Korea war bases: U.S. in Pyeongteak tops the charts

Pyeongteak Peace Center museum

Image: Pyeongteak Peace Center museum

By Bruce Gagnon,
Posted in Organizing Notes, 28 February 2024

On Tuesday we drove to  Pyeongteak where the US has two military bases. One is the Army Camp Humphreys (HQ of the United Nations Command left over from the Korean war) and the other is the Osan Air Force Base nearby.

I’ve made three previous trips to Pyeongteak in 2010, 2015 and 2016.

In June of 2010 I wrote:

Under “Strategic Flexibility” South Korea will be responsible to defend against North Korea (who is never going to initiate an attack on the south anyway) while the U.S. intends to use its expanding military presence throughout the region for its own imperial ambitions.

I asked one of our hosts at the Pyeongteak Peace Center (Yongdong Yang) just whom the U.S. was aiming at in the region if it was not North Korea? His response was straight to the point as he answered, “Russia and China. Russia has large supplies of natural gas [actually the largest in the world]. It’s about energy wars.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

On this visit we stopped at the Pyeongteak Peace Center and took a tour of the village with the leader of the community that was established years ago after 71 villages were ousted from their farm land in order to expand US military operations in the area. 

Walk thru village where farmers relocated

There were 180 homes in one of the farm villages when they struggled to resist from 2003-2007. Once given some compensation the farm families had to purchase new lands and take loans to build new houses. Forty-four homes were built in this place while the other farmers were cast to the four winds. Many of them were not able to afford to buy new farm lands so as they have aged they face the challenge of surviving with little income or savings.

While at the peace center one person in our group noticed the display below and upon closer inspection found my photo in the lower left corner. What a surprise.

Next we moved to get an up close view of Camp Humphreys army base. My first reaction was that much of it looked fairly new and massively bigger than I had seen it on previous visits.

Base gate

The numbers vary but it is believed that between 48,000-60,000 US military personnel and their families now live on the base. (When regular war games are held the numbers rise.) This would make Camp Humphreys the largest US base outside of the continental United States.

Much of the base expansion was due to the closing of the Yongsan US Army base in downtown Seoul. That base had become a toxic mess and since closing it is still unavailable for new usage due to the US essentially refusing to fix the damages. They have left it to the ROK government to deal with. That is after the US forced the South Korean government to pay about 90% of the costs to relocate Yongsan to Camp Humphreys.

Of course one reason for the move was the toxic mess at Yongsan. But other reasons I have heard was to move the base about 90 minutes to the south thus making it more difficult for North Korea to damage the base in any war. Plus the ROK didn’t like having Seoul as a prime target.

While we were outside Camp Humphreys ROK police approached and told us we could not take any photos of the base. So we could not get a good picture of the eight PAC-3 (Patriot missile launchers) just on the other side of the fence from where we were standing at the time.

Underground bunkers connect the various buildings on the base – it’s obvious that the design of the base had war with China-Russia-North Korea in mind.

Both Humphreys and nearby Osan AFB are also now riddled with massive toxic contamination. The people and environment of South Korea are being sacrificed for US imperial ambitions.

Meeting with community members

We next moved to another part of  the sprawling city to hold a discussion meeting with community members who are organizing around the issues resulting from the two US bases in Pyeongteak.

Peace center staffer Lotus Flower focused on the work of their organization and the many partner groups they work with. Here are the points she made:

  • Since 2017 they focus on the direct damages caused by the base.
  • Base night lights are causing damage to local farm crops just outside the base gates.
  • Radar on the base are impacting local residents use of electronics.
  • The stone walls around much of the base blocks the natural flow of rain water and floods often result. 
  • An F-16 crashed in 2023. The fire fighting foam used to suppress the fire has toxic agents (PFAS) that get into the groundwater. 
  • A special law was passed at the time of base expansion which meant that local government does not have the right to follow laws like pollution standards, etc.
  • Government funds increasingly are going toward subsidizing the semiconductor manufacturing industry (Samsung) in the city rather than local needs arising from the impacts due to base expansion.
  • Local industry and the two bases have huge electric power needs thus three coal-fired power plants are now in the city causing serious air quality problems for the public.
  • GI criminal activity causes problems.
  • Many activists who monitor the two bases think that the US is testing hypersonic missiles at Osan AFB.

I was asked to give a broad overview of the space issue and how this growing US-ROK space militarization collaboration will impact their local community. The US has created a Space Force unit at Osan AFB.

Following supper with some of the local leadership we made the 90 minute drive to Seoul where I will have interviews and one more formal talk over the next two days.

When we arrived in the heart of Seoul our crew in the car pointed out to me the brick wall with barbed wire on top of what used to be the US Yongsan army base. Again, due to the major toxic contamination of the base, large expanses of land are still unavailable to the city for any positive use.

See: Original Post