A letter from Kurt Esslinger and Hyeyoung Lee serving in South Korea
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The beating of the drums and cymbals sent the performers dressed in black-and-white with yellow, blue, and red sashes circling around the pit. Catherine, Tom, and I were sitting in the shade at the Yongin Korean Folk Village. The warm day bringing the end of May helped our heads feel a tad lighter since this was the final day in a weeklong workshop. The celebratory drumming and dancing of the poongmul team (traditional Korean drumming team) was intoxicating, but our heads had been filled with a different kind of drumming all week as we explored the drums of war that have constantly been beating around the Korean peninsula since 1946, or even earlier in 1932 if you don’t want to grant the 6- or 7-month break at the end of WWII.
The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) had invited Tom Morse and around 20 other participants from 10 different countries and 15 different denominations as well as Buddhist organizations to connect their organizations to our international campaign for a Korean peace treaty. The NCCK hopes that a peace treaty will soon replace the 1953 armistice agreement that merely ceased open hostilities but failed to end what has been a technical state of war on the peninsula since 1950. This July 27 will bring the 63rd anniversary of the armistice agreement, but this June 25 will bring the 66th anniversary of a constant state of war hanging over Koreans. Therefore the NCCK invites international partners to join a campaign of signatures and writing letters and postcards to the U.S. government to persuade them to transform their policy of hostility and make denuclearization a pre-condition to peace treaty negotiations.
The participants arrived in Korea at Jeju Island in order to hear the story of the United States of America Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) policies that led to a democratic uprising, which led to a campaign of suppression and massacre begun by the USAMGIK and finished by the South Korean military from 1948 to1954. They also came up to Seoul where I gave a presentation in more detail of policies of the USAMGIK and legacies of orientalism in US foreign policy and church missions. Several Korean professors also discussed the militarism, geopolitics, and our call as Christians to peacemaking. We also visited the DMZ border with North Korea together as we looked out over to the hills of the Northern neighbor and prayed for relationships that could build trust across a divide of conflict.
Tom and most of the other participants particularly felt impressed by hearing the life story of Dr. David Suh. Dr. Suh told us about growing up in what is now North Korea before division in 1945 and during Japanese Occupation. He told us of the way his family suffered under the violent reaction of authorities in the northern region, the execution of his father, a pastor, and how those memories led him to seek violent vengeance. He also told of his transformation, about becoming an advocacy for peaceful reconciliation and the struggle he went through when meeting the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), the official church of North Korea, for the first time when the son of his father’s sworn enemy asked him to translate his statements on behalf of the KCF. He struggled with whether or not to “help” the person he once considered his ultimate enemy. Hearing the story in and of itself moved many of the workshop participants, but Dr. Suh also sent us a note afterward saying that the opportunity to share his story was a healing moment for him.
It is our hope that Tom and the other workshop participants will return to their countries—the U.S., Germany, Japan, and elsewhere—to share all they have learned about the history and context of Korea. They are now back in their home countries processing all they have learned and carrying the new relationships they have created together. We hope they will be able to activate the networks in their denominations to begin spreading the understanding of this paradigm shift on the Korean conflict. As more people around the world understand the need to deconstruct false enemy images and to end hostile responses to the conflict, we believe we can encourage policymakers to also transform their approaches. Based on all we have learned, we see now that further sanctions, further military threats, and further refusal to dialogue will only further encourage North Korea to take desperate measures to protect themselves. This can lead only to chaos or to war. We must open a path to an alternative if there can ever be a chance for peaceful reconciliation.
Tom and the others are now in constant contact with all of us in Korea figuring out how to spread knowledge and information. We hope those of you who are reading this, our supporters, will also join us in this movement to continue learning and dismantling the idolatry of enemy images. Please follow our campaign and participate as you can by either writing letters or signing your name to our online petition: www.koreapeacetreaty.com. We also thank you for all your prayers and financial donations as they contribute to the fuel that keeps us working. If you would like to add more fuel to our journey we invite you to consider contributing for the first time or to increase your gift for this year. Together with God we may build hope for transformation and peace.
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