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A Mission of Peace in South Korea - Recap

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.”

 


 

“We come here today to heal the breach,” Rev. Jackson leads the first full day of his week-long peace mission and speaking tour of Korea.

July 23, 2018

IMJINGAK PARK, South Korea – The mountains and missiles of North Korea loomed in the near distance as Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., led a group of South Korean pastors here Monday over the Bridge of Freedom for an ecumenical prayer service for peace.

As they marched across the wooden structure once used by people fleeing the fighting in the North during the Korean War, Rev. Jackson and the “peace pastors” quietly sang, “We Shall Overcome.”

 “We come here today to heal the breach,” Rev. Jackson said on the first full day of his week-long peace mission and speaking tour of Korea. “We come here today, standing in the gap. On both sides, family members need reunion, need revival, need resurrection.”

Imjingak is a park and monument dedicated to the ghosts of war. It is located about 4 ½ miles from the landmine littered and heavily fortified DMZ, once called by President Bill Clinton, “the scariest place on earth.”

But Imjingak is peaceful and pretty. It sits on the banks of the Imjin River and is a symbol of the hope many Koreans share that their divided and haunted peninsula can someday be reunified.

The Bridge of Freedom ends about halfway across at the Peace Prayer Wall, a tall fence, festooned with a rainbow of ribbons, representing the longing for peace and unification.

“Every Monday we get together to pray for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” said Jiseok Jung, director of the Border Peace School. “When we heard that Rev. Jesse Jackson was coming to Korea we really wanted to meet him. He’s a very important leader, working for world peace.”

Imjingak is about 26 miles from Seoul, where Rev. Jackson began his long day of activism Monday with a one-on-one meeting with the chair of the Korea National Assembly.

On Tuesday, Rev. Jackson, who was invited to Korea by the Minjung Party, will address members of the National Assembly in a speech entitled, “Peace and Justice Require Faith, Hope, Patience and Hard Work.”

Rev. Jackson will also convene with the peace and human rights community from all sectors of Korean society for events on Wednesday, July 27, the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice.

“Dear God,” Rev. Jackson prayed on Monday in Imjingak, “please have mercy upon us…So many bruises, so much bloodshed, so many deaths, there is much pain that separates us. The good news is there is nothing too hard for God. No mountain so high, no ocean so deep, no desert so hot, no war so violent, there is nothing too hard for You.

“We ask today, lift us up where we belong. We want to move today from war and battleground to common ground. Have mercy on us. There is renewed hope in the air today. We pray all of this in your son’s name.

“Amen.”

 


 

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., addressed members of the National Assembly of Korea Tuesday, telling them that “we must make the whole world a nuclear free zone.”

July 24, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea – Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., addressed members of the National Assembly of Korea here Tuesday, telling them that “we must make the whole world a nuclear free zone.”

“There is no future in war,” Rev. Jackson said, adding that the Rainbow PUSH Coalition will “encourage President Trump to honor his commitment” to peace with North Korea.

“America is a great country,” Rev. Jackson said. “But we are too quick to drop bombs.”

The international civil and human rights icon made his remarks during a special meeting with the lawmakers at the National Assembly on the second day of his week-long peace mission and speaking tour of South Korea.

He was greeted with a large banner welcoming him and by a parade of elected officials eager to shake his hand and pose for photographs with the man one lawmaker, Lee In-Young, called “a full and ardent supporter of peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

Rev. Jackson has been pushing for peace, family unification and democracy across the divided peninsula for more than 30 years. He first traveled to South Korea in 1986 when, “on a cold and dreary night,” he visited Kim Dae-jung, a dedicated democrat living under house arrest for his opposition to the repressive regime then ruling the country.

But Kim, Rev. Jackson reminded the lawmakers, never gave up, never stopped marching, and never stopped fighting for peace and democracy. 

“He went from house arrest to the presidency [of South Korea] to winning the Nobel Peace Prize,” he said, adding that Kim was in the lineage of Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“They were bigger than their politics,” Rev. Jackson said of the Korean, the African and the American. “They saw the human race through a door, not a keyhole.”

As he has said everywhere he has gone the last few days, Rev. Jackson praised South Korea President Moon Jae-in for his crucial role in bringing the United States and North Korea to the table at the summit in Singapore. He warned, however, that not everyone is happy at the prospect of peace.

“Those who peddle fear we must fight with hope,” Rev. Jackson said. 

“Peace will affect those who make guns and bombs and missiles adversely.”

Since arriving in Seoul Sunday afternoon, Rev. Jackson has led a prayer service for peace just four miles from the DMZ, the landmine-littered border separating the two Koreas that President Bill Clinton once called, “the scariest place on earth.” He has met with peace activists, clergy, reporters and members of the Minjung Party, a progressive political party of workers, farmers, urban poor, women and youth.

“It’s inspiring to be around freedom fighters, around change agents,” Rev. Jackson said Tuesday during his meeting with the Minjung members. 

“We must put war out of business and peace into business. We must not starve North Korea, we must feed them. We must not fight them. We must negotiate with them.

“You are not peacekeepers,” he said. “You are peacemakers.”

 


 

“Different languages, same message”, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. visits and prays for the release of imprisoned, progressive former member of the National Assembly of South Korea, Lee Seok-ki, on the third day of peace mission in South Korea

July 25, 2018

SUWON, South Korea – Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., sat on a stool in a hot, stuffy, six-by-six-foot room here Wednesday, the third day of his peace mission to the Korean Peninsula.

He peered through a set of iron bars and a thick pane of glass.

“Let us pray,” Rev. Jackson said to the thin man, Lee Seok-ki, sitting on the other side of the glass in an almost identically dreary room, about an hour’s drive from Seoul.

Rev. Jackson put his hand on the glass. Lee, a progressive former member of the National Assembly of South Korea, did the same. If not for the barrier, their palms would have been touching as they talked to God.

“Father have mercy upon us,” Rev. Jackson said into the intercom, connecting the rooms. “Set the captives free. You freed Nelson Mandela. You freed Dr. King. You freed Kim Dae-jung [South Korea’s only Nobel Prize recipient]. Now free Lee. Embrace his human rights. Let him help heal a nation. Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith. In the end, faith will prevail. Amen.”

“Amen,” Lee said, his head bowed, his hand lingering on the glass.

The American and the Korean were praying together – “different languages, same message” – in visiting room 15 at the Suwon Detention Center where Lee has been prisoner 716215 369 since his 2014 conviction on treason charges. Lee was accused of conspiring to start an armed revolt to overthrow the South Korean government in the event of war with North Korea. He was given a nine-year sentence.

The conservative and corrupt Seoul government at the time of Lee’s conviction, led by President Park Geun-hye, the daughter of longtime South Korean dictator, Park Chung-hee, also disbanded Lee’s leftist political party, the Unified Progressive party.

The Carter Center in Atlanta – “with concern” – took note of the case, saying in a statement, that Lee’s “conviction is taking place under the provisions of a highly restrictive National Security Law, established during the pre-1987 era of autocratic military rule, that appears to contradict both the Republic of Korea’s internationals human rights treaty obligations and the nation’s global reputation as a highly successful prosperous democracy.”

Three years after Lee’s conviction, President Park was impeached and removed from office over an influence-peddling scandal, according to The New York Times. This spring, she was sentenced to 24 years in prison after being convicted on corruption charges.

 “The people who jailed you,” Rev. Jackson told Lee, “had no moral authority.”

Lee, now 56, has always denied the charges. His supporters call him a “political prisoner,” a victim of “Korean McCarthyism.”

Lee told the court at his trial and Rev. Jackson Wednesday that he advocated peace between the two Koreas, not insurrection in the south. “Five years ago,” he told Rev. Jackson, “I spoke publicly in the National Assembly for peace on the Korean Peninsula and specifically to end the Korean War. Today North and South Korea have declared the same thing. 

I’m very happy about that.”

An armistice was signed to end the fighting in 1953, but never a peace treaty. Sixty-five years later, the Korean War still is not over. If the world is consumed by nuclear holocaust, a likely source point will be this haunted peninsula and the 150-mile, landmine-littered DMZ that divides it.

Lee said he was attacked as a “communist” for advocating for peace and better relations with North Korea.

“Dr. King was called a communist, too,” Rev. Jackson said. “So was Kim Dae-jung. Mandela was called a terrorist. But these men changed the world. You represent their legacy.”

Rev. Jackson was accompanied on the prison visit by Lee’s older sister and by Korean-American peace activist, Hyun Lee, no relation. Lee was accompanied to the visiting room by a guard, sitting at a small desk, taking notes.

Rev. Jackson said he would argue Lee’s case for release “in the public square” back home and to South Korea’s liberal president Moon Jae-in, who played a pivotal role in bringing North Korea and the United States to the table at the summit in Singapore earlier this year – and the Korean Peninsula closer to peace. “He has been doing a good job,” Rev. Jackson said of Moon.  “He deserves our support.”

Lee thanked Rev. Jackson for “coming so far” to push for peace. “I’ve heard about all of your efforts for human rights and democracy,” he said.

“Don’t you give up,” Rev. Jackson said. “You will be free. North and South will be reunified.”

“I believe so,” Lee said.

Rev. Jackson told Lee, “There’s a song in our tradition, ‘I’ll Keep on Living After I Die.”

“We can’t always stop tyrants from crucifying the innocent,” Rev. Jackson said. “They can’t stop God from resurrecting them.”

Then a voice came over the intercom. Time was up. The 20-minute visit was over.

The men bowed their heads and put their hands back on the glass one last time.

 


 

Hope is a Weapon of Peace

July 26, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea – Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., and Rainbow PUSH Coalition delegation met with the United States Ambassador to South Korea here Thursday morning to discuss supporting and expanding peace efforts on the peninsula, haunted for decades by the specter of nuclear holocaust.

 “We had a good and productive conversation about the current prospects for peace, family reunification and successful negotiations on the Korean Peninsula,” Jackson said after the 60-minute meeting with Ambassador Harry Harris over coffee and orange juice at the ambassador’s official residence. “Hope is a weapon for peace.”

The meeting with Ambassador Harris began day four of Rev. Jackson’s peace mission and speaking tour of South Korea. Rev. Jackson then met with members of the National Council of Churches in Korea.

Speaking to religious leaders and the National Council of Churches in Korea, Rev. Jackson addressed the issues of globalization and human rights,

“There are big debates back home – and some morally reckless actions  separating parents from children at the border.   We must remember that Jesus was a border baby.  He was born under a death warrant.   He had to escape to Egypt… as an immigrant.  Jesus became a refugee for 12 years.

Egypt did not separate him from Mary and Joseph – Jesus maintained family continuity.  We can well do the same for today’s immigrants and refugees.  So, when we look in the eyes of Yemeni families, we must see our own.  When we look at their children, we must see our own.  We are all one human family.”

Speaking about the prospects of peace on the Peninsula, Rev. Jackson said, “On this day we are close to peace and we share hopes and dreams.  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 to unite us.”

Let’s build a bullet train from Seoul to Pyongyang, not fire bullets across the border.   Let’s make Armistice Day, a Peace and Reunification Day.  Let’s transform the DMZ into a real Peace Zone.”

Isaiah had a recommendation:  “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

On Friday, Rev. Jackson will speak at national events commemorating the 65th anniversary of Armistice Day in Seoul, South Korea.

 


 

The Futility of War, the Power of Hope

July 27, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea – On Friday, as Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., spoke to members of the National Assembly of South Korea here about peace and reconciliation, 33 miles to the south a solemn ceremony was taking place, evidence of “the futility of war” and yet, the civil rights icon said, a sign of hope.

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 the last day of Rev. Jackson’s week-long peace mission and speaking tour that included meetings with elected officials, church leaders, peace activists, journalists and the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Harry Harris, who tweeted about their Thursday morning meeting.

“Just had breakfast with the Rev. Jesse Jackson @RevJJackson at my digs in Seoul. ‘Hope is a weapon in diplomacy’…wow…powerful words…that’s why he’s a preacher & I’m not!”

On Friday, Rev. Jackson was the keynote speaker at a forum at the National Assembly, commemorating Armistice Day, the day 65 years ago – July 27, 1953 – when North Korea, the United States and China signed an agreement ending combat in the Korean War.

A peace treaty was never signed, and the war that claimed the lives of more than 33,000 American military personnel and more than 3 million Koreas – North and South – has never officially ended.

“Armistice Day should be turned into Peace Day and Family Reunification Day,” Rev. Jackson said. “This war must be part of our painful past. Not our future.”

Rev. Jackson and Assemblymen Kim Jong-hoon read a joint-statement at a packed press conference at the National Assembly, calling for a peace agreement to be signed to end the Korean War and to normalize relations between the two Koreas and the United States. Rev. Jackson read the statement in English, the assemblyman in Korean. They praised the efforts of President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea and President Trump for taking “a step toward dialogue and peace” in recent months after “a period of intense political and military tension.”

But there is still much work to be done before the threat of “fire and fury” and nuclear war on the peninsula is extinguished. “On the path toward peace,” the statement said, “lay down your weapons and eliminate your hostile policies against each other. There is nothing more favorable for peace on the Korean Peninsula than enabling the people of North and South Korea and the United States to freely meet with each other.”

When Trump and Kim met at their historic summit in Singapore earlier this year, Kim agreed to return the remains of the fallen Americans, the first of more than 5,300 servicemen believed to have been buried beneath the battlefields of North Korea.

The fact that Kim kept his word, Rev. Jackson said, was a sign that hope, and healing are in the air, floating over the divided peninsula.

“For peace to happen, diplomacy, not provocation, is essential,” Rev. Jackson said at the National Assembly on Friday. “It’s time to break the cycle of fear that has gripped the peninsular since its division. It’s time to tear down past walls of division and build new bridges of hope and unity.

“Surely,” he said, “it is time to give peace a chance.”

 

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