Shouting, in the name of women, "Put your sword back into it's scabbard"

IssueMarch - May 2003
Feature by Jung Min Choi

After 11 September 2001, and at a time when there is an expectation of war about to be waged by the US on Iraq, there are many small rallies - of various types - being held every week in Korea that cry out in one voice that we are against war on Iraq. Moreover there are many people in Korea who are also wondering whether Korea is going to be next on the list. Some people are even getting calls from relatives living abroad, asking if everything in Korea is OK

While the war on Iraq will take place in a far away country, in some ways it is also not that far away from me. In particular, Bush's hard-line policy towards North Korea's nuclear programme seems to be driving the Korean peninsula to the verge of war crisis. Many people still believe and insist that North Korea should be the one that must “behave” and change, but nevertheless the common belief is that there should be no war and no impatient moves that could provoke war on the Korean peninsula. Because of this belief, many people decided to vote for Roh Moo-Hyun as the future president at the presidential elections in December last year. He has promised to carry on Kim Dae Joong's “Sunshine Policy” (which “emphasises the peaceful management of the Korean divide through engagement”).

Domestic implications

As in many other countries, the first event that made Koreans realise the impact of 11 September on domestic affairs was the proposed new law for the prevention of terrorism. This was encouraged by the National Intelligence Service, a body which stands out as a symbol of human right's oppression throughout the history of Korea. The new law gave them the full judicial power. However, because of the struggle of many human rights organisations, the new law has not been put into effect, but nobody can be sure whether this kind of incident will happen again.

During 2002 there were massive demonstration against Bush's visit to Korea after he announced that North Korea was part of the axis of evil - which brought tension to the Korean peninsula. There were also all sorts of film festivals that showed the tragedies of war and demonstrations against the attacks on Afghanistan and the sending of Korean troops to Afghanistan. With their belief in peace and against war, some people became conscious objectors, and this provided an opportunity to rethink the meanings of war and militarism.

In June two teenagers Mi-sun and Hyo-sun were crushed to death by a US armoured vehicle and this event sparked a blaze of anti-Americanism. Details of this case spread throughout the country and, after the two US military drivers of the armoured vehicle received “not guilty” verdicts, the square in front of the Seoul city hall was once more covered, as it was after the World Cup, but this time with waves of candles. The demands, such as “Revise the unfair SOFA” (Status of Forces Act), “Punish the guilty U.S military”, “Remember Mi-sun and Hyo-sun” and so on developed into an anti-war on Iraq stance and people began shouting “No more War” and “No more victims like Mi-sun and Hyo-sun in Iraq” in one voice. This demonstration is still held every weekday and people from a wide range of backgrounds, such as students, small children, grown-ups, office workers, factory workers, women, men and so on, are participating in it. They gather to criticise US imperialism and the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. They have developed a common thought - that there should be no more Mi-suns and Hyo-suns in Iraq, or anywhere else.

Women challenge militarism

The Korea Women's Network Against Militarism is an independent women's peace network which consists of six organisations and several individuals. They are women's peace organisation and activists who care about peace in Korean society. Their main goals are: to dismantle militarism and militarised culture, which foster and strengthen the patriarchal system; to protect the rights of women, children and people from militarised violence; the preservation of the ecosystem from military uses; the closure of military bases and economic development for women, specifically, and people in general.

The Korea Women's Network Against Militarism, together with women activists from Japan, Okinawa, Philippines, Puerto Rico and the US, held an international meeting in Seoul last year in August on the issue of “militarism and the rights of women”. Women from each country who participated in this meeting had either suffered the effects of the foreign military bases and troops stationed in them, or were women activists who work with them. There were discussions and workshops about “women's lives and rights in relation to the US military bases”, “Amerasian people”, “militarism within our daily lives”, “misuse of the environment by military bases and health problems”, “treaties of each country” and “base conversion”.

This was the fourth meeting to be held since the first in Okinawa in 1997. After the meeting everyone agreed to speak up more against the “war on terrorism” and to work to show the truth about the attack on Afghanistan from a women's perspective, so that this kind of war will never happen again.

Korean anti-war vigil and stall in Seoul on 28 December 2002. Activists have held a wide range of public events to show their opposition to the war on terror and specifically the war on Iraq.


War against women

Every war is a war against women and against the weak. In Afghanistan, so many people who had nothing to do with terrorism have lost their lives in the name of the “war on terrorism”. In Korea there hasn't actually been a recent war, however the threat of terror and the reinforcing of national defence, together with defence-oriented ideas about security, has led to the government's purchase of jet fighters - in spite of large opposition and a public “declaration of conscience”. Korea has many homeless people living on the streets, our society does not even guarantee the basic cost of living - something which recently led a disabled woman to take her own life. How could a jet fighter be more important than food and the basic rights of the people?

The activists of the Korea Women's Network Against Militarism are aware that we are not at war, but as people who are exposed to US military bases, we go through something approaching it everyday. Each day the noise of US army helicopters makes us doubt where we are living, and reports from CNN, which present real war as virtual games, make us fully realise the reality we are living in.

At a recent rally there were writings by women who work in the sex industry in Kijichon (a US base village in South Korea) and pictures drawn by Amerasian children from the Philippines, who are hoping for peace. Korean women are shouting for peace and demanding a stop to the war on terrorism, with words, pictures and action. At the Seoul rally, where all of these things were brought together, it was peace itself.