Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Cynical American Scapegoating of Korea as a Cover for Nuclear Terror

And they began to implore Him to leave their region.

- from Mark 5:17 (the Gerasene demoniac)

Barack Obama is in South Korea, as part of his Asia tour, and probably more than any part of his trip, it is this stop that most Americans understand to be relevant to "national security" and the alleged need for ever greater amounts of U.S. firepower in Asia.

That's because Americans are fed a fairly constant diet of scare news about those "unhinged" North Koreans -- "just crazy enough" to start the next nuclear war.

Several weeks ago I attended a presentation that, for me at least, turned this interpretation of events on its head. Professor Jae-Jung Suh gave a presentation entitled, "War or Peace in Korea? The 20 Years' and the 70 Years' Crisis" during the Ending the Korean War: Prospects for a Just, Durable and Lasting Peace session at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2014.

As I watched Prof. Suh's presentation, which documented the uninterrupted string of American interventions and threats of intervention on the Korean peninsula since 1950, the vast majority of which contained a nuclear component, the wheels in my brain slowly started to turn. Finally, I realized, "Korea has been designated by the U.S. as a place to demonstrate the constant threat of nuclear catastrophe. Somehow, the U.S. manages the trick of being the one doing the threatening, but making it seem as if it is somehow some inherent characteristic of Korea itself that calls forth these terrifying threats."

Nuclear threats? Oh, it's a "Korea thing" . . . 

So there are these terrible things called nuclear weapons, and it just turns out that they hover around the Korean peninsula, as if "Korea" and "crazy nuclear terror" belonged together. And I thought to myself, "Where have I heard this before?"

And this being a conference of faith-based organizations, and me being in a Gospel state of mind, it came to me. I remembered the story of the Gerasene demoniac:

5 They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. 6 Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; 7 and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” 8 For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. 12 The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.

14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. 17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region. 18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. 19 And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

(Mark 5:1-20 (New American Standard Bible) on Bible Gateway)

Rev. Erik Christensen explains "[A]s the story comes to its conclusion, the Gerasenes, the people who had chained this demon-possessed man up in their graveyard have asked Jesus to leave them. Jesus, by casting out their demons, has disrupted their social order. They’d had a system for handling their demons, namely by scapegoating a man they kept chained up like a slave. Now that he’d been set free, they were afraid."

In other words, the status quo liked having a scapegoat just fine.  It distracted attention from the culpability of the "upstanding" citizens. The moral of the story: don't expect anyone to thank you for calling out this arrangement, and freeing the scapegoat from that thankless role. (You can read a longer treatment of the scapegoating in the Gerasene demoniac story in the article "Jesus and the Demoniac" by Jim Warren.)

It is in the context of the story of the Gerasene demoniac that I have come to see how cynical and mean the behavior of the U.S. is towards Korea.  Under the guise of "security," it has subjected the Korean peninsula to the role of being the poor, addled, trouble spot for the past 70 years -- all in the name of demonstrating to the rest of the world the real ability of the U.S. to bring nuclear annihilation to anyone who thwarts it.

And it is in this context that I have come to understand the importance of the call for a nuclear-free zone on the Korean Peninsula.  This is a call for nothing less than the U.S. to stop scapegoating others and to accept its own responsibility for fostering nuclear terror.

Learn more

"A Possible Approach for Establishing a Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone," by Hiromichi Umebayashi, Director, Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University (RECNA) -- January 30, 2013

Related posts

We have had a window of opportunity -- nearly 70 years in which the constitution of Japan has explicitly renounced war, pointing the way for the rest of us. What have we imagined we were supposed to do?

(See Renouncing War: An Opportunity Not To Be Missed )

With the New York Times publishing "analysis" like this, is it any wonder that Americans can say things like . . . "It won't be a war. We're just going to drop a few well placed bombs on them" . . . "the object of fighting a war is to 'cause devastation'" . . . "my finger is on the button. Run back to your mud hut or I am going to press it!" . . . "when war is devastating, then people will do everything possible not to get into it!" . . . as some of my high school classmates wrote on Facebook today?

(See The Bankruptcy of U.S. Nuclear Doctrine )

Advocates for human rights in the Philippines, including the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, are asking us to speak out publicly on the need for the U.S. government to "own" its responsibility for human rights violations in the Philippines, and to take affirmative action to halt them. As President Obama begins his trip to Asia -- underlining the much-touted "pivot to Asia" -- it is an especially important time to draw attention to what is really happening in the Philippines.

(See Needed: Less Military Force, More Human Rights in the Philippines )

Years later, in the days when I traveled frequently to China and brought home picture books for my children depicting the adventures of Monkey battling all manner of demons, I began to take seriously the importance of demons and demon-quelling as a metaphor. (And that includes here and now in our own culture.)

(See Channeling Zhong Kui (the Demon Queller))

More related links

Read about the Korean folk exorcism dance ceremony: Hahoe Mask Dance Drama Performance

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