There is an island off the coast of South Korea that is arguably the most idyllic on the planet. It is internationally recognized as the "Island of World Peace" and is home to more UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites than any single geographic location on earth.
In the years leading up to the Korean War, a virtual genocide was committed there, referred to in Korea as the Sasam. One in five residents on the island were killed, and 90% of villages were burned to the ground. These barbaric crimes were committed by the South Korean police and military against their own people under a U.S. military mandate to begin what would be known later as the "scorch the earth campaign." Today this Island, Jeju Island, is again threatened by joint U.S.-South Korean militarization and aggression.
Jeju Island residents and peace activists are fighting with all of their energy, risking their freedom and lives to prevent the construction of a naval base that is underway on what many consider to be the most beautiful coastline on the island. This military base will be home to both U.S. and South Korean naval vessels and a sea-based ballistic missile defense system called Aegis. The planned facility would have a capacity for a total of two submarines, 20 large destroyers and up to two aircraft carriers.
The purpose of this ill-conceived military facility is to project force toward China and to provide a forward operating installation in the event of a military conflict between two of the world’s super powers: the U.S. and China. The location of this base is Gangjeong village, which bears a population of just 1,900 people. This farming and fishing village has reluctantly become the site of an epic battle for peace. In the world today, this may be the most symbolic and critical fight against the military industrial complex.
The Gangjeong base resistance is a unique grassroots crusade because it is not simply about militarization. Human rights, the environment and free speech are also at stake. Gangjeong village should be viewed as an important battleground for all who believe in social justice worldwide. People must know about what is happening on Jeju Island and help the residents prevent this illegal and very dangerous project. The consequences of losing this fight could not be more dire, and they have the potential to not only impact the entire South Asian community, by undermining regional security and triggering an arms race between South Korea and China. The installation of this base would surely put innocent Jeju island civilians at risk, whose home was recently referred to in a Joongang Daily op-ed as “the spearhead of the country’s defense line.” A line recklessly located approximately 500km from China.
The location of this base is a trend in congruence with the U.S. military strategy of encircling Asia. The naval base that is planned for Gangjeong village will be home to the same sea-based missile defense platform that has been sold to Japan, Australia and will soon be sold to India. On a map it is impossible to deny the semicircle of U.S. military hardware that encroaches upon China and others in the region. How this is going to help bring peace to an already volatile region is unknown. In fact this argument is just as absurd as the South Korean Navy’s claims to the villagers that the naval base will bring prosperity and tourists. It is foolish to think that this military base would deliver security to the region.
Gangjeong villagers know what their future holds if their cry for peace is not heeded: an influx of South Korean and foreign soldiers, weapons, war and a world of suffering delivered to a small island that has already endured enough. Now you know as well.
Matthew Hoey is the outreach coordinator for the Global Campaign to Save Jeju Island and an international security analyst based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Noam Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.© Japan Today