In THAAD deployment area, the love for Park Geun-hye is gone
Residents in conservative stronghold supported Park for her family ties, but now feel betrayed.
The city of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province are in turmoil. President Park Geun-hye’s decision to deploy the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) antimissile system has shattered the once sleepy melon farms of Seongju County.
Two days before announcing the THAAD deployment, President Park brought Daegu residents the good news that the Daegu military airport would be relocated. But what is good news for Daegu is bound to be bad news for whatever other place will have to host the military airport instead. The small county of Gunwi in North Gyeongsang Province - which is already being discussed as a possible site for the airport - is in an uproar.
On July 17 and 18, Hankyoreh reporters visited the Daegu and North Gyeongsang area, traditionally conservative strongholds, to take the pulse of local feelings about Park’s shifting policies.
“We adore Park Geun-hye, but I want to cut off the finger I voted for her with.”
“We hear it all,” said Lee Chung-hwan, 54, leader of Chwigok No. 2 Village, in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang Province, on July 17, as he pointed to the Seongsan Antiaircraft Battery, where THAAD is to be deployed. “We hear them shouting ‘one, two, three’ during their morning gymnastics, and we hear them telling such-and-such a corporal to report to the office.”
Seongsan Hawk Missile Battery is on top of Seongsan Hill, at an elevation of 383 meters. The battery is about 100 meters up from the village. In the past, the people of the village would climb up to the battery three or more times a day to chop wood, Lee said.
The air defense base was built around 40 years ago, and the locals have grown up with the sound of the bugle early in the morning and the sound of the radar dish turning. If THAAD is deployed there will clearly be noise of a different magnitude from the various sounds to which villagers have grown accustomed.
The fact that THAAD is being deployed right in front of the village of all places is the first reason that the people of Seongju are angry. Elderly residents at the community center were unable to suppress their frustration. “Seongju adores Park Geun-hye, [but now] I want to cut off the finger I voted for her with. I mean it!” said one. “Gimhae stole the new international airport, and now what’s this about THAAD?” another said.
Whether rich or poor, everyone in Seongju depends on the melon business, and every day the county is abuzz with talk of the THAAD deployment. In the streets of Seongju Township and in the surrounding villages, placards are hung up that say, “There’s no such thing as an ideal place to deploy THAAD,” “Absolutely opposed to THAAD deployment in Seongju County,” and “We can’t hand down electromagnetic waves to our young people.” Stickers expressing opposition to THAAD were also hung up on the shops downtown.
Day in and day out, the central government is promoting THAAD’s safety, but residents are finding it hard to rest easy. Since Seongsan Hill, the proposed location of the battery, is south of Seongju Township, the townspeople would have to live looking every day at THAAD.
While the government claims that Seongju Township is safe because it is 1.5 km away from the battery and because the electromagnetic waves from the radar will be emitted at a five-degree incline from the top of the hill, townspeople don‘t believe what the government is saying.
“During a gathering, I watched a video about the stories of people who live near the X-band radar installations in Japan,” said Lee Jae-dong, president of the farmers’ association in Seongju County. “Some of the Japanese there say that the noise is driving them crazy. I think the government is lying to us. I believe what it says in the US army manual, not the lies that the Defense Ministry is telling us.”
The US army manual states that the “no hazard” safe area for the THAAD radar is 3.6 km, but South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo told the National Assembly that “you don’t need to worry about electromagnetic waves at a distance of 100 meters.”
A girl to her grandfather in Seongju: “I can’t visit you anymore”
What makes Seongju residents even angrier about the government’s decision to deploy THAAD is its unilateral administrative approach. Even granting that the policy has to do with national defense, residents are baffled about how the government could decide to deploy the THAAD battery on the hill behind the town without any prior negotiations.
“You have to get a permit to build a house, don’t you? What gives them the right to build something this big without so much as a by-your-leave?” said a 69-year-old individual surnamed Bae, who spoke to the Hankyoreh at the community center in Seongwon No. 2 Village, Seonnam Township.
Residents are horrified at the very thought that the Seongju brand could switch from melons to THAAD.
“The day they announced THAAD, my six-year-old granddaughter in Gumi called me to say she wouldn‘t feel safe visiting my house anymore,” said Son Ho-taek, leader of Seongwon No. 2 Village. “As a grandparent, that’s just heartbreaking. My wife and I wept for a long time.”
During the 2012 presidential election, President Park received 86% of the vote in Seongju. This was the fourth highest percentage of the 23 cities and counties of North Gyeongsang Province. Locals strongly feel that Park has betrayed them - rather like a jilted lover.