most Koreans (both North and South) want a re-unified Nation. We have the same identity. Even though there are many differences between South and North in the way of culture, ways of living and thinking we still have a shared identity and desire to be reunited. Prior to our forced division, we had been a united country since the 7th century, that’s over 1400 years as a single country and people.
The story of the “lovely couple” can be used here to understand Korea’s current struggle. When a husband and wife are married, they are “ONE,” but in this story the neighborhood gangster intervened and forced them to be divorced (the US is of course this neighborhood gangster). The majority of Koreans want to be reunited as a “lovely couple” again through peaceful means.
My question: “Can you elaborate on your writings about the US military government in Korea collaborating with pro-Japanese Koreans after World War II? Specifically, how do you think the US military occupation of Korea resembles the Japanese occupation of Korea prior to World War II?”
Professor Kang: If there had been no intervention, the liberated Korea would have cleaned up the pro-Japanese national traitors. In 1946 North Korea acted to root out the pro-Japanese influence in their government and society in order to counteract the legacy of Japanese Imperialism. Therefore, the ruling party of North Korea has no legacy of Japanese imperialism and they are able to maintain self-reliance. This rejection of US imperialism for the last 65 years must be understood as a continuation of the struggle against Japanese imperialism.
On the contrary, in the South there is an opposite history. When the US entered Korea, they had no friends on the Peninsula that would help them administer their military occupation. When the US wanted South Korea to take a Capitalist route rather than a Socialist route, most of South Korea wanted to have a Socialist system rather than a Capitalist system. In July 1946 the US Military Government in Korea conducted a survey of South Koreans and discovered that 71% of respondents wanted a Socialist system, 7% wanted a Communist system, and only 14% wanted a Capitalist system. If the survey had been conducted in 1945, before the US Military Government in Korea made it clear they were opposed to any form of Communist of Socialist system, I would say that almost 90% of Korean people (both North and South) wanted a Socialist system rather than a capitalist system. That is why the US could not find friends in either the North or the South.
The US Military Government needed pro-Japanese national traitors to cooperate with them to help institute a pro-Capitalist regime. For the pro-Japanese, to be friends with the US was the only way to keep their power and status in Korean society. Therefore there emerged a very close alliance between the US military occupation and the pro-Japanese national traitors. This is the reason we had so many small on-going wars (referred to as people’s uprisings) starting in October 1946 and leading up to the Korean War in 1950. In 1946 alone more than 10,000 Koreans were killed by the US occupying forces. These small wars lasted from 1946 to 1950, and because of these wars almost 100,000 Koreans lost their lives.
Also important to understand is that the Korean War was not a “war of aggression.” A “war of aggression” is between two separate sovereign countries, but the North and the South are not separate sovereign countries—we are one country, one nation with two different governments. Therefore, this is a civil war. It is true that North Korea mobilized their military and invaded South Korea. They believed the war would end in one or two months without such tragedy. This was an internal conflict; there was no reason for neighbors to intervene in the internal affairs of the “lovely couple.” As I explained we are like a married couple that was forced by the neighborhood gangster to divorce, so it is natural for us to get reunited after the neighborhood gangster has left.
My question: “So Professor Kang, what can American high school students do in order to facilitate the process of allowing this ‘lovely couple’ to be reunited?”
Professor Kang: Most Americans do not know the real story of our country’s division and the ensuing Korean War. For example, in 2002 I met Thomas Friedman of the New York Times and we talked for about 90 minutes. He later wrote some articles about South Korea and the North Korean nuclear crisis and I was very disappointed to notice that he didn’t appear to know anything about the real story of what is actually going on between North Korea and South Korea. Therefore, we must start by getting to the Real Story of our country’s division, the tragedy of the Korean War, and of the inevitability of North Korea’s development of nuclear powers in order to protect itself against attacks from the United States. In the history of crises on the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War, out of 11 crises all but 2 were initiated by United States actions and belligerence towards North Korea. In the face of the US military aggression what can North Korea do? They do not have the money to cope with South Korean and United States military spending; therefore the most economic way to defend themselves is to develop nuclear bombs. Only a nuclear bomb can guarantee North Korea’s security in such a situation. When North Korea first announced the test of their nuclear weapons, the official announcement of North Korea stated that when the hostile policies of the United States towards North Korea cease they would be willing to give up their nuclear weapons.
The first step is to get American citizens to know all these true details of US involvement in Korea. If they know they will realize there is no reason for the US military to be here in the Korean peninsula. The Korean peninsula is not safe because of US military presence; instead it is “the most dangerous place in the world” because of the US military presence. So the conclusion is clear, the first step is to get the US military out of Korea. Then, we (North and South) can refuse the offensive military orientation towards each other and transition towards defensive oriented military systems and we can begin to work towards peaceful reunification and cooperation between North and South.