Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Armed Forces Day's Soft and Fuzzy Advertisment

Narration and Text:

Challenging limits

Most people don't remember how difficult the first step was

The memory of creating something out of nothing

But we know that your initial steps became a way

Your sweat made today

'The nation where hope blossomed within adversity'

Your dream is making the future

'Advanced powerful military! The people together, towards the future, towards the world'

한계에 대한 도전

누구도 기억하지 않습니다 그 첫발이 얼마나 힘들었는지를

무에서 유를 창조한 기억

하지만 우리는 알고 있습니다

당신의 그 한 걸음 한 걸음이

길이 되었다는 것을

당신의 땀이 오늘을 만들었습니다

'역경 속에서 희망을 꽃피운 나라'

당신의 꿈이 미래를 만들고 있습니다

'선진강군! 국민과 함께 미래로, 세계로'

Monday, September 29, 2008

Counter demonstration for Armed Forces Day parade

Its been 60 years since the founding of Korea's military and this Wednesday, October 1st, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) will be celebrating the occasion by showing off its big guns in a good old fashioned military show of force in down town Seoul. Not just guns, but tanks, missiles, and spiffy new uniform designs will be paraded through the streets as well. Meanwhile at Jamshil Olympic Stadium, closed to the general public, the government will host a veritable lollapalooza of VIP attendees featuring concerts, presentations about new high tech military gizmos, and rather unsubtly crafted performances of nationalistic flavor such as "Advanced Powerful Military: The Musical". Peripheral events occurring throughout the month include a letter writing contest for high school students to write letters about why national security and the military are important to Korean society.

Granted, since the holiday stopped being a national day off, the attendance will likely be far few than an average candle light vigil.

While Armed Forces Day (국군 의 날) may not inspire a huge turnout for the ticker-tape, a small but dedicated group of citizens were significantly moved by the planned military pomp and circumstance that they are preparing their own independent events to express what the Korean military means for them.

One of the more ambitious of the counter demonstrators is Kang We-suck. We-suck, a conscientious objector who will serve jail time next year instead of doing his mandatory military service, will likely get a sneak preview of prison life as a result of his protest. Catapulted into the public light as a highschool activist for religious freedom, We-suck will bring his provocative form of protest to the parade, as he plans to confront the rolling tanks head on in the buff. Dancing and hors d'oeuvres are also anticipated as part of the show. We-suck, eager to probe the boundaries of Korea's social sensibilities, will be treading into relatively unknown territory, as Korea lacks a developed tradition of nude protest and will likely interpret the act as a form of perverse exhibitionism. This bare-all standoff with the military will be the latest in a number of symbolic volleys by We-suck, the most well known one being the letter to Park Tae-hwan, olympic gold medalist swimmer. In the now infamous letter, We-suck criticizes the standards for military exemption where athletes who win gold medals are rewarded with not having to fulfill their national duty. His ultimate denouncement, however, is conscription, militarized Korean society, and the military itself. He has been lambasted by conservatives and progressives, accusing him of being immature, taking cheap-shots, sensationalism, and being a traitor.

The Counter Events:

While smaller events are expected to be occuring from 12pm on, at 4pm October 1st, a number of organizations will hold a press conference at Asia Park. Among the sponsoring groups are World Without War, Peace and Human Rights Solidarity, Blood Sisters, and "Gundae?". At 4:30 the groups will begin a direct action counter parade towards Sam Sung station in the direction of the official military procession. At 5:30 back in Asia Park there will be a cultural festival consisting of musical performances.

To get to Asia Park, take the green line # 2 to Sports Complex Stadium station 종합운동장역 in Songpa-gu and exit 1.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

CO Kang We-suck's infamous letter to Olympic medalist Park Tae-hwan

(left: Kang We-suck right: Park Tae-hwan)

Kang We-suck, a Conscientious Objector and activist, has become a sensational and controversial figure recently after writing a letter that has circulated the internet and drawn much criticism from newspapers to netizens. Here is the letter that sparked the controversy.

Hey Tae-hwan, you should go to the military too

(my translation from the University news site "Daehak Nae-il")

original article in Korean

Hello, Marine-Boy (nickname)! This is our first meeting, sorry for speaking banmal (informal speech). You can feel free to call me by my nickname "Babo" (idiot).

I'm We-seok Kang, self-professed 'film director'. Granted, my films have only been screened twice at the CGV theatre before being taken down, but by February of 2009 I expect my completed blockbuster documentary 'Military?' to win top prize in the Cannes Film Festival. If that happens, like an Olympic medalist, in the name of 'enhancing national prestige' I might be blessed with exemption from military duty. But I'm thinking I'll probably reject that favor and go to jail instead. This will mean that for a year and a half I won't be able to work on the film. Or I might never finish it—I could eat mad cow-infected beef and die first.

This Beijing Olympics twenty-two people were granted exemption from military duty. They received prize money worth 50,000 US dollars, as well as a lifetime monthly pension of 1,000 US dollars. Tae-hwan, did you see the moment Korean baseball became the best in the world? In the middle of an all-niter meeting about 'how to abolish the military in Korea', I got a text message from a stranger saying that "Korean baseball won the gold medal" (I've got a lot of fans too^^). In the process of the clean sweep victory Seung-yeop got the nickname 'military duty exemption broker', Tae-ho happily related how "he was more worried about the semifinals, upon which military exemption depended, than the finals. The young athletes who hadn't gone to the military yet experienced a lot of stress."

What I want to say is that the medal earned through hard work has become a royal gift of 'military exemption' for the athlete's achievements. It struck me that if you look at Olympic athletes who are granted exemption from military duty they are like roman era slave-gladiators who win their freedom by slaying their opponent. What is enhancing national honor? The 'standard' is vague. Even if it can be said that national prestige was enhanced, it is impossible to understand what process connects that with military exemption. What sense does it make that a taekwondo medalist whose combat ability is many times greater than a regular person is removed from the military where his strength could be used.

I saw your Wondergirl (famous pop band) friend in the August issue of 'GQ' at a hair salon. In the article she mentioned that whenever they would get lazy Jin-yeong (their producer) would crack the whip and get them working hard again. Asked by a reporter, "This isn't the military, why don't you just skip this practice?" she replied "this is just as important as the military". Seeing this, the military itself being used as the synonym for an important structure and function, I thought about how our culture accepts this as normal. And I felt heavy from head to heart.(however, I wouldn't mind being introduced to her ^^)

Military? Do you think that the military is really necessary? I believe that the military, while claiming to stop violence, in fact is the cause of more violence in the world. For the sake of peace, the institution of militarism must disappear throughout the world. To work for this change, my friends and I are conducting a 100-person campaign, pledging to go to jail instead of the military. Thus far we've gathered 18 people, you would be the 19th. So won't you join us on October 1st, Armed Forces Day, in a nude demonstration with the motto "Demilitarization is Beautiful."

Even if there was a constitutional clause that "condemned a beautiful person to the death penalty", just as no one can (legally) kill you or I, people come before the constitution. People say that the constitution cannot violate individual freedom. Forcibly burdening countless youths with military service ignores article ten of the constitution, guaranteeing the "right to pursue happiness." Discriminating Olympians from regular people infringes on article eleven of the constitution, guaranteeing "equality under the law". Tae-hwan, do you know the reason why 200,000 people have to do a non-military civil duty? Frankly speaking, isn't it because people would complain that "since I spent 2 years in the military so you should waste two years as well. What is this military exemption?" They'd say, "you go to the military too, Tae-hwan. Women too, go to the military."

I don't want to waste my precious life for a ridiculous reason like that.

What I want to say is that, while you are valuable, I'm just as valuable a person as you are. That's all. When you feel like having a drink, send me a message~

(some other English articles on Kang We-suck)

The Korea Times
The Sungshin Mirror

Friday, September 12, 2008

My introduction to Conscientious Objection in Korea

Years ago while attending university in Texas, I befriended a Korean exchange student. We discussed his future plans after finishing college, and I was surprised to hear him say that he could not return back to Korea. The reason for this was even more surprising to me. If he returned to Korea, he would immediately be required to fulfill his two year-long mandatory military service. While he clearly abhorred the idea of this forced military duty, I didn't press for his precise reasons for objecting. He was sacrificing quite a lot with this decision: risking becoming an illegal resident in the United States, a criminal in South Korea, and of course losing the ability to visit his friends, family, and country of origin. Even though I was struck by the suffering and seeming injustice of his situation, I remained largely ignorant about South Korea and the conscription service until moving here years later.

Once I arrived in Korea I found among my circle of friends, artists, musicians, and activists who were openly opposed to militarism in general and forced military service specifically. Not wanting to become martyrs for a political struggle, many of this individuals sought myriad, sometimes extreme, ways to avoid going to the military besides going to prison. Witnessing the effect of this social institution on my friends, I was shocked by how dramatically it altered their lives, their goals, their bodies, and their minds, as well as the profound effect it had on those close to them.

Every year, people like my friend in Texas, Korean-born students and workers around the world face the decision to return to Korea to fulfill their military duty or avoid it by staying abroad. Some enlist proudly and enthusiastically, whereas the majority do so begrudgingly, bowing to the overwhelming pressure of government, culture, family, and friends. Very few Korean men seem willing to risk the state punishment, the social ostracism, and other consequences affecting almost every aspect of one's life that accompany the refusal to join the military. It truly makes me wonder when people refer to conscientious objectors as "cowards", who is showing real courage and principles when the military calls?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Militarism and Resistance in South Korea (Video)

South Korea has more citizens imprisoned for conscientious objection to military service than any other nation in the world. Currently over 700 young men are serving one year and six month sentences. Every year, Korean men face the brutal choice to join the military complex or follow their conscience, facing social ostracism and imprisonment. A history of Japanese imperialism, a civil war sparked by the United States and Soviet jousting. Three decades of military dictatorship. Pervasive United States military presence. Violent destruction of farming villages for the expansion of U.S. bases. A National Security Act that restricts freedom of speech and opposition to military duty. Korea has recently begun to openly face its own contradictions of "democracy" and a deeply ingrained militarization.

seoulidarity.net - Korean social movement solidarity site in English
전쟁없는세상 - Korean anti-militarism and Conscientious Objector solidarity organization "World Without War"

(Video with French Narration) Voici un vidéo introduisant le militarisme et les mouvements de résistance de l'histoire moderne et contemporaine de la Corée du sud.