Jeju Island, 50 miles southeast of South Korea’s mainland, has been called the most idyllic place on the planet. The pristine, 706-square-mile volcanic island comprises three UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites.
Jeju’s history, however, is far from idyllic. In 1948, two years before the outbreak of the Korean War, the islanders staged an uprising to protest, among other issues, the division of the Korean Peninsula into North and South. The mainland government, then under U.S. military occupation, cracked down on the Jeju insurgents.
South Korean police and military forces massacred islanders and destroyed villages. Korea historian John Merrill estimates that the death toll may have exceeded 30,000, about 15 percent of the island’s population.
Decades later, a government commission investigated the Jeju uprising. In 2005, Roh Moo-hyun, then South Korea’s president, apologized for the atrocities and designated Jeju as an “Island of World Peace.”
Today Jeju Island is once again threatened by joint U.S.-South Korean militarization and violence: the construction of a naval base on what many consider to be Jeju’s most beautiful coastline.
For more than four years, island residents and peace activists have engaged in determined resistance to the base, risking their lives and freedom.
The stakes are high for the world as well. Recently the Korean JoongAng Daily, in Seoul, described the island as “the spearhead of the country’s defense line” – a line recklessly located 300 miles from China.
In these troubled waters, the Jeju base would host up to 20 American and South Korean warships, including submarines, aircraft carriers and destroyers, several of which would be fitted with the Aegis ballistic-missile defense system.
For the United States, the base’s purpose is to project force toward China – and to ...