The intertwined history of three American folk songs, 4.3, and the struggle for peace in Gangjeong Village
By: Seth Martin
Note: This article was originally published at Seth's blog, Over the Mountains there are Mountains.
Farther along, we’ll understand why…”
Today is 4.3, the day when Jeju Islanders gather each year to remember the brutal genocide of their people under post-Japan, US-South Korean leadership, when right-wing youth squads were used to suppress supposed “reds” and communist sympathizers. The end result was a devastated island, with tens of thousands of villagers fleeing to Japan to survive, and between 30,000 and 60,000 innocent villagers slaughtered, either in their homes or after being found hiding in mountain caves.
“No special pleading about the exigencies of wartime will suffice to assuage the American conscience,” writes historian Bruce Cumings in his book, The Korean War. “What the formerly classified American materials document is a merciless, wholesale assault on the people of this island.”
In almost every village memorials to the slain can be seen. The ghosts are not quiet on Jeju. And the living have not forgotten.
In recent years, the South Korean government proudly took part in renaming Jeju “The Island of Peace” as a way of recognizing the terrible heartbreak of Jeju and also to honor the people’s strong efforts to stop future war and violence.
Shortly after, the construction of a massive, joint US-ROK naval base began in Gangjeong Village, despite the vigorous protests of nearly all villagers to both the illegal start of the project and the base itself.
There are many threads from 4.3 to Gangjeong.
This week, after several years of fighting, hundreds of villager and activist arrests, and countless illegal maneuvers by the military and base contractors, the new naval base celebrated its grand opening. The existence of the base is seen as an affront to the villagers’ freedom and dignity, and proof to many that US/ROK statements about peace and Jeju’s autonomy are lies. Villagers and activists are experiencing Gangjeong Village’s transformation, despite their struggle, into a new front line for a potential world war.
Here is a song about this struggle. And below the lyrics is a story of where the song came from as well as how its musical roots are intertwined with the current struggle for peace in Gangjeong, which goes back much farther than the illegal start of the base construction.
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