November 16, 2020

George Ogle (1929-2020)

R.I.P. Rev. George Ogle, an American missionary and advocate for human rights in South Korea, who was deported from South Korea by the Park Chung Hee dictatorship in 1974 because he prayed for the political prisoners who were executed on trumped-up charges (I believe this photo was taken when he was being taken to the airport during his deportation). His wife, Dorothy Ogle, is a strong advocate for peace in the Korean Peninsula.

September 2, 2020

August 15: Korea's Liberation?


August 15, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from the Japanese colonial rule, yet it was not true independence as Korea was denied independent, self-government (as promised by the Allies during the wartime summits, and suggested on the US postage stamp shown above), but rather was suddenly divided arbitrarily in half without Koreans’ knowledge.
As the Pacific War of the WW2 was nearing its end, overseas Korean independence fighters and activists — of all political persuasions — were preparing to join their compatriots in Korea to build a new post-colonial nation. Fearing potential reprisals on its citizens, the Japanese colonial authorities even asked prominent Korean socialist leader to form an interim authority to oversee peaceful transfer of power to the Koreans.
But all these changed overnight because the US policymakers had a different design on Korea, based on US national interest and not in regard to the wishes of the Koreans. Rather than respecting Korea’s rightful quick transition to self-government upon liberation, the US wanted to establish its own sphere of influence in Korea (replacing Japan’s influence) in preparation for its own postwar planning for Asia. With the Soviet entry in the Pacific War and its quick defeat of the Japanese Army in Manchuria, it was logistically impossible for US forces to reach Korea before the Soviet forces to gain local control and influence.
Hence came an impromptu decision by Washington more akin to traditional colonial land grab (when colonial powers drew arbitrary lines on the map for areas of control) and political expediency rather than the immediate and stated military objective of accepting Japanese surrender in Korea. The US abruptly proposed on August 10, 1945 to divide Korea into two occupation zones (one Soviet and another US), for which the Soviets agreed without objection in deference to wartime cooperation. Therefore, the US got to gain a foothold in Korea and at least control a half of Korea, even though its troops were no way near Korea.
The euphoria of Korea’s liberation on August 15, 1945 turned into confusion, chaos and turmoil, as on one hand, Koreans were organizing local committees to peacefully disarm Japanese colonial forces and moving towards building Korean self-government, but on the other hand, the US forces arrived in Korea on September 8 (more than 3 weeks after Korea’s liberation), shot at welcoming Koreans, took over Japanese colonial government and military compounds, raised the US flag and not the Korean flag. So much could have been achieved towards Korean self-government in that three vital weeks. However, the US went on to disband and outlaw all independent-minded, pro-self government Korean entities and activities, and instead established a US military government in its zone, rehired colonial collaborators in the administration, and brought back Korean members of the dreaded Japanese colonial police force to harass the discontented and rebellious populace. Suddenly, the US forces were acting like new colonial overlords instead of liberators and guarantors of Korean independence.
Instead of fostering quick Korean self-government, the stern US military government rule created a toxic environment of political violence and turmoil (assassinations of Korean political leaders and wanton massacres of those deemed to be leftists). Although Korean governments, albeit two separate and competing ones, were formed in 1948 (eerily reflecting the two separate occupation zones in 1945), the policies and impact of the US military government in Korea, more so than the dynamics of the Cold War or internal Korean political strifes, laid the seeds of turmoil, discontent and volatility that eventually led to the Korean War and the continuing division of Korea, 75 years and counting.

July 29, 2020

From Korean War Armistice to Peace Settlement

Today marks the 67th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement, and yet we still do not have the “final political settlement” inscribed in the agreement. So, technically the Korean War has not officially ended, lacking a peace treaty that will replace the armistice and the ensuing uneasy truce.
Political/diplomatic dynamics have drastically changed in many ways since 1953, with the end of the Cold War for example, but the logical players that need to initially seek the peace settlement in Korea are still the nations behind the signatories of the armistice: the United Nations Command (the US), the Korean People’s Army (North Korea), and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (China).
South Korea did not sign the armistice in protest at the time (but did it regardless by being a part of the UN Command, and under the US command), but made several subsequent peace agreements with North Korea and is committed to inter-Korean rapprochement. The US and China normalized relations in the 70s. China (and Russia) normalized relations and made peace with South Korea. Both sides of Korea have become members of the UN and the UN has distanced itself from the UN Command in Korea, making it defunct in reality and making the UN incapable of being an arbiter in the resolution of the “Korea question.” The only remaining foreign troops in Korea are the US troops. And the only relation that has not changed after all these years is between the US and North Korea.
The talks between Washington and Pyongyang have again stalled, but they need to be resumed in light of the continuing uncertainty and volatility created by the absence of a peace treaty ending the Korean War. It is about time to put an official closure to the Korean War and chart a new path towards a meaningful peace settlement in the Korean Peninsula.

February 13, 2020

Some Afterthoughts on the “Parasite” Success

1) Director Bong Joon-ho (and actor Song Kang-ho who portrays the main character of the film) was one of many artists arbitrarily blacklisted by the former, conservative government of Park Geun-hye for “leftist tendencies.” Yet it is Bong who elevated South Korean cinema to global recognition and fame through his films touching on social themes and realities. The Candlelight Revolution that led to the downfall of the Park government (through impeachment) helped open up creative freedom that led to “Parasite.”
2) The second speaker who unexpectedly (or inappropriately) spoke in length during the Oscar Best Picture acceptance speech was Miky (Mi-kyung) Lee, vice chair of the CJ Entertainment and Merchandising, the investor/distributor of the film. It was inappropriate that she thanked her brother Lee Jae-hyun, the CJ Group chair, who was charged several times and imprisoned for financial crimes. She is granddaughter of Samsung chaebol (congrelemerate) founder Lee Byung-chul. Though her interest in cinema and the arts has helped fund and distribute films like “Parasite” and bring it to international attention, it is ironic that a superrich tycoon who lives lavishly in Beverly Hills is pitching a film about inequality of wealth. Better to have yielded the speaking opportunity to Song Kang-ho who appeared in many of Bong's films.
3) Korea has 100 years of cinema history, with many notable works. The success of "Parasite" is a vindication of long overdue international recognition of the Korean cinema. Hopefully with the impact of “Parasite,” South Korea will produce more films that reflect creative visions of directors and independent filmmakers. More great works are to come, for sure.
[An upcoming South Korean film “Emergency Declaration” deals with the abuses of the KCIA (Korea security/intelligence agency) during the repressive Park Chung-hee (Park Geun-hye's father) regime in the 70s and 80s.]

July 1, 2019

Trump's DMZ Crossing: Just a Photo-op or Opportunity for Progress?

Photo 1: On June 30, 2019, Trump crosses the raised concrete strip representing the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that divides Korea at Panmunjum (the Joint Security Area in the DMZ/Demilitarized Zone), becoming the first sitting US president to step foot on North Korea.

Photo 2: Kim Jong-un crosses the same line into South Korea (accompanied by South Korea's Moon Jae-in), becoming the first North Korean leader to do so, in April 2018.

Photo 3: South Korean college student Im Soo-kyung (who went to North Korea to participate in the World Youth Festival) crosses the line, at the same location, into South Korea in 1989, becoming the first Korean civilian to willfully cross that line (and not by accident, defection or espionage) since the Korean War ended in an armistice and the creation of the MDL/DMZ in 1953.

Symbolism matters in the DMZ, like the Berlin Wall. That concrete line in the DMZ, a highly recognizable -- and painful to all Koreans -- symbol of prolonged Korean division and the last vestige of the Cold War, is now casually crossed over -- by government/military officials and civilians on inter-Korean meetings or exchanges.

And history was made this past Sunday as Trump crossed the line, symbolically as a "peacemaker" (whatever his motivation may have been) in a business suit and not wearing the usual military attire that US presidents had done when visiting the southern side of the DMZ in the past. [Trump's overall antics aside, his unprecedented summits with Kim and this DMZ crossing showed a way besides the business-as-usual approach.]

But that casual crossing has not been the case always. In 1989, Im Soo-kyung (accompanied by Father Moon Kyu-hyun) risked long imprisonment in South Korea for crossing that line (she received five-year sentence for violating South Korea's draconian and archaic National Security Law), in a brave and unprecedented action to help bring about a breakthrough for peace and reunification of Korea.
With persistent efforts and sacrifices of many civilian activists like Im, the once-impenetrable wall dividing Korea began to crack and led to a series of inter-Korean rapprochement and cooperation towards negotiated settlement for peace in Korea.

Now, the US and North Korea must transcend historical hostilities and animosities (and skepticism of cynics) and translate this historical moment into real progress towards negotiating a lasting peace settlement in the Korean Peninsula.

May 1, 2019

New Documentary: Korea -- The Never-Ending War

This is the most comprehensive and insightful film documentary on the Korean War, covering its origins and its aftermath, with focus not only on the historical and geopolitical perspectives, but on its impact on ordinary civilians (refugees, separated families, the No Gun Ri Incident of massacre of civilians by US soldiers), and the legacy of the “unending war” on current tensions in the peninsula, including the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.

February 26, 2019

Congressional Resolution Calling for Formal End to Korean War

Reps. Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee and Andy Kim Introduce Resolution Calling for Formal End to Korean War

PRESS RELEASE: February 26, 2019

Washington, DC – As President Trump arrives to Hanoi, Vietnam, Rep. Ro Khanna, along with eighteen Democratic Members of Congress, have introduced a resolution calling for a final settlement of the Korean War, now officially in its 69th year.

The resolution -- which is backed by former President and Nobel Peace Laureate Jimmy Carter and a range of Korean-American and pro-diplomacy organizations -- urges the Trump Administration to provide a clear roadmap to achieve a final peace settlement while highlighting the importance of reciprocal actions and confidence-building measures between the parties.

“Historic engagement between South and North Korea has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to formally end this war,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “President Trump must not squander this rare chance for peace. He should work hand in hand with our ally, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, to bring the war to a close and advance toward the denuclearization of the peninsula.”

“I commend this important resolution that will help bring this nearly 70 year conflict to a close,” said President Jimmy Carter. “I have visited North Korea several times to talk with their leadership and study the best path forward for peace. Ending the threat of war is the only way to ensure true security for both the Korean and American people and will create the conditions to alleviate the suffering of the ordinary North Koreans who are most harmed by ongoing tensions.”

Co-led by prominent progressive Reps. Andy Kim, Barbara Lee, Pramila Jayapal, Deb Haaland, and Jan Schakowsky, the resolution calls on the Trump Administration to make greater efforts to include women in the peace process, citing the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 which Trump signed into law. Women’s rights icon Gloria Steinem, founder of the peace group Women Cross DMZ, published an op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday in support of the resolution.

The resolution clarifies that ending the war does not necessitate a withdrawal of US troops from Korea or an acceptance of North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power. The resolution calls on the Administration to continue the repatriation of servicemember remains, and expand cooperation to achieve reunions of divided Korean and Korean-American families and facilitate people-to-people exchanges and humanitarian cooperation.

Rep. Khanna has been a consistent voice for diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula. Shortly after Trump threatened “fire and fury” against North Korea, Khanna was joined by over 70 Congressmembers on his bipartisan “No Unconstitutional Strike on North Korea Act”, which would reinforce existing law prohibiting an unauthorized and unprovoked strike on North Korea. He has also been critical of those in both parties who have sought to restrict flexibility in negotiations, instead urging support for the diplomatic approach of our South Korean ally and its President, Moon Jae-in.

Rep. Khanna will travel to Atlanta next week to sit down with Pres. Carter to discuss developments on the Korean Peninsula and solicit guidance from the Nobel Laureate about how the next generation of policymakers can best pursue a pro-diplomacy agenda for America.

Current original cosponsors (18): Pramila Jayapal, Mark Pocan, Barbara Lee, Deb Haaland, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jan Schakowsky, Raúl Grijalva, Bobby Rush, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Tulsi Gabbard, Adriano Espaillat, Andy Kim, Rashida Tlaib, Judy Chu, José Serrano, Gwen Moore

The resolution is endorsed by organizations including the National Association of Korean Americans, Ploughshares Fund, Women Cross DMZ, Korean Americans in Action, United Methodist Church – Global Ministries, Win Without War, Peace Action, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Just Foreign Policy, Beyond the Bomb, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.