The Arms Race Intrudes on Paradise by Gloria Steinem
New York Times. August 6, 2011
THERE are some actions for which those of us alive today will be judged in centuries to come. The only question will be: What did we know and when did we know it?
I think one judgment-worthy action may be what you and I do about the militarization of Jeju Island, South Korea, in service of the arms race.
Jeju isn’t called the most beautiful place on earth for nothing. Ancient volcanoes have become snow-covered peaks with pure mountain streams running down to volcanic beaches and reefs of soft coral. In between are green hills covered with wildflowers, mandarin orange groves, nutmeg forests, tea plantations and rare orchids growing wild; all existing at peace with farms, resorts and small cities. Unesco, the United Nation’s educational, scientific and cultural organization, has designated Jeju Island a world natural heritage site.
Now, a naval base is about to destroy a crucial stretch of the coast of Jeju, and will do this to dock and service destroyers with sophisticated ballistic missile defense systems and space war applications. China and South Korea have positive relations at the moment. But this naval base is not only an environmental disaster on an island less than two-thirds the size of Rhode Island, it may be a globally dangerous provocation besides.
Residents of Gangjeong, the village that is to be home to this base, have been living in tents along the endangered coastline, trying to stave off the dredging and bulldozing. In a vote several years ago at a village meeting, residents overwhelming opposed the base.
They’ve tried to block construction with lawsuits and pleas for a proper environmental impact study. They’ve been fined, beaten, arrested and imprisoned. They’ve gone on hunger strikes, chained themselves to anything available, invited tourists in to see what’s at stake, established Web sites and won support from global peace organizations. Members of the ‘no base’ campaign, including children, camp out along the shore behind high walls erected around the site to conceal the protests. Police officers patrol outside. This has been going on for more than four years.
They need your help.