Note: This article was originally published at Seth's blog, Over the Mountains there are Mountains.
Farther along, we’ll understand why…”
“Why do your war ships sail on my waters?
Why do your bombs drop down from my skies?”
“I’ve got to know, yes, I’ve got to know now!”
“Get out of my hometown, get out of my village,
Your lies kill my history, your machines crush our future,
Get out of Gangjeong, and get out right now!
“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.
By Seth Martin
(Translation by Nan Young Lee/ 이난영)
The current struggle for autonomy and peace in Gangjeong is woven thickly into a fabric of history heavy with sadness, oppression, violence, and the brave resistance to injustice by commoners in the face of unspeakable hurt and loss.
Though in a very different context and not directly connected to the collective experience of genocide and a smothering of history by the guilty parties, the history of this song is woven into a fabric of struggle for dignity and hope amidst seemingly insurmountable odds. And it has many connections with, and has served as a disgruntled yet dignified response to, the absurd hubris and violence of American Expansionism and Empire, in its religious and political forms, at home and elsewhere, including Korea.
“Gureombi Norae” is an update of Woody Guthrie’s I’ve Got to Know, written during the Korean War, using the tune for Farther Along.
“Farther along we’ll know all about it,
For himself—a poor Okie and soldier-turned-populist song stealer and sharer, on his deathbed—and for the world, Guthrie was no longer content to “understand why” the rich and wicked got away with everything and the innocent suffered, “oh bye and bye”. He had no more time, and he wrote one of his starkest songs. We’d understand it “farther along”, the older hymn promised. But Woody, along with all those suffering, wanted to know “why” now. And he wanted the injustice to stop. “I’ve got to know, friend,” he demanded. “Hungry lips ask me wherever I go.”
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I’ve got to know, yes, I’ve got to know…
I built your big house, (where) you hide from my people,
The farmers have faced severe violence, silenced or skewed press coverage, and hundreds of arrests from government/business forces for trying to save their home. A few weeks ago the base celebrated its completion with great fanfare. Within the walls, workers, soldiers, and their families can enjoy playing together in the massive sport facilities, go shopping in the growing assortment of available shops, and worship and pray for peace and good fortune according to their hearts’ prompting—alone or in one of the beautiful new Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant buildings constructed for those on the inside.
And this past week, just days after the base’s grand opening, contractors and base personnel lost no time in dealing a hammer blow to the villagers and what is left of the peace movement in Gangjeong: the villagers and activists of Gangjeong are being charged millions of dollars for their crime in recent months and years of delaying the base’s completion. They are being charged for the money lost in missed deadlines for the base construction. They are being fined an astronomical sum that they cannot pay—punishment for trying to save their village from an illegal operation that has already transformed Gangjeong from a small and peaceful fishing and farming village to one of the newest and most important military-industrial points in the aggressive US Asia Pivot Policy. Gangjeong is now a weapons holding station, waiting and ready to attack China or North Korea if or when they act in any way deemed threatening to US military and economic control of the SE Asia region.
But the people fight on, and demand to know “why”—and they demand to know “now.”
The past didn’t go anywhere,” Utah Phillips used to say. Here is a powerful story about his time in Korea as a soldier, what he did and saw there, and how deeply he was affected by the Korean people he met, who showed him kindness despite their incredible suffering and the horrible behavior of US troops in the role of occupiers. The story has been remixed by Ani Difranco.