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

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

DMZ: Disney World of Military Recruitment

Yesterday Will Griffin and I were taken north to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) between North and South Korea.  We were joined by several South Korean activists who specialize in Imjin River protection and landmines.  My son Julian and his friend Emily (both also visiting South Korea) joined us for the day as well.

We began by going to the overlook area between North and South where the Imjin River helps create a natural barrier between the two nations.  Then we moved to another part of the DMZ where we walked down a tunnel (one of four) that North Korea created to allegedly infiltrate the south.  This tunnel gradually sloped downward eventually equaling 24 stories below the ground.  What began as an extremely hot place soon got colder and colder as we headed downward.  Coming back up was quite a challenge.

I could not help but wonder if the South Korean government's demonization of North Korea for the tunnels, at what is essentially a DMZ tourist trap, might be better explained as a defensive effort on the part of the north to send troops deep into southern territory after a US-South Korea attack on the north.

I know that during the Korean War the US bombed every standing target in North Korea and the people, in order to survive, had to move underground.  At night they would come outside to tend their farms and then return underground during to day in order to stay safe.  It is likely they kept digging tunnels after the war in order to have a way to militarily respond in the event they were ever attacked again.

Today 600,000 South Korean military are stationed along the DMZ.  About 2,000 US troops are also along the border.  These days most US troops are being moved south to get them out of range of North Korean artillery.  New bases and expanded bases to the south are now home to more than 25,000 US troops.  At those bases the US has high-tech weapons systems that allow them to wage war from a 'safe distance'.

The DMZ tour finally took us to a former US Army outpost called Camp Greaves that has been turned into a 'youth hostel' where tourists are taken to pretend they are in the Army.

As our bus arrived in 'Camp Greaves' a young woman dressed in military attire (with a cheer leading skirt) boarded the bus to explain we could go inside air conditioned tents and try on a military jacket, make ourselves dog tags, put on a military back pack, and experience the actual setting for a film about South Korean 'peace keeping missions' around the world that is now popular on TV throughout the Asia-Pacific. In fact the woman later said when we got into the tent, pointing to a chair Will was sitting in, the TV star "sat right here".  Will quickly got up and left the tent.

One of our guides told us that local farmers said this former US Army base was known as a major toxic contamination zone.  (All US military bases are infamous for oil, solvent, and jet fuel pollution that poisons the local groundwater supply.) The thought that today kids are brought to the 'youth hostel' and put in dorms that were once military barracks is rather concerning.  (I hope they are drinking bottled water rather than from underground wells.)

I walked around the base a bit and saw other old barracks being taken over by nature.  Soon they will be covered completely and ultimately will collapse under the weight of mother nature.

I see this process of nature taking over the base as symbolic of the reality that these US military outposts of empire are contradictions in nature.  These bases are not sustainable in time - due to cost, due to pressure inside of South Korea for them to be closed, and due to pressure inside the US for our tax dollars to be used at home for human development and physical infrastructure repair rather than endless war.

When we earlier had stood at the DMZ tourist overlook site peering out at the Imjin River into North Korea I asked the two South Korean activists from the area what they were thinking.  One of them said he was feeling "A sense of longing to go to North Korea to see for himself what is actually going on there."  But under the last two right-wing presidents South Korea has stopped the progress previously made in steps toward reunification.

Where once union workers from the South would go play soccer with workers in the North, these days the doors to reestablishing brotherhood have been closed.  The current Park administration, more in line with US interests, has escalated tensions and shut down talk of reconciliation.

It appears to me that Washington is hell-bent on war against China and Russia.  There is a deep sense of fear, despair and disempowerment with many of the people and activists here. Many young people feel they have no future in South Korea as the economic divide between rich and poor widens.  People care but don't know what to do.

War, and rumors of war, keep the people (whether in South Korea or the US) distracted from fighting against our growing impoverishment by the corporate elites.  In the US the circus sideshow 'election' between Clinton and Trump is designed to ensure that the nation does not seriously reflect on these same key issues.

It is clear that the globalization of the corporate agenda must be met by the globalization of the peace, social justice and environmental movements.  We are all in the same boat now and must face our common enemy together.



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