Whenever I hear the word “Korea,” I think about one of my favorite books: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée (1982). Her poetics embody how colonialism has affected the history, culture, language, and identity of Korea. Dictée emerges from the ruins of empire and silence:
From another epic another history. From the missing narrative.
From the multitude of narratives. Missing. From the chronicles.
For another telling another recitation.
The Korean peninsula is two thousand miles away from the Chamorro archipelago, yet both places have recently been intertwined in the global news cycle. Since the death of Kim Jong Il, the US has increased its provocative “war exercises” with South Korea, and the new North Korean leader has pushed back with aggressive threats of nuclear war against US military bases in the region, including the bases on Guam. Residents of the island, as well as many Chamorros in the diaspora, have been swept up in the rhetoric of fear and imminent war. Why is this happening?
This is happening to make us feel afraid. If we feel afraid of North Korea, then we will embrace the US military as our protectors. If we feel afraid, we will consent to endless militarization.
Militarization is not just about fear, but it is also about power and money. In terms of power, regime change in North Korea will strengthen US attempts to counter and contain China. In terms of money, war is profitable. As a response to North Korean threats, the US has deployed, for the first time, a missile defense system known as THAAD, or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. THAAD, designed and built by Lockheed Martin, costs around $800 million. The publicity that THAAD is receiving could lead to other nations purchasing this land-based defense system (who’s afraid of Iran?). Military weapons marketing at its finest.
The provocation is also being used to justify Obama’s budget request to Congress, in which $768 million is slated for military construction and related military infrastructure on Guam. If we feel afraid, we are less likely to question and protest.
Two thousand miles of ocean separate the Chamorro archipelago and the Korean peninsula. While the media views this distance in terms of whether or not missiles from North Korea can reach Guam, I imagine this distance as a mirror.
During the late 19th century, Japan exerted influence over Korea, culminating in the forceful and illegal annexation of Korea in 1910. Koreans were displaced from their land as Japanese settlers and corporations took over. Land was transformed into rice plantations for export to Japan. Korean language, culture, politics, and identity were suppressed. Many Koreans were forced into military service, labor migration, and sexual slavery.
The Chamorro archipelago was a colony of Spain until Spain lost the 1898 war with the US. Our home islands were partitioned along the 14th parallel. Guam, the southernmost Chamorro island, became a US territory, while the northern islands became a territory of Germany. Many Chamorro families were separated by this partition.
In 1919, Japan took over the northern Chamorro islands after the fall of Germany in World War I. Japanese settlers and corporations arrived to the northern islands. Sugar plantations were established, and many Korean laborers were brought to work in the fields. Chamorro language, culture, and identity were suppressed.
The Japanese military invaded Guam in 1941. Chamorros from the northern islands, as well as Korean soldiers, were used to help colonize the Chamorros of Guam. During the occupation, the Japanese military used Korean and Chamorro women as sexual slaves. Many Chamorros and Koreans died throughout the islands during World War II.
After the fall of Japan in 1945, the US occupied the entirety of the Chamorro archipelago yet kept us partitioned. At this time, Korea was partitioned as well, along the 38th parallel (“North Korea” and “South Korea”). Many Korean families were severed and separated.
In June 1950, war between North Korea and South Korea, backed by Russia and the US, began tearing the country apart. In August, 1950, The Organic Act of Guam conferred US citizenship onto Chamorros, making us eligible for military draft laws. Thousands of Chamorros were drafted and served the US military in the Korean War. Chamorro soldiers died in Korea, along with millions of Korean people. “Agent Purple,” one of the “rainbow herbicides used by the US in the Korean War, was stored on Guam.
As the US became the dominant global power in the following decades, the militarization of the Korean peninsula and Chamorro archipelago continued. The so-called “Demilitarized Zone” partitioning North and South Korea is one of the most densely militarized places in the world—with over a million troops and numerous tanks, weapons, and landmines. Guam is also densely militarized; one third of the island is covered in military bases with more than 10,000 US military personnel on island. According to scholar Catherine Lutz, “Guam, objectively, has the highest ratio of US military spending and military hardware and land takings from indigenous populations of any place on earth.”
Currently, the US has further plans to militarize the Korean peninsula and the Chamorro archipelago. The military build-up of the Chamorro islands, as well as Jeju Island in South Korea, will increase US military presence exponentially in order to militarize US foreign policy, known as the “Pacific Pivot.”
Militarizaion is about power and money. The US spends more on the military than nearly all countries combined; relatedly, the US is the largest supplier of military weapons to the global arms market. There are nearly 5,000 US military bases worldwide.
Two thousand miles of ocean separate the Chamorro archipelago and the Korean peninsula. Yet if we look into the mirror, we will see that we share a braided history of being colonized and militarized by empire. Our homes have been severed, families have been displaced and torn apart, lives have been destroyed and sacrificed.
The real security threat in the Asia/Pacific region is not North Korea; the real threat to our lives is US militarization and its unending appetite for power and profit.
Two thousand miles of ocean separate the Chamorro archipelago and the Korean peninsula. Yet if we look into the mirror, we will see that Korea has been bullied, battered, and partitioned, just like us. Korea has been militarized and targeted and threatened, just like us. Their people have been made to flee their homelands, just like us. Korea is being pushed into the breach of war, just like us.
Dear Korea, we know how you feel, we are your bruised cousins, please put your weapons down.
The first group of Korean immigrants came to Guam in the 1970s. Now, over 4,000 Koreans live on Guam. During “Korean Day,” celebrated on October 3rd, the Korean community on Guam celebrates with singing, dancing, and cultural performances.
Dear Korea, let us sing together, let our words rise like kites between your peninsula and our archipelago. Chamorro blood has been spilled in your land; Korean blood has been spilled in our land. Let us rise up together against empire and militarization. Let us put our weapons down.
I want to end with a passage from one of my favorite Korean writers, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, from her book Underground National:
But what the nation speaks, we are required to understand.
And that speaking ties us to this sinking ground.
And it isn’t stone at all, but made of blood.
Just as I am, just as you are.