A letter from the headman of Taech’uri Village, currently in detention

Dear friends,

I guess I should share with you the English text of a letter sent by Mr. Kim Chit’ae (Ji Tae), the headman of Taech’uri Village, which is struggling currently against a concerted encroachment by the American military and Korea’s own government. After more than 15 thousands (!) of police, military men and gangster-like types usually hired by the removal companies (철거깡패) invaded the village on May 4th, Mr. Kim went to prison, together with several other resistance leaders. The letter, written in prison and then translated into English, was sent to me by Mrs. Serapina Cha (차미경), head of the Friends of Asia, a NGO involved in the work with “illegal” labour migrants. What is really interesting in this struggle from the viewpoint of the history of ideas, is the way how the concept of “patriotism” is being reconsidered and remade by the resistant peasants. They are no longer any sort of patriots of the South Korean state, which is throwing them from their land – they have burned down their citizen registration cards and officially announced that they would like to have their South Korean citizenship revoked. But they are the patriots of their land, their place – obviously wishing to solidarize with those living around them, and having no wish to see their mountains and fields being turned into a starting grounds for the WWIII. It reminds in some way of Zapatistas, with their attachment to Mayan land and legacy.

Here is the letter:

The Village Headman’s letter to Korean People

Dear my fellow citizens,

As the headman of the Daechuri village, I apologize to Korean people for being a clamorously controversial problem in the nation.
I have lived here with my old parents to be a farmer for 20 years. I also have been happy with my wife and two sons.
The peaceful life of villagers including my family has been destroyed since in 2003 the news came to us that many of the US military bases in South Korea would be relocated to get together here in Daechuri.
That news was a real shock to us, for the generation of my parents underwent migration forced by the Japanese colonial army and later we were forced to move by the US army. Now, are doomed to leave this place forever for the 3rd time?
Recognizing that what is called the “national project” of the consolidation move of the US base resulted from the unfair and undemocratic relation between Daechuri residents and the Korean government, and between Seoul and Washington, we sent tens of protesting letters to the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Diplomacy and Trade, and US Embassy before the parliamentary ratification in 2004. They did not respond to us. We sometimes received letters of reply merely saying that we must understand that it is “a national project.”
Even though the government just disregarded Daechuri residents, we were not daunted and persisted in struggling against the government. For we knew what the truth was. More and more people began to support us.
The government sometimes pretended that they wanted to have “a dialogue” with residents. At the same moment that they proposed a dialogue with us, they encircled our farm with barbed wires and destroyed Daechu primary school, which also played a role of our community house. That is what they meant by “dialogue”. The Minister of National Defense and the Prime Minister, whoever they may be, frequently had the press conference and then the major newspaper and broadcasting companies just relayed what they said to the mass, as if it had been true.

The government must let people know what is all about the relocation of the US base. There must be nothing left behind the screen. Then, there must be taken a more democratic procedure, whether it may be a poll or a national referendum.

We want more people to visit our homepage ( www.antigizi.or.kr ) to satisfy your curiosity about what is really going on in this small village. We also suggest to the government that it kill and bury us here in our own land rather than having “a dialogue” only to talk about compansation money and the expansion of the US base, which do not interest us at all.

Lastly, we have one thing to say to our fellow citizens. Whether you support or oppose us, we believe, you are all patriots loving this country. Without the passion for the love of our nation, you would just have had an apathy to us. What we do want to say to all of you is that you must think over whether there were sufficient legal grounds for all the processes involved with the move of the US base and over the true nature of more than 600-day-length of candle demonstration. It is not only then before you suppose or oppose us. We will accept and follow the will of Korean people.

We will fight to the last. ”


  1. Let me see if I understand this complaint properly: some unidentified poster wants us to feel sorry for Korean citizens who are protesting the actions of their elected government, claiming that their own government is acting in an illegal manner?

    Why don’t you people take it to court and, if you lose (which apparently you did), then try understanding that, like it or not, this is part of having a democracy and that a democracy is not a utopia where everyone gets what they want but where due process plays a role in running a country.

    It is a foolish and politically motivated poster that wants anyone reading this history site to “think over whether there were sufficient legal grounds” for what happened when they have presented no proof of wrong-doing on the part of the Korean Government and blatantly attempts to blame another country for the actions of their own government.

    Hire a lawyer if you have a complaint, otherwise you sound remarkably like just another leftist troll.

  2. So, if I understand, there should be no right of “emminent domain” in Korea? Once the government had gone through all the constitutionally mandated procedures, those effected should retain the power to negate the process?

  3. The situation is complicated by many factors, one of them being, for example, woeful inadequacy of the compensation procedures for these evicted peasants who either owned little land or simply owned nothing and had to lease others’ land (tenants – 소작인). The government promised them “help in getting the jobs”, but what sort of jobs the uneducated farmers in their 60s and 70s should get in the cities? And they get very little money, if any, as they were not “legal propriators”. Another thing, of course, is that many farmers simply cannot understand – why “their” government should sacrifice them and their land for somebody else’s desire to invade China? Is it a case of “common good”, which may be the only proper justification for the “eminent domain”?

  4. Noja: Came over from the Marmot blog. In following the links here to try to figure out your biography and where you stand in the global/moral universe, I encountered the following quote from you:

    “…The facts are, as one of my old professors described it with an unusual laundry metaphor, “the clothes pins upon which we hang the sheets of history.”…”

    I’m curious as to how you reconcile this with your statement just above: “…somebody else’s desire to invade China?…”

    I presume “somebody else” here means the US (don’t see who else it could be). For somebody who is a Ph.D candidate I’m astonished at this assertion. Do you seriously believe this or is it just a standard “throwaway” propaganda line designed to bring a cheer from the anti-Americans out here in the blogosphere.

    I am a retired US Army officer who simply takes an interest in history. I commend to you a study of the Truman administration and its policy decisions concerning China both pre- and post Korean war, if you really think the US ever had any desire to “invade” China.

    Speaking for myself, I long inexpressibly for the complete withdrawl of all our ground combat forces from the Korean peninsula. That way this old man can keep his ancestral lands and be buried upon them as he wishes.

  5. Noja, you make quite a leap in your assertion that what is at stake here is “somebody else’s desire to invade China”. Indeed, you leave the realm of reason and enter the realm of faith. Eminent domain is always a contentious issue, and I’ve never met anyone who has undergone the process who was satisfied. Indeed, one of my co-workers was conplaining just two weeks ago how his family was unfairly “screwed” out of their land grant in New Mexico to make way for a railroad. Back in the 1870s! But his bitterness in light of how much that land is worth today is no less palpable. The Marmot has a posting on this subject which also gets into some detail. He does not mention the “tenant” issue (versus proprietors), nor does he make any reference to the fact that what is at stake here is subsidized employment of one’s own choosing. Frankly, I support the idea of Korea subsidizing agriculture, forcing the public to pay 4 to 5 times the world market price for rice, for precisely those reasons of military necessity that may have prompted this government to push for USFK’s relocation instead of withdrawal. But subsidies, like agricultural crops, have their economic life cycles. Once those end, those who have depended upon them suffer. Sugar cane died out in my beloved Guanajibo river valley whether I liked it or not. A five hundred year way of life sputtered out. But in truth, it had died long beofre that, kept alive by subsidies until the government could no longer afford to run the “centrales”. In retrospect, I believe tha it would have been less painful to have ended the industry when it became economically unviable, but the nationalists kept it alive..

  6. Well, it is natural for the humans to hope for better future, and I, too, only wish to hope that the hegemonic rivalry in East Asia won’t the same way it ended twice in Europe in the last century, namely in bloodbath. But I cannot remember a single case from world’s modern history when a regional, and, in perspective, world hegemonic power ever “rose peacefully”. It may well wish to do so, but, as many in Korea speculate currently (see, for example, a string of publications in http://www.pressian.com on US “encirclement” of China), hardly would be allowed to proceed in the way it wishes. So, with full understanding that no formal neutrality ever worked unless you are very well armed and able to make any future conflict prohibitively costly for the agressor, I, as many other Koreans, would champion for Korea the way Sweden chose during the WWII – neutrality instead of cooperating with Germany, which, btw, was almost as loved by large portion of Swedish elite those days as US is loved by the Kangnamites now. Alas, we still lack what Sweden luckily possessed at that time – a strong, peace-oriented party of the working class. Probably, all of this sounds for you like alarmist rants, but it is a question of physical survival for us.

  7. I live near Pyeongtaek, unlike the others who’ve posted here. I’ve watched the slow development of this whole conundrum. (No, I’m not in the US military, just an eleven-year resident.) It’s an absolute shame what’s happened in Daechuri, but let’s not be so quick to blame the USA and her plans to ‘invade China’ as Mr Pak has so curiously stated above. This is all for the sake of political spectacle, not out of concern for the actual farmers involved.

    As support, I present the case of Pyeongtaek’s neighbour to the east, Anseong, a beautiful and proud place. An insidious ‘New Town’ has been gifted the people of Anseong, and many farmers stand to lose their land, which their ancestors have farmed for at least a century. A true tragedy, but necessary for Progress. (As someone once said, ‘Development is the enemy of progress.’)


    I put to you these queries: Where are the professional protesters and large demonstrations? Why no public outcry?

  8. Yes, as headman Kim Chit’ae said himself in a recent interview with Hangyoreh 21 Weekly, “we would not have struggled this way in case they would come to expropriate our land to bild a factory” – http://www.hani.co.kr/section-021003000/2006/05/021003000200605110609101.html
    I recommend this interview to all interested in the resistant farmers’ vision of the world and motivations. They do have their own understanding of common interest, thoroughly embedded in the “moral economy”-type concepts. You can sacrifice your land in order to have a factory built and unemployment issue solved – but to give up the land for an offensive military preparation is a completely different thing.

  9. “…I, as many other Koreans, would champion for Korea the way Sweden chose during the WWII – neutrality instead of cooperating with Germany, which, btw, was almost as loved by large portion of Swedish elite those days as US is loved by the Kangnamites now. Alas, we still lack what Sweden luckily possessed at that time – a strong, peace-oriented party of the working class…”

    It’s useful to remember that Sweden’s “neutrality” was noted for the provision of prodigious quantities of iron ore to the Axis, much of which undoubtedly ended up as German battlefield war material. Still, maybe that’s something the Swedes quietly congratulate themselves upon — doing what they had to do to “survive”.

    Though somehow I doubt if that particular fact is celebrated publicly in Swedish political life — such as in speeches at the annual Nobel peace prize ceremonies. Still, the WWII analogy is interesting, and brings to mind the name of Haushofer (? — going by distant memories of undergrad college history reading, I believe he was the 19th century German geopolitical thinker who originated the concept of the “heartland” (?), a forerunner to later National Socialist geopolitical theory).

    May have my terms inexact, will have to google to check.

    Sweden’s blessing is that an invasion of it (Switzerland too) doesn’t take an aggressor anywhere useful (ie for getting to somewhere else). A better European historical analogy for Korea might be Poland, or maybe Hungary or Belgium. And there was a time when Swedish royal armies ravaged the length and breadth of Germany, good thing Hitler was so focused on the Bolsheviks and the Jews and so didn’t have time to indulge that particular historical grudge.

    4 major powers in and around Korea! Well if it suits young Korean intellectuals to postulate the chief threat to her sovereignty as coming from the two democratic ones (the US and Japan), I suppose the time will soon be upon us when they will be able to act upon their beliefs.

    In the words of Nancy Reagan — “just say no”. I think you’ll find that a lot of us will be happy to leave you to work out your own destiny.

  10. Is this a site for serious discussion and research of Korean history? My previous impression. Or just another of the numerous Korean political discussion sites?

  11. I second what lirelou said. If I wanted to read a political hack piece, I would write one myself.

    I think Kotaji would gladly accept rants like this over at his place.

  12. One thing people in Korea tend to remember is that approximately 100 years ago they were brutally colonized exactly by a fledgling “democratical” power. It is not that Japan’s “democracy” on that stage amounted to anything serious – only 1,4% of the population could vote at the late Meiji parliament elections, which was approximately British level of early 19th C. – but it was already advanced enough on the road to a “normal” capitalist society to need “civil society”, as an instrument of maintaining and strengthening the ruling class’s hegemony. However, the “democratic” trappings of post-Meiji Japan were of little significance in Korea – Korea’s Governor-General, as you remember, was not responsible to the Japanese Diet, which, until early 1940s, had no Korean deputies. Today, we are happy to know that those who have the fate of the Peninsula in their hands, are still bound (or are they?) by some democratic rules – that is, they can wiretape their own citizens, but, so far, cannot detain them without court orders and trial (for how long it is going to stay, God only knows, but let us hope for better….). But, outside of the “homeland”, the “democratic” bombs kill and maim exactly in the same way as “undemocratic” ones…

  13. Thanks for the post Noja. It’s great to get perspectives directly from folks who are affected. Curious that your post seemed to have generated all them angry comments…

  14. Are you implying that the Korea is a colony of the US, as it was of Japan? You can continue in your delusional thinking that by claiming ‘neutrality’ that nothing bad will ever happen to Korea. Go ahead and throw away the alliance with the US. Who will protect Korea when the wolves (China, or even possibly NK) are at the door, if the US were gone? Korea?

    I feel for the residents who have nowhere to go, but this is something the Korean government should take care of. If Koreans still want US troops here, they have to put them somewhere. If not, then get the troops out, dissolve the military umbrella protecting Korea and let Koreans do what they want in the region.

  15. Snow, tone it down a bit, no need to use terms like “delusional thinking.” The idea that neutrality was a plausible alternative for countries like Japan and Korea ha long and widespread support among socialists and other non- and even anti-Communist progressives. It is quite legitimate to wonder why it worked for places like Finland, Sweden, and Austria and why such attempts to pursue a neutral course failed other places. I think we can benefit from a cool headed appreciation for the fact that smaller nations were often highly adept at playing (and sometimes losing) a dangerous game of balance that not only protected them from attack but often offered them economic and social benefits. The possible choices were not always between the totalitarianist Soviet empire and a tarnished and hypocritical American empire. To reduce history to these terms is to submit to the same kind of polarizing tendencies that leads to so much unecessary violence in the conflicts of our century.

    Of course, as research has shown, Sweden and even more Austria leaned heavily for the Western camp in military and economic ways often only clear in the aftermath of the Cold War. However, I would hardly call it delusional thinking to wonder why Norway, for example could not have suceeded had it chosen not to join NATO and joining Sweden to form a neutral scandinavian defence union. We are fortunate enough to have access to materials now that help us better evaluate the circumstances in each case – but I don’t think a kind of Cold War triumphalism that is common in the US today gives us anywhere near an accurate picture.

  16. The main source of confusion here (for me at least) is that Vladimir’s posts have suggested certain facts, but he, and others who presumably believe the same things, seem reluctant to state them directly. I’m not sure this is even a place for this sort of question, but it would still be profitable, I think, if these positions were clarified. At least, they bear on questions of historical interpretation.

    I’ll grant for the sake of compliance that U.S. involvement with Korea has been exclusively negative, and that the U.S. is the principle engine of the world’s problems. There’s certainly no sense in arguing over that issue here. I’m also not interested in arguing the points Vlad and others seem to be making. I’d simply like to know if they believe them or not. Is this an arrogant request?

    Here are the main (possible) points.

    1. The U.S. is planning to invade China.
    2. South Korea is a true colony (not metaphorical) of the United States.
    3. The U.S. is equivalent to Germany under the Third Reich.
    4. There was no qualitative difference between the Soviet and American spheres during the Cold War.
    5. The Korean government is being forced by the U.S. to relocate troops to Pyongtaek and other places.

    Again, this is not to stimulate more discussion. I just want to clearly understand what you believe.

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