On October 9, the White House’ online petition site, We the People, posted a message in response to a petition signed by over 100,000 people urging the U.S. rescind its plans to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) counter-attack missile system in South Korea. To the disappointment of Seongju residents, who have been on the front lines of the fight against THAAD since their county was designated the deployment site earlier this year, the message from the White House was that the U.S. government had no intention to change its decision on the THAAD deployment.
The White House wrote, “In February of this year, in response to the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, the United States and the ROK began discussions to consider deploying a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system […] in order to improve the missile defense posture of the US-ROK Alliance. […] The United States is working with the ROK to deploy this system as soon as feasible in order to more safely defend our ROK Ally and US military personnel deployed to the region from the North Korea nuclear and ballistic missile threat.”
On October 11, 500 Seongju and Gimcheon residents headed to Seoul to protest the U.S.’ response. Outside the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Seongju and Gimcheon residents directed criticism at the U.S. government for its rejection of the residents’ demands for cancellation of the THAAD deployment. Holding signs with the text “No War, No THAAD”, the residents of Gimcheon and Seongu chanted, “Yankee go home! Go away, THAAD! Come, peace!”
The residents questioned whether there has ever been a case in which the THAAD system was deployed near an area as densely populated as Seongju and Gimcheon, the new site for THAAD deployment. Representatives of the task forces organized to oppose THAAD deployment in Seongju and Gimcheon pointed out that a radar system that emits a similar level of electromagnetic waves as the one attached to the THAAD battery has yet to be deployed in a site so close to a residential area – “The bases [in which the THAAD system or missile surveillance radar systems have already been deployed] like Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base and those in Kyogamisaki and Shariki of Japan are facing the sea. And [the THAAD system] stationed in the U.S. currently lives in Fort Bliss of Texas, which is a base located in a desert.”
Following their demonstration in front of the U.S. Embassy, Gimcheon and Seongju residents marched to another peace action held later in the day in Seoul. During the march, they stomped on American flags placed on the ground to denounce the U.S. government.
(Seongju and Gimcheon residents singing, “We Oppose the THAAD – Video Source: OhMyNews)
At the end of the march, residents of Gimcheon and Seongju joined Won Buddhist clergy and members of other faith groups as well as Korean peace advocates. Approximately 3,700 people came together for a peace demonstration. It included clergy members from various religions including Won Buddhists, Buddhists, Catholics and Protestants. The action, officially called the “One Peace – Faith and Civil Society Peace Action,” featured cultural performances and prayer rituals from each of the religious groups.
During the peace demonstration, religious and civil society groups expressed a united message to the South Korean and U.S. governments as well as the general public: “ The THAAD system cannot effectively defend against [North Korean] missiles; it is for the benefit of the U.S. and not South Korea; it will only add to military tensions and increase threats of war on the Korean Peninsula.”
Won Buddhists Vow to Defend Sacred Land from War-Provoking Missile “Defense”
A few hours prior to the “One Peace” demonstration by civil society groups and religious communities, 1,000 Won Buddhist clergy members marched through the streets of Seoul to oppose the THAAD deployment near what is considered a sacred place for Won Buddhism, a religion indigenous to Korea. The South Korean government recently announced on September 30 that the new site of the THAAD deployment will be the Lotte Skyhill Golf Course located within the Chojeon township of Seongju County and near Gimcheon City. Only 1.9km away from the golf course is the sacred birthplace of Won Buddhism’s second head dharma master Cheongsan. Cheongsan was one of the disciples that helped to found the religion 100 years ago in Korea. He became the second leader or “dharma master” of Won Buddhism in 1943. In honor of their leader, Won Buddhism designated his birthplace in Chojeon as a sacred place of peace for people around the world to learn and practice the teachings of the Korean religion.
In August, the government began to consider the golf course in Chojeon to be a potential deployment site alternative to the Seongsan Air Base of Seongju County, which was the site originally planned for deployment. Since then, the Emergency Task Force to Protect the Sacred Place of Won Buddhism was formed to coordinate efforts by the clergy and members of the Won Buddhist community to protest the government’s unilateral decision to deploy the missile system.
On October 11, representatives of the Won Buddhist clergy presented a statement expressing their determination to protect their sacred place of religious practice – “We will not tolerate the deployment of the THAAD system, which will only spark the emergence of a new Cold War environment, on a sacred land and the birthplace of an important figure of peace.”
One of the Won Buddhist clergy members encouraged religious groups and peace advocates to continue fighting to keep the THAAD system out of the Korean Peninsula all together. He said, “If Seongju residents, Won Buddhists, Korean religious peace groups, and all peace-loving citizens stand up to oppose the THAAD, it has no place to go. If we are able to push it out [of the current proposed deployment site] one more time, the THAAD system cannot be deployed anywhere else on the Korean Peninsula.”
By ZoominKorea staff