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: Brunswick, ME, United States

The collapsing US military & economic empire is making Washington & NATO even more dangerous. US could not beat the Taliban but thinks it can take on China-Russia-Iran...a sign of psychopathology for sure. @BruceKGagnon

Saturday, August 22, 2009


South Korea's most popular president ever just died. Kim dae-Jung (left) made two trips to North Korea in order to move toward reunification. He won the Nobel Peace Prize as a result. South Korea's current president is trying to roll back the progress Kim made during his five years in office

South Korea's most popular president died while I was in their country. Kim dae-Jung served as president from 1998-2003. One peace activist in South Korea told me Kim was a "stepping stone to democracy."

Kim was almost killed in August 1973, when he was kidnapped from a hotel in Tokyo by South Korean CIA agents in response to his criticism of then President Park's yushin program. Although Kim returned to Seoul alive, he was banned from politics and imprisoned in 1976 for having participated in the proclamation of an anti-government manifesto and sentenced for five years in prison, which was reduced to house arrest in 1978.

Kim was arrested again in 1980 and sentenced to death on charges of sedition and conspiracy in the wake of a popular uprising in Gwangju, his political stronghold. The sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison and later he was given exile to the United States. Kim temporarily settled in Boston and taught at Harvard University as a visiting professor to the Center for International Affairs, until he chose to return to his homeland in 1985.

His policy of positive engagement with North Korea has been termed the "June 15 joint statement". In 2000, he participated in the first of two North-South presidential summits with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il, which later led to his winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Kim actively called for restraint against the North Koreans after they detonated a nuclear weapon and defended the continued warming towards Pyongyang.

One South Korean academic wrote about the deceased former president, "Kim's life was like a flower that endures a harsh winter but blooms in the early summer, giving a sliver of hope to people deep in despair."

In addition to Kim's historic opening to North Korea, while in office he also implemented a law to guarantee minimum standards of living for the people of the nation.

The current president of Korea, Lee Myung-bak, is trying to roll back the social and foreign policy progress South Korea made during Kim dae-Jung's time in office. The progressive movement in South Korea is currently mobilizing at a vigorous pace to resist the right-wing policies of Lee Myung-bak. His presidential approval ratings have now plummeted to the mid-20% range. A member of Korean Veterans for Peace told me that the current President Lee "is the greatest liar in South Korean history."

On my last day in Seoul we drove past an area where huge numbers of people were lined up to participate in official mourning ceremonies for Kim. The Korean people have long suffered - first from the 35-year Japanese occupation of their country, then the deadly Korean War, forty-some years of US sponsored right-wing dictatorship in South Korea, and now the occupation of the Korean peninsula by the US military.

Kim dae-Jung gave all the people of Korea hope that reunification of the divided country was indeed possible.


Having been away a month now most of my news about the US has come from the Internet. I've regularly checked my favorite progressive web sites and I try to read the Washington Post regularly to get an idea what the "mainstream media" is saying. The issue that has fascinated me most while I have been away is Obama and health care.

I watched Obama move from the "public option" to now crawling into bed with the insurance corporations and leaving the public option far behind, just as he previously did with single-payer health care.

My early reading of Obama is turning out to be pretty accurate. He will not stand up to the corporations on any issue and fight on behalf of the American people. He is betraying the legions of progressive voters who put him into office who thought they were voting for "hope and change".

On this trip I've been asked many times about Obama as you would imagine. My response is: George W. Bush was a bad cowboy. Obama is a good cowboy, but still a cowboy. He is an agent of the corporations. I usually get a good laugh with this one.

Now that Obama has betrayed those on the "left" that voted for him, he is dropping steadily in the polls. He is losing his base. His base will not stand with him as he brazenly crawls into the sack with the corporations. The independents who voted for him will see that he is just another "say one thing, but do another politician" and they will abandon him. The right, of course, will never support him - except when he is pushing endless war.

So Obama, almost nine months into the job, has proven to be just another Democratic Party corporate hack - posing as a progressive to get elected and then bailing out once in office.

At this rate Mr. "hope and change" can count on being a one-term president.

Are you ready yet to talk third party?


Little Buddha figures at the graveyard. Mothers will make aprons and dress these figurines to bring good luck to their children (dead or live.) Some even knit little hats for the Buddha.
This is the largest rock garden in Japan, the design is of a pair of dragons emerging from a sea of clouds. I visited this with friend Atsushi Fujioka who took me to Koyasan which is a mountain Buddhist monastery that was build in 816 about two hours train ride from Osaka. We spent the night in a spa hotel run by the Buddhist sect called Shingon. It's quite a place.

We walked around the huge cemetery (top picture) which has enormously old trees and very elaborate grave markings, many from long ago. A spectacular place.

After four hours of visiting Koyasan today we took the train back to Osaka and I headed for the airport hotel where Atsushi had booked me a room for tonight. My flight leaves in the morning for Tokyo, Detroit, and then back to Portland, Maine.

It's been a month now on the road, you could say I am just a bit tired. Ready to be home and return to a bit of normal life for awhile. Living out of a suitcase for a month can be a challenge but what a lucky man I am to have such a great job, working with great people, doing work that needs to get done.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Some of the church leaders gathered for photo after my talk
Veterans for Peace- Republic of Korea accept the banner I delivered on behalf of Maine VfP leader Tom Sturtevant

I began my last full day in South Korea with a meeting at the office of Veterans for Peace-Republic of Korea (VfP-ROK). About eight leaders of the group were waiting to greet me. Sa-Mook Choi, a former tank squad commander, welcomed me on behalf of their organization and quickly pointed out the enlarged 2006 "Memorandum of Understanding on Exchange and Cooperation" between their group and the national Veterans for Peace in the US that was taped to the wall.

Sa-Mook Choi told me that in the 1950's, when he commanded a tank squad, the US brought 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons into his country and taught the South Korean forces how to use them. He said that he kept thinking to himself, "Who was the only country to ever use nuclear weapons?"

The VfP-ROK has about 4,000 members in 73 local chapters across their country. They have nine national co-chairs in the organization and their top co-chair is a former military general who founded the organization in South Korea.

The VfP-ROK was created four years ago and is still today not a "legal" organization as the current law in the country only allows one veterans organization, a right-wing group, to exist.

Before leaving their office for a lunch together, I presented them with a Veterans for Peace banner sent by Tom Sturtevant who is one of the leaders of the Maine Veterans for Peace chapter that I belong to. Tom served on a Navy aircraft carrier during the Korean War and tells sad stories about the US bombing North Korea so badly that there was virtually nothing left standing in the country. In return the VfP-ROK presented me with their banner and asked that I give it to the Maine chapter upon my return home.

In the evening I was taken to a dinner in a traditional Korean restaurant by a team of Christian church leaders who were organizing my final talk in Seoul. Following dinner 70 people, from about 30 different churches/organizations, came to hear my talk at the historic Presbyterian Church that is considered the only progressive church in the city. I was told that in the early days of the democracy movement, much of the organizing was done from this "sacred" site. Church leaders from many different denominations were present at the event including two officers from the Salvation Army.

During my talk I stressed the moral and ethical questions that are naturally raised when we consider the consequences of moving the arms race into the heavens. I suggested that there was no better time than now, just as South Korea was poised to launch their first space rocket, to begin a discussion about space inside the churches of the country.

After the talk a large group took me out to a local bar for snacks and beer. We parted remembering that I will return in October during the time of Keep Space for Peace Week and the World March for Peace & Non-Violence. On that trip I will visit some other parts of the country to spread the message about our efforts to prevent the arms race from moving into space and the need to convert the global war machine to peaceful production.

South Korean activists have been good to me. I told the folks tonight, that despite the language difficulties we have, they have all made me feel at home.

I now fly back to Japan for two days of restful time and information sharing with Global Network board member Atsushi Fujioka. On August 23 I will make the final leg of the trip home. Without a doubt this month-long journey to Japan and South Korea has been the most successful organizing trip during all my years with the Global Network. I am grateful to Global Network board Sung-Hee Choi who has done a remarkable job of coordinating the South Korea portion of this tour. She says that she is an artist, not an organizer, but she has shown real talent at bringing many people from different paths together. In my view, that stands for something good.


This is what US plans for space dominance will bring us, a new arms race in space and on the Earth as well. No world nuclear power will strip itself of nuclear forces as long as America pursues global military dominance and wars like Yugoslavia and Iraq, says Andrey Kokoshin, former First Deputy Minister of Defense in Russia.

In the modern high-tech warfare age there can be no real security as long as any country is trying to achieve dominance. The only way to real peace is reducing conventional, nuclear, and space weapons. Anything else is a prescription for disaster.

Let's spend our resources dealing with our real crisis which is climate change.

The world needs to speak out loudly now that moving the arms race into space is unacceptable.

Please join us by organizing a local event during the Global Network's annual Keep Space for Peace Week which will be held during the period of October 3-10. Download the poster here

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Cheong Wooksik (on left) brought together a group for me to speak with last night
Young-Je Kim (left) directs the Reunification program at the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, (translator on right)

I learned alot yesterday in my meeting with folks from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). In addition to Young-Je Kim, who is the Director of the Reunification Unit, the meeting also included the editor of the KCTU newspaper, a reporter, and a translator to help Sung-Hee with that task.

The union bi-weekly paper, called "Work in World," which has a circulation of 30,000 is planning to do a full-page story about my visit.

The KCTU is the largest "democratic" union in the country and represents more than 525,000 workers in 1,144 unions. Most impressive of all the KCTU is an integral part of the progressive movement in South Korea and sees its success by being a part of the larger movement for peace, justice, democracy, and reunification.

I was first asked to brief them on the space issue and after I finished I asked for them to tell me more about the aerospace industry in South Korea.

Kim told me that their aerospace industry plays a subordinate role to the US military industrial complex. The big South Korean corporations have set up "component shops" in the southern part of the country where workers get "special treatment" such as being exempt from the military draft. In return the workers are not allowed to strike. They build low-tech component parts for US space technology systems. The South Korean government gives tax incentives to these huge conglomerates.

Kim told me a story to illustrate how the US twists arms in South Korea to keep control of the military sales market. When South Korea was preparing to scrap some older American-made fighter planes, a Korean Air Force study found that French jets would be a better deal for them, both in price and technology. The Korean Air Force officer who made this recommendation was fired, under US pressure, and the government agreed to buy the US-made jets. The former Air Force officer is now working in the peace movement.

Kim asked me to explain what the US peace movement was doing to better understand the North Korea perspective. I told him that little is being done, largely because of the "anti-Communist" climate that still exists in our country. He said that North Korea feels they need "insurance for survival". His union began cultural interactions with North Korea ten years ago. They send South Korean union workers to the north to play soccer games against workers there. North Koreans were considered "demons" by South Koreans, but these trips have helped KCTU members to see the humanity of the workers in the north and contributed to lessening of tensions.

Kim suggested that the Global Network pursue organizing trips to North Korea. He said that the North Koreans are very interested in having discussions with peace movement people and suggested that the KCTU could help the Global Network organize such trips. I told him I was eager to work with him on this idea.

Following our meeting Kim took me for a tour of the ten-story KCTU building. The biggest KCTU member union is the metal workers and they are the ones that recently settled the 77-day strike at Ssangyong Motor factory. One of the issues in the strike settlement agreement was that leaders would not be arrested after the strike ended. Key leadership of the union though were arrested immediately after the union concluded the strike and the president of the union is now on a hunger strike inside prison in protest of the corporation and government rescinding of the agreement.

In the evening I spoke at an event put together by Global Network board member Cheong Wooksik from the Peace Network. A good group of young people listened to my presentation and then had many good questions afterwards. I told them that the founders of the Global Network were getting grey in the hair and we needed a younger generation to come along and help us prevent an arms race in space.

Just yesterday South Korea was to launch its very first space rocket but it had to be scrubbed when problems arose during the final minutes of the countdown. I am told that very few are paying attention to the space issue in South Korea but I think that after this trip that is going to begin to change.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Yesterday, after my trip to the prison, I had a meeting with key leaders and staff of the group called SPARK (Solidarity for Peace And Reunification of Korea). SPARK is the group that organized the news conference and protest two days ago at the HQ of the US-South Korea military war game. They are one of the most active peace groups in the country and have been a Global Network affiliated member for the past couple of years.

They first wanted to talk about the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference that will be held at the United Nations in May of 2010. At this time there will be intense global pressure on the US and other nuclear powers to honor their promise under the NPT that if non-nuclear countries would not develop nuclear weapons then the nuclear biggies would get rid of their own. So far the nuclear giants have been very slow to dismantle their nuclear forces while lecturing the rest of the world about the evils of nukes.

A coalition of peace groups from around the world will hold an international conference and protest in New York City on May 1-2, 2010 to try to enliven the NPT process. The SPARK representatives were glad to hear I am on the planning committee for the conference and asked that I relay their concerns that some attention at the event be given to the dangerous US nuclear "umbrella" that now exists on the Korean peninsula and in nearby Japan. In other words the US harshly condemns North Korea for trying to develop nuclear weapons but the US has had nukes in this region since the end of WW II and is the only country that has used them. On top of that the US is now expanding its "conventional" military capabilities in this part of the world which only makes North Korea and China feel more insecure.

I promised that I would pass on their concerns and have already sent an email to the chair of the conference planning committee with their suggestions.

They also expressed deep concern about NATO expansion into East Asia. Using the term "Global Partnership," rather than full NATO membership, the US has recently brought Japan, South Korea, and Australia into NATO which is becoming a global military alliance that is being used to surround Russia and China and wage war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Another key point they stressed was the concept of "Strategic Flexibility" which is a new agreement between the US and South Korea which gives the US military the right to use bases in South Korea to help wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Originally, the US was only allowed to use its military bases in South Korea as a "defensive shield" to protect against attack from North Korea. Strategic flexibility opens the door to using South Korea as a jumping-off-base to wage aggressive war in other parts of the world. This agreement further testifies to the colonial status
of South Korea.

United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon is from Korea and prior to heading the UN was the Minister of Foreign Affairs for South Korea. It was Ban Ki-moon who helped push this new "Strategic Flexibility" agreement into action.

The fear on the part of SPARK is that the next step to follow "Strategic Flexibility" will be to have the military forces of South Korea used in US and NATO global interventionary missions. SPARK is fighting a lonely battle inside South Korea as few are talking about these dangerous developments.

At the end of the meeting SPARK leaders said they would like to explore ways to expand the working relationship with the Global Network in the near future. That is a good sign for us. We need a much closer relationship and some members of the Global Network board have been requesting that we do this very thing. So it will be good to report to them that this relationship will be flourishing.


Click on photo for better view

Another busy day in Seoul began with the visit to Eun-A Choi of the Pan-Korean Alliance for Reunification (PKAR) at the detention center. Sung-Hee and I took a cab and about halfway there we heard an air raid siren come over the car radio. That familiar frantic voice warning of danger, even though in Korean, was distinguishable to me. Sung-Hee began to translate that it was an instruction for all life in the city to halt for the next five minutes. Traffic came to a grinding halt and the radio voice explained that this was "like a sports team that must practice defensive exercises" together. The voice went on to say that this test, linked to the US-South Korea war games that began yesterday, were being done as part of globalization to protect us from terrorist attack. "Stay at home and save water," the voice instructed.

I was completely flummoxed and asked Sung-Hee to question the driver about his feelings about this incredible happening. It reminded me of the "crawl-under-the-desk" nuclear war drills we did in the 4th grade at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

The cab driver told us that he supported these exercises and that they are done each month. We have to be prepared in case of a North Korean attack, he claimed. The public is losing their intensity about the exercises though as they are not so afraid of war because they know North Korea is weak and the US will protect South Korea, the driver said.

I asked Sung-Hee to tell the driver that I thought this was a brainwashing of the whole country all at once, psychological operations (psy-ops) in action. Make the people fearful and they will agree to be in a constant state of war with North Korea for sure.

As we neared the prison I told Sung-Hee to tell the driver that I was an American and that I thought these exercises were intended to keep South Korea buying military hardware from the US weapons industry. Weapons are the #1 industrial export product of the US, I said.

Amazingly the cabbie then replied that I was right. He said the public understands this and not everyone likes the Americans these days. The public knows that the weapons industry is getting rich from all of this. But, he insisted, we must be prepared anyway.

Sung-Hee summed it up well as we got out of the car: the public understands more than we think they do but the people are still confused.

Once in the prison we had to wait for about 45 minutes before three of us (one PKAR staff member was with us) were allowed into the visiting room. It was a small room with three chairs on our side of the glass and a microphone on each side of the window. Eun-A came in and a woman jail attendant sat behind her at a little table and began taking notes of the conversation. Eun-A looked good, seemed positive considering she has been behind bars since May 7, and was wearing a short-sleeved green cotton jail uniform that had her #221 right above the front pocket.

Eun-A said she very much appreciated the international solidarity that we helped build for the six who had been arrested for trying to bring reunification to the country. She said that she had read the paper this morning and seen that I had spoken at the news conference yesterday. She explained that she was now preparing for the trail and was happy to see the growing support in her country for reconciliation.

Sung-Hee asked about the size of her jail cell. It is about the same size as the interior of most cars. She is allowed outside for one hour each day to exercise. She is allowed to subscribe to newspapers.

Before we knew it our 10 minutes was up and we had to say good-bye. On the way out of the building, just above the front door of the prison were the words "Justice 1st" in Korean and English. Yeah, I thought, she is facing up to 3-5 years for wanting to reunite her nation. That is real justice.

Yesterday we heard that Amnesty International is considering taking on the case of the PKAR six. If they deem it worthy it would surely be a boost to efforts to build international support to free these peace workers from the inside of a South Korean jail. Isn't it amazing how much publicity the two women journalists got when North Korea locked them up and Bill Clinton went and busted them out? But no international media is interested in the PKAR six. Why not?

As we were leaving I told Eun-A that since Bill Clinton was interested in getting women released from Korean jails maybe I should see if he'd help get her out. After she laughed at the joke she shook her head NO and waved her hand as if to say, thanks but no thanks.

Eun-A, and the other five now in prison, will have to do it without the support of the fat cats.

Their release will only come when the people of the world demand real justice - justice 1st, justice last, and justice always.

Monday, August 17, 2009



Stop the US-South Korea war games
Speaking at the news conference today
At the office of PKAR with photos of the six who were arrested behind me

I began the day by joining a news conference and protest at the headquarters that is in charge of the joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States that began today. The exercise, called 2009 Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG), is the world's largest computerized command and control war game which mainly focuses on a US-South Korea attack and occupation of North Korea. The exercise was initiated in 1976 and is conducted annually in late summer.

There were about 40 activists at the event from many of the key peace and reunification organizations. I was asked to speak for five minutes as part of the news conference. US military helicopters were circling overhead and US-South Korea military personnel drove in and out of the base in a steady stream.

I counted 14 different media people at the event, something that we rarely see in the US. One of the news photographers was a young man named JiHo Park who lived with Mary Beth and I in Florida for six-months around 2002 before we moved to Maine. He came as an intern to work with the Global Network and has visited us in Maine since we moved there. We last saw JiHo in April when we came to Seoul for the Global Network's annual space organizing conference. Imagine the surprised look on his face today when he saw me at the news conference.

Following the news conference I was taken to lunch with leaders of the Pan-Korean Alliance for Reunification (PKAR). This is the group that had six of their top leaders arrested in May under the National Security Law for working to reunify Korea.

One of those arrested, Choi, Eun-A, Chief of the Publicity team of the PKAR, had just the month before chaired the panel discussion that I spoke on during our Global Network conference in Seoul. PKAR was one of about a dozen South Korean groups that had co-sponsored and helped to organize our annual space conference.

There was no doubt that I felt we had to do something to support the six who had been arrested. What was their crime? All they had done was to want to see the US-created barrier taken down that divides their country.

Lee, Kyu-Jae, Chairman of the PKAR, at the beginning of their trial (that is still on-going) said, “The measure of the National Security Law has been differently applied according to the changing governments. On same cases, the Roh Moon Hyun government legally permitted us to trip back and forth to the North Korea but now the Lee Myung Bak government is arresting us. I can hardly erase the suspicion that the [government] is trying to manipulate the national security case to overcome its crisis."

So after hearing about their arrest last May I immediately wrote up a petition and sent it around to the Global Network mailing list and very quickly more than 700 people and organizations from all over the world signed the petition. I then sent the names, along with a cover letter, to the South Korean consulate in New York City. In the letter I said the following:

Enclosed please find many pages of signatures of people from throughout the world who are outraged about South Korea’s arrest of six leaders of the Pan-Korean Alliance for Reunification.

It is obvious that your government has decided to crack down on those who believe in and practice the democratic right of citizenship. This is a troubling development for all of us.

We pledge that we will continue to spread the word about your government’s unjust action all over the world.

This situation is a test of South Korea’s commitment to human rights. If your country truly practices democracy and human rights then these six people will be immediately released and apologies will be given.

It should not be considered a crime to peacefully work for reunification of a fractured nation.

One cannot help but wonder if the hands of the U.S. are also in this bowl of disunity. It appears to us that the U.S. intends to keep South Korea and North Korea apart as a way to justify further militarization of the Asia-Pacific region.

It is sad to see your government fall for this dangerous and destabilizing strategy.

We look forward to your official response, which we will widely share.

I am still waiting for a reply from the South Korean consulate. I sent it to them on May 14, 2009.
After the very fine lunch today I was invited to the office of PKAR for a two-hour meeting to further discuss these issues. Sung-Hee Choi of course translated for me. At the meeting were two older men who had been jailed by the right-wing South Korean government for their efforts to fight against the former Japanese occupation collaborators who the US put in charge of Korea after the end of WW II. One of them spent 36 years in jail and the other spent 26 years in a South Korean prison. (It is vitally important to remember that the Korean War was really an attempt by the US to extend this right-wing Korean rule to the whole country. The Korean resistance movement that had been fighting against Japanese occupation then had to next fight against the US-backed elite former Japanese collaborators. Essentially the war still goes on inside of South Korea today.)

For 50 years after the country was divided by the US, on August 15, 1945, it was virtually impossible to even talk about reunification. The National Security Law, a successor the Japanese colonial occupation laws, made it illegal to even discuss reunification. PKAR was created in 1989 and many of its members were arrested for joining the organization. Today there are still 550 political prisoners in South Korea from various reunification, peace, union, and social justice movements.

During the meeting we talked about the PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative) that the US is using today to stop North Korean ships on the high seas on the pretext that they might be carrying weapons of mass destruction. The PSI violates the basic United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty that gives every country the right of free passage in international waters. The US has pulled 94 countries into this program that was created by former Vice-President Dick Cheney and right-winger John Bolton. The US, Japan, Australia, and the UK are the biggest participants in the program today.

My own take on the PSI is it is part of the US effort to expand the NATO alliance into a global military interventionary force that will be the military arm of corporate globalization. Using North Korea as an excuse, the US is pulling as many countries into this program as possible. The US does not fear the military might of North Korea. It is over-hyped. North Korea is used as an excuse to justify massive military expansion in the Asian-Pacific region that will ultimately be used to surround China.

In the meeting today with PKAR we all agreed that a successful reunification of Korea would go a long way in helping to blunt US plans to deploy "missile defense" systems as the Korean Peninsula is now host to PAC-3, THAAD, and Navy Aegis destroyer systems outfitted with interceptor missiles. I told them that the Global Network had two major priority areas for our work: getting "missile defense" out of the Asian-Pacific and stopping US plans to deploy similar systems around Russia. We see both those regions as key triggers for expanded war.

In the morning Sung-Hee will take me to the prison where I will be able to have a meeting with Choi, Eun-A from PKAR. It will be an honor to meet her there.

I feel so good about everything I have been doing in Japan and South Korea. I am in the middle of an intense situation and can't think of anyplace that I'd rather be than on the side of people who are giving their full lives for peace, real democracy, and reunification.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Another of my favorite journalists, John Pilger is an Australian journalist and documentary maker. He has twice won Britain's Journalist of the Year Award, and his documentaries have received academy awards in Britain and the US.