Talking with the Kunsan Grandpas
Yesterday Ken, Will and I took the train from Pyeongtaek, South Korea two hours south for a day long tour of the perimeter of the US Kunsan Air Force Base. Our guide and translator drove us from one end of the base to the other. Near the end of the visit we can upon a two-story watch tower near to the base runway and discovered five village grandpas playing a card game inside the open air upper space.
After introducing ourselves as members of Veterans For Peace we requested if we could ask them some questions about the base and film their responses. They eagerly agreed and began by telling us we had come on the wrong day (a weekend). If we'd come during the week the noise from the US war planes would be overwhelming they said. Pointing to their ears they told us they were all hard of hearing having spent their lives living next door to the busy airfield.
The grandpas told us many villagers with access to more money had already moved away but they had no resources to move anywhere else. Due to current base expansion new weapons storage bunkers would soon be built very close to their living areas and they would be forced to move as well.
We learned that this whole area had once been a beach community but the military had filled in much of the land to build the base right along the ocean. They pointed to a large old tree next to their cement bird's nest that we were perched in and said the tree was 500 years old - a symbol of the long history of their once proud village. Now they were going to be cast aside like fallen autumn leaves.
In response to a question the grandpas told us they were not happy with the noise or having to move. But there is nothing we can do about it they declared. Between the power of the US military, and the servile South Korean government, they stood no chance. How could they defend themselves up against such forces?
This morning we take a three-hour bus ride back to Seoul Kimpo airport where we will catch a plane to Jeju Island. Then for the next five days we will join the annual Gangjeong village peace walk around the beautiful 'Island of Peace'. There we will walk with other grandmas and grandpas from a similar 500-year old fishing and farming community that has been torn apart so a Navy base could be built to host US warships that will come into the region as part of the aggressive US 'pivot' to encircle China. Some of those warships, Aegis destroyers, will have been built in my hometown of Bath, Maine.
Real lives are impacted by the Obama-Hillary Clinton created 'pivot' into the Asia-Pacific and if war ever comes as a result of this steroidal military expansion then even more lives, many more lives, will hang in the balance.