Military Recruitment & Target Populations

June 28, 2007

Since the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy became law over 11,000 service members have been kicked out of the military for their sexuality. The number of service members who have left on their own volition, or have decided not to re-enlist is not documented (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) . Yet, the U.S. military has expressed an impassioned plea through a recent Associated Press Article; they are desperate to increase their diversity.

Citing recruitment numbers the military estimates that the number of black folks enlisting is down by over a third since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One military recruiter after another list the myriad of reasons why recruitment among African Americans is down:

  1. Marine Commandant Gen. James T. Conway, “The daily death toll that comes out… that’s probably the single most dominant feature.”
  2. Pentagon Official Gilroy said, the improving economy is giving potential recruits more opportunities for better paying jobs outside the military.
  3. He goes on to say, “We hear greater criticism of this administration’s policies and greater concerns about the effects of the war… {he wants black leaders to} “Talk about the nobility of service.”
  4. Sgt. Terry Wright, an Army recruiter in Tampa, Fla., “I go to high schools every day, and for the most part it strikes me how many of them are serious about going to college.”
  5. Pentagon Official Gilroy, “because of the makeup of African-American families and the relatively more significant roles (the families) play, moms have a greater influence on their families. And we know that moms, in general, do not support the war.

“The decline in black recruits overall has been offset partly by an increase in Hispanic recruits and those who classify themselves as other races or nationalities” (Associated Press).

Can we take a step back and deconstruct this for a second? Based on these quotes it seems like military recruiters are having a difficult time with their jobs because there are simply not enough poor black folks from single parent homes left to recruit. They all have other opportunities, are not dedicated to service – or they died in combat already. Not once in this entire article are these men and women framed as agents of their own future. No one mentions the black high school student pacifist, or the potential recruit who is open to service outside of the military machine. There is certainly no mention of the affluent black folk who live outside of the ‘target’ population.

If you need further proof that the military is targeting oppressed peoples – read between the lines. It is not just a population surge that has increased the number of Hispanic recruits. They ran out of black folks and they are moving on to brown folks of all shades. As long as that brown person is not gay, of course. Watch the story of one Arabic translator who was fired from the Navy for being gay:

The U.S. military is turning away thousands of homosexuals so they can target people of color in low income neighborhoods and then go to the Associated Press to trumpet how important diversity is!

I believe, whole heartedly, in the power of service to change the world. I believe in diversity. I am fuming because these words are twisted to target low-income, heterosexual, minorities into going to war. The Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) is, for me, a better way for diverse groups of people to serve their country. SPANs primary mission is to protect privacy rights. Recent actions by SPAN affiliates target ‘no child left behind’. Under this law every high school graduates’ name and contact information is submitted to military recruiters unless they make a consorted effort to ‘opt out.’ SPAN activists all over this nation are organizing to put an end to this process and stop the military from targeting our teens. Now that is a service to our nation and its future.

By: Barbra Bearden


Eli Israel, US Soldier, Declines to further Participate in the Occupation.

June 25, 2007

SPC Eli IsraelDeclaring that “we [USA] are now violating the people of this country [Iraq] in ways that we would never accept on our own soil”, SPC Eli Israel told his commanding officer that he would no longer play a ‘combat role’ in this conflict or ‘protect corporate representatives.’ That same day [June 19, 2007] Eli wrote a letter to a friend saying that they have taken his decision as ‘violating a direct order’ and has asked that friend to tell everyone about his situation for fear that he might ‘disappear’.

You can read the story at the Iraq Veterans Agianst the War website as well as a shortened version on our Student Peace Action Network website.

Eli became morally opposed to the war after he saw what the United States was doing in and to Iraq. He took a courageous step in defying his commanding officer. Moreover, his actions affirm the feelings of U.S. veterans and active service members all over the world – they’ve risked their lives and shattered a nation under false pretense. Millions are against this war, but a soldier openly rejecting the occupation of Iraq is something that the government cannot ignore.

Eli will most likely be court-martialed (to be tried for an offense by a military court) for breaking military law by disobeying direct orders. According to precedent set at the Nürenburg trails, a solider can only act according to what he or she believes to be right, and accept the consequences of either following or disobeying orders. SPC Israel is taking a stand where so many Nazi war criminals did not by examining the orders he has been given and questioning their morality. His actions are protected by international law – let’s make sure we protect him here.

The military will try to silence this story; we cannot let them. We can also not allow the illegal mistreatment of this soldier, Eli Israel – please spread the word. Contact his Senator, Mitch McConnell, and encourage him to fend for this soldier’s rights against any illegal retaliation.

‘What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.” – On the Duty of Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau


Hip Hop, Habeas & Building a Movement

June 22, 2007

Tuesday night I had the privilege to see Dead Prez and a host of other Hip Hop artists perform at the “Shut it Down, Stop the Torture” concert sponsored by the Hip Hop Caucus the ACLU and Amnesty International. The concert was organized to promote a national mobilization to reaffirm habeas corpus back on June 26th. The focus of this event will be stopping the terrorism the Bush regime is meting out U.S. and foreign citizens within our boarders, at Guantanamo, and throughout the world.

 

Tuesday was a powerful night of education, rhyme, philosophy, beats, justice, and peace – there was even a little Go-Go. I love Hip Hop, and especially Dead Prez for their poetry and lessons. What struck me the most? Intertwined with messages against torture and for the protection of civil liberties were messages from the ghetto. One song, Genocide, was not about Darfur. It was about the life of a man of color in a white world and the struggle to survive. I found myself screaming, “white people, give back the world.”

 

My education, both institutional and experiential, has consistently brought one reoccurring lesson to my quest for peace and justice: no one person or movement stands alone. When I think about our history, the people’s history of the United States, the one thing that still gives me chills is the collaboration between movements in the 1960’s. Then I ask myself – why don’t I see this collaboration now? Why are there so few people of color at massive demonstrations where a sea of white faces and Birkenstocks demand global justice? Why were there so few white people at the DC voting rights rally where U.S. citizens demanded the most basic of our inalienable rights? (DC is predominantly a ‘chocolate city’ – many people believe that this is a substantial reason why we have not been given the vote).

 

Inevitably when I think about issues around race, class, gender, and sexual preference I must first examine myself. I have never been to a community meeting in my minority white neighborhood where I am a sign of gentrification. I kept my Massachusetts residency for as long as possible to maintain my representational vote in Congress. I am a person of both privilege and oppression. I am, like all of us, some what racist, classist, sexist, and heterocentric. I try to engage these issues in my daily life, but, like all of us, find it difficult to overcome, but, so important to strive to overcome — to sing, “We shall overcome” like the great leaders of the 60’s once did.

 

As I read, write, and pontificate about peace and justice I see myriad problems brought to our world due to a lack of peace and justice. A Turkish woman is persecuted for covering her head with a hijab. A black man can’t get a cab because it’s assumed he doesn’t know how to tip. Refugees from the West Bank and Gaza desperate for shelter are refused because their ethnicity and religion mark them as terrorists. A Thai woman is overlooked for a promotion because her boss can’t see the authority and passion that lies outside his myopic understanding of her culture. On and on the desire to deny our personal struggles with ‘isms’ leads us further from overcoming them together.

I want to challenge you and myself to step outside of our comfort zones. To invite those who you feel would never come, and to go to them if they don’t show up to your event. To open your heart to the idea that as long as we persecute each other as individuals we will perpetuate the system that oppresses us all. Without harnessing the strength of our diversity and numbers we will never stop war. Without utilizing the ideas of all peoples we’ll never unseat the corporate machine. Without investing in the future of all our children we will never see justice in our world. Only when we do all of these things, will the demands of the peace majority be met.

By Barbra J. Bearden


One Step Forward and Two Steps Back: The U.S. Nuclear Policy

June 20, 2007

By: Barbra J. Bearden

We’ve had some great news in the past few months regarding non-proliferation and disarmament. Experts and activists agree that an amazing resurgence of the anti-nuclear movement, one not seen since the late days of the Cold War, is in part responsible for checking the Bush administration’s efforts to reinvigorate U.S. nuclear capabilities. This mobilization began with the fight against the ‘bunker buster” and “mini nukes.” Now, we are winning the fight against “reliable replacement warheads” (RRW) and the poorly conceived “complex 2030.” The House zeroed out funding for these White House initiatives and, hopefully, the Senate will follow.

At Peace Action, we are proud to be a part of this movement – prouder still that our efforts to mobilize citizens against nuclear weapons may become an archaic part of our mission. I received a story from the Associated Press trumpeting the success of the negotiations, lead by the U.S., with North Korea to shut down the county’s nuclear reactor. “Clearly, we’ve made a turn over the weekend…We’re away from these banking issues, back onto denuclearization issues (Associated Press).” The banking issues U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill is referring to are centered on U.S. foreign aid money promised to North Korea in exchange for disarmament back in February of this year. After an extensive debate over which state should take action first the U.S. finally agreed to free up the aid funds on the promise that North Korea would dismantle their reactor “within this year.”

Despite our government’s abhorrence of nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea we are still the most heavily armed nuclear power in the world. We are still first among nuclear proliferators – most recently assisting India in obtaining nuclear materials. Sadly, among our citizenry is a select group who believe that U.S. control of nuclear weapons is not only inevitable but necessary.

Frank Gaffney, of the Washington Times, said “once the technology to build nuclear weapons became widely available, there was no way to stuff the nuclear genie back in the bottle.” Thomas D’Agostino, deputy administrator for defense programs at the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, said he was committed to funding RRW next year. It seems, despite the will of the people, and the commitment of our representatives, those whose careers are invested in nuclear weapons would like to stay that way. Department of Energy bureaucrats claim the bolstering of funds for nuclear armament in the U.S. and throughout the former Soviet Union is intended to thwart the “desire of al Qaeda ad other terrorist groups to gain nuclear weapons or improvised nuclear devices.”

What logic are these people following? Somehow they believe that investing new resources in nuclear sites will be more effective in preventing their ill use than eliminating them all together. I am not suggesting that expanding the Cooperative Threat Reduction program geographically is a bad idea. I simply own up to one fact – horizontal proliferation (across borders) isn’t the only kind; vertical proliferation (expanded nuclear capabilities within one country) can put the world at just as great a risk . With this in mind, our successes in North Korea are nullified by our own nuclear program.

Perhaps other countries might follow the U.S. non-proliferation model. If the U.S. can use economic exploitation to force a country like North Korea to disarm – some other country could do it to force us. A country like China, which is heavily invested in U.S. trade deficits could pull those investments and cripple the U.S. economy until we submit to disarmament of our nuclear weapons. Of course China will never do this, but, not because they are more benevolent than the U.S. in their foreign policy. They will never enact a policy to hurt trade relations with the U.S. because our love of cheap clothing and nick nacks fuels their own economy.

But it is an interesting thought. If the U.S. was not the global powerhouse it became after WWII what would our foreign policy look like? Would we still insist that some countries can and should have nuclear weaponry while others are terrorist states because they seek out a nuclear policy? Would we send our military all over the globe to unseat internationally recognized governments in the pursuit of resources or ideological interests? Or, would we fear invasion by a foreign army unhappy with our current regime? It’s just something to think about.


Oil Will Keep the U.S. in Iraq

June 18, 2007

This is a re-publication of a published letter to the editor from the Washington Post
Sunday, June 17, 2007; Page B06

The June 10 front-page article “Military Envisions Longer Stay in Iraq” provided much useful information regarding a planned long-term U.S. military occupation in Iraq, but it failed to give a reason why 40,000 or more U.S. troops might be there for decades.

The answer is surely oil interests. Last month Congress passed a bill continuing funding for the Iraq war with a “benchmark” provision threatening suspension of reconstruction funds if Iraq’s government fails to enact a law opening up its oil industry to privatization, something no other oil-rich Middle Eastern country has done. Predictably, this idea is vigorously opposed by many in the Iraqi parliament and the oil workers union.

No one should be shocked to learn that U.S. elites plan a long military presence in Iraq on behalf of oil interests; even less surprising will be the American and Iraqi peoples’ resounding rejection of such a project. People in Iraq and the region already think the United States is there because of oil. Is there any logical reason to think this will change, and that four years of fierce resistance to our occupation will magically dissolve, especially as our long-term plans become clear?

KEVIN MARTIN
Executive Director
Peace Action Education Fund

Silver Spring


Our Leaders should stress Peace and Diplomacy in Iran and not War

June 14, 2007

Last Sunday on Face the Nation, Sen. Joe Lieberman said. “If they don’t play by the rules, we’ve got to use our force, and to me that would include taking military action to stop them from doing what they’re doing.” He spoke of 200 U.S. soldiers whose deaths, he believes, can be directly attributed to Iranian forces working inside of Iraqi boarders. I won’t examine the validity of this argument but rather deconstruct the neo-liberal thinking which perpetuates violence in our world.

The idea that we can specifically target the camps where these Iranians are training or even that we know where these camps are is preposterous. I recall the use ‘”smart bombs” to target Serbian forces in Kosova during the 1999 NATO attack. These “smart bombs” destroyed civilian bridges, homes, hospitals, and other vital community infrastructures. There is no such thing as a “smart bomb” – it’s an oxymoron. Without doubt any military action in Iran will degrade the livelihoods of innocent Iranian civilians and further the disillusionment of Middle East people with the U.S.

What Lieberman has so critically overlooked is that Iran is a powerful state. Bombing, even specific targets, in that country would be an act of war on our part. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, like Bush, is not one to look for a diplomatic solution first. There is no doubt, in my mind, that U.S. military action within the boarders of Iran will spark a monumental war in the region involving Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and a host of non-state groups. With the U.S., Israel, India, and Pakistan (all nuclear powers) invested in the region, it is not far fetched to assume nuclear weapons could be involved. Attacking Iran will only lead to more civilian and military deaths , high global economic costs, and environmental destruction.

What disturbs me the most is that while the world’s leaders posture to one another, showing military might, citizens beg for a new approach. A recent study by the Arab American Institute (AAI) and Americans for Peace Now (APN) gauged support for Arab-Israeli peace from both Arab and Jewish communities. Approximately three of four Jewish Americans and Arab Americans think that the U.S. should work to avoid military interaction with Iran, even if diplomacy fails. Our future is contingent on letting our leaders know we demand peace.

We send our children to fight. We invest our taxes into the destruction of other nations. We work to support a floundering economy crippled by the expense of the Iraq occupation. Will we let the Bush administration take us further away from our ideals and closer to World War III? Sen. Lieberman seems to believe this is a good idea – let’s tell him it’s not.


Iraqi: Are we looking for sustainable reconstruction or a $1.50 a gallon?

June 12, 2007

The latest piece of brilliant military strategy from the White House is a smaller more long term U.S. occupying force in Iraq. I, like many citizens who were opposed to this war in the first place, am constantly concerned with how the U.S. will clean up the mess we’ve left in Iraq. According to the Washington Post our Commander and Chief and the U.S. military are concerned with similar issues. “A reduction of troops, some officials argue, would demonstrate to anti-American factions that the occupation will not last forever while reassuring Iraqi allies that the United States does not intend to abandon the country” (Military Envisions Longer Stay in Iraq June 10, 2007). The article goes on to impress upon us: the inability to withdraw U.S. troops in a timely manner, the importance of training Iraqi troops, and protecting the fledgling Iraqi government.

These all seem like important, viable goals. But, it is important to realize that we are not dealing with an administration that is primarily concerned with the welfare of humanity. We cannot fall into a trap of negligence of our own, most recent, history. On Thursday, May 24, the US Congress voted to continue the war in Iraq. Among the numerous points meted out in this piece of legislation is the privatization of Iraqi oil.

“If the Iraqi Parliament refuses to pass the privatization legislation, Congress will withhold US reconstruction funds that were promised to the Iraqis to rebuild what the United States has destroyed there. The privatization law, written by American oil company consultants hired by the Bush administration, would leave control with the Iraq National Oil Company for only 17 of the 80 known oil fields. The remainder (two-thirds)of known oil fields, and all yet undiscovered ones, would be up for grabs by the private oil companies of the world (but guess how many would go to United States firms – given to them by the compliant Iraqi government.)” Anne Wright, TruthOut Editorial, May 26, 2007.

Ms. Wright goes on to explain these private contracts are slated to last up to 30 years. Our extended occupation may very well extend for another 30 years so our troops can protect the vital interests of the oil companies.

I, personally, would like to see a longer term international presence in Iraq; but, my goal is not oil. I am concerned about the long term needs of Iraqi refugees. I am concerned about rebuilding roads and schools. I am concerned about bringing sectarian rivals to the table to discuss the future of democracy in Iraq. I am especially concerned that revenue from Iraqi oil be distributed equally among the Iraqi people. I fear this will never happen because the Bush administration is leading the way for neo-colonialism in the Middle East. I am concerned that we, as citizens of this world, remain complacent.


June 12 Lives!

June 12, 2007

It was twenty-five years ago today, perhaps the largest peace and disarmament rally in US history. A million people gathered in New York’s Central Park, and later marched to the UN, for nuclear disamament, timed with a special UN session on disarmament.

Former Peace Action board member Gary Ferdman, remembering how profoundly moved he was by that day, has set up a simple website for folks to share their memories, and also donate to Peace Action, at http://june12lives.org/

Check it out and send it around to friends, especially if you know people who were there that day!


Virtual Round-table discussion on the state of the peace movement

June 4, 2007

by Kevin Martin, Executive Director 

Foreign Policy in Focus, an excellent on-line publication of progressive voices on international issues, recently organized an on-line “roundtable” exchange on the state of the peace movement that featured an essay by Peace Action board member and SUNY-Albany professor and author Larry Wittner, and respondents from the movement including Peace Action co-chair Brian Corr.

 It’s very thought-provoking at this critical time for our movment, read it at http://www.fpif.org/ and feel free to post comments on the site and/or this blog.


Yankees Go Home: East Asian Peace Activists Say No to U.S. Imperialism

June 4, 2007

Last week the president voiced the absurd notion that U.S. forces might remain in Iraq for decades, as in South Korea.  Here is a view from an activist who just recently returned from a peace conference in South Korea…

by Anne Miller, Director, New Hampshire Peace Action

 

Last weekend, Japanese and South Korean peace activists held their first joint peace and disarmament conference in Seoul, South Korea. About two hundred peace activists gathered at Seoul University to build cooperation and solidarity between activists from the two countries. The conference also presented the opportunity for both Japanese and Korean hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) to share their stories and their struggles with one another – many for the first time.

 

The conference signified a growing coordination among East Asian activists in the struggle for denuclearization and resistance to U.S. military bases in the region. Represented were the two largest Japanese peace organizations, Gensuikyo and Gensuikin, and South Korea’s largest environmental non-governmental organization, Korean Federation for Environmental Movement. Other South Korean groups taking part included the National Association of Professors for Democratic Society and the Asian Wide Campaign against U.S.-Japanese domination and aggression of Asia-Korea.

 

Nuclear Options

 

The East Asian Peace Conference Against War, Nuclear Proliferation was jointly organized in response to North Korea’s October 2006 nuclear test. However, Kim Jong Il, the North Korean dictator, received but passing mention during the many presentations and discussions. Instead, the United States was repeatedly posited as the greatest direct threat to the region’s security. “America” was referred to hundreds of times over the course of the conference, often in frustration and anger.

 

Japanese and Korean activists are deeply concerned that South East Asia is on the brink of a new nuclear proliferation that threatens the region’s collective security.  Their concerns, accentuated by the North Korean test, focus on both nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

 

There was general consensus at the conference that North Korea now has nuclear weapons, and that a nuclearized North Korea could create a domino effect in East Asia with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan following suit. There are influential conservative voices within South Korean government, as well as those in the Japanese government, who would like to exploit North Korea’s test to acquire “nuclear sovereignty.” Using defensive posturing, they actually advocate an offensive nationalist position. Increased in-state uranium enrichment will likely be a first step in the process, with the goal being the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.

 

Japan, which promotes a hawkish foreign policy under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has recently made noises about a nuclear weapons program.  Washington has looked the other way. A reprocessing plant is currently under construction that could produce large quantities of plutonium by the end of the 2007.  This is of great concern to the South Korean activists, who are equally focused on the abolition of nuclear power and weapons. With increased uranium enrichment, the line between power and weapons becomes more and more blurred, leaving the door wide open to regional proliferation. For the South Korean activists, the only answer to stopping nuclear weapons proliferation is to work towards a ban of nuclear power.

 

There was consensus that denuclearization must begin with changes in U.S. policy in the region. One South Korean woman, an activist from a Seoul-based group Women Making Peace, had just returned from meeting with North Korean women in P’yongyang as part of an ongoing cultural exchange program.  She testified to the brutal effects that the economic sanctions are having on the citizens there as well as their longing for reunification. She called for the economic sanctions demanded by the U.S. to be lifted.

 

The U.S. has threatened North Korea with nuclear attacks more than any other country; the “military first” policies of Kim Jong Il can be best understood in this context. P’yongyang withdrew from the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993 after the Clinton Administration shifted some of its nuclear weapons targets from Russia to North Korea.  From the North Korean perspective, the need for nuclear weapons was reinforced by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Washington’s policies – both its enormous military presence on the peninsula and its aggressive posturing towards P’yongyang, were seen as the driving force behind North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

 

There have been rumors of several coup attempts, as well as efforts to assassinate Kim Jong Il – both by high-ranking members in the North Korean military. This potential instability has increased regional anxiety.

 

The South Korean activists also called on Japan’s government to hold direct talks with P’yongyang and supported the general framework of the “Sunshine Policy” set forth in 2000, when the two Korean heads of state, Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung, met for the first time since the U.S. divided Korea in 1945.  The policy aims to unify both Koreas into a single confederation over several decades during which the political systems and leadership would remain separate as trade and cultural exchanges begin to take place. Although many young South Koreans appear to be indifferent on the subject of reunification, many older citizens have been seeking a resolution to the conflict for more than a half-century since the end of the Korean War.

 

Following the conference, participants visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a euphemism for one of the most heavily fortified areas in the world. It is the physical manifestation of the north-south rift and the continuing reality of the Cold War.  Looking north to the North Korean demarcation line just two kilometers away, the percussion of practice shots from South Korean soldiers could be felt and heard. Although the South Koreans ostensibly patrol the DMZ, they are supported by tens of thousands of U.S. forces at places like Camp Casey.  Ironically, outside Camp Casey, a monument of a Native American Indian greets U.S. soldiers’ families who come to visit.

 

After the trip to the DMZ, the Koreans and Japanese activists linked arms and sang songs of reunification, resistance and peace, including a tune called “Why Can’t I Take a Taxi to P’yongyang?”

 

Ousting the Americans

 

If you want to know where half a trillion U.S. taxpayer dollars are going, you can find a good part of the answer in East Asia. In addition to denuclearization, the issue of U.S. military bases in the region was of paramount concern to activists. These bases – numbering in the hundreds – are an ongoing source of anger for many citizens living in both countries. As a result, popular resistance to them continues to grow.

 

Activists shared stories and made the call to band together against the U.S. government in removing U.S. bases from Japanese and Korean soil.  Several of their activities include struggling to prevent U.S. nuclear submarines from entering the port at Kobe, Japan, and to prevent the South Korean government from removing farmers from their land to allow the U.S. to enlarge a base in the Pyeongtaek area as part of the U.S. military alignment in the region.

 

At the close of the conference, attendees joined a demonstration of several hundred in front of the U.S. base Yongsan, which is located downtown Seoul. Behind the demonstrators’ staging was a banner printed with the face of the commander of U.S. Army forces in South Korea, General B.B. Bell. “WANTED” was stamped in bold red letters across his nose and cheek.  After the demonstration, activists pasted messages up on the twenty or so staffed police buses that lined the edge of the base as policemen surreptitiously photographed the protestors.

 

The message? “Yankees Go Home.” Some even said “please.”

 

To the north of Seoul, more resistance could be found in the town of Dongducheon, where two fifteen-year old girls, Mi-sun and Shin Hyo-soon, were run over and killed on their way to a birthday party in 2002 by a U.S. Army vehicle. Because of agreements between the South Korean and U.S. governments, the soldiers who killed the girls were never prosecuted by any Korean authorities and escaped any reprimand. The U.S. military erected a monument to the girls to try to quell outrage that spread quickly throughout the region, and called their “passing” a “tragic accident.” Many Koreans are still outraged that the U.S. has never taken any responsibility for the girls’ deaths. There is a citizen’s movement to take down the monument and replace it with one from the townspeople. Graffiti marring the current monument includes words like “dishonor” and “hypocrisy.”

 

Building Solidarity

 

Both Korean and Japanese activists recognized the conference as a successful first step in a long-term relationship. One Japanese attendee, who said he’d been working for peace for forty-two years, called it “historic.”  A shared troubled history on the peninsula runs both deep. Japan occupied Korea from 1905-1945 and many Koreans – like many Americans – mistakenly believe the cultural myth that the atomic bombs were justified because they ended the Japanese occupation of Korea. Additionally, activists from both countries expressed consternation at Japan’s increasing militarism and close relationship with the United States and called on Japan to work with Asia instead of the U.S.

 

One of the most powerful parts of the conference were the testimonials of survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The hibakusha – so precious to the Japanese peace movement – described their continuing struggle for recognition and compensation from the Japanese government for their suffering. Their presence served a potent reminder of the genocidal nature of nuclear weapons. One hibakusha reminded us that Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still happening because of present-day nuclear testing, nuclear power accidents, and the use of depleted uranium. The only way for human beings to survive, he said, is to keep telling our stories.

 

And for the citizens and governments of the world to listen. 


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