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Cindy Sheehan: Siege and Seizure in Korea

Siege and Seizure in Korea

By Cindy Sheehan
t r u t h o u t | Guest Columnist

Monday 27 November 2006

Traveling around the world these past months has given me an education about American history that majoring in the subject at UCLA never did. I have witnessed first hand what US imperialism and militarism can do to countries and societies. I sat with indigenous Hawaiian tribal leaders who shared their tragic stories of how US colonialism and militarism ruined their fishing waters and turned their lands into super-fund sites. I stood in solidarity with Irish peace activists who want the US military off their soil and want US transport and rendition planes to stop using Shannon Airport to land for refueling. These are just a few stories. Everywhere I go, the local populations have stories of greed, crime, corruption, pollution, etc., that all go hand in glove wherever the US military is present. Not to mention the "hot" war zones, where hundreds of civilians are murdered, maimed or displaced on a daily basis.

This rampant, arrogant, and care-less US militarism has nowhere been more evident than here in South Korea, especially in the village of Daechuri, near Pyong-taek City. The loathing for George Bush, America, Americans, irresponsible capitalism, corporatism, imperialism and militarism is a planetary phenomenon, but apart from what the US is doing to the wretched countries of Iraq and Afghanistan, I have never been more ashamed of the US government than when I visited the village of Daechuri with 17 other American peace and social-justice activists and a campesino from Colombia.

Miles before our bus reached the village on the evening of November 20th, we were stopped by approximately 200 South Korean riot police, who were decked out in their full riot regalia with bullet-proof shields. We were traveling with Father Moon, an elderly Buddhist priest who has been an advocate for the villagers for a few years now. Father Moon got out of the bus and negotiated with the police captain for what seemed hours in the near-freezing cold, but was actually only about 20 minutes. Finally, in what the villagers said was an unprecedented move, they allowed us entry into the village (after we passed another heavily guarded checkpoint). Villagers must present IDs to get into their own village, and visitors are rarely allowed to go in. Why? Because the village of Daechuri is under siege, in a criminal collaboration between the governments of South Korea and the United States of America, and the governments don't want the world to see what their crimes are doing to yet more innocent civilians.

The village of Daechuri has the unmitigated gall to be located next to a US military base, Camp Humphreys, which is slated for an eleven-billion dollar expansion that would include a golf course for the use of soldiers stationed there. The only problem is (not for the governments) that the village of Daechuri and their thousands of acres of farmland, mostly rice paddies, are in the way of the juggernaut of US military expansion. The people of Daechuri have been cut off from their farmlands by razor wire, guard towers, and armed foot patrols. Over two-thirds of the residents have the small village, but that leaves about one-third of them there to stand against the mightiest Army and the greediest government in world history.

In the '80s, Ronald Reagan famously said, regarding the Berlin Wall, "Tear it down!" There are many more walls on Earth that separate people from their farmlands, families, jobs and country that need to be torn down, but so-called civilized nations are building more walls and fortifications to contain and control free human movement and expression and curb populations that are just trying to live their lives in the traditional ways that they always have.

After our tour bus pulled up into the village, we were ushered into a large warehouse, where the villagers were holding their 811th nightly candlelight vigil in protest of the US incursion. We joined their vigil and heard their stories. We heard stories of May 4th, when 20,000 Korean police descended on the village with heavy hands and strong-arm tactics that allowed the barbed wire fences to be constructed, thereby effectively cutting the farmers off from tens of thousands of dollars worth of unharvested rice. We heard stories, from village elders who lived through Japanese imperialism and occupation to the US Korean police action that killed 2.5 million Koreans, who are now having their lands and ways of life robbed from them by "Pax Americana." My heart broke for the people of Daechuri and was filled with disgust for those whom the people of Korea call "Georgie Bushie" and whom I call "BushCo."

Daechuri has become "ground zero" in the struggle against violent US military extremism. We Americans can no longer sit idly by and turn ignorant blind eyes to what Georgie Bushie does around the globe. The people of such places as Daechuri, Shannon, Pearl Harbor and Iraq are our brothers and sisters whom we are allowing our governments to oppress and suppress.

In all my life, I have never witnessed such courage, strength and determination. 150 people are standing firm and will not be moved no matter how many acres of their familial land are seized, how many of their homes are bulldozed, or how close the razor wire gets to their homes. They have decorated every fence with bright and cheery paintings of hope for the future and they have erected monuments and memorials to what they have already lost. Their determination and courage should be inspiration to all people around the world who also struggle for basic human rights.

This week, 18 Americans chose to give up their family holiday celebrations to come to Korea to stand with the people of Daechuri and the Korean peace movement.

On the day after Thanksgiving, when most Americans were watching football, trampling each other in Wal-Mart in a frantic feeding frenzy to get the newest cheap toys that are made off of the backs of virtual slave labor all over the world and/or spending most of the day circling parking lots at malls across the country to find a coveted parking space, four women from our delegation - me, Medea Benjamin (founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink), my sister, Dede Miller (co-founder of GSFP) and my assistant, Tiffany Burns - walked across about 2 acres (up to our armpits) of ruined rice crops toward the "dmz" between the village and Camp Humphreys to hang a sign that said: "Farms Not Arms" on the nasty looking razor wire, despite the warnings of the Korean guards who were waving their arms and screaming something at us from behind two rows of the barbed wire.

The people of Daechuri have very little to be thankful for. Our soldiers in the field and innocent people in Bush-torn countries have very little to be thankful for. For me, on the third Thanksgiving I have had to bear since Casey was killed, I can't think of anything else that I would rather have done than help the people of Daechuri struggle against the very same thing that took Casey's life. The villagers honored us with a " Gold Star Families for Peace/Code Pink" Peace House that had been abandoned by an owner who took the cash settlement to leave. The villagers who remain don't want the government's blood money; they just want to keep their lands and homes.

The villagers who walk the narrow streets of Daechuri, bowed by lifetimes of carrying heavy burdens and children on their backs, are now carrying burdens placed there by American imperial gluttony, and I, as an American, want to help them carry this burden, as many kind people all over the world have tried to help me carry mine.

Not only is the expansion of Camp Humphreys hurting the people of Daechuri, but it will have the effect of further destabilizing a region already on pins and needles due partially to US intervention. You can bet your turkey leftovers that North Korea is watching these developments very closely and only the people of Korea and this region will pay for US infiltrations in South Korea. I know I don't feel any safer after the raping and pillaging of Daechuri - in fact, the expansion of Camp Humphreys will only do what Georgie Bushie is becoming infamous for: making America and the world less safe and secure. As an aside: I took a straw poll of about 400 South Koreans, and 100% of them said that Georgie Bushie is far more frightening than Kim Jong-Il and they want the US out of Korea so they can put their divided country back together again.

With the complete destruction of Daechuri scheduled by the end of this year, our efforts may be too little, too late, for the ill-fated visitors who are going through long-distance BushCo callousness, but we can prevent other villages, towns, countries from experiencing the same fate with the exposure of what is happening here. We are in this together. Making the sacrifices of the villagers count for justice is as important as making US troops and the Iraqi civilians' sacrifices count for peace. Peace and justice are two values that are intertwined and interconnected, and they are the responsibility of us all.

What can we do stateside to help these people? We can lobby our Congressional representatives to hold hearings into the tragedy of Daechuri. We can donate money to help the villagers get fuel for heating their homes during the bitter Korean winter and to obtain food, since they can't access their fields for harvest. We can turn off our TVs and educate ourselves on US corporatism, imperialism and militarism by reading such books as Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins, or Hegemony or Survival, by Noam Chomsky. We can do with less, especially in the season of over-the-top consumerism and waste. We can support organizations financially who work for peace and justice in lieu of a seemingly obscene overabundance of presents or decorations.

I hope when Americans play golf on the golf course that will be constructed over the rice fields that sustained and gave sustenance to the villagers for generations, they will stop and reflect for even a brief moment that an entire village was destroyed and hundreds of people were displaced for their recreation.

Golf! A village was obliterated for golf. If this is the "American way," then we obviously need a new way, as speedily as possible.


Mail your tax deductible donation for the villagers of Daechuri to:

Gold Star Families for Peace
2010 Linden Ave
Venice, California 90291

Earmark the donation for the villagers.

Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Spc. Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Bush's war of terror on April 4, 2004. She is the co-founder and president of Gold Star Families for Peace and the Camp Casey Peace Institute. She is the author of three books. The most recent is Peace Mom: A Mother's Journey Through Heartache to Activism.

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