There is so much to write about and so little time. Yesterday we began our time here on Jeju Island (South Korea) with a conference at the museum where the story of the April 3, 1948 massacre of tens of thousands of Jeju residents is told. Following the end of WW II the U.S. took control of Korea and put the former Koreans who collaborated with fascist Japan in charge of the country. The U.S. began the process of dividing Korea and the people of Jeju were accused of being communists because they were independent minded and did not want to follow the corrupt leaders appointed by the U.S. military.
The people rebelled and the U.S. military directed the new Korean government to aggressively put down the rebellion. The museum does a fine, and heart breaking job, of telling this sad but virtually unknown story.
The people of Gangjeong village feel that the April 3 tragedy is being played out again by the construction of the Navy base in their village. About 150 gathered in the museum auditorium for speeches yesterday by South Korean and international activists. Folks have come here from at least a dozen countries to show their support for the struggling villagers. Many Catholic priests and nuns were in the audience to hear their Bishop welcome us. A delegation of Buddhist monks held a news conference to announce their support for the struggle.
I am told that the conference yesterday drew more media coverage than people had seen in a long time which makes everyone here very pleased. Today we spend our time meeting with villagers to talk and share food.
As we arrived in South Korea we were greeted by headlines in the newspapers about right-wing President Lee having just held a news conference to announce that he intends to speed up the Navy base construction project and push through the controversial Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. Many feel that his days are numbered as the coming spring election will bring an end to his mean-spirited and divisive reign of power. But for the people in Gangjeong village there is little relief as they daily see the Samsung Corporation (lead base contractor) make further moves toward the blasting of their sacred rocky coast.
The approximately 30 international activists are all mindful that our time here is short. We had a meeting late last evening to discuss ways our energies could be best put to use. We will have a formal strategy meeting with village leaders tomorrow but for the moment we must continue to appeal to the hearts of our friends around the world to keep Gangjeong in your prayers and hope that you will take steps to rally people where you live to devise ways to show public support for the noble people here who clearly understand that this Navy base will be a trigger for a wider arms race in the region that will over time hurt all of us, no matter where we live.