I recently returned from a nearly month-long trip to South Korea where I, and two others from Veterans For Peace, visited several farming villages that have been devastated by the expansion of bases for US military operations in the region.
While gone I missed the West Bath Court arraignment for the Zumwalt 12 arrestees. We were arrested at BIW during the June 18 ‘christening’ of the second Zumwalt stealth destroyer. Bar Harbor lawyer Lynne Williams represented me in court on Aug. 2. Our group of peace protesters pled not guilty to the charges filed against us for blocking the road and gate in front of BIW. We are scheduled to return to court in September and November before jury selection and trial is scheduled in December.
While in South Korea our delegation visited two 500-year-old fishing communities that have been torn apart to build an Air Force base and a Navy base. The bases have caused tremendous suffering for villagers who have fed their families and lived in harmony with nature there for so long. But the Obama-Hillary Clinton ‘pivot’ of 60 percent of Pentagon forces into the Asia-Pacific region necessitates more ports-of-call, airfields, and barracks for the US imperial operation now aimed at China. When America demands they be moved out of the way, these villagers become expendable.
We spent six days walking around Jeju Island in the intense early-August heat. There a Navy base has been built that will port the Aegis and Zumwalt destroyers built at BIW. More than 600 people from throughout South Korea came to the island to support the Gangjeong villagers who have been fighting unsuccessfully for the last eight years to stop the base.
Two teams of 300 each headed east and west around Jeju Island taking six days to complete the 5th annual Grand March for Life and Peace. It’s no coincidence that five out of the 12 of us arrested at BIW on June 18 have been to Jeju Island over the years to stand with the people as they opposed the base construction. The villagers suffer from depression as they watch their way of life dying. The 2,000- person village is currently being besieged by more than 5,000 Korean and American naval personnel.
I also spent considerable time in Seoul attending various protests against the announced deployment of the US THAAD (Theater High Altitude Area Defense) ‘missile defense’ system. The Pentagon plans to stick it on the mainland in the farming village of Seongju (population 10,000). The right-wing South Korean government, following orders from Washington, likely chose this village because it had backed the conservative government by a margin of 85 percent in the last national election. But that has now changed. Just before I arrived in South Korea the residents of Seongju held a mock funeral where they announced that they had, en masse, resigned from the ruling party. Then, just before I left Korea, 900 of these same residents took the sacred step of sitting together and shaving their heads. In Korea this is a big deal. It indicates the commitment to fight to the death, and in this case many women also joined the hair shaving, which is rare.
I know it’s really difficult for many Americans to understand all of this because we think of ourselves as the ‘exceptional nation’ bringing peace and democracy to the rest of the world. The warships built at BIW are seen by most Mainers as symbols of American freedom, but these days people in places like South Korea, Okinawa, Japan, Philippines and Guam only see suffering when the US military arrives in their communities.
From Oct. 11-26 there will be another peace walk through Maine similar to the ones we have organized over the past five years. This walk will be called ‘Stop the War$ on Mother Earth’ and will draw links between our endless wars for oil and the ravaging of our planet by the fossil fuel industry.
We’ve just had the hottest summer in recorded human history and you’d think the nation would go on a massive campaign to reorder our society to solar, wind, tidal power and mass transit production instead of picking a fight with China and Russia. It would make more sense to convert BIW from war making to peaceful pursuits and help give future generations a fair chance at survival. Unfortunately, while we crash and burn, the American people seem distracted by the ongoing circus sideshow on corporate TV.
For the sake of our children and world peace we’ll keep protesting the building of war ships at BIW.
Bruce K. Gagnon is a member of PeaceWorks and lives in Bath