[WEBINAR] “Stop U.S. THAAD and War Threats in Korea”

“Stop U.S. THAAD and War Threats in Korea” Webinar

August 30, 2017
Medea Benjamin, Reece Chenault, Will Griffin, Jill Stein (moderated by Ramsay Liem)
Sponsored by the Task Force to Stop THAAD in Korea (www.stopthaad.org)

The delegation shared its message of solidarity with a broad spectrum of peace activists in Seoul, as well as villagers of Seongju, Soseongri and Gimcheon who are waging a heroic fight to oppose the U.S. deployment of the THAAD missile defense system.

On August 30, the Task Force to Stop THAAD in Korea hosted a report-back from the U.S. Solidarity Peace Delegation about the fight to stop the U.S. THAAD deployment and war threats in Korea. Full video of the webinar report-back is below:


And the following is a selection of listener questions from the Q/A session that the delegates were unable to answer during the webinar due to lack of time. For additional comments see the Korea Policy Institute's interviews with Medea Benjamin and Reece Chenault. Interviews with Will Griffin and Jill Stein to be posted at www.kpolicy.org soon.


What role does the KCTU play in the struggle for peace in Korea? (Oakland, California)

Will Griffin: Our delegation met with some of the top leaders in KCTU in Seoul. We learned that KCTU played a major role in organizing the CandleLight Vigils that eventually lead to the impeachment of their former president, Park Geun-Hye. President Park played a major role in militarizing South Korea over her career. In response, much of the CandleLight Vigils called for diplomacy with North Korea rather than more militarization. Since South Korea has gone through so many social movements in a short amount of time (since 1953), these social movement are closely interlinked and join forces often to fight particular issues. So KCTU has played a large part in the peace movement in South Korea.

Can you characterize the similarities and differences between the US and Korean labor movements? (Oakland, California)

Reece: Reece here!

What’s similar:

Density and diversity of industry represented is actually mostly the same.

Makeup of workforce in terms of age is also pretty similar, though there are some differences I’ll get into later.

Key differences:

There’s no extra election in their labor law, which certainly makes a difference in how workers organize. It also means that “yellow” unions pop up all the time.

KCTU is a younger organizational structure whereas the AFLCIO has been around for quite some time.

Labor, for many reasons, exists in a larger “street fight” context. Lots of mass mobilization with tens of thousands of people out in social movement participation.

There’s more but we can discuss it offline. These are the main ones to consider.

Reece, could you say again the part about workers not necessarily willing to be part of the military industrial complex not willing workers. it's a vital concept for me especially living near a shipyard... pretty soon it feels as if there isn't going to be any other job in the U.S. except military. (Freeport, ME)

Reece: I had the opportunity to say this to a government official while on the trip.

‘I need you to imagine a burning house. Workers in the US who make weapons of war have told us that they are often left with the choice of supporting these destructive systems or poverty. Their elected officials communicate the same, telling us that they are made to fund these projects because if they don’t, they’ll be faced with the same choice. A cycle is then perpetuated by unwilling participants who often feel that they have been locked in a burning house, unable to escape. THAAD then represents a reinvestment in declining industry that we cannot afford.’

It also helps to think about the industry this way:

The reality is that we support weapons manufacturing in a way that we wouldn’t subsidize anything else. When business is good we rationalize bigger purchases even when we don’t need them and when business isn’t as good we give them away or sell them to governments we claim to despise. Plans for spending are made years before any money is appropriated in many cases. This creates a cycle where we spend the money because we claim we have no choice, having already paid for an item that may have tripled in cost to make simply because we said we would. To add insult to injury, what we have produced often has limited to zero practical use outside of warfare so unless we find a way to use it for that singular purpose, it’s likely that it will sit waiting for a target. In no other situation would you call an industry with an undesirable product that needs nearly 100 percent subsidy to survive thriving, but that’s exactly what we do with the military-industrial complex.

Finally, profit can’t begin to counterbalance the need for solutions in a world desperate for climate justice. Workers, when given an actual choice, usually decide a livable Earth is a better investment.

Isn't the point that as peace activists (the issue) we need to organize around is that the U.S. Military Industrial Complex (MIC) wants to sell weapons to S. Korea?

Ramsay: While the profit-making of the U.S. MIC is a central issue driving U.S. policy toward Korea and a direct benefit of the U.S./ROK military alliance, it’s also important to recognize that the alliance with South Korea insures the U.S. a land base on the Asian continent. South Korea is the third leg in the U.S./Japan/Korea trilateral relationship that is the foundation of U.S. hegemony in Northeast Asia and the wider Asia Pacific. With the rising power of China, maintaining and strengthening this alliance is vital to U.S. geopolitical interests in Asia. In the case of South Korea, this means that the U.S. presence in South Korea, ostensibly to protect the South from invasion from the North, in actuality serves U.S. interests in containing China. Given that U.S./ROK combined military forces are commanded by the U.S. during times of war, South Korean sovereignty has ultimately been compromised placing raising a legitimate question about whose national interests are ultimately served by the U.S./ROK military alliance.

What policy action should the US take to deter North Korean aggression and/or force the Kim regime to make concessions to the citizens of North Korea? (Charlotte, NC)

Ramsay: North Korean acts of “aggression” are more accurately one side of the coin of mutual hostility between the U.S and the DPRK for nearly 70 years. And in that conflicted relationship, there is no question that it was the U.S. that inserted itself along with the Soviet Union into a civil conflict among Koreans resulting from competing loyalties during the era of Japanese colonization (1910-1945). So the question is better stated as what will it take to end U.S. aggression and North Korean counter aggression. The only short-term path to a possible resolution is for the United States to agree either to direct talks with the DPRK with no preconditions, or on the basis of a freeze for a freeze - freezing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in return for a freeze on biannual U.S./ROK war games. In either case this would only be a first step in a long and arduous process of trust building enabling both sides to envision a path to ending the Korean War with a peace agreement, normalizing US/DPRK relations, and fostering a process of reunification to be determined solely by Koreans in the north and south.

Question for Reese -- until fairly recently ROK (S Korea) has had a really violent history of labor repression so I am curious if the current-day labor movement faces accusations of working for/with DPRK (N Korea) and if that plays into any reluctance to take a stand on THAAD. Is the labor movement in ROK today facing repression threats legal harassment or hostility? (Somerville, MA)

Reece: This is a complex question, but I’ll do my best.

The current secretary-general as well as the president of the KCTU both face serious repression even from a government they helped get into power. In fact, both of them are incarcerated in one form or another, with the sec-gen on the equivalent of house arrest and the president still in prison. I’m not sure of the connection between the accusations and their sentences, though.

One thing that stood out for me in interactions with KCTU folks was just how hard forces within the political structure on multiple levels were working to ensure that labor remained invisible. The new administration, despite their attachment to the Candlelight Uprising, was performing incredible gymnastic feats to simultaneously claim to be the realization of the dream while being as moderate as they could be. Labor rights hadn’t been increased despite feints toward them. Larger corporations still got away with abuses despite calls for deeper oversight. The two union leaders previously mentioned? They were scapegoated and imprisoned during the conservative administration that was ousted.

Between American leadership's lust for spreading empire and the unbelievable profit in war for the MIC what power really can we-the-people exert? (Toni Aguilar, Golden, CO)

Ramsay: Without popular protest, the Vietnam War could have turned into a second Korean War.

Will Griffin: In my eyes, popular protest is the only method that has changed society to benefit the majority of people. As Vijay Prashad has said, today’s U.S. foreign policy is the policy of the 1%. Without people from the bottom engaging in the political system, we will continue to see U.S. foreign policy of the 1%. And one of the only ways to engage in the political system is to have grassroots movements, popular protests, and mass organizing.

Is there a recommended online resource or book that goes into detail regarding the US/Korea history. Despite the speakers’ effort this issue continues to be difficult for me to wrap my head around. Almost like a US/Korea History for Dummies. (Reinholds, PA)

Ramsay: As I mentioned during the webinar, Bruce Cumings Korea’s Place in the Sun and The Korean War, are good places to start.

Will Griffin: For starters, I recommend “Korea: Division, Reunification, & U.S. Foreign Policy” by Martin Hart-Landsberg.

Will, you're on FB. Are you on twitter or something else as well? (Freeport, ME)

Will Griffin: I’m not sure if this is directed at me, but if so then yes. But I publish my work through The Peace Report Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube:

TPR Facebook: @peacereportnow

TPR Twitter:     @peacereportnow

TPR YouTube: youtube.com/ThePeaceReport

Did the delegation get a sense that a majority of S. koreans oppose THAAD? What is their opinion of the 28000 US troops occupying SK? (New Haven, Connecticut)

Will Griffin: On the last day of our delegation, July 28th, North Korea tested another missile. Since then, the majority of South Koreans have favored the THAAD deployment unfortunately. But after I visited the DMZ last year, I realized that South Korea puts out just as much propaganda to its people as the North. Polls don’t mean too much to me, they’re only a way to gauge where the public is at so we can understand how much of public opinion we on the left need to change.

Russia Korea and potentially Iran. I've heard quite a few references about how these situations could start WW3. Why is the US flirting with this? If WW3 actually did start would the establishment be affected by it? From this regular guy it seems suicidal to deliberately provoke these situations. (Reinholds, PA)

Ramsay: I’m in total agreement with you.   But it would be a WWIII that could be nuclear.

Will Griffin: The Pentagon needs a reason to have such a huge presence in the Asia-Pacific and Kim Jong-Un is easy to demonize for that reason. But the real effort is to contain China’s rising economy/military. North Korea is also used a justification for spending billions upon billions of U.S. dollars on the military, missile “defense” weapons/technology, and deploying thousands of troops. As long as the American public is scared, they will spend their last dollar on “security”.

North Korea just launched Hwaseong-12 over Japan and says it will launch again towards the waters near Guam. Following the the most recent test launch, it took hours for the US to identify the missile despite numerous MD radars in the region in South Korea and Japan. Additionally if North Korea launches the Hwaseong-12 towards Guam it will fly at an altitude much higher (and much faster) than the THAAD interceptors can reach. Doesn’t NK’s missile tests expose the ineffectiveness of US MD system in the region? (Woodside, NY)

Ramsay: Interesting points. I’d just add that the U.S. threat to shoot down a North Korean ICBM also risks the world discovering how unreliable the U.S. missile defense systems are that have cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars.

Will Griffin: Well, THAAD is made to shoot down missiles that fly over 45 KM high. THAAD does stand for “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense”. So it is designed to combat “High Altitude” missiles. But does it work? Absolutely not. The THAAD tests were under near-perfect conditions and not set up for real-world scenarios. Also, David Sanger reported earlier this year that overall Missile Defense systems have a 56% failure rate! http://nyti.ms/2x8pFj6

The report came from the Missile Defense Agency itself!

I work with anti-base activists in Okinawa Japan. I wanted to especially ask Will if you notice any similarities and difference between the movement in South Korea and the movement in Okinawa and if you see any hope for alliance between the two by connecting the two struggles which I see as essentially one struggle against the same thing. (Ichikawa Chiba)

Will Griffin: YES! I’ve been to Okinawa a few times and plan on visiting again. I think the resistance on Jeju Island and Okinawa are leading the way in fighting back against island militarization, against U.S. bases, and against the “Pivot to Asia”. These are the only places I know of that have been doing daily protests for over 10 years! The organizing their is something we should all learn from.

Also, their is much solidarity between the islands of Okinawa, Jeju, and Taiwan. In fact, they’ve been meeting every year for a while now. Here is a report from last year’s “Inter-Island Solidarity for Peace” meeting: http://bit.ly/2xMBNU8

I want more U.S. peace organizations to focus on these two areas because they truly are leading the way in fighting against U.S. imperialism.

What are your suggestions for reaching people that are difficult to discuss this issue with? (Lowell, MA)

Ramsay: Share this webinar recording. Show the film, Memory of Forgotten War (www.mufilms.org/films/memory-of-forgotten-war/#.WaxsDJo8GWc). Take a look at www.legaciesofthekoreanwar.org and www.stillpresentpasts.org and share.

Will Griffin: I think it’s important to understand U.S. intervention in Iraq and Libya. The U.S. invaded these countries, toppled their leaders, and now both countries are in shambles. One of the only reasons North Korea is still standing and not fallen like Libya/Iraq is because of their nuclear program. Now, it’s imperative to be clear that we don’t want any country to develop nuclear weapons but at the same time with the decades of U.S. threats towards North Korea and the history of U.S. intervention, it makes it easier to understand why North Korea is developing weapons. The good thing is that much of the American public is tired of intervention. The way to extend on this idea is to not demonize North Korea. Here’s a few examples to flip the demonization ideas on its head:

The U.S. has the following:

-largest prison population in the world.

-largest military spending in the world.

-largest weapons manufacturer in the world.

-spends the most on nuclear weapons “modernization”.

-kills the most innocent people in the world.

-has conducted more interventions, invasions, and bombings in the past several decades.

-has some of the worst inequality levels in developed countries.

-has some of the highest suicide rates in any developed country.

-has some of the worst life expectancy rates in any developed country.

I’m sure there is more but those are just off the top of my head.

Reece: A lot of union members either disagree or don’t want to know. I find that the best way to reach someone is to listen to them first, then ask them how our current foreign policy is working out for them personally. All those things that Will lists above are true, but last time I checked it’s only making a select few insanely rich. Even then, they can’t eat their money and it won’t keep them safe in the inevitable climate catastrophe we’re gearing up for… and that’s if we aren’t done in by some other racial or nuclear calamity. I find that most people are ready to admit that things really suck. They just want someone to listen to them first. Give someone that gift of listening and you’ll be surprised how receptive they are. Finally, always leave them with something small they can do and an opportunity to engage you further. People need a bit of hope and a way forward.

Thank you so much for articulating a peace plan for all of us! (Location unidentified)

Will Griffin: You’re WELCOME!

Is moral authority or petitions going to stop the psychopaths who benefit from military and economic dominance? What counterforce could, realistically? (Salt Lake City, UT)

Will Griffin: Petitions could have an effect if enough people signed them. But they are good tools to raise awareness of issues and show what direction people could take. But since we live in a society where the 1% rule everything and the only way to engage in the political process is by mass mobilizations (mass protests), then we have to build a grassroots movement to do so.

The peace movement isn’t at its best right now in U.S. history, but it could be. We face existential threats that we’ve never seen before such as climate change and nuclear weapons. We can use these ideas to help galvanize people in action.

What is the true story of the North Korean regime if they're not crazy? (Reinholds, PA)

Will Griffin: I try to divide “crazy” into two focuses: domestic policy and foreign policy.

Domestic policy: Yes, North Korea’s domestic policy is crazy. But isn’t U.S. domestic policy crazier?

The U.S. has the following:

-largest prison population in the world.

-largest military spending in the world.

-largest weapons manufacturer in the world.

-spends the most on nuclear weapons “modernization”.

-kills the most innocent people in the world.

-has conducted more interventions, invasions, and bombings in the past several decades.

-has some of the worst inequality levels in developed countries.

-has some of the highest suicide rates in any developed country.

-has some of the worst life expectancy rates in any developed country.

Foreign Policy: North Korea’s foreign policy is very rational and much better than the U.S.

  1. How many countries have North Korea invaded in the past 70 years? ZERO
  2. How many bombs have they dropped on countries in the past 70 years? ZERO
  3. How many military bases does North Korea have overseas? ZERO

Now, can we say the same for the U.S.?

What can Labor do to stop THAAD in South Korea?(Jacksonville, Florida)

Reece: I imagine you have bigger things on your mind based on your location, but if you want to talk email me at info@uslaboragainstwar.org and we can connect you to some ways to do something locally as well as nationally.

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