FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, August 2, 2018
A mission of peace, reconciliation and understanding
On a mission of peace, reconciliation and understanding, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., and a Rainbow PUSH Coalition delegation spent six days in South Korea last week, braving the scorching temperatures of a late July heat attack and the ghosts of a war that has haunted and threatened the divided peninsula – and the world – for nearly 70 years.
The delegation traveled from Seoul to Suwon, from the green-domed National Assembly to a dreary detention center visiting room to a book-lined church a few miles from the DMZ, the mountains and missiles of North Korea looming in the near distance.
They met, marched, broke bread – sweet potato noodles and Mandu dumplings – and prayed with peace activists, elected officials, including the speaker of the National Assembly of South Korea, academics, unification organizations, an imprisoned progressive politician, clergy and United States Ambassador, Harry Harris.
“On this day we are close to peace and we share hopes and dreams,” Rev. Jackson said in an address to the National Council of Churches in Korea. “We are mindful of the forces of cynicism that reject peace and want to derail the peace process. They want to keep the walls that separate and divide us. We want to build bridges that unite us.”
But hope, like love, can be fragile and fickle. One angry midnight tweet and it can vanish in a flash – or mushroom cloud. Hope should never be taken for granted. It must be nurtured, encouraged, allowed to spread. Then, as Rev. Jackson told Ambassador Harris, “Hope can be a weapon of peace.”
“Wow, powerful words,” Ambassador Harris tweeted after his breakfast meeting with Rev. Jackson. “That’s why he’s a preacher & I’m not.”
The delegation was invited and hosted by the Minjung Party, a party of workers, farmers, urban poor, women and youth. Rev. Jackson accepted the invitation and made the 13-hour flight from Chicago to Seoul because the fate of a huge swarth of the world – and a large chunk of the U.S. economy – could depend on the success of the peninsula peace process.
“The United States has been on the Korean Peninsula for 65 years since the end of the [Korean] war,” Rev. Jackson said. “We’ve spent billions and billions since then. It’s the longest defense occupation in our history. We have a real interest and stake here. There was never a peace treaty signed. Technically the war isn’t over. That needs to happen now. Peace on the peninsula helps Japan and Singapore and China and the world.”
Less than a year ago, the unthinkable seemed possible: nuclear war between the United States and North Korea. At one point, President Donald Trump threatened to unleash “fire and fury” and “totally destroy” North Korea and its 25 million people in the event of war.
Chairman Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, said, “The U.S. should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table.” Trump fired back that his button was “much bigger and more powerful,” adding, “my button works.”
Both leaders eventually quieted down with the considerable help of a former human rights lawyer, Moon Jae-in, the President of South Korea. Moon broke the ice when he invited North Korea to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Kim accepted and sent a delegation, led by his sister, who is a key adviser, to the Games. Moon and Kim then met in the spring, setting the stage for the historic Singapore summit between Kim and Trump.
Everywhere he went during his visit to South Korea, Rev. Jackson praised Moon’s efforts to make peace and denuclearize the peninsula. “President Moon,” Rev. Jackson said, “deserves our support and our thanks.”
On Friday, July 27, the last official day of the trip, Rev. Jackson addressed legislators at the National Assembly in Seoul, the nation’s capital, where one of the lawmakers called Rev. Jackson “a full and ardent supporter of peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
As Rev. Jackson spoke, 33 miles to the south, a solemn ceremony was taking place, evidence Rev. Jackson said later, of “the futility of war” and yet a sign that an official peace agreement might finally be within reach.
Remains believed to be those of 55 American servicemen killed in the Korean War nearly seven decades ago were returned by North Korea and brought to the Osan Air Base south of Seoul to begin the long journey home.
“Those remains could have been my neighbors, my father’s friends, the guys we never saw again,” Rev. Jackson said, recalling how as a boy he watched many of the young men in his South Carolina neighborhood march off to fight – and die – in a distant place called Korea. “The price we paid here was high, so we have the right to expect fairness and justice and peace.”
The remains were returned on Armistice Day, the day 65 years – July 27, 1953 – when an agreement was signed, ending combat in Korea. A peace treaty, however, was never signed, and the war that claimed more than 33,000 American military personnel and more than 3 million Koreans – North and South – has never officially ended.
“Armistice Day should be turned into Peace Day and Family Reunification Day,” Rev. Jackson told the legislators. “This war must be part of our painful past. Not our future.”
Along with Philadelphia-based, Korean-American peace activist, Hyun Lee, Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, born in Seoul, raised in Canada, now a U.S. citizen, teaching theology at the Earlham School of Religion in Indiana, acted as translator and advisor for the delegation. Kim said after the week of meetings, lectures and prayers she was even more “hopeful the momentum is moving towards peace.”
“I think Rev. Jackson’s message of peace and hope was received very well at all the events and there were three or four a day,” Kim said. “A lot of Koreans are hopeful, but they need more solidarity from the people in the United States.”
Lyle (Butch) Wing, a senior adviser to Rev. Jackson and a member of the delegation, said the group went to South Korea because “throughout Rev. Jackson’s several decades-long journey for the cause of civil rights, there’s always been a global human rights and peace dimension.
Southeast Asia and Asia – going back to the days of the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement – have been part of Rev. Jackson’s global peace and justice perspective for a long time.”
Rev. Jackson, Wing pointed out, first toured South Korea in 1986 when he visited pro-democracy leader, Kim Dae-jung, who was under house arrest for his out spoken opposition to the military backed government at the time. Kim went on to become President of South Korea and the country’s only Nobel Prize recipient.
James Gomez, Rainbow PUSH Coalition director of International Affairs, helped organize and coordinate last week’s fact-finding mission “to meet those who are on the frontline of resolving the conflict on the peninsula and in the region.”
“They are the engine of peace in this country,” Gomez said. “But peace is not a one-day event. It’s a process. There are ups and downs. People have to be willing to accept those difficult days ahead.”
What is ahead for the delegation and Rainbow PUSH on the peninsula, Gomez said, is to “continue to encourage those on the frontlines, to continue to push for peace.” And at home, he said, the mission is “to try to engage people regardless of their political party or affiliation to make sure the United States stays engaged and committed to helping make not only this region, but the globe a better place for all.
“The key,” he said, “is peace.”