Sunday, August 21, 2011

Problems with the Naval Base in Jeju-do

Bishop Kang U-il of Jeju-do  has sent an open letter to the Korean media in support of the opposition to the naval base being built on the island of Jeju-do. Considered to be one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the island, because of its idyllic, peaceful environment, has been affectionately dubbed the island of peace  The bishop's letter explaining the Christian opposition to the naval base was an unprecedented  act by the bishop, who is also the president of the Bishops Conference.

The Catholic Times discusses the controversial issue on its editorial page. The villagers of Gangeong, where the naval base is being built, and many others who have enjoyed the peaceful ambiance of the island, are opposed to the project.  The government has boasted of the  beauty of the island, and now that same government is dealing it, say the opponents to the project, a deadly blow.  Even on this beautiful island the ocean bottom of Gangeong is known for its  natural beauty,  turning the harbor into  concrete is hard to understand.                   

The bishop also mentions another problem: the way the site was selected.  It did not take into account the people who would be affected; there was no  consultation with the people of the island, and there was also, he said, evasion of the law. It was a top-down  decision.

Having a naval base on the island will provide an additional reason for conflict among  the  countries in the Far East. The bishop goes on to tell us the history of Jeju-do and the emotional scars that have been left on the hearts of its people.  The editorial chose not to mention this painful history, but the bishop went into great detail to explain what he meant. The revolt in Jeju-do in 1948, against the plans for elections in the South, was so intense and frightening that many chose to go to Japan. It is a history few Koreans are familiar with because of the  efforts of the government. Even today one does not find it easy to bring up the matter in conversation. History, our history, the bishop says, has to be remembered when the naval base is considered.

The Catholic Church has been opposed to the naval base since July of 2007. The Bishops Committee of Justice and Peace issued at that time a public declaration of opposition. In an urgent meeting of all the diocesan Justice and Peace committees, the dioceses agreed to be united with the diocese of Jeju-do in its opposition, indicating that they were determined to keeping the island the island of peace.

All Koreans are interested, as are all people everywhere, in the security and peace of their country. But the competition in amassing armaments is not the way to avoid war; instead, it makes the possibilities for war even greater. Pope Paul II in the encyclical  Centesimus Annus (The 100th Year) #18, said, "An insane arm's race swallowed up the resources needed for the development of national economies and for assistance to the less-developed nations. Scientific and technological progress, which should have contributed to man's well-being, was transformed into an instrument of war: science and technology were directed to the production of ever more efficient and destructive weapons. Meanwhile, an ideology, a perversion of authentic philosophy, was called upon to provide doctrinal justification for the new war."

The editorial ends by proposing that the conflict and confusion in Jeju-do be resolved by the decision of the government to stop the project, returning the island to its naturally peaceful ways. It is hoped, the editorial goes on to say, that the incident will allow us to reflect on what true peace requires, and that all our citizens will learn to appreciate the preciousness of our environment.

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