Coordinator Trip Report from
Japan & South Korea
July 22 - August 23 2009
From: Bruce Gagnon
This trip report covers the period of July 22-August 23 as I traveled to Japan and South Korea for my longest and most successful speaking tour ever.
The trip happened because Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba from Hiroshima invited me to speak at the International Symposium for Peace that his city hosted on August 1 and then again on August 8 in Nagasaki at the General Conference of Mayors for Peace that he chairs.
Using this opportunity our Global Network (GN) Japanese board members (Atsushi Fujioka, Makiko Sato, Koji Sugihara, and Hibiki Yamaguchi) set out to organize a six-city speaking tour for me that would last for three weeks across their country. From there I traveled to Seoul, South Korea where again GN board members (Wooksik Cheong and Sung-Hee Choi) prepared a busy weeklong schedule for me.
On July 24 I began with three media interviews at the offices of Hibiki Yamaguchi in Tokyo. The last one, with a Mr. Kaku, was quite impressive as he showed me a full-size poster he had created for the Hiroshima-Nagasaki remembrance days that included several photos and short stories about the GN’s space organizing efforts. He told me that the poster would be placed in 100 high schools across the country. He also wanted to interview me for a newsletter that he publishes for the students’ parents. Since 1995 he said the right-wing in Japan had been attacking “peace minded” teachers.
On the poster was a photo of former GN board member Satomi Oba who passed away a few years ago. She had made extraordinary efforts to bring the space issue to Japan and often translated our annual Keep Space for Peace Week poster into Japanese and once translated a Karl Grossman space video as well. Throughout my time in Japan many people would approach me and say they were friends of Satomi. On August 6 in Hiroshima, Satomi’s daughter, now a TV personality, came to hear my talk at one event and afterwards said she must do more to help our efforts.
On July 25 Koji Sugihara and his partner took me for a tour of the Yokosuka US Navy base where I learned that nine ships are now deployed there including several Aegis destroyers outfitted with “missile defense” systems. The nuclear aircraft carrier George Washington’s presence at the base is stirring up much resentment from the public as well.
After a wonderful trip to speak in Nagoya, where I was warmly received, I made my way to Kyoto where Atsushi Fujioka and Makiko Sato made sure I had time to visit some temples and a castle in this remarkable city. Atsushi took us to see the expanded peace museum at Ritsumeikan University where he teaches economics. My speech in Kyoto was attended by members of the Association of Korean Residents in Japan, many of whom are descendants of workers forcibly brought to Japan by the once imperial Army. After my talk one of the members of the Korean association was asked to speak and he pointed out the sheer hypocrisy of the US and Japan criticizing North Korea for launching missiles and producing nuclear weapons when the US leads the world in this department.
In fact, the US in July, and again on August 23, fired a nuclear Minuteman missile from Vandenberg AFB in California that landed at Kwajalien Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. How can the US test nuclear delivery systems at will yet attempt to lecture and selectively punish others for doing virtually the same thing? I raised this fundamental question in all of my speeches.
It was in Hiroshima that I finally had the opportunity to meet Steve Leeper, who works for Mayor Akiba, and who was most responsible for getting me invited to speak there and in Nagasaki on August 8. I immediately liked this tall gentle man, an American who spent the first seven years of his life living in Japan and who fell in love with the Japanese people. He returned to Japan as a businessman during the 1980’s but became active in the peace movement and now works full-time for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Steve had seen the GN’s space video “Arsenal of Hypocrisy” and urged Mayor Akiba to watch it. Feeling that the US introduction of space technology would trump any hopes for nuclear disarmament, the invitation for me to speak was to follow.
The August 1 peace symposium in Hiroshima was co-sponsored by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper company, the third largest paper in the country. They ran a feature story following the conference that took my message to many readers nationwide.
While in Hiroshima I not only spoke to the several hundred people assembled at the city’s peace symposium but I was also invited to speak at several other important conferences held during the same time. In fact I was to speak seven times during the course of several days leading up to August 6, the 64th anniversary of the US atomic bombing.
I next headed to Nagasaki where I spoke on August 8 to about 400 people attending the Mayors for Peace conference. Over 3,000 cities in 134 countries and regions have joined Mayors for Peace, the international network of local authorities campaigning for the elimination by 2020 of the estimated 24,000 nuclear warheads that exist today. I was quite pleased that following my speech mayors from all over the world approached me asking for a copy of my speech. Particularly exciting was that many of the requests came from African mayors and ambassadors who found my mention of US and NATO expansion into Africa for resource control on the continent (through the new Pentagon command AfriCom) of great interest and concern.
My last talk in Japan was on August 11 when I spoke in the city of Fukuoka. It was very special to speak there because, in 1984, I made my first trip to Japan and made my first speech in this city. Physics professor Kouichi Toyoshima and Makiko Sato did a fine job of organizing this event and I left the meeting deeply touched by the words of Hiroko Watanabe who briefly spoke after my talk about their opposition to US and Japanese deployments of the PAC-3 missile defense system in her community. Her talk, entitled “I’ll Never Lose My Will” was so heart-wrenching that I put it on my blog the next morning.
The next day Kouichi and Makiko took me swimming in the ocean which felt great after nearly three weeks of a busy schedule. Later that day Kouichi took me to a nearby spa hotel where he taught me the wonders of traditional Japanese spa baths. I was so relaxed after that experience I could hardly walk back to my room.
(See TV interview at http://www.ourplanet-tv.org/asx/090805contact_500.asx)
In South Korea
On August 14 I arrived in Seoul, South Korea and was met by Sung-Hee Choi and taken to a traditional Korean boarding house where I would stay for the next week.
Sung-Hee was a key person in the organizing of the GN’s annual space organizing conference that was held in Seoul just last April. She helped pull together about a dozen South Korean peace and reunification organizations who served as hosts and co-sponsors for our very successful 17th annual conference.
For this last week of my trip Sung-Hee went back to many of these same co-sponsoring groups and requested that we meet so they could brief me on the current political situation in North and South Korea and so that I could at the same time share more details about the work of the GN. It was a remarkable learning experience to meet with union organizers, citizens fighting against corporate “redevelopment” of their neighborhoods, peace activists, socialist scholars, reunification activists, members of Korean Veterans for Peace, and many church leaders.
One group, called the Pan Korean Alliance for Reunification (PKAR), was a co-sponsor of our April space conference and has recently been under severe attack by South Korea’s right-wing government. In May, soon after we got home from our trip to South Korea for our space conference, six reunification activists were arrested by the government under the anachronistic “National Security Law” (a throwback to Japanese occupation law) and three have already been tried and sentenced to three or four year jail sentences for simply working to reunify their torn and fractured nation. (I reported after our April trip that 1 out-of-every 4 South Korean families have relatives in the north and that hope for reunification burns deep in the hearts of the nation.)
One of the activists arrested for her reunification efforts was 36 year-old Eun-A Choi who had actually chaired the plenary panel I spoke on during our April conference in Seoul. I was able to visit her at the prison where she has been detained since May as she awaits her trial. It was an unbelievable experience to see her, dressed in drab green jail clothes, behind the glass window with a woman jail keeper sitting behind her recording our conversation on paper - and this was happening in the so-called “free and democratic” South Korea. (While earlier visiting the PKAR office I had met two men who served 36 and 26 years respectively in South Korean prisons for their reunification efforts. Today there are 550 political prisoners in South Korean jails.).
During the cab ride to the prison Sung-Hee and I heard that familiar “air raid siren” come across the car radio but little did I know that this was more than just a test. All traffic on busy Seoul streets was instructed to stop for five-full minutes. The voice on the radio said that this was “like a sports team that must practice defensive exercises” and that everyone should “stay at home and save water.” The nation was being made to fear an invasion from North Korea. This is “Psyops,” psychological operations, I wrote into my diary as the cab sat in the gridlocked mid-day downtown traffic. (I was later told that this five-minute “everyone stops air raid drill” happens once a month!)
In fact just the day before I had participated in a news conference and protest vigil at the joint HQ command base for the US-South Korean military war game that was rehearsing an attack and occupation of North Korea. The US and South Korean military practice such a preemptive strike on North Korea twice a year keeping the overwhelmed folks in the north in a constant state of siege. (After all, they have recently witnessed the US attack and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan. They must wonder if they are next on the list.)
One of the greatest events I participated in during the trip was to watch and speak at a cultural rally on the evening of August 15 that drew about 10,000 people. This incredible event commemorated the 64th anniversary of the Korean liberation from Japanese colonialism in 1945.
In my meeting with several leaders and staff from the GN affiliate group called SPARK (Solidarity for Peace & Reunification of Korea) they briefed me about the dangerous US program called PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative) that was created by former V-P Dick Cheney and neo-con John Bolton and now is being used by President Obama to stop North Korean ships on the high seas ostensibly looking for “weapons of mass destruction.” Just days ago I read in my local newspaper a report that the US had boarded a North Korean ship carrying “conventional weapons.” The US is now using PSI in such a provocative manner that it could create a pretext for a shooting match with North Korea, even an excuse for war. (The irony is of course that the US is currently the worlds largest exporter of weapons. There goes that “hypocrisy” thing again!)
In addition, the talks with SPARK also focused on NATO expansion into the Asian-Pacific region. Not only is the US dragging NATO into Africa and Afghanistan, but under the name of “Global Partnership,” is now bringing South Korea, Japan, and Australian military forces into the aggressive NATO military expansion that is being used to surround Russia and China.
In my two major speeches in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in most of my other talks throughout this trip, I quoted former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev who told an anti-nuclear conference in Rome last spring, “In the final analysis, the nuclear danger can only be removed by abolishing nuclear weapons. But could one regard as realistic the prospect of one country retaining the quantities of conventional weapons that exceed the combined arsenals of practically all other nations — the prospect of one country achieving absolute global superiority? Unless we address the need to demilitarize international relations, reduce military budgets, put an end to the creation of new kinds of weapons and prevent weaponization of outer space, all talk about a nuclear-weapon-free world will be just inconsequential rhetoric.”
Mayor Akiba of Hiroshima is excited about President Obama calling for negotiations to get rid of nuclear weapons. He, and many others in Japan, often quoted Obama during the time I was there. But unless the Obama administration backs away from NATO expansion, cuts US military spending, ends the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and halts plans for expansion of “missile defense” in Europe and the Asian-Pacific there will be little real hope for serious and lasting nuclear disarmament.
There is indeed change going on in Japan and South Korea today. On August 30 the Japanese people overwhelming threw their right-wing government out of power after decades of one-party rule in that country. The newly-elected centrist Democratic Party of Japan is promising a return to economic vitality but my activist friends there warn not to expect much change in their increasingly larger role as junior partner to the US military empire. A Japanese version of the military industrial complex is now in full development in their country, with particular emphasis on space technology.
As I was preparing to return home from South Korea, their most popular president ever, Kim dae-Jung died. Kim, twice imprisoned for pro-democracy organizing during the many years of US-backed totalitarian dictatorships, served as president of South Korea from 1998-2003. While in office he did more than any other leader to end the brutal policies of the corporate dominated leadership that the US put into power after the Korean War.
His policy of positive engagement with North Korea has been termed the "June 15 joint statement". In 2000, he participated in the first of two North-South presidential summits with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il, which later led to his winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Kim actively called for restraint against the North Koreans after they detonated a nuclear weapon and defended the continued warming towards Pyongyang by South Korea.
The change today in South Korea is that the current right-wing government is attempting to roll back all the gains secured by the people during the good years of Kim dae-Jung’s presidency.
I know this report is longer than others I usually do after my trips. I could write another dozen pages worth and barely touch the deep and lasting images now locked in my heart and mind from this remarkable journey.
There are so many people to thank for being so kind and generous to me that I can’t begin to do it. Most of all though I must thank our dedicated Global Network board members in Japan and South Korea, who by working together so well, made this such a fine organizing trip.
In the end I spoke about 16 times and was interviewed by various media outlets at least 15 times. I counted no less than 15,000 people that I directly addressed in my various talks, some longer than others.
Most importantly though this trip was about expanding the contacts and the space organizing of the Global Network in Japan and South Korea. To that end this trip was a smashing success.
I will return for two more weeks to South Korea in mid-October to follow-up and expand upon our work there. I’m certain that trip will be as rich of an experience as this one was.
To read my full speech that I delivered in Nagasaki at the Mayors for Peace conference just click on this link
Bruce K. Gagnon