Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Let a hundred 'bojagi's' flap in the wind: Korean Americans march on Washington calling for a peace treaty to end the 60 year old Korean War

On 25-27 July 2010 Korean Americans and other like minded Americans will march on Washington calling for a treaty to end the 60 year Korean War and indirectly for establishing diplomatic relations with the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea]as well as normalising relations with the ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea], reuniting families separated by the war, and above all the right of the Korean people to exercise the right of self determination in the country's reunification.
The moment seems right for the demonstration. [The organisers have chosen the 'bojagi' as its symbol. Unfortunately the non Korean has to google 'bojagi' to understand what it is and its time immemorial symbol of this colourful piece of cloth in the folklore of Korea. Consider the cloth the Dalai Lama exchanges with the faithful and guests, to gain an idea of the 'bojagi's' Buddhist origin, and its practical use even in today's Korea North or South. So one can read in the 'bojagi' a thread which unifies a divided Korea as well as a symbol of peace and reconciliation.]
Yes the organiser have chosen a good moment to call for a peace treaty. Tensions have never been more strained between the US and the DPRK and the ROK and DPRK. The sunken 'Cheonan' has poisoned the waters and the joint US ROK military exercise in the East Sea wisely around the Busan perimetre and not near the NLL, has the sulfurous odour of sabre rattling.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on her way back from Afghanistan plans to visit the DMZ. Her in your face gesture, fresh on the US defeat in the UN Security Council to blame North Korea for the torpedoing of the ROK corvette 'the Cheonan', is provocative and recalls that famous picture of John Foster Dulles' visit to the 38parallel days before the outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950.
The US and ROK are playing chicken with the DPRK and little wonder war fever is in the air.
The 'End the war in Korea' [EWK] organisation is rallying Korean Americans and as an after thought other Americans who share its concerns. So no one should expect a massive turnout. EWK is trying to mobilise Americans of Korean descent, plain and simple. Its call urges flooding Congress and the White House with petitions, letters, and visits to elected representatives in order to push for an end to the war and a long sought peace treaty. Fair enough!
The organising committee of the march was prescribing the meat and drink fare in the American scheme of things for citizens to effect change. For sure those who heard its call and come to Washington would flood the houses of Congress, in order to make their concerns heard and urge the ending of the long Korean War, the more especially since the urgency of the moment of a hard line US policy towards the DPRK calls for it.
Although the goal seems daunting, it is worth the candle since the ROK and the US have dug heels into an intractable strategy of sanctions, cutting off food supplies and denying fertilisers to a North Korea on the edge of starvation, as well as beating a tattoo on the drums of war by beefing up military materiel and staging joint military exercises albeit at a safe distance from the DMZ and DPRK territorial waters.
The call to action however has a strange touch of unreality. This is not a reproach but an observation: how can a call primarily to Korean Americans in a community where regional and divisions of loyalty to the ROK or the DPRK, representing a very narrow per centage of demographics in the US, pressure the White House or Congress or the majority of non Korean citizens to induce a 'radical' departure from a frozen US stance towards the DPRK? It seems as though the organisers are living in a world of their own, making little or no effort to share its vision with the broader American community. A community which either has little or know knowledge of the 'forgotten war' in Korea or is heavily bombarded with questionable information about the hand of North Korea in the sinking of the 'Cheonan', thereby re enforcing and re burnishing highly negative if not prejudicial image of the DPRK. Hence the disconnect with main street America.
For here we see the weakness to fashion and common language and a common point of view for a larger appeal to the American people instead of a self reverential approach leading to isolation.
And then there is the matter of the peace treaty. Although the Korean War looks as though it were taking on the cast of a hundred year's war, there is an Armistice Agreement freezing the pursuit of a hot war in its tracks in 1953. Three signatories are at the bottom of the armistice: the DPRK, China [representing the Chinese Volunteer Army], and the UN Command [UNC] represented by the US which has full power to act in the UNC's name. Of course the US could unilaterally sign a peace treaty with the DPRK but that seems most unlikely unless there is a powerful ground swell of US public opinion forcing Washington's reluctant hand.
Still the demo's call has more to do with the politics of winning hearts and minds within the US Korean community than with mobilising a larger swarth of American citizens. So much the pity!
And could it be otherwise? Looking at the organisations, community based groups, business and media entities, and the list of scholars, it is easy to guess the cast of the march's initiators. They are more progressive than liberal, more openly supportive of North Korea than independent.
In a way, it is a gathering of the usual suspects. Saying this, however, should not take away from the thrust of this march on Washington at this time. They are alerting an unconcerned public of the danger and possibility of yet another war which cannot be won in Asia, and the need to silence the rattling sabres and to return to the green carpet of diplomacy to once and for all resolve the Korean War through a peace treaty.
It is time to convene another Geneva like conference to hammer out such a treaty. The young and old, the seasoned political warrior and the novice who will come to Washington on 25 to 27 July deserve our support despite reservations. They have the courage to call for sanity in an insane campaign against North Korea by the US and ROK which may trip a war wire on the Korean peninsula.
It is time, too, for Washington and Seoul to put stop playing tin soldiers and put on adult garments to negotiate an end to the 60 year old war in Korea.
The organisation to end the war in Korea has been prescient in raising the issue during a time of mounting tension. They deserve our thanks. The present times do call for the unfurling of a hundred 'bojagi' as a gesture of peace.

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