Sunday, August 29, 2010

Operation Awareness: GI Opposition to U.S. Military Presence

Near the end of UTNIF's second session, UTNIF students had the opportunity to participate in a discussion about the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq with two veterans of those wars, Jacob George and Spencer Hindmarsh. George and Hindmarsh are members of Operation Awareness, a peace movement group comprised of veterans opposed to war.

Operation Awareness is one among several peace movement organizations made up entirely of veterans. Along with Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Vietnam Veterans Against War, Operation Awareness brings the voices and experiences of veterans to the forefront.

What follows is a very interesting discussion. The subjects range from questions about how day to day counterinsurgency operations actually work, military conditioning and its psychological toll on soldiers, the issues of wikileaks and Private Bradley Manning, to the history of GI led anti-war peace movements.

This Q and A makes for a nice companion to the interviews conducted and published in earlier posts here by John Hines of College Prep.

I can imagine a powerful aff or neg argument structured around the need to "privilege the local" in considerations of military policy as a way to decenter the abstract concepts that characterize military grand strategy. Such an approach could make good use of these interviews/transcripts.

I will post some cites and suggestions about this in a later post, but its fair to say that there is a tremendous literature base (much of it coming from feminist international relations scholars) about this very subject.

UTNIF '10 Operation Awareness pt. 1 from UTNIF on Vimeo.

UTNIF '10 Operation Awareness pt. 2 from UTNIF on Vimeo.

UTNIF '10 Operation Awareness pt. 3 from UTNIF on Vimeo.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Today is August 15th here in Japan. For those of you who remember your history, today is the 65th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the United States marking the end of World War II. I did not realize I planned to arrive in Okinawa on this exact date, but now find it somewhat appropriate. This date also marks 10 days since my arrival in Asia, so I figure it is time to finish my report on Korea. Towards the end of my interview with Mr. Kwon (readers of my last post will remember him as the long-time political prisoner and activist I went to a protest with) on the afternoon of August 5th; he mentioned that there are still activist groups facing prosecution for lending aid to the enemy under the National Security Law. My final interview that evening was with two individuals from the Pan Korean Alliance for Reunification who had just been released from prison but are still cleared of the charges of collaborating with the North Korean Government. Let’s begin where I left off in the previous blog, on the trail of the use of the National Security Law to prevent dissent and activism on behalf of a peaceful reunification with North Korea.

BonMinRyon’s Vision for a “Third Way”
The Pan Korean Alliance for Reunification (BonMinRyon) was founded in 1990 based upon the three principles for national reunification (independence, peaceful reunification and great national unity) that had been declared in a joint statement by both the North and South Korean governments in 1972. Sung-hee and I joined Choi Eun-a (staff member), Lee Kyung-won (secretary) and Kang In-ogg (editor) in the PKAR offices in downtown Seoul at approximately 7pm. We were all hungry so decided to have a short (one hour) interview in their offices before relocating to a restaurant for dinner. Ultimately, I wanted to talk to them about three things that perked my curiosity when I read about their organization. I wanted to hear about their recent arrest and imprisonment under the National Security Law, their opinions on the relationship between the South Korean government and South Korean people, and I wanted them to explain their vision for a reunified Korea.

According to Ms. Choi, the direct cause of their arrest can be traced back to the previous administrations that opened the way for cooperative alliances between North and South Korean activists. During the previous two administrations (Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun) their organization had been allowed regular travel to North Korea to meet with sister organizations in order to facilitate peaceful reunification. In 2008 South Korea elected Lee Myung-bak as president and the country has since taken a decidedly militant tone towards the north. President Lee’s administration began to claim that the PKAR was getting their orders from North Korea. The government essentially argued that since the PKAR agrees with the North Korean government that there should be a peace agreement between the two countries and a subsequent withdrawal of the US military from the peninsula, they must clearly be collaborating and helping the North. Ms. Choi and Mr. Lee are on release at this point based upon a motion by their attorneys arguing that the prosecution violated their constitutional rights; it will be another year before they find out how the court rules on the use of the evidence gathered by the prosecution via tapping the phones and surreptitiously reading emails of PKAR members. After they explain their current legal situation I decide to shift the conversation to some contemporary political issues.

My question: Does the current Cheonan incident make your job more difficult? (Cheonan is the name of the South Korean ship apparently sunk by a North Korean torpedo some months ago)

Mr. Lee: Many South Korean citizens are suspicious of the conclusions offered by the South Korean government’s investigation. If the people were really convinced this were an act of North Korean aggression they would be rushing out to stock up on noodles right now. Instead, they appear to be more afraid of the implications of the current joint military exercises involving the US and South Korean militaries—these actions are much more likely to increase the risk of war on the peninsula. The Cheonan incident also gives the South Korean government more excuses to suppress North Korea.

My question: To what degree does the general population of South Korea believe the accuracy of the government’s conclusions?

Mr. Lee: Not very much and the government even admits so. On July 7th the minister of National Defense testified to the National Assembly that she was afraid too many citizens doubted the government’s version of the incident. This is probably also because of an overarching lack of support among the people for the current version of the US/ROK military relationship. In the 2003 final report issued on the question of modernizing the military alliance in order to support the US military’s goal of strategic flexibility, the government admits the greatest threat to the stability of the alliance was a rising anti-American sentiment among the consciousness of the people of South Korea. The government also noted a weakening of hostility towards North Korea. For these reasons the US must oppose improved relations between North and South Korea since this will jeopardize the future goals of the alliance.

My question: In your statement of principles you state that “it is important that the two different political and socio-economic systems now existing on Korean soil be allowed to continue their way, competing and cooperating with each other, for an ultimate evolution into one.” Could you perhaps give some explanation or greater clarification as to how you see this taking place?

Ms. Choi: It’s called a “creative third way.” We need a new method. For example the German reunification would not be an example of a successful merging of two distinct systems. (Because basically just the West German approach was adopted throughout the country) We want a system where the two different approaches merge and co-exist with each other. Federated unification is really the idea.

Mr. Lee: We first need to acknowledge that both sides are human beings proud of their own national histories; only once we first acknowledge this can we move forwards towards peaceful unification. If we can’t do this, the only alternative is continued war.
Ms. Choi: The basis for ending the conflict has already been established by the Joint Statement of Principles. If you look at the statement, there is a key phrase where both governments acknowledge the importance of accepting our differences and using difference as a starting point. It also states that on this basis of two different Korean communities we must work from a unified federated system for unification.

As I said initially, we decided to keep this meeting short since the day had been long for all involved. We concluded the interview by discussing the role South Korea should play in helping to reduce tensions between the United States and North Korea. Both Ms. Choi and Mr. Lee agreed that a key first step towards peaceful reunification of the Korean people is an improved relationship between North Korea and the United States. They also argued that since the possession of nuclear weapons by North Korea is at the heart of this issue, the United States and North Korea must work in a bilateral way to resolve this conflict.

Ms. Choi explains: The essence of the issue is that this is a conflict between the US and the DPRK. Even though the South Korean government cannot intervene between the two; it can support a better relationship by emphasizing its own policy goal of peaceful reunification. Specifically, the ROK could encourage an honest effort towards inter-Korean dialogue. Such an approach towards dialogue with the North would also encourage a more positive relationship between North Korea and the United States. Kim Dae-jung’s sunshine policy (The “Sunshine Policy” refers to Kim’s systematic approach to “warm” relations between the North and the South) was a good example of how successful this approach could be. For example, after the June 15th statement the Vice Prime-Minister of North Korea was invited to visit the United States and Madeline Albright was invited to North Korea.

We concluded our interview and went down the street to eat some delicious (perhaps a bit too spicy for me) Korean food. Mr. Lee was kind enough to introduce me to the Korean liquor known as “Soju”, a very strong yet somewhat fruity flavored alcohol. Overall the first day of my trip was thoroughly exhausting but as I near the end of my journey that first day in South Korea continues to stand out as the single most educational and eye-opening day of my trip.

Two Little Girls and the White Cranes
The next morning Sung-hee meets me early once again as we have another busy day planned. This day (August 6th) we plan to visit villages that are being (or have already been) displaced by the South Korean government in order to make room for the expansion of US Military facilities in South Korea. Our first stop is the village of Ohyun-ri in the vicinity of Mugeonri in the Kyeonggi Province. The area of Mugeonri has been a key training ground for both the US and South Korean militaries since the 1970s. Over the course of three decades the training field has gradually expanded until in 2007 the South Korean government decided to completely remove all villagers in the area so that the United States can more fully train their forces at the battalion level consistent with the principle of strategic flexibility. Troops based in Guam, Okinawa and the US come here for training.

As we arrive to meet our guides for the day I am startled by the sound of bombs exploding in the distance. Of course I knew I was going to a training field, but I guess it took the actual sound of explosions for the full force of what it means to live next to a military training facility to hit me. Eventually the sound of explosions ends during the course of our tour, but I definitely found the sound unsettling, I could not even imagine how difficult it must be to live under these conditions on a continuing basis. Our guides Joo Byung-joo (village chairman) and Lee Jae-hoo (chairman of the committee against expansion of the training field) meet us at the bus stop and begin to take us on a tour of the area in Mr. Joo’s van. They begin by explaining that the original village is almost completely removed at this point, and the remaining villagers who have been holding out against relocation have recently learned that the will inevitably lose their battle against the expansion of the training field. The legal principle of imminent domain has been used by the National Defense Department to force the remaining 200 villagers and 100 households out of the area.

Mr Lee explains the first firing range we visit is currently for target practice by tanks and soldiers launching rocket-propelled grenades. They practice by shooting their munitions over the mountains to land and explode in the unoccupied jungle in the distance. This field housed a school where both our guides once played and learned, but there is no longer any school in the area for the few remaining children.
The only residents of the field are a dwindling flock of white cranes, an important national symbol to the Koreans. Our guides spend a lot of time talking about the threat posed to the cranes since the cranes’ habitat relies upon cultivation of rice fields. As rice fields are destroyed to make way for bases and training grounds the cranes lose their home.

Our visit concludes by a visit to an important memorial site. As some of you may already be aware, this is also the village where two little girls where killed in a traffic accident eight years ago involving two US Military armored vehicles. The vehicles where approaching each other driving in opposite directions and rather than stopping to let one or the other pass they tried to pass at the same time, taking up not only the entire roadway but also the sidewalk where two 15 year old girls were walking. The girls found themselves trapped with no avenue for escape since the area of road they were passing has a large retaining wall on their side of the street. Local activists claim the soldiers saw the girls and decided not to stop anyway. The soldiers were never tried in South Korean court and since they were on duty the US military court found no fault with the soldiers. The US military has since built a memorial at the site, but the local villagers apparently despise the memorial because they would rather have built their own memorial to honor these two lost souls. If one looks closely at the inscription explaining that the officers and soldiers of the 2nd Infantry division built the memorial, they’ll notice a vandal has attempted to scratch the division’s name off the monument.

A Plea to American High School Students from the Elders of Daechu-I
Imagine waking up one morning to the sound of helicopters filling the sky over your village. You exit your home to see soldiers rappelling down from the helicopters in what appears to you to be full combat gear. Next imagine that these soldiers then proceed to construct a large impenetrable fence around the rice paddies that had been your family’s primary means of support and way of life for generations and generations. Such is the sad story related to me during our meeting in the next village visited.

After leaving Mugeonri we traveled to the city of Pyeongtek, about an hour south of Seoul by train. There are two major US bases in the area, Osan Air Base and Anjeong-ri Base. Under the new ‘strategic flexibility’ principle, Osan is slated to be the primary base of the massive US presence in Korea. The site was originally a Japanese base from prior to World War II, and now the US has promised to build a base there to last 100 years.

We go to visit the newly constructed village of Nowar-I, but the village head is fighting to rename the village to the name of their community’s original village-Daechu-I. The “village” looks more like a recently build American tract development. Villagers that were once farmers have now become suburban “homeowners” with mortgages. Unfortunately, they have lost their primary means of support. Now each household is given one 6 month a year appointment to work in the city sanitation department cleaning roads.

We meet in the newly constructed home of village headman Shin Jong-wok. He is reticent to talk about the struggle that culminated in the entire village being forcibly evicted and relocated to an apartment complex three years ago before finally being relocated to its current location. Mr. Shin has invited three elders whom he says were instrumental in the struggle to speak with me. He says he invited many others, but most chose not to talk to me since the memory of their forcible eviction is still too painful. Sung-hee and I sit down with the elders; Mr. Song Jae-guk does the majority of the talking for the group.

Mr. Song: I just wanted to save our village. I’m not sure if the US military is here to protect us or not, but I am angry because they took our land. We were not properly compensated and the US and Republic of Korea militaries treated us like “small fries.” This is why we are still so angry. Our opinions were never considered in the negotiations. In fact, we were never consulted; instead we were just told we had to move and when we resisted we were forcibly relocated to a temporary space for three years before being brought to this final location. If the US government had taken the time to speak to us and listen to us we would not be so angry at being relocated. Another thing we are upset with the government over is that during the relocation process they easily could have let us stay in our village for the three years it took them to get this village ready. The US military decided they wanted our village and the decision was made without any discussion with us. I think they did not talk to us because they were afraid we would refuse to move. We also feel betrayed by our government because they were more worried about their relationship with the United States than being responsible to their own people. I don’t really have much else to say, but I do have a request for the American teenagers. The US is a powerful country, and we are not sure if the US military is here to protect their own interests or us. But, there should be respect shown to your alliance country. This respect must come from the heart, only then can there be no hostility. Please treat us as your brothers. Please treat the world as your brothers. There should be no difference between you and me. I think both countries should peacefully co-exist and am saddened it is not going so well.

Thus my second day of travel has been completed. Friday was not nearly as hectic and fast paced as the day before, but by the end of the day I’m once again exhausted and looking forward to returning to my hostel. The next morning will be a very early departure since we will be flying to Jeju Island at 7:30AM.

Jeju Island: The Uprising and Planned Naval Base.
The final leg of my journey in Korea took me to Jeju Island. Korean’s consider Jeju to be their own version of Hawaii; an island paradise most newlyweds visit on their honeymoon. From the descriptions of this gorgeous island one reads in travel brochures, they would never know the sad and tragic history hidden here, much less the South Korean and US Governments’ current plan for the island. I’ll begin the final portion of this blog entry with a brief history lesson.

“The Jeju April 3 Incident” refers to a series of events that lasted for 7 years spanning the US military government period, the founding of the Republic of Korea and the end of the Korean War. The casualties involved with this incident are exceeded only by the death toll of the Korean War itself. In 1945, after the liberation of Korea, public sentiment on Jeju Island was restless about the political direction of the US Military Government in Korea. The spark for the incident is often identified as an event on March 1, 1947. Six Jeju residents were shot dead by the National Police while demonstrating against rule by the American Military Government in Korea. The citizens of the island responded with a general strike that even involved local government officials. In response the US Military Government deployed the National Police and the Northwest Youth Organization (a right-wing political organization modeled after the Hitler Youth of Nazi Germany). These two entities attempted to quell the uprising by unleashing torture and political terror upon the local population. Finally, members of the Jeju branch of the South Korean Labor Party initiated an uprising to protest the military repression and the announcement of an election to establish a separate South Korean government. The people of Jeju themselves responded by boycotting the elections en masse which led to the nullification of the May 10th general election results.

Despite the efforts of the Jeju Islanders to oppose the establishment of an independent South Korean Government, the Republic of Korea came into existence on August 15, 1948. Following the establishment of the ROK, the South Korean government intensified its military presence on the island with the support of the US Military. On November 17, 1948, the ROK declared martial law on Jeju Island. This led to intensive military operations designed to further suppress political resistance on Jeju. In a particularly shocking move, the newly created South Korean Military declared all areas further than 50km from the coast a “free fire zone.” They ultimately deployed a scorched earth policy burning down almost the entire island in order to drive out the remaining resistance on the island. If citizens of Jeju were found within the free fire zone, they would be killed and tortured regardless of age, gender or political affiliation. Accounts of how many people were killed are difficult to come by since the South Korean government suppressed all attempts to even talk about the Jeju April 3 incident until 1987. Official estimates of the death toll from this incident range anywhere from the early conservative ROK estimates of 15,000 to upwards of 60, 000 citizen deaths.

I relate this history to give context to the current plans to build a naval base on the island. With this decision, the political history of Jeju Island as a holdout against US Military rule and Korea and the decision to partition Korea has come full circle. The “red-island” (name given to Jeju by US military propaganda in 1947) will now become a key strategic location for the South Korean and American militaries to practice the principle of strategic flexibility.

A simple glance at this map demonstrates the ultimate strategic goal for building a military base on this island. I’ll give the reader a hint; it’s not for protection against North Korea. In Jeju Sung-hee and I join up with members of SPARK who have come to the island in order to see and hear first hand about the current plans for the military base. A group of Korean-Americans on a cultural exploration trip also joins in our expedition.

Local artist and activist Mr. Koh Kwoh-I was our driver and tour guide around the island that afternoon. Mr. Koh took us to three different sites in order to help us grasp the impact the proposed naval base would have on the local population. First we go to the reservoir the villagers rely upon for their drinking water. Jeju Island is singularly bereft of rivers, but they do have a few streams that actually start from underground aquifers. The reservoir we visit is the only site of clean and fresh drinking water for the villagers. Once the base is built, it is expected by the villagers they will lose access to the clean and healthy water provided by this natural resource. Next we visit the site on the coast that represents the northernmost limits of the proposed base. The beautiful volcanic rocks we stood on that day will have to be covered over with concrete in order to build the base. Finally, we visit a protest tent at the southernmost edge of the proposed site.

Mr. Koh explains his objections to the proposed base: The ROK government tells us this base is not intended for use by the US military, but given that they plan to have the base ready by 2014 I am suspicious of this claim. 2014 is also the date the US military has promised to remove troops from Okinawa by. Also, the Status of Forces Agreement (in military speak this is called a “SOFA”; essentially an agreement between the United States and South Korea which outlines the nature of US military presence in the country) says that the United States does not even need to ask South Korea’s permission to use bases owned and operated by the South Korean military. Therefore, it is inevitable that this base will become a US military base. Jeju Island should remain an “Island of Peace” (the Roh Moo-hyun government designated Jeju Isand and “International Island of Peace” in 2002 as part of an apology for the April 3 Incident) and serve as a site for peace and stability in North East Asia, but if a base is built here we will instead be in the eye of the storm. The closest naval port to Jeju is not Pyongyang in North Korea, but instead is Shanghai. The goal of the base is clearly to wage war against China, not to protect us from the North Koreans. Clearly, China would not look favorably upon the building of this naval base. If tensions in North East Asia are heightened the world will become destabilized and potentially cause World War III. The only people who benefit from such a situation is the Military Industrial Complex. I personally feel that is why our struggle here is so important; if we do not fight this base the safety of the world for the next 100 years will be jeopardized.

After Mr. Koh’s speech we leave the protest tent and head to the village cultural center for a shared meal. The agenda for the rest of the evening is a meeting with the Mayor of Geongjeong (the village where the base will be built). Mayor Kang Dong-kyun gives a speech explaining the history of the island’s struggle against the base and the current status of their fight. I’ve run out of space to completely reproduce his speech here, so instead I will end this post with his exhortation to us. If you’d like to read more from Mayor Kang, you can read another speech of his here.

Mayor Kang: In conclusion, I have one request for you. Tens of thousands of people have visited our village over the past few years but they always go home and forget about our struggle here. Please go home and talk to people about our story. Please remember our struggle as a small village trying simply to preserve our way of life.

Thus ends my journey in Korea. I am now writing from my hotel room in Okinawa and hope to have plenty more stories to tell about my time in Asia the next time I get a chance to post to the blog. Thanks for reading, and hopefully these stories have inspired you in the same way my encounters with the people in these stories have inspired me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


While I had the best of intentions to blog on a more regular basis while in Korea, the combination of jetlag, humidity and the sheer pace of meetings and events conspired against me. I have now made it safely to Taipei and am finally getting some time to rest and reflect upon my encounters in Korea. At the start, I should say my encounters were nothing short of mind-blowing and heart-rending. The stories I return with from Korea have a broad range, all of them sad. There’s the former North Korean soldier who’s been a political prisoner trapped in the South since 1962 with no word or contact from his family for nearly four decades. There’s the mother who worries that her children will carry traumatic memories with them for the rest of their lives from the day the South Korean military forcibly evicted them from their homes in order to make way for the expansion of a US military base. There’s the artist and activist on Jeju Island fighting the building of a US naval base in his village who can’t understand how US citizens continue to support militaristic policies that place the lives of his whole community in jeopardy. Due to the immense amount of information I have collected, I will only relate two of the interviews from my first day in Korea in this entry. They were by far the most extensive and exhaustive. Before I begin though, I’d like to take a moment to discuss process and method.

Specifically, it is important to acknowledge and understand the act of translation from the outset. Other than Professor Kang, none of my subjects spoke English just as I do not speak Korean. Each of my interviews were arranged and translated by a Korean activist and blogger named Choi Sung-Hee. Without her tireless dedication to this project, this endeavor would never have been possible. The testimony I present below has been gathered through an arduous translation process. I would ask questions, Sung-Hee would then translate the questions for our interviewee and then translate their responses back to me. Obviously, no act of translation will ever completely and accurately capture the exact meaning and tenor of the message the subject wished to convey. Therefore the words below are the combined effort of Sung-Hee, the interviewees, and me to bring you stories and descriptions we all felt must be heard and understood by American high school students specifically and Americans citizens in general. Every person interviewed was informed of the nature of my fellowship, and that our goal was to get these stories into the hands of high school students debating whether or not to decrease US military presence in Asia. Without further ado, I’ll begin with the first story.


August 5th began with Sung-Hee and me meeting and interviewing Professor Kang Jung-Koo of Dong-Guk University. Professor Kang will soon retire from the Department of Sociology where his research interests include Korean reunification and contemporary Korean history. Professor Kang is also the director of the Research Institute for Peace and Reunification of Korea, and is affiliated with an activist organization called SPARK (“Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea”). The interview was conducted at the SPARK offices in Seoul and lasted just under two hours. Professor Kang is a very controversial figure in South Korea whose statements regarding the Korean War and reunification of Korea have landed him in court for violating South Korea’s National Security Law. Our interview begins with him explaining why the South Korean Government has prosecuted him.

Professor Kang: In the year 2005 which marked both the 60th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan and the 60th anniversary of a foreign military presence by the United States and thus our forced division, I began arguing that we should celebrate this 60th anniversary with a withdrawal of foreign military forces from South Korea. Also, during this time I wrote an article on the Internet about the General MacArthur statue in Incheon where I argued it was time to get rid of that statue because he was at the forefront of our country’s division. In fact, he advocated dropping as many as 26 Atomic bombs on North Korea; therefore we should not continue to honor his memory with this statue. I have also been very publicly critical of the US military’s actions during the Korean War. For all of these reasons I am now being prosecuted for violating our National Security Law.

My main argument is that if there had been no intervention by the US into the internal affairs of liberated Korea at the end of World War II, Korea would never have been divided and we would not have had to suffer the tragedy of the Korean War. IF the US did not intervene in the Korean War, the war would have ended in a month without the killing of as many as 3 million Koreans and 1 million Chinese. IF there had been no intervention in 1950 during the first period of the Korean War, we would not have suffered such a tragedy. The Korean War was a war of reunification and would have ended quickly and resulted in a unified Korea.

The professor explains to me that his case has gone all the way to the South Korean Supreme Court and he has received a suspended sentence of two years in jail for advancing this argument in his academic writings and public advocacies. He is currently awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court to discover whether or not he will serve prison time for arguing that the US military should never have intervened in the internal affairs of Korea. At this point I ask him to elaborate and explain the historical hypothetical he has advanced.

Professor Kang: The US is 90% responsible for the division of Korea. If there had been no forced division there would never have been a civil war. By 1950 both the US and Russian militaries had left Korea (the US military left in June 1949, and Russia’s military left in December 1948). On July 1st, 1950 the US military returned to Korea in order to intervene in our civil war. Therefore the civil war is a product of interference by foreign powers.

Even though Korea has been divided for over 65 years, I think most Koreans (both North and South) want a re-unified Nation. We have the same identity. Even though there are many differences between South and North in the way of culture, ways of living and thinking we still have a shared identity and desire to be reunited. Prior to our forced division, we had been a united country since the 7th century, that’s over 1400 years as a single country and people.

The story of the “lovely couple” can be used here to understand Korea’s current struggle. When a husband and wife are married, they are “ONE,” but in this story the neighborhood gangster intervened and forced them to be divorced (the US is of course this neighborhood gangster). The majority of Koreans want to be reunited as a “lovely couple” again through peaceful means.

My question: “Can you elaborate on your writings about the US military government in Korea collaborating with pro-Japanese Koreans after World War II? Specifically, how do you think the US military occupation of Korea resembles the Japanese occupation of Korea prior to World War II?”

Professor Kang: If there had been no intervention, the liberated Korea would have cleaned up the pro-Japanese national traitors. In 1946 North Korea acted to root out the pro-Japanese influence in their government and society in order to counteract the legacy of Japanese Imperialism. Therefore, the ruling party of North Korea has no legacy of Japanese imperialism and they are able to maintain self-reliance. This rejection of US imperialism for the last 65 years must be understood as a continuation of the struggle against Japanese imperialism.

On the contrary, in the South there is an opposite history. When the US entered Korea, they had no friends on the Peninsula that would help them administer their military occupation. When the US wanted South Korea to take a Capitalist route rather than a Socialist route, most of South Korea wanted to have a Socialist system rather than a Capitalist system. In July 1946 the US Military Government in Korea conducted a survey of South Koreans and discovered that 71% of respondents wanted a Socialist system, 7% wanted a Communist system, and only 14% wanted a Capitalist system. If the survey had been conducted in 1945, before the US Military Government in Korea made it clear they were opposed to any form of Communist of Socialist system, I would say that almost 90% of Korean people (both North and South) wanted a Socialist system rather than a capitalist system. That is why the US could not find friends in either the North or the South.

The US Military Government needed pro-Japanese national traitors to cooperate with them to help institute a pro-Capitalist regime. For the pro-Japanese, to be friends with the US was the only way to keep their power and status in Korean society. Therefore there emerged a very close alliance between the US military occupation and the pro-Japanese national traitors. This is the reason we had so many small on-going wars (referred to as people’s uprisings) starting in October 1946 and leading up to the Korean War in 1950. In 1946 alone more than 10,000 Koreans were killed by the US occupying forces. These small wars lasted from 1946 to 1950, and because of these wars almost 100,000 Koreans lost their lives.

Also important to understand is that the Korean War was not a “war of aggression.” A “war of aggression” is between two separate sovereign countries, but the North and the South are not separate sovereign countries—we are one country, one nation with two different governments. Therefore, this is a civil war. It is true that North Korea mobilized their military and invaded South Korea. They believed the war would end in one or two months without such tragedy. This was an internal conflict; there was no reason for neighbors to intervene in the internal affairs of the “lovely couple.” As I explained we are like a married couple that was forced by the neighborhood gangster to divorce, so it is natural for us to get reunited after the neighborhood gangster has left.

My question: “So Professor Kang, what can American high school students do in order to facilitate the process of allowing this ‘lovely couple’ to be reunited?”

Professor Kang: Most Americans do not know the real story of our country’s division and the ensuing Korean War. For example, in 2002 I met Thomas Friedman of the New York Times and we talked for about 90 minutes. He later wrote some articles about South Korea and the North Korean nuclear crisis and I was very disappointed to notice that he didn’t appear to know anything about the real story of what is actually going on between North Korea and South Korea. Therefore, we must start by getting to the Real Story of our country’s division, the tragedy of the Korean War, and of the inevitability of North Korea’s development of nuclear powers in order to protect itself against attacks from the United States. In the history of crises on the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War, out of 11 crises all but 2 were initiated by United States actions and belligerence towards North Korea. In the face of the US military aggression what can North Korea do? They do not have the money to cope with South Korean and United States military spending; therefore the most economic way to defend themselves is to develop nuclear bombs. Only a nuclear bomb can guarantee North Korea’s security in such a situation. When North Korea first announced the test of their nuclear weapons, the official announcement of North Korea stated that when the hostile policies of the United States towards North Korea cease they would be willing to give up their nuclear weapons.

The first step is to get American citizens to know all these true details of US involvement in Korea. If they know they will realize there is no reason for the US military to be here in the Korean peninsula. The Korean peninsula is not safe because of US military presence; instead it is “the most dangerous place in the world” because of the US military presence. So the conclusion is clear, the first step is to get the US military out of Korea. Then, we (North and South) can refuse the offensive military orientation towards each other and transition towards defensive oriented military systems and we can begin to work towards peaceful reunification and cooperation between North and South.


At the conclusion of my interview with Professor Kang, Sung-Hee and I quickly rush off in order to make our lunchtime meeting with Mr. Kwon Oh-Hun. Mr. Kwon is a former political prisoner (prisoner of conscience) and has been a reunification activist since 1964. He is the chairperson of the Supporting Committee for Prisoners of Conscience and the Co-Chairperson of MINKAHYUP Human Rights Group. Our goal is to have lunch with Mr. Kwon before joining him at the weekly MINKAHYUP protest in Tapgol (Pagoda) Park. I must admit at this point my mind is spinning in a million different directions after meeting with Professor Kang, but one question above all is burning in my mind when I meet him. Ultimately this interview spans seven hours and three different locations. Below I have reproduced a small fraction of the transcript of our meeting.

My question: “How has the South Korean government utilized the National Security Law to suppress dissent?”

Mr. Kwon: The official National Security Law was enacted in 1948, but it was preceded by the Japanese enactment of the “Security Maintenance Law” in 1929. Both laws had the same basic goal—to suppress dissent. On September 8, 1945 the United States came here to disarm the Japanese military, but ultimately turned out to be an occupying army as well. Koreans were told that resistance to the US military order would be met with death. The National Security Law of 1948 was passed in order to help preserve US military control.

One of the first acts of the South Korean government after its creation on August 15, 1948 was to pass the National Security Law on October 1st, 1948. At the time the separate South Korean government was established there was substantial public opposition to the creation of separate governments; this partition was only possible with the help of the US military. On April 3, 1948 the first organized and mass resistance to the separate South Korean government occurred with the Cheju Uprising [readers should take note that Cheju Island has been re-named Jeju Island]. The South Korean military was sent to the island to suppress the movement but the military resisted the order (this refusal is known as the Yeo-soon uprising). Only by the US military stepping in was the Cheju uprising suppressed [watch for my upcoming blog regarding the US military’s shocking involvement in suppressing this uprising].

In order to make the creation of the separate South Korean government successful the National Security Law was needed to prevent resistance and ensure the permanent division of Korea. Under the US dominated South Korean government the Japanese imperialists had retained their positions in the new government and suggested the use of the same law they had previously used to control dissent. The Japanese “Security Maintenance Law” of 1929 had three main goals: 1. Control over ideas 2. Suppress the local independence movement 3. Suppress freedom of expression. The first goal was the most important because it was via this law that the Japanese and later the United States and South Korea were able to suppress the growing socialist movement in Korea. One of the main differences between South Korea and North Korea at this point in time is that in North Korea the pro-Japanese collaborators were purged, but in South Korea the US military protected and promoted the pro-Japanese collaborators and their institutions of control.

My question: “Could you give me some specific examples of how the National Security Law has been used since its enactment in 1948?”

Mr. Kwon: The first victims of the law where the legislators in the South Korean government who voted against the law. When the South Korean National Assembly was first created the progressives had refused to participate, yet even without such participation about 37 members who were center-right nationalists still opposed the law even though they supported the partition of Korea. There were four reasons for their refusal to support the law: 1. It could be used to control the freedom of ideas 2. It would make the division of Korea permanent 3. It could be used to oppress political opponents 4. The law could be interpreted arbitrarily and used to violate human rights. Because of their opposition to the law charges were brought against these 37 members of the National Assembly accusing them of being spies. This event in our history is now referred to as the “Incident of the National Assembly Spies.”

The second victims of the National Security Law were the progressive political parties and the socialist organizations. Within the first year of enactment of the National Security Law 118,00 people were arrested and 132 political parties and civil organizations (including media organizations such as newspapers etc…) were dispersed utilizing the law. Due to this repression many of South Korea’s progressives, activists and artists fled to the North during this time. Many were convicted and sentenced to death during this purge, but since we are running out of time I can only relate one specific example. Cho Bong-Am, chairperson of the Progressive Party, called for peaceful reunification with the North. Syngman Rhee preferred absorption of North Korea into his regime and therefore had Cho arrested and executed on July 30, 1959.

At this point in the interview we are forced to pause for a couple hours so Mr. Kwon can participate in a weekly political protest wherein activists from a group known as MINKAHYUP rally in support of the release of all remaining political prisoners and the repeal of the National Security Law.

After the rally, we reconvene our interview about an hour away from downtown Seoul in a quiet neighborhood in Incheon. We continue our discussion in a house used over the years by recently released political prisoners until they are able to make their way back to North Korea. Over the next hour and a half Mr. Kwon meticulously outlines the history of the South Korean government’s active oppression of dissent and opposition by use of the National Security Law. The litany is exhausting and eye opening.

Mr. Kwon: There is the “April 19th Uprising” in 1960 which started with students protesting a fraudulent election designed to ensure Syngman Rhee the lifetime presidency of South Korea. Syngman Rhee was unable to maintain support due to this uprising but the South Korean military intervened via a coup to reign in the movement. Right before the coup the aspirations of the progressive movement was very high and many thought peaceful reunification would be the likely outcome of the uprising. After the coup, the National Security Law was again invoked resulting in 500 people being arrested, 200 being tried and convicted and 7 or 8 people being executed. One of the executed was Joo Yong-Soo, chairperson of the Korean Social Party Organizing Committee and publisher of the “People’s Daily Newspaper.” It has recently come to light that the outcome of his trial was actually a “not-guilty” verdict but he was executed regardless. Additionally, the chairperson for the Socialist Party and a number of teachers advocating democratic social change were also executed.

For the sake of time and space, I’m not able to relate the full litany of incidents and abuses Mr. Kwon detailed that afternoon. Hopefully, I will be able in the coming weeks to continue transcribing the list of incidents and publish the full interview here. Instead, at this time I’d like to skip ahead to some slightly more recent history.

My question: “Mr. Kwon, up to this point we have talked exclusively about the time of South Korea’s history that is fairly universally regarded as a dictatorship. How does the current government since the end of the dictatorship utilize the National Security Law to prevent dissent?”

Mr. Kwon: I’d like to point out two things in response to your question: 1. The military dictatorship continues to this day. The president elected in 1987 was a former military general and even when we have had civilians elected as President they still collaborated with military leaders. 2. The National Security Law was revised in 1991 but is still used to suppress activists. For example, recent progressive movements that advocate for peaceful reunification have been prosecuted as organizations lending support to the enemy.

During the course of our discussion two men have joined our interview. My host explains both are former political prisoners (a term he uses interchangeably with “prisoners of conscience”) who would like to have a chance to speak to me about their experiences.

First is Mr. Park Hee-Sung. Born in 1935 in Pyongyang province, Mr. Park has not seen his wife or children who still reside in North Korea since 1962 and in fact does not even know if they are still alive. He came to South Korea in 1959 to assist South Korean activists to escape to the North in order to avoid persecution by the Rhee government. After a two hour naval battle in which he suffered numerous injuries he was captured and placed in a South Korean prison. He recounts to me some of his horrifying experiences in prison that range from being able to hear fellow inmates being executed to being told he too could easily be killed if his guards so decided. He was released in 1989 under a general amnesty and has been waiting for the South Korean government to allow him to go home ever since. His only wish at this late stage in his life is to go home to be hugged by his homeland and see his family one last time before he dies.

The other former prisoner is Mr. Kim Young-Sik. At this point we have run out of time for our interview so Mr. Kim takes a brief moment to angrily curse the policies of the United States government towards Korea as a policy wherein the most powerful country on Earth suffocates the weak and helpless. He reasserts an argument I end up hearing over and over while in Korea: If the US had never intervened in the internal affairs of Korea by collaborating with Japanese imperialists there would have been no division, no war and no tragedy. He states that it’s particularly terrible that the US gave power in South Korea to the people most hated by the Korean population.

Sung-Hee and I wish our hosts good-bye as rush hour sets in. We board the subway back to Seoul where one final meeting with Choi Eun-A, Lee Kyung-Won and Kang In-Ogg of the Pan Korean Alliance for Reunification. Ms. Choi and Mr. Lee have both recently been released from prison after being brought up on charges for violating the National Security Law. They have not yet been vindicated though, they were only released because their attorneys where able to prove that their human rights were violated because the prosecution has been taping their phones and reading their emails.

As I promised at the beginning, this entry only covers my first two meetings on August 5th. The day has ended here in Taipei and I want to get to the night market for a late night snack before I begin to pack for my trip to Beijing tomorrow. Check back in the next day or two for the continuation of my interviews in Korea.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Urban Debate Champions Visit the Oval Office

Congratulations to Kevin Hirn and UTNIF staff member Misael Gonzalez! (Misael is also an alum of the UTNIF 6 week program, the Summer Survivors.) A great accomplishment for two outstanding young debaters.

Here is what Leonard Gail of the NAUDL board of directors had to say:

The President hosts the Chase Urban Debate National Champions and Top Speakers

On Thursday, July 22, President Obama welcomed to the Oval Office Misael Gonzalez and Kevin Hirn from Whitney Young High School in Chicago, Shagun Kukreja from University High School in New Jersey, and Michael Barlow from Grady High School in Atlanta. Misael and Kevin are the 2010 Urban Debate National Champions. Kevin, Shagun, and Michael were the top three individual speakers at the Chase Urban Debate National Championship in April. With Misael and Kevin was Chicago Debate League Executive Director Les Lynn. Shagun was joined by Marcia Brown, a Board member of the Jersey Urban Debate League. James Roland, Director of Programs for the National Debate Project and NAUDL Board member, accompanied Michael Barlow from the Atlanta UDL.

Like thousands of urban debaters across the country, these four student champions are proving that when the playing field is level, our debaters have the potential to achieve great things, and even to find themselves in the Oval Office—today as visitors, but perhaps tomorrow as hosts.

In addition to meeting President Obama, the students toured the nation’s capital and met with lawmakers including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, National Economic Council Director Larry Summers, and over 10 Senators and Representatives.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks to UDL representatives including Shagun Kukreja, Kevin Hirn, Michael Barlow, Sylvia Nelson Jordon (Chicago Public Schools), Eric Tucker (NAUDL), and Linda Listrom (incoming NAUDL Executive Director)

Seeing former debaters who have become influential leaders of our nation inspired Shagun Kukreja. She told an audience of government and civic leaders, “Looking out at all of you who were once where I am today - a high school debater - I see my future in your eyes.”

This visit reminds us just how far the Urban Debate Network has come. Nearly four years ago, the NAUDL undertook an ambitious Expansion Plan backed by debate supporters like you. Since then we have launched or revitalized 10 Urban Debate Leagues serving over 145 schools. This fall, 2,100 additional students will have the opportunity to debate – a prospect they would not have otherwise had.

We invite you browse photos from the students’ entire visit.

The NAUDL Board would like to thank Northwestern University debate legend Michael Gottlieb and the NAUDL staff for making the visit possible. While there are no guarantees in this rarefied air, the NAUDL will work to make such a trip for Urban Debate standouts an annual event.

Join us in congratulating these students and the UDLs from which they hail. We look forward to sharing more news with you soon about the future of urban debate.

Leonard A. Gail
On behalf of the NAUDL Board of Directors

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A view of US: Critical Ethnographic perspectives on American Military presence in East Asia by John Hines-part 1

Another summer at UTNIF has sadly come to a close. Overall, I’m confident the workshop was an outstanding experience for all. The students turned out a stunning list of arguments. Our list of critiques includes arguments grounded in theories of a diverse group of thinkers such as Schmitt, Bataille, Shapiro, Agamben, and Foucalt. We completed a variety of innovative disadvantages such as Prompt Global Strike, the Senkaku Islands disadvantage and Global Anti-base Movements. The Affirmatives include cases to end the Counter Insurgency strategy in Afghanistan, close Futenma Air Station in Okinawa, permanently end the policy of secret detention and torture, and even a “whole res” case to withdraw all US military and police presence from every topic country. Wow! Most of us will now return home and begin preparation for the first day of school, and the first tournaments of the year. As most of my lab students have heard during the course of the summer, I have slightly different plans.

Thanks to a generous research fellowship that Fund for Teachers and The Marcus Foster Education Fund awarded me, I am now preparing to travel to East Asia to conduct primary research on this year’s high school debate topic. Starting August 3, I will travel to Korea to meet and interview local activists who advocate Korean reunification and oppose the construction and expansion of US military bases. This encounter will be followed up by similar research projects in Taipei and Beijing before concluding my trip with a visit to activists in Henoko Bay, Okinawa (anyone who debated a Futenma AFF this summer should be well aware of where I’m talking about). Two primary questions will animate my research: What are local perceptions of American military and economic involvement in East Asia? What local stories and perspectives have been subverted in the overarching narrative of US military and economic dominance in Asia? One of my primary goals with this project is to connect the stories and lives of people who actually live near US bases and experience the day-to-day impact of US military presence to our traditional approach towards evidence. Such an approach would allow us to compare the value of emphasizing secondary over primary topic research.

Why did I apply for the fellowship?

As an educator I’ve never encountered a more empowering pedagogical tool than competitive debate. Debate doesn’t simply expect some form of critical thinking to occur but requires of its practitioners an actively engaged critical mind. With this fellowship my hope is to chart a unique approach to topic research and argument construction. By collecting pictures, stories, video and interviews rather than simply relying upon extant publications available in our local libraries or the internet, I hope to inspire debaters to look beyond traditional explanations and analyses which rely upon a cold and calculating utilitarian logic. I wish to humanize our research and debate practice by giving our subjects a face and a voice.

Academic debate traditionally views itself as a rhetorical game, where students learn the intricacies of public policy and persuasion. Until recently, debaters and coaches never viewed the act of debating as anything other than purely rhetorical. The explosion of performance (hip-hop, storytelling, plays, personal narratives, performance art, etc.) in debate rounds over the past decade signals a shifting understanding of the activity. Proponents of the performance turn in academic debate argue that debate has always been implicitly focused upon performance despite the lack of an explicit acknowledgement of these methodological foundations. For example, high school students spend thousands of dollars each summer attending college workshops where they are drilled in appropriate performance techniques. The existence of speaking drills, speaker points and the cross-examination period itself attest to the ultimately performative nature of the activity (the ballot asks an inherently performative question of the judge with the phrase “the better debating was done by”).

Essentially, the “Performance Turn” in debate calls into question traditional notions of objectivity in research. It is therefore my intention to offer research conducted utilizing the methodology of critical ethnography to debaters interested in pursuing performance argumentation techniques.

What is critical ethnography?

According to D. Soyini Madison:

“Critical ethnography begins with an ethical responsibility to address processes of unfairness or injustice within a particular lived domain. By ‘ethical responsibility,’ I mean a compelling sense of duty and commitment based on moral principles of human freedom and well-being, and hence a compassion for the suffering of living beings. The conditions of existence within a particular context are not as they could be for specific subjects; as a result, the researcher feels a moral obligation to make a contribution toward changing those conditions toward greater freedom and equity. The critical ethnographer also takes us beneath surface appearances, disrupts the status quo, and unsettles both neutrality and taken-for-granted assumptions by bringing to light underlying and obscure operations of power and control. Therefore, the critical ethnographer moves from ‘what is’ to ‘what could be’ (Carspecken, 1996; Denzin, 2001; Noblit, Flores & Murillo, 2004; Thomas, 1993). Because the critical ethnographer is committed to the art and craft of fieldwork, empirical methodologies become the foundation for inquiry, and it is here “on the ground” of Others that the researcher encounters social conditions that become the point of departure for research (Thomas, 1993).“

Madison continues with the suggestion that critical ethnographers be guided by the following methodological questions:

“1. How do we reflect upon and evaluate our own purpose, intentions, and frames of analysis as researchers?

2. How do we predict consequences or evaluate our own potential to do harm?

3. How do we create and maintain a dialogue of collaboration in our research projects between ourselves and Others?

4. How is the specificity of the local story relevant to the broader meanings and operations of the human condition?

5. How—in what location and through what intervention—will our work make the greatest contribution to equity, freedom, and justice?”

-Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Performance (2005)

Who am I?

One of the elements of critical ethnography I find most compelling is its directive that the researcher cannot forget who they are and what experiences they bring to the table. It is important that I honor my personal history and knowledge I have accumulated which contribute to my research endeavor. I’ve been involved in debate as a competitor and coach since I began debating in middle school in 1988. As a college debater I amassed a respectable record of appearances in late outrounds at numerous national tournaments in addition to three invitations to the National Debate Tournament. In my senior year I made the difficult decision to end my career in the fall in order to focus on community activism in the wake of September 11th. As a graduate student in Communication Studies at the University of North Texas (M.A. 2005), I became interested in how Rhetorical Studies and Performance Theory scholars addressed questions of voice and power within their research. I explored a research method termed [Performance Ethnography]. Utilizing this research method I traveled to Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico in order to conduct critical ethnographic research on the maintenance of traditional religious beliefs within modern cultures of performance. This current fellowship is an opportunity for me to continue my exploration of ethnography as research method and critical analysis tool.

In conclusion I’d like to thank the UTNIF for graciously allowing me to utilize their blog in order to post my reflections and research, The College Preparatory School for assistance in acquiring this grant, and Bruce Gagnon of Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space for arranging my introduction to the activist community in Korea and Japan. This post is the first in a series of entries charting my journey. Check back here regularly over the next thee weeks as I post journal entries offering observations on the research process, pictures of my trip and most importantly videos of my interviews. Ultimately, the goal of this blog is to provide debaters with a highly unique form of research on a very exciting and important debate topic.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have specific questions you would like me to address in my research and interviews!