|At the Korean Comfort Women protest this morning across from the Japanese embassy in Seoul|
|A PAC-3 'missile defense' battery just visible over the wall at US's Osan AFB in South Korea|
I began my day in Seoul by going to a protest by the Korean
Comfort Women with Juyeon Rhee (fellow member of the US Solidarity Committee
for Democracy & Peace in Korea). The well attended protest was observing the 70 anniversary of
Korea’s liberation from Japanese imperialism.
This weekly protest of the Comfort Women began in 1991 and is held
across the street from the Japanese embassy in Seoul. During WW II Japan forced more than 200,000 Korean women to serve
as sex slaves for their imperial Army.
The Comfort Women continue to demand that the Japanese
government issue an official apology (which they have yet to do), pay financial
restitution to the women, and include the important story in Japanese school
Following the protest we boarded a train for the two-hour
trip south to the US’s Osan Air Force Base in Pyeongtaek for a guided tour by a
prominent local activist. We were
driven around the perimeter of the bulging base that is now adding a second
runway – likely as a result of Obama’s ‘pivot’ of Pentagon forces into the
Asia-Pacific to encircle China. (More
airfields are needed for Pentagon warplanes.) In order to make the base
expansion possible the US has forced the South Korean government to take even more lands from local farmers. Local citizens and their supporters resisted this land grab by waging a long fierce
campaign but their villages and rice fields were eventually taken.
Osan AFB currently has F-16 and A-10 warplanes stationed
there as well as the high-flying U-2 spy planes. In addition the air base hosts PAC-3 (Patriot third generation)
missile defense systems that are aimed at China. Their job is to take out the retaliatory response
following a US first-strike attack against Chinese nuclear forces.
The tour continued to the nearby US Army base called Camp
Humphreys that is also undergoing major expansion. Similar to Osan AFB the US forced the grabbing of two rice-farming
villages near the Army base to provide additional lands for the base
expansion. These new facilities at Camp
Humphreys will allow the US to move its current base inside downtown Seoul
southward making it more difficult for North Korea to retaliate against the US
bases following a Pentagon attack on the north.
We had dinner with one rice farmer who lost his land when his
village was taken. He and others moved
to another nearby location but they couldn't replace their rice farms in the local area. The farmer, now the mayor of his small village, had to buy new
rice land two hours away and must make that long drive back and forth to work
in his new rice fields. I was told he spent time in prison for “obstructing”
the expansion of the Army base during their protest campaign.
The Pentagon currently has 27,500 troops in South Korea at
70 bases and military facilities. In
order to pay for the current expansion of its bases the US has demanded that the South Korean government pay for the big changes taking place at these military outposts.
(My liberal Democrat Congresswoman Chellie Pingree calls it 'burden sharing by the host nation'.) Thus for the Korean people it is a double insult – not only is their
government an occupied client state of the US empire but the people must
increasingly pay for unwanted US military operations inside of their country.
Our guide today several times, while driving us around the
perimeter of the two bases, said, “The US is a bad country.” I immediately thought how much I wished the
American people could take this tour and hear his words. This remarkable activist also spent time in
prison for trying to protect his people from the American assault on their culture and
way of life. I was told that he helps take care of the elderly farmers who were not able to purchase new rice
fields and now struggle to find ways to make money in order to survive.
I came away from Pyeongtaek today feeling sad, ashamed of
the US, and disgusted with those many American people who don’t really care
what happens to the people around the world who are displaced by US military
bases – or are killed by the soldiers that make war from these outposts on
behalf of corporate capitalism.
I wish I could do even more to help spread solidarity for these
good people who want nothing else but to be left alone.