Soseong-ri: Hub of South Korea’s anti-THAAD movement

With deployment of US anti-missile defence system, village residents turn from being melon farmers to anti-war activists.

South Korea village
Soseong-ri is a battleground in the fight against perceived US militarism [Dena Takruri/Al Jazeera]

“F***ing pack up your f***ing THAAD and get the f*** out of here!”

You wouldn’t expect to hear that many f-bombs dropped by a frail 85-year-old grandma living in South Korea’s rural countryside.

But for Jang Kyun Sun, her peaceful agricultural village of Soseong-ri, located more than 200km southeast of Seoul, is now the latest battleground in the fight against perceived US militarism in her country. And she is very upset.

The US announced plans to install its most advanced anti-missile defence system, called THAAD (or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System), in her village more than a year ago in agreement with South Korea’s former conservative President Park Geun-hye.

READ MORE: What’s next for South Korea-US relations?

The country’s new liberal President Moon Jae-in, moved ahead with the deployment of the THAAD to the disappointment of many.

The goal of the THAAD is to intercept missiles fired from North Korea before they hit their intended targets.

Since its announcement, Jang and the village’s roughly 100 elderly residents have gone from being lifelong melon farmers to newly minted anti-war activists. 

Theirs is a story of unexpected, yet inspiring resistance.

My team and I travelled to South Korea just as tensions between the US and North Korea were intensifying.

In part one of our four-part series, I went inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing North and South Korea, which have been at war since the Korean War began in 1950.

In part two, I visited Camp Humphreys, home to the US 8th Army, whose proud motto is “ready to fight tonight” against North Korea.

In part three, I spoke to a North Korean defector who once created propaganda art for the Pyongyang government and now keeps his identity concealed in South Korea.

And in part four, I asked young South Koreans who they felt more threatened by: Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump.

Villagers fear that the THAAD makes them a target for North Korea [Dena Takruri/Al Jazeera] 
Villagers fear that the THAAD makes them a target for North Korea [Dena Takruri/Al Jazeera] 

As the two leaders exchanged heated threats, we wanted to hear from the people caught in the crossfire whose lives would face devastating consequences if war broke out.

What we found in Soseong-ri was a village already overcome by devastation. Villagers fear that the THAAD makes them a target for North Korea and are angered that their government deployed it without a public hearing.

Jang and her fellow villagers survived the horrors of the Korean War only to now spend the tail end of their lives anxious about another one.

“When THAAD was entering [my village], I cried so much and was so sad,” she told me. “The sadness that I feel is indescribable. Several villagers felt so much pain, they had to go to the hospital.”

The THAAD was installed in a former golf course in Soseong-ri.

The area is also home to a cemetery and a site sacred to Won Buddhists, who make an annual pilgrimage there.

But now, it is a restricted military zone that’s off limits. 

My crew and I hiked up a steep mountain for an hour with a village guide to catch a view of the THAAD, only to be turned around by South Korean soldiers standing guard at the top.

They blared warning sirens at us.

The sadness that permeates the village is palpable. Its idyllic scenery of green grass and lush trees is covered by anti-THAAD and anti-war banners everywhere you look.

A military helicopter buzzes overhead, drowning out the peaceful flow of water running in a nearby creek. Several local policemen stand guard at the entrance of the village.

I joined Jang and more than a dozen of the elderly villagers as they sat cross-legged on the floor singing anti-war songs, intermittently clapping and raising their fists in the air. This is how their afternoons are spent.

The story of Soseong-ri is as much about resistance and tenacity as it is about pain. When the villagers aren’t singing, they’re facing off with police.

They were forcibly removed and dragged by police while trying to block the THAAD from initially making its way through the village.

THAAD was installed in a former golf course of Soseong-ri [Dena Takruri/Al Jazeera] 
THAAD was installed in a former golf course of Soseong-ri [Dena Takruri/Al Jazeera] 

At times, they’ve been joined by thousands of anti-war activists who believe the presence of the missile defence system will only escalate tensions in the region.

On the day I was there, I saw villagers angrily chase a representative from the defence ministry out of town as they shouted that there would be no dialogue so long as the THAAD was around.

“Korean citizens should be able to live on their own terms,” Jang insisted. She then beat her chest while warning the US: “There’s a fire in here … get the f*** out!”

Source: Al Jazeera