Report from VFP in Gangjeong Village, SK

From: Bruce Gagnon's Blog: Organizing Notes

December 3 - 9 2015

Thursday, December 03, 2015

FP Delegation Arrives on Jeju Island

Sacred Gureombi rock on Jeju Island before the Navy base destruction began

I arrived on Jeju Island, South Korea at noon today as part of a Veterans For Peace (VFP) delegation I helped organize along with national board member Tarak Kauff.  All together 12 VFP members from around the US have come on this delegation in order to stand in unity with the Gangjeong village struggle to oppose the Navy base being built here for US warships that will provocatively encircle China's coastline.  After six days here our group will then head to Okinawa where we again will stand with people there opposing US bases and their expansion on that beleaguered island.

We had some concern that some VFP members might be turned away so we did not mention the Jeju trip publicly until we all safely arrived.  Only one of our group had any difficulty but in the end everyone made it into the country.

Immediately upon arriving in the village we discovered that there were extended protests going on at the Navy base gate due to the fact that yesterday a woman got hit by a construction vehicle and had to be rushed to the hospital for an operation on her foot that was severed to the bone.  In addition the police arrested two activists so Catholic priest Fr. Mun decided to go on a hunger strike until they were released from jail and stayed at the Navy base gate all through last night and all day today.

Upon arrival I quickly dumped my gear at the traditional Korean-style house where most of us are staying and made my way to the protest.  Luckily I had the good sense to bring along my long underwear because it is very cold here and the wind was driving a very hard rain.

We will have a busy schedule while here that will include briefings from various activists and leaders of the Jeju protest.  I'll try to report as best I can on what is happening and thankfully we have professional photographer Ellen Davidson with us to ensure that we get lots of visuals to share with people around the world.

First Night at Jeju Navy Base Gate

(Left) Fr. Mun encircled by police at Navy base gate
(Right) Tarak Kauff being carried away from blocking gate

VFP member and Iraq war vet Mike Hanes

Photos by Ellen Davidson
(See her first article here)

Friday, December 04, 2015

South Korea Completely Subordinated to U.S.

Our Veterans For Peace (VFP) delegation had a busy day in Gangjeong village on Jeju Island, South Korea yesterday as we helped block the Navy base gate for a couple hours throughout the day and had two briefings from activist and village leaders.

In the photo above our delegation (minus Col. Ann Wright who arrives today) is joined by Brother Song (front row left) and village international team members Sung-Hee Cho and MiYoung (center).

Brother Song is a leader of the international peace group called The Frontiers and has been working in the village for several years.  When the sacred Gureombi rocky coastline was first closed off to the villagers by the Navy and Samsung (the lead base construction contractor), Br. Song would swim each day and attempt to enter Gureombi.  He was often stopped and beaten by South Korean Coast Guard divers while he was in the water.

Br. Song thanked VFP for sending our solidarity delegation and said, "This is a crucial time to visit us.  Your visit could give us some encouragement and hope to keep fighting as we enter the second round."

Br. Song went on to detail the struggle ahead as there are signs that the "peace island", as it has been officially named by the Seoul government, will be even further militarized in the years ahead.  He showed us a spot on the map of the island where activists believe it is likely that an air base will next be built.  The announced 'pivot' of 60% of Pentagon forces into the Asia-Pacific necessitates more airfields and ports-of-call for US warplanes and warships.  He also pointed out another place on Jeju Island where an artillery unit will soon be added - not aimed at North Korea but due to the location of Jeju the target will clearly be China.

Brother Song from the activist group The Frontiers now working to demilitarize Jeju Island

Br. Song outlined a plan underway to link up demilitarization movements on Jeju with those in Okinawa and Taiwan thus creating a unified campaign for a demilitarized zone in this part of the Pacific.  The long-term goal is to 'Sail for Peace' between the various islands to spread word about an alternative non-violent vision for the region.  Song expressed much interest in working with VFP which has recently restored its own peace sail boat called the 'Golden Rule'.

Later in the evening we had a briefing from Gangjeong village Vice-Mayor Mr. Go who did a quick welcome and then suggested he just take questions from our delegation.  One of the first questions was about Samsung requesting that the right-wing government in Seoul fine the village $20 million in penalties for "obstruction of business" due to the eight-year campaign to oppose the Navy base.  He reported that lawyers have said that the village might have a chance to beat this absurd and cruel move by Samsung but the track record of South Korean courts on the Jeju Navy base issue has not been kind to Gangjeong village.

As the completion of the Navy base nears (the Navy had hoped to have the official opening of the base in early December) Mr. Go stated, "We are just trying to enjoy every moment of the protests and will take the next steps when we come to that moment".  Mr. Go said that the South Korean military and government is "completely subordinated to the US."

Gangjeong village Vice-Mayor Mr. Go

He said that their biggest concern at this time is the environmental degradation that has already come from the construction of the base on sacred Gureombi rock and the dredging of the offshore area near UNESCO recognized endangered soft coral forests.  Mr. Go said that squid eggs just offshore are now diminishing and that fishing has already been reduced by one-third from past years.

Today we will take a tour of the east and west sides of the Navy base construction area.

Photos by Ellen Davidson.


Sunday, December 06, 2015

More VFP Jeju Island Delegation Photos
by Sung-Hee Choi


(Left) A briefing about the current broader progressive struggle in South Korea
against the US-backed regime in Seoul
(Right) Our meeting with Catholic Bishop Kang who has been a leader in
the struggle against the Navy base in Gangjeong village

History of U.S. Occupation and Massacre on Jeju Island

Yesterday our Veterans For Peace delegation took a tour of the Jeju April 3 Peace Park and Museum.  

The Jeju Island April 3rd incident broke out during the US military occupation at the end of WW II and lasted for seven years.  The Jeju April 3rd massacre resulted in the loss of more than 30,000 lives due to the US Army directed counter-insurgency campaign.


After gaining independence from Japan in 1945, Korea was in turmoil due to the failure of the policies of the US military administration.  The US placed former Koreans, who had collaborated with the previous Japanese fascist occupation, in charge of the country.  Army officer Lt. Col. Dean Rusk (who later became US Secretary of State) made the arbitrary decision where to put the dividing line between North and South Korea.  The US then tried to force elections in the south but people who wanted real democracy in Korea rose up in protest.  The US painted all these protests as communists and began the counter-insurgency campaign that killed more than 100,000 people throughout the country.


On Jeju Island the largely independent-minded peasant population was targeted by the US Army which directed a massive round-up of the people.  Jeju people were also protesting the US forced election in the south saying they had been betrayed as their demand for true democracy and real independence had been denied.  The US directed the newly formed 'Korean Constabulary' (largely made up of right-wing forces) and began the slaughter of the people on Jeju.  Villages were burned to the ground, people were forced into concentration camps, and over the next several years the extermination campaign began.

The story of the Jeju massacre was kept quiet and most people throughout Korea knew nothing about the tragic events until the full history finally emerged during the pro-democracy movement in the 1990's.  On Jeju Island families were severely punished if they ever spoke of the April 3 massacre so the truth was essentially covered up for generations.

The tragic story of the April 3 massacre takes on even greater meaning when you consider the forced construction of the Navy base in Gangjeong village that will port Pentagon warships in Obama's 'pivot' of 60% of US military forces into the Asia-Pacific to encircle China.  The resistance to the Navy base, now heading into its 9th year, is truly an outgrowth of the long-simmering resistance on Jeju Island to the US brutal colonization and domination of Korea which still continues to this very day.


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Surround the Navy Base with Culture

Getting some help holding my banner at news conference in front of Navy base gate

Yesterday was our last day in Gangjeong village.  We began the morning with a well-covered news conference at the Navy base gate.  Several media outlets covered the event.  I'm told the best coverage can be seen here

After lunch we met with Professor Yang Yoon-Mo who has been jailed four times (the longest was 18 months) for blocking construction vehicles at the base.  In his former life he was a leading film critic in South Korea but returned to his native Jeju Island to join the resistance against the base some years ago.  He told us about his plans to create a Gangjeong International Film Festival next spring and said, "I want to surround the Navy base with culture."

After dinner we took a bus to Jeju City for a cultural event where our delegation read a statement about Veterans For Peace and our solidarity with the struggling people on Jeju and Okinawa.  There was a great Korean singer/songwriter who performed and blew us all away.  I'll feature one of the songs he sang in my next 'Sunday Song'.

Today we leave for Okinawa where we will tour various US military installations. Major protests are in motion against current bases throughout Okinawa and a new Marine airfield that would be built over pristine Oura Bay where endangered sea mammals and coral reefs would be devastated.

Our time in Gangjeong village was really a beautiful experience for all of us.  Already several of those in our delegation are talking about wanting to come back.  We must thank Global Network board member Sung-Hee Choi for her hard work on our behalf during our six days in the village.  She arranged a brilliant schedule for us and made sure that the smallest needs of each person were met.  We made many new friends and it was great for me to reconnect with many of those who I have grown to know and love over the years.

Wednesday December 9

Visiting US veterans say Gangjeong Naval Base won’t lead to peace
By Huh Ho-joon, business correspondent

Thirteen veterans with the group US Veterans for Peace, who included former Army Colonel Ann Wright, hold a press conference in front of the base in Seogwipo City’s Gangjeong Village on Dec. 8, expressing their opposition to the base. (provided by Jemin Daily)

Former soldiers became peace activists after objecting to US military’s aggressive actions abroad

More than a dozen US veterans stood in front of a soon-to-be-completed naval base on Jeju Island to voice their opposition to its construction.

The thirteen veterans with the group US Veterans for Peace, who included former Army Colonel Ann Wright, delivered a press conference in front of the base in Seogwipo City’s Gangjeong Village on Dec. 8 to send the message that naval base construction cannot bring world peace.

“The reason I stopped working for my country in 2003 was because the US had declared war on Iraq. After that day, I became an activist for peace,” explained Wright.

“The US can use all military facilities within South Korea. The Jeju naval base is also going to end up used by US forces,” she added.

Wright explained that she came to Jeju “to join the residents of Gangjeong who are sending the message that new military base construction is not acceptable.”

“The people of Gangjeong have been injured and arrested unjustly in their more than 3,000-day fight against the naval base. The US needs to stop its ’pivot to Asia‘ strategy,” Wright added.

An Afghanistan war veteran named William noted that the beautiful natural environment of Jeju “has been destroyed and continues to be destroyed by the Jeju naval base construction.”

“Peace comes from understanding and dialogue, not from military facilities and troops. A naval base on Jeju is not an answer for peace,” he said.

Also present at the press conference was former paratrooper Tarak Kauff, who was denied entry to South Korea at the time of the 2012 blasting of the island’s Gureombi Rock.

“In 2012, they wouldn’t let me into the country. I can’t understand why I was denied entry. If we want an end to militarism, we all have to join forces,” he said.

Ko Kwon-il, vice president of the Gangjeong Residents Association, also took part in the press conference.

“It doesn’t matter that the naval base construction is almost complete. We will continue fighting to the end,” he said.

More Photos from Jeju Island

Sitting next to Mike Hanes at the Navy base gate

Snow-capped Mt. Halla in the distance

Graffiti along the sea wall next to Navy base that recounts all the lies the government has told the villagers

Tiger Island just offshore from Gangjeong village

Photos by Dan Shea and Ellen Davidson

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