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REVERBERATIONS MODULE

Ongoing U.S. Military Occupation and War Exercises

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Introduction

The hidden nature of the ongoing U.S. military occupation of the Korean peninsula and its continued war exercises in the Asia-Pacific region contributes to the perception of  the Korean War as “past.”The continued U.S. military occupation structures the physical and material reverberations of permanent war, and it forces us to look beyond questions of the Korean War’s origins. This “manifestation” demands a close examination of the violent impacts of the U.S. empire of bases, military-industrial complex, and the ever-bloating U.S. defense budget. Rationalized as a “defensive” architecture aimed at containing North Korea’s “threat,” this sovereignty-busting structure of violence has enabled the ongoing waging of terror in the Korean mountains and oceans. We ask: In what ways does the ongoing U.S. occupation continue to manifest? What are the linkages between the ongoing-ness of the Korean War and the militarization of Korea and the broader Asia-Pacific region? Through materials that demonstrate opposition to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Seongju province, the resumed war games that rehearse the ongoing Cold War, and the expansion of U.S. military bases, this “manifestation” demonstrates the material realities and impacts of the ongoing U.S. occupation of Korea. 

Keywords

THAAD 

War games

Bases 

US Occupation 

Wartime

Study Materials

[Longform Political Analysis] Choi, Sung-hee, “Why the 2nd Jeju airport project is suspected to be an air force base?Save Jeju Now,  February 24, 2019.

In this piece, Sung-hee Choi, an activist with Save Jeju Now, expresses concerns over the South Korean government’s plan to build a second airport in Seongsan village, east of Jeju Island, which can be used as a potential air force base. Through several news media video clips, Sung-hee traces the South Korean government’s drive for the construction of an air force base on Jeju Island in the past. She suggests that not only the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport but also the Ministry of National Defense are tightly linked to the plans of opening the second airport on the island. 

[Op-Ed] Ko, Youkyoung, “End the Korean War and Stop the US-China Arms Race,” Foreign Policy in Focus, July 14, 2022. 

In this piece for Foreign Policy in Focus, Youkyoung Ko describes the arms race and militarization in the Pacific, arguing for the urgent need to end the Korean War. With the escalation of U.S.-China hostilities and the rehearsal of war through the RIMPAC war exercises, Ko casts critical light on bloated imperial defense budgets, the aligning relationship between Yoon Suk-yeol and Joe Biden, and most specifically, the military impacts on the Korean peninsula.

[Teach-In] “Jeju and the Militarization of Korea and Asia with Christine J. Hong,” A Forum on Fukushima and the Militarization of Asia, January 27, 2015.

Christine Hong, a professor at UC Santa Cruz and board member of the Korea Policy Institute, gave a public lecture on the history of U.S. intervention on Jeju island and the growing militarization of Korea and Japan. She discussed the role of the United States in pushing forward the militarization of the Asia-Pacific region by shedding light on the construction of a naval base in Gangjeong village on Jeju Island.

[Interview] Liem, Paul, “The Urgency of Korea Solidarity: Interview with Juyeon Rhee, Taskforce to Stop THAAD in Korea,” Korea Policy Institute, December 29, 2017. 

Paul Liem interviewed Juyeon Rhee after she was blocked from entering South Korea. In her remarks, she addressed the Korean diaspora’s place in the broader Korean peace movement and the necessity of solidarity for a lasting and meaningful peace. 

[Video] SCOOP: US Lies About RIMPAC War Games Exposed, July 21, 2022

This footage shows that the 2022 war games at RIMPAC rehearse war against North Korea.

[News article] “Two US activists denied entry to S. Korea for THAAD protest,” Hankyoreh, July 27, 2016.  

In July 2016, to support the fight against the THAAD system in Seongju and to participate in the annual Jeju Peace March, two U.S.-based peace activists—Juyeon Rhee and Hyun Lee—were denied entry into South Korea as “persons deemed to commit any act detrimental to the interest of the Republic of Korea” (Articles 11 and 12 of the Korea Immigrant Control Act). Their travel ban to South Korea was an act of political repression by the Park Geun-hye government. After petitions and public outcry, in 2018 and 2020, the entry ban was finally lifted for Hyun Lee and Juyeon Rhee, respectively. 

[News article] “Measures Guaranteeing USFK Access to THAAD base to Start Sat.,” KBS World, September 1, 2022. 

According to a brief KBS report, the South Korean government has prohibited protesters from blocking entry to the THAAD base in Seongju, in order to guarantee access to the US Forces Korea (USFK). In contrast to the extraterritoriality granted to U.S. forces, South Korean anti-base activists have been met with political repression. .

[News article] Flounders, Sara, “Faced with US ‘Decapitation Drill’/DPRK Korea missile launch is self-defense,” Workers World, August 26, 2022. 

As US-South Korea’s joint military drills and exercises were underway (between August 8 and September 1, 2022), this article points to the direct connection between the Korean War and the current military hostilities on the peninsula. Military exercises were canceled in 2018, when US relations with North Korea thawed with Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un in Hanoi. In return, North Korea had stopped missile tests and began to demilitarize. With Biden’s stance on China and the militarization of Asia Pacific, the US and South Korea’s resumed live-action military drills - called “Ulchi Freedom Shield” - rehearsed war and regime change in North Korea, escalating US militarism in the region. In response, North Korea launched two missiles as warnings and a call to deter US power. This article also features a photograph from the August 13 demonstration in South Korea, as tens of thousands gathered to protest the ongoing war and to call for “US out of Korea!” 

[Government Statement] “United States-Republic of Korea Leaders’ Joint Statement,” White House, May 21, 2022

In May 2022, the U.S. and South Korean governments issued a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to the ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty. The two presidents recommitted to combined military exercises and the deployment of the U.S. military, in the face of an alleged evolving threat posed by North Korea and its nuclear program. Wielding the rhetoric of denuclearization even as the United States asserted its willingness to use nuclear “capabilities” on the Korean peninsula, Presidents Yoon Suk-yeol and Joseph Biden expressed the necessity of the militarized alliance between their two countries “as the linchpin for peace and prosperity” in the region.

[Social Media Post] “U.S.-South Korea Joint Warmongering Games,” August 22, 2022, Nodutdol, Instagram

This Instagram post from August 2022 offers news, context, and analyses about the resumed US-South Korea Joint war games. 

[Film] Park Bae-il, dir. Soseongri (2017), 89 min.

This film, directed by Park Bae-il, focuses on the elderly residents of Soseong-ri, a rural village in Seongju province of South Korea, where the U.S. military built a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) base. Amidst an escalating arms race, this defense system is allegedly deployed to defend against North Korean missiles. Installed without consent from the Seongju residents, THAAD has been the subject of ongoing protests who demand its removal and call for the United States to halt its military interference in Korea. There has also been opposition from China to the THAAD deployment. This film demonstrates the work of anti-THAAD activists who have, for many years, demanded the end to U.S. militarism and war.

Study Questions

  1. What do you know about the ongoing US occupation in Korea?

  2. The 1951 Korean War armistice stipulated that all foreign powers were to withdraw their military presence from the Korean peninsula. Why is the United States still in Korea?

  3. In what ways does the ongoing US occupation manifest? 

  4. The Korean War’s battle phase occurred in the early 1950s, but the Korean War is not over. How should wartime relative to the U.S.-occupied Korean peninsula be understood?

  5. How do war exercises rehearse the ongoing Korean War? 

  6. How does the history of the Korean War relate to the current U.S. military occupation?

  7. How is the ongoing U.S. military occupation and war exercises on the Korean peninsula a manifestation of the reverberation of the Korean War?

  8. What are the struggles that local communities have faced in relation to the current U.S. military bases? How have the South Korean and the U.S. governments responded to these problems?  

  9. How does the Korea-U.S. military relationship affect the politics around the division of two Koreas?

  10. What issues have the communities in other world regions encountered with the ongoing U.S. military occupation?