Aegis – Guard of the Guardians Themselves

There are so many issues and causes to care about in the world.

Tigers going extinct, homeless folks, religiously motivated settlers in the West bank. And then there is world politics, armament races and wildly differently opinions, conclusions and analysis aimed at explaining how to keep the citizens of the world safe.

Issues that the villagers of Gangjeong have been forced to care about.

They have filed cases. They have sued. They have chained themselves to cars. They have lobbied and demonstrated. They have been beaten and put in jail. Been black listed and thrown out of convention centers and meetings. Arrested for refusing to leave when demonstrating quietly outside a SAMSUNG(one of the biggest construction companies on the base) owned hotel during a UN/ROK joint conference on disaster and nonproliferation in Jeju. The are still fighting for the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, adjacent to the proposed military port. They have been called trouble makers, communists and North Korea supporters.

Somebody hijacked their democratic process and their votes didn’t count when they said no to the naval base.

They even walked from Jeju up to Seoul in what turned into a 5000 person march. That is how much they care.

In addition, the main tourist bus driving from the airport in Jeju city to nearby Saegepo was re-routed so as not to expose the bus passengers to the demonstrations during the International Union for Conservation of Nature conference in 2011 and the participants were warned not to have any contact with the activists as they were dangerous. What actually happened at that conference is another story but basically the Korean government had, in exchange for a considerable amount of money, struck a deal with the organisation not to allow talks about the environmental consequences of the naval base construction. It became known and an unwelcome but unstoppable arena was created for the Gangjeong activists.

But this is is not a Gangjeong issue, this really does concern you. Wherever you are. And I will tell you why.

2011 the Obama administration announced a military strategic turn around, a whooping 60 percent of US military resources being shifting from Europe and the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region in what is called the South Asian pivot. A new frontline of defence and the enemy has a new name. The WOM discourse has not completely gone to bed with the Bush camp but Red China is now the scary man of the mouth.

Still wondering why you should care? Well, a new battle field is in the making in one of the most heavily populated area in the world, with the US as a main actor. Regions and nation states are being courted and divided up according to the old cold war logic.

The United States already has 219 bases on foreign soil in the Asia-Pacific; by comparison, China has none. The Jeju base would augment the Aegis-equipped systems in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and the US colony of Guam. The Pentagon has also positioned Patriot PAC-3 missile defense systems in Taiwan, Japan (where the United States has some ninety installations, plus about 47,000 troops on Okinawa) and in South Korea, which hosts more than 100 US facilities. Source

Many military analysts are saying it, the US naval and missile defence logic is morphing and sliding into the Asian region.

As far as Gangjeong goes, about 6000+ US/ROK navy personal are moving in if the construction goes as planned. And Aegis is coming with them.

They also bring:

2 submarines

20 large destroyers, equipped with the above mentioned sea-based Aegis ballistic defence system

2 aircraft carriers

What are we really talking about here? Well, there are numerous types of these warships. One type looks like this:

The AEGIS is an integrated combat naval weapons system which uses powerful computers and radars to track and guide weapons to destroy enemy targets. Japan already have three of them, as do Spain and Norway. And the US of course who had them first. Looking at the technique behind it, this is basically how it works:

The Aegis Combat System is controlled by an advanced, automatic detect-and-track, multi-function three-dimensional radar (the AN/SPY-1). Known as “the Shield of the Fleet”, the SPY high-powered  radar is able to perform search, tracking, and missile guidance functions simultaneously with a track capacity of well over 100 targets at more than 100 nautical miles (190 km).

The Aegis system communicates with the Standard missiles through a radio frequency (RF) uplink, but still requires the AN/SPG-62 radar for terminal guidance. This means that with proper scheduling of intercepts, a large number of targets can be engaged simultaneously.

In other words, this system is both able to track as well as engage a massive number of targets at the same time. Their radar systems work independently even though they are sometimes referred to as Aegis class cruisers.

Remember yesterdays blog entry. The simulation that was supposed to take place inside the base. Bringing cruise liners into the harbor. Not very likely.

The activists here tell me that submarines that are coming to town are armed with nuclear missiles.

The villagers may know this. Some do. But really. You don’t need to know the tech info. Exactly what kind of Destroyer is coming in or how the Aegis ballistic missile defense (ABMD)was started by President Reagan in the 80s and how it initially was supposed to be use in space.

What it comes down to is this, do we really want another place in the world massively invaded by war ships and missile systems? There are other ways to deal with conflict and fear, like an improved level of communication.

By the way, the blog title refers to the motto written in latin on the emblem. A guard for whom?


No Pasarán!


It is not a totally appropriate title on this blog entry. No Pasarán was one of the battle cries from the guerilla in the Spanish Civil War.

Still, No Passage is one of the messages ringing loud and clear through the movement against the Naval base in Gangjeong.

Yesterday the wind picked up and snow came down over the gureombi rock, the palm trees, orange groves and the press conference where Mayor Kang and other community leaders again raised the issue of the 70 day construction stop that legally is in effect but not respected. The main purpose of the conference though was to voice a strong opinion of distrust regarding the navy’s 3d naval simulation to assess if cruise ships will be able to enter the port safely. This is taking place today and tomorrow but is considered a right out lie.


But consider this. The sales pitch to  the villagers to Gangjeong (and Jeju island for that matter)  was that the base would be a naval/civil(civilian base)where happy, rich tourists would come on these giant cruise liners.

Have you ever seen a one entry navy port, which main purpose is to protect South Korea and USA from the Red Enemy sitting in China; filled with American Marine soldiers, warships, a well-developed missile defence system mingle with…eh, tourists?

Gangjeong is an amazingly beautiful place. It has been considered as a candidate for the so-called new 7 wonders.








And now the base is moving in. And life becomes harder in so many small and big ways. Fishing use to be easy.



There use to be a beautiful view if one wanted to just hang for a while, be by the sea and look at Tiger island in a distance.


But now war ships are moving in. Tetrapods high and low.


Construction and barbed wire.IMG_5821




And still.

Small islands of stubborn active resistance.

Save Our Seas, or the SOS team had their weekly waterday activity on Wednesday(the Chinese symbol for Wednesday is water).



Some folks from the navy security unit decided they needed to come along and sent 14 of their finest divers to make sure no rebellious kayakers would be up to something disobedient.


Then they all sailed for freedom.


Kayaks were observed and followed from both side of the navy base but not harassed. Depending on how you see it.


And made their way in the strong wind around the man-made orange boundary and disappeared in the mist, their tiny yellow flags barely visible.


There is something in the way he walks

It is the small things that get to me. The young man hanging, as a last desperate measure, on the front grille of the construction truck the other day. Before being torn down by the riot police and hired security men.

IMG_5696And being violently thrown, pushed around and handles inside a detention circle.

IMG_5699Before it was all over for this round and the police left.

IMG_5697But the next time I see him. He is back at the gate. Doing bows for peace.

IMG_4959And I think of other young men that I have met. In other places. Other struggles. Who have chosen another, more violent route. And I think to myself, this is quite unique.

Then I went to mass. With two disobedient priest who have paid the price for opposing the base. Father Joseph and Father Mun Jeong-hyun. Being beaten by the police. Jail. That sort of thing.


IMG_5737I look down. I look up. Father Joseph is missing.

No he is not missing. He is walking with the bread and blood of Christ down to the people blocking the gate. Here he is coming back. Walking through the traffic. Another day, another walk.


IMG_5741People often ask me what they can do. For peace. Against violence. Ignorance. For other people.

Against military and political forces with a moist moral surface.

The answer is simple.

Do something. Do something you are good at. Something with a heart.

Write. Sing. Inspire people. Document. Analyze. Make it personal. Deliver the Eucharist in the street.  Go sit and talk and eat oranges at the gate of a naval base i Korea. But do something.

Wave to the Chinese across the water!

If I go down to the harbor where the American-Korean naval base is being built. And stand on my toes, I can see a tiny bit of the Chinese mainland.

No, I am lying. I can’t see the mainland but it is really close. Only 300 miles.

Maritime security is one of the catch words that are floating around theses days. China and Japan are strengthening their marine military strategy and South Korea and the US want to keep up. But at a price.

The naval base built on Jeju alone was earmarked for 97.5 billion won ($7.8 million). “The investment in the naval ship sector is focusing on securing high-tech destroyers and submarines continually with an aim to improve capability of command of the sea around the Korean Peninsula as well as building up capability to perform landing operation”

The U.S. and South Korean government are expanding their military alliance, and if the naval base on Jeju Island is set up, the U.S. navy will use the base to monitor China’s naval power. Because of its close location to China, the naval base will primarily be a bulwark against Chinese expansion rather than defend against North Korea threat (for which the bases in Busan and Jinhae are better suited.)


By ‘commanding the sea’ and talking about ‘Chinese expansion’ the idea is to keep South Korea and the so-called free western world safe. But Noam Chomsky and Matthew Hoey(and yes, the actor Robert Redford) are not the only ones being concerned that while the official jargon about building the naval base on Jeju island is security it will hardly go unnoticed by China. Seoul plans to dock Aegis-equipped destroyers at Jeju. These warships are the main military component of the U.S. missile defense system.

Just consider what would be the response from the US if China would build a naval base 300 miles from the American coast.

I took a look in Wikipedia. Just to make sure I got this right.

Naval armament race is an arms race during which two or more countries continuously construct ships consistently more powerful than the ships the other country built in the previous years. These races often end in wars

Meanwhile back at ranch. While the older activists keep up the peaceful resistance against the naval base new people arrive…


More bows are made…


More nuns are being monitored by the police…


And the mayor of Gangjeong is again exercising the right of freedom of speech after being detained by the police…


…and the US and Korea are getting deeper into the armament race, and taking the fishing village of Gangjeong with them.

The Mermaid Advocacy Tour

As it turned out. I wasn’t completely wrong. And my Korean friends were not completely right about the mermaids.

The woman we went to see in lovely, lovely U-do island is known for her spectacular photos of the female Korean divers or haenyo. Here is an old photo of them, taken in the 70’s. Today they wear wetsuits but look very similar in their own way.


The purpose of the tour was to relax and get away from the police and the gates for a while. One gets tired of battling it out and of thinking about the election, the 70 day ban on construction that is not listened to, the fines and court orders that are coming in. And the police surveillance van with a very visual camera staring right at the gate. It does not matter so much if they were actually in the van, the culture that I experience here is so built around us and them now that it seems more or less expected that they have the activists mapped out.


While it was a vacation, the advocacy flyers were not far away in the car and were handed out when it seemed right. The yellow vest was on the driver. I came along as a friend and as it turned out, a token international who came to Korea to support and document the struggle. Which went ok even if I don’t speak Korean. We had coffee and orange marmelade sandwiches at the photographer’s traditional house on the island and talked about the naval base not being just a Gangjeong issue but a much bigger one. We met with the catholic priest and talked about other islands(like Okinawa)where there already are bases connecting the American defence to other islands and bases in the mainland of, for example South Korea. The cost of that. For the world. For the people coming after us.  And also what price people like the Haenyo are paying when the sea bed and the sea-shore, gureombi, is changed and off-limits where the base is being built.

And it not just because this is a traditional trade that is passed on in the families. It is not just because this is a job that brings in money by picking a variety of sea food, shells, sea weed. Or even because there is a traditional shaman faith in the community that ties them together with the sea and is often practices outside. It is not even because they now know that the local dolphin, red-handed crab and several types of hard coral are on the red alert list, being rare and are all in danger of being extinct due to the naval base.

It is all of these things. Things that are hard to put a finger or a price on. Things that the navy can’t pay their way out of when they buy off the women that can no longer use a part of the sea.

Hallo, is this the police?

An outsiders perspective on how things possibly went down this morning.

– Hallo, is this the police? I need your help.

– Yes, again.

– There are three people blocking the entrance to the gate. I know you have been here 7 times a day since 2007. Yes, that is 12 775 times but they are still here.


I have trucks on the inside that need to get out.


And there are trucks on the outside that need to get in.


We need to move all the junk.


All the chairs.

IMG_5419And we need to move the people.

IMG_5421We need to do it now.











This happens every hour during the day. And every second hour during the night. On an average. Persistance and determination like this is hard to find.

Many of the conscripts look very young. Many look a bit scared or at least confused. They come from the mainland and are circulated every 2-3 weeks. It is doubtful they know what is going on in front of the gates.

Police covering their faces is a thing I have rarely seen. It is not legal either. You, as a representative for the state force should identify yourself.


You are also obliged to identify yourself when you are filming. In the name of security.

Some activists decide to open up a discussion about that.


If you film me and don’t tell me who you are, I will cover my face.


For more than 1825 days these activists have been practicing civil disobedience in the name of peace, determined to stop the building of the base and they are in good company.

When democracy does not quite work

You know what they say. When you are pointing a finger at somebody, three fingers are pointing back at you.

At the same time, I am getting a stale taste in my mouth when I hear what the villagers are saying about the process that brought the naval base to their little fishing town.

I hear them talking about the importance of democracy and how it wears of cloak of many colors. It swings in the wind and changes with the people who wears it. Sometimes it is the best we have and sometimes it does not quite work.

The Gangjeong activists speak of having been railroaded into accepting the construction of the naval bases and have not as a community been able to participate in a “fair and democractic way”.

This is the story:

In 2007 Yoon Tae Jun, the former village chief of Gangjeong announced that he had approved the building of the base and would make an application to the governor of Jeju. Normally a meeting is held in the village in about 7 days to discussed issues like this  but this time a vote was planned only 3 days later on April 26. Only 87 people participated and voted yes to the base. Which is the same as saying that about 10 % of the people represented Gangjeong village voted. Another meeting was promised but it never took place.

On May 14th, the governor Kim Tae Hwan announced that Ganjeong would get the base, followed by a very negative response from the villagers. A referendum took place about 4 months later, on August 20th, 2007 and according to Kang, the present mayor of Gangjeong 94 % of the villagers had their say at the ballots on the construction of the base.

725 people voted. 680 said no. 36 said yes and 9 votes were defective.

But the first vote was deemed valid. And today Gangjeong looks like this.