Fighting Back against U.S. Imperialism in Korea

Jay Moore research at
Tue Nov 14 04:17:54 MST 2000

Bullied Koreans rage at US base
Villages in the South want to be rid of American troops whose presence has
brought years of silent misery

Jonathan Watts in Mae Hyang-ri
The Guardian (UK)
Monday November 13, 2000

At first, Lee Chun-bun glowers silently at the only white man she has come
face-to-face with since the American troops came to her village more than 40
years ago. Then the hatred that has festered inside for decades explodes to
the surface.

"You killed my son, you ruined my land and you destroyed my life, but I've
never been given a penny in compensation," spat the bent and wrinkled
92-year-old South Korean. "I was so scared of you and your guns. But not any
more. Now I want compensation. Now, I want to bite you!"

Her venom may have been misdirected at this journalist, but it was
representative of the anger expressed by many residents of this increasingly
notorious village.

Mae Hyang-ri - home of the biggest US bombing range in Asia - is the focus
of a growing "Yankee Go Home" movement in South Korea.

Most Koreans are grateful for the US presence, which bolsters defences
against the army in the North, but in recent years, there has been a sharp
change in the political scene and the public mood.

For most of the past 50 years of cold war, opponents of the US military were
dismissed as communist sympathisers. The military dictatorship that ruled
the country until 1993 suppressed any accusation that the bases were
responsible for crime, pollution or deadly accidents.

But in 1997, Kim Dae-jung, a one-time critic of the bases, was elected
president in the country's first democratic transfer of power. This year,
the North has started to open up to the outside world, raising questions
about whether South Korea needs to host 38,000 US troops.

In this new climate, numerous skeletons have been sent scuttling out of the
US military cupboard.

Last year, Koreans were horrified to learn of the No Gun Ri massacre, in
which hundreds of civilian were reportedly gunned down by US troops during
the Korean war. More recently, the US forces headquarters in Seoul was
forced to apologise after admitting that it has been dumping formaldehyde
into the Han river.

South Korean protesters have fired paint bombs at the US embassy. Attacks on
US servicemen have prompted the US command to issue a curfew for its

The demonstrators accuse the South Korean government of sacrificing its
people to accommodate its US allies - and as evidence, they inevitably point
to Mae Hyang-ri.

By any standards, the village is blighted by its American neighbours. Each
day, its peace is shattered by more than 50 bombing runs by F-16s and other
warplanes, flying so low that villagers say they can see the pilots' faces
on their way to the target site, an island half a mile from the shore.

Each week, they drop tons of practice bombs and thousands of rounds of
armour-piercing shells, which end up polluting the seabed and the tidal

The local people have silently endured this relationship for almost 50
years, but in recent months they have started to speak up about their misery
and the fatal accidents which they claim they have been forced to cover up.

Lee Chun-bun says her 16-year-old son was killed by a 12kg training shell
that dropped without warning out of a clear blue sky in the late 1950s.

"When I lifted him in my arms, his face looked the same as ever, but the
whole of the back of his head was missing," she recalls. "We were too
frightened to complain; the Americans had guns and if you spoke out against
them, you were labelled a communist.

"We wrapped the body in a blanket, then my husband buried it secretly in the
hills. After that, the fury that boiled up inside him was more than he could
take. Within a week, he was dead."

Fapyong, or death by anger, is officially recognised in Korea, unlike the
death of Ms Lee's son, which, according to the authorities, has never been
reported or investigated. None of the eight other fatal accidents claimed by
the villagers has been recognised by the government.

"There is no evidence at all for such claims," said a defence ministry

It is indisputable, however, that the warplanes and helicopter gunships
occasionally make mistakes, which impact on the villagers who live closer to
the range than would be permissible in any other country.

The evidence is the cracked walls and broken windows in the village. which
were caused by an accident on 16 June when a US plane with engine trouble
was forced to drop six live bombs on the target range.

This sparked violent demonstrations outside the base. The US military has
since stopped using a target on the shore and it has agreed to a revision to
the Status of Forces agreement that covers the treatment of US troops in

Whether this will be enough to stifle the public perception that US troops
are far less restricted in Korea than in neighbouring Japan remains to be
seen. For the protesters at Mae Hyang-ri, nothing but a removal of the bases
will suffice.

"The noise and stress drive me crazy. It makes me feel like my heart will
explode," said Chun Man-kyu. "How can our own government allow us to be
treated like this?"

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