Monday, February 7, 2011

Essay by Kei Fischer, Eclipse Rising co-coordinator.

“Koreans in the U.S. Call for Peace”
By Kei Fischer
January 20, 2011

When I disclose that my mother is Korean, I am occasionally asked, “Is she the bad kind or the good kind of Korean?” I was shocked when I first heard such a question, but soon realized it was said out of ignorance thanks to mainstream media’s polarized portrayal of good and evil on the Korean peninsula. This rhetoric of North Korea as the “axis of evil” is part of what has prevented the end of the Korean War. Now in its 6th decade, the Korean War never formally ended since there was no peace agreement, thereby dragging the Unites States, along with the two Koreas, into a perpetual Cold War state. Consequentially, it has built up to such scares like the recent Yeonpyeong Island artillery exchange between South and North Korea where two civilians were killed. The weeks of following news coverage went in circles, always blaming North Korea and never attempting to move forward by discussing denuclearization of Korea through peace and engagement, and not through escalating military aggressions like the war games conducted at Yeongpyeong Island, which started this recent conflict in the first place. As for myself and other Koreans in the United States, peace and division is a deeply personal issue with multiple generations continuing to experience the trauma related to war and division, yet hardly any media attention has been given to the Korean American perspective. Korean activists are out there advocating for peace because it means, “reclaiming something that was brutally taken from us.” The division of Korea was conducted without any input from Koreans, but it is the Korean people, “who were the first and foremost to be impacted.” Korea suffered under Japanese colonialism for 35 years, immediately after experienced the Korean War, and now a divided homeland. Families continue to endure separation because of the arbitrarily drawn 38th parallel. The signing of a peace treaty with steps toward reunification symbolizes healing and reconciliation for Koreans. A Korean activist commented that peace in the peninsula was a move toward a world where people could “thrive in peace,” since most importantly, an end to the Korean War would mean an end of the Cold War.

In the aftermath of the Yeongpyeong conflict, the Obama Administration’s response was to send 75 warplanes to South Korea and blame North Korea for attacking. Nevertheless, North Korean officials clearly warned before the South Korean military exercises were to happen that if conducted on the disputed maritime border, they would see it as a threat to national security. Hardly a month later, South Korea, backed by the U.S. military, reinstated the war games. This time North Korea showed great restraint by not retaliating and rightfully sending a message that, “The world should properly know who is the champion of peace and who is the real provocateur of a war.” This was thanks to Senator Bill Richardson who recently met with Pyongyang officials and was able to negotiate the return of UN inspectors to North Korea, an establishment of a hotline to avert “potential crisis” and sending fuel rods out of North Korea. Such an action should not be a surprise as North Korea has consistently shown that when approached with diplomacy, they reciprocate in steps toward negotiating a peace agreement with the United States.

Former president Jimmy Carter wrote about his visit with the “Great Leader,” Kim Il Song, in 1994 during which an “agreed framework” was accomplished as a result, stopping fuel-cell reprocessing and restoring the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection for 8 years. In 2005, the 6-party talks between North and South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States agreed on denuclearization, a pledge of non-aggression by the U.S. and steps to a permanent peace agreement. Unfortunately, the talks had been at a standstill up until last year due to the sudden shift to hard-line policies against North Korea by Bush and South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak. It seemed we were back to square one with the imminent threat of war. During Carter’s revisit to North Korea this past summer, officials clearly spelled out a “detailed desire” to denuclearize Korea and establish permanent ceasefire as based on the 1994 agreement and 2005 terms. North Korea’s wish for talks toward a permanent peace agreement has been the strongest and most unfailing message for peace since the armistice agreement was signed in 1953. As of today, the two Koreas have agreed to engage in high-level defense talks to resolve some of the tensions between the two nations. This occurred immediately a day after Obama visited China’s President Hu Jintao. Both encouraged talks between the two Koreas and, “agreed that sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue is an essential step” to improving North-South relations. This may potentially be followed by a return to the 6-party talks, which if successful, could end the Korean War and lead to nuclear disarmament.

When I visited Pyongyang three summers ago, the message for peace and reunification was unmistakable and unlike the demonization of North Koreans by South Koreans and Americans, the North Korean people continue to see other Koreans, including Koreans in the Diaspora, as their brothers and sisters and only regard them with love and affection. One of the guides during our tour there reminded us that Koreans shared over 5,000 years of history as one nation, so 60 years of being apart is a mere bubble in their existence as a unified Korea. Peace in the Korean peninsula is a constant in the North and Koreans and supporters all over the world have dedicated their lives to advocating for a peace agreement. Analyzing the decades-old peace movement and all the time individuals have committed to bringing about peace on the Korean peninsula makes me believe that a peace treaty is achievable within my lifetime. Therefore, I have no qualms about continuing to advocate for peace until that day comes true.

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