Korean-American Activist discusses her peace march across the Korean DMZ

IMG_7807A South Korean activist is visiting Central Michigan University’s campus to discuss her role in anti-war demonstrations in South Korea.

Christine Ahn was one of thirty women who crossed the DMZ to advocate for peace in 2015. She continues to argue for the end of sanctions against North Korea.

Ahn is a policy analyst who has spoken before the United Nations and is the co-founder of the Korea Policy institute.

Ben: How did you get involved in the peace movement between North and South Korea?

Christine: Well, I’m Korean American, I was born in South Korea and immigrated here when I was there. Like most immigrants I didn’t really know much about my history or my heritage or my identity.

Eventually in 2004 I went to North Korea. I went as kind of a journalist myself. I wanted to understand the roots of North Korea’s famine. It was kind of a mind blowing experience. I felt like I got to speak with farmers, we went out into the countryside, and I just felt like as an American, and as a Korean American Especially, I have a responsibility. We have this misnomer, we don’t understand that the Korean conflict is not just between North and South Korea, it includes the United States. The United States waged an indiscriminate bombing campaign in Korea and on the Korean peninsula.

Most American’s don’t realize this but the United States has wartime operational control over South Korea. Korea, this is the tenth largest economy in the world, it’s a thriving democracy, but it doesn’t have control over its own military. I think that’s kind of a wake up call for people. I feel this tremendous responsibility to bring some healing and closure to this Korean War.

Ben: And I’m wondering if you can talk some more about that, of seeing the people. I think when we think about North Korea it’s in the political context of Kim Jong Un or Kim Jong Il, it’s thinking about these guys who need to be stopped but not about how that affects people on the ground.

Christine: I think sanctions are another form of war. You know the UN Security Council and UN Ambassador Samantha Powers may say ‘this is not intended to impact the people,’ but if you speak to any humanitarian aid expert that goes and does operations on behalf of NGO’s or acumenical organization in North Korea it’s total BS to them. Because of course these sanctions are going to affect ordinary people because it impacts the financial transactions that the country can have.

I do think it’s a strategy that the United States and the international community, and I’ll say primarily western countries, have deployed to try and strangle that country towards some kind of regime collapse and I think that’s very dangerous and I think we should take some responsibility for the hardship that the people of North Korea endure on a day-to-day basis.

Ben: How does pursuing peace as a method for change, and not even necessarily regime change, how does that help and how is that different than pursuing sanctions?

Christine: I think that peace work is vital. How are we ever going to get to some kind of resolution? I mean basically North Korea is building its nuclear capacity because they say it’s for deterrents, and meanwhile we are, the United States is, currently conducting the largest ever military exercises with South Korea in which we have operation plan 5015 which includes the beheading of the North Korean leader. I mean basically both sides are just hardening, we’re all investing heavily in the militarization and preparation of war. That is insane.

What we need to do is sit down and talk. What we tried to do with the women’s peace walk was try to connect people to people. So if there is no track one dialogue between our government leaders then the people must try to do it. The people must try to open the doors which have been shut.

Ben: Can you talk a little bit about that walk and what it was like crossing the DMZ?

Christine: It was amazing even to just gather this group of women and be on this journey together to go into North Korean and say to the North Korean women ‘we are your allies. We believe in your vision and your hope for peace and the reunification of Korea and we are walking because you cannot walk. We will cross the DMZ and we will bring attention to the world that the war has not officially ended and that the war must end with a peace treaty and that the war must end for families to be reunified, so that we can redirect our precious public resources towards investing in humanity, towards the welfare of people, and protecting our environment. Not towards preparing for war and for more militarization. We don’t need that in our world we don’t want that for our children we don’t want that for our children.’

That was a really powerful thing. We marched with 10,000 women on both sides of the DMZ we marched in Pyongyang, we marched in Kaesong, and then we crossed the DMZ.