Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Where Do These Navy Destroyers Go?

Dredging just off Gangjeong village on Jeju Island

Military housing steals land from Gangjeong villagers for Navy base


Times Record Op-Ed

By Bruce K. Gagnon

Do people in our community ever stop and wonder where the Navy destroyers actually go when they leave Bath Iron Works [Maine]? Do we wonder how they impact people’s lives where they are ported and what environmental footprint they leave?

During the entire month of August, I was in Japan and South Korea where BIW-built Aegis destroyers (outfitted with so-called “missile defense interceptors”) are being ported. Currently, in both those countries there is raging opposition to U.S. expanding military bases as a result of Obama’s announced “pivot” of 60 percent of Pentagon forces into the Asia- Pacific to help control China.

The U.S. military “pivot” into the Asia-Pacific means more airfields, ports-of-call and barracks are needed for U.S. operations.

I spent 11 days in Gangjeong village on Jeju Island, South Korea, where a Navy base is being built to host U.S. aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and Aegis destroyers. The 500-year-old fishing and farming community is being torn apart to host the base. Just offshore, the UNESCO-recognized endangered soft coral forests are being destroyed as dredging is underway to make it possible for the U.S. warships to port there. The US Navy handed their base specifications to the Korean government and the base is now near completion. The village’s sacred rocky coastline was blasted and covered in concrete and the villagers’ eight-year campaign against the base has resulted in 700 arrests and more than 50 jailed (one as long as 15 months, just for blocking cement trucks).

On my last day on Jeju Island, I was taken to Jeju City to do a radio interview about my experiences there. As my translator and I sat in the station lobby waiting to go on the air we heard a news broadcast that said the South Korean Navy was planning to file a court action against Gangjeong villagers for $20 million on behalf of Samsung Corporation (the lead Navy base construction contractor). The claim is that their eight-year non-violent protest in the village has “obstructed business operations” and resulted in delays and profit loss. Upon hearing about this plan to demand $20 million from this small village (less than 2,000 citizens) I was told village elders cried out “The Navy is trying to kill our village!”

When I first got involved helping to support Gangjeong in 2008, I organized a campaign for American citizens to call the South Korean embassy in Washington DC to share our support for the struggling villagers. When I called I was told by South Korean embassy staff, “Don’t call us, call your government. They are forcing us to build this base.”

This is a theme we hear a lot these days even from Rep. Chellie Pingree, who has said that we must cut our military budget by having our “allies pay more” for our bases. So, in this case the U.S. got the South Korean government to build a Navy base on Jeju Island (called the Island of Peace) and then with our “Status of Forces Agreement” (SOFA) the Pentagon has the right to use any base in South Korean any time they wish. Same story in Japan, Philippines and other locations around the world.

On Aug. 5, the U.S. Navy admiral assigned to South Korea publicly declared that the Navy was eager to use the new Jeju Island base to port warships being assigned to the region. These deployments on Jeju would put American warships right in the middle of the Yellow Sea shipping lanes that China utilizes to import 80 percent of its resources, particularly oil, to run its economy. It will also make Gangjeong village a prime target during hostilities.

The U.S. “pivot” into the Asia- Pacific is expensive, dangerous to world peace, and highly provocative. China feels it must respond and has increased its spending on hi-tech weaponry. (According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in 2014 the US spent 34 percent of the world total of military spending while China was at 12 percent and Russia at 4.8 percent.)

Mainers, like most Americans, are not particularly interested in what our military empire of more than 800 bases around the world are doing to our image or to the environment. It is well past time that we begin to pay attention and offer our solidarity to those who are living under the heavy boot of U.S. “Full Spectrum Dominance.” 


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