She used to be an ‘Iraq human shield’ … a story of a Gangjung peace activist

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of a reporter’s personal accord appeared in a special section of <OhmyNews> on Dec.28, 2011. The section, according to “the Editor’s note”, is for “Behind stories, hidden stories or episodes uncovered during article material collection to be scribbled in a free style”. And current article delivers a story about the only Korean ‘Iraq human shield’ in 2003 who had to bear the burden of a traumatic experience in Iraq for a while and, now, works as a peace activist in Gangjung. Her life story itself is a revealing one but the manner she decided to reveal her past identity as a ‘human shield’ is also a story of human drama which, I think, needs to be publicized more widely, not only for the sake of herself but also for the sake of peaceful resolution of naval base construction in Gangjung village which is strongly suspected to be a naval base not for Korean navy but for US navy and, as such, has become a contentious issue among Korea, US, Japan and China. The rights of this post stay with the author of original article or with <OhmyNews> and it will be scrapped immediately at their request. The original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

She used to be an ‘Iraq human shield’

A story of a peace activist police took under custory

Reporter Lee Ju-bin 이주빈 (clubnip)

Peace activist Yoo Ga-il who is making a bright smile at a caricature of her face. She called herself as a ‘human shield’ and shouted ‘No War’ in the middle of Baghdad under heavy US military bombing in 2003. ⓒ Yoo Ga-il’s facebook 유가일 페이스북

“Reporter Lee, we are moving to Jeju Dongbu Police detention center. They will take away my mobile phone soon. At times like this, it would have been much better if I am more famous, I guess.”

On 26th 4:33PM, she left a message using SNS. Twenty seven Gangjug villagers and peace activists were taken by police in the morning for obstructing the construction of naval base and she was one of them.

She has been managing the ‘Gangjung peace school’ in Gangjung village. Peace school  is a peace program to let Gangjung visitors know the truth of Gangjung village, to help daily lives of villagers, and to experience peace activity like participating in solo protests. She first proposed the program last summer and already five classes of people have experienced peace by ‘studying, working, and playing together’.

When she asked me to do a lecture for peace school, I was in fact surprised because I only saw her playing with village kids with faint smiles on her face many times.

‘Such a shy person plans and runs the program?’

But, she frugally managed the peace school with her characteristic sincerity and drive and the Gangjung peace school became one of the peace icons of Gangjung. It’s all owing to her who asked herself constantly and managed things steadily.

It was about the time when the peace school was on the right track. She then quietly asked me this.

“Have you ever heard of ‘human shield’ in Iraq? In 2003 when US invaded Iraq, they called themselves ‘human shields’ staying in Iraq and objected the invasion… Well, if one of them stays in Gangjung, doing peace activity very hard, will it be helpful for Gangjung any bit?”

I, provoked by evil ‘reporter’s instinct’, exclaimed “of course, it’s a big news” and poured questions “is that person here in Gangjung? Do you know him?” She, with her usual calm and quiet look, murmured “no, I just thought it would be nice if such a person would be here in Gangjung.”

Then, on Dec.11, about the time when I almost forgot the conversation, I got a message from her.

“The activist who had worked as a human shield in Iraq war I mentioned last time … it was in fact me. The experience and the following life in Korea were very tough on me. So I changed my name 6 years ago, stayed abroad, and came back in the last end of June. For the last several months, I quietly worked as an individual activist here but I am talking to you if my personal experience would be of help to Gangjung incident.”

It was a shock. She used to be a ‘Iraq human shield’ … The person who, on Mar. 14, 2003 when US military was bombing Baghdad indiscriminately, stayed right there and cried ‘No War’ as the only Korean in Baghdad. The person who, even after the bombing, stayed in Iraq, became friends with heavily disabled people, and worked as a peace activist.

The person who screamed “when Korean news, time to time, reports the death of a US soldier, you can believe that at least about ten times of Iraqis are dying silently” and who that bragging deputy speaker of US Department of State exceptionally ridiculed as a ‘moth flocking to a torch light’. That person ‘Yoo Eun-ha’ is in Gangjung, under a new name ‘Yoo Ga-il’ …

‘Human shield’ Yoo Eun-ha, she has been in Gangjung!

She is having a conversation with a US soldier while working as an ‘Iraq human shield’ peace activist in 2003. ⓒ Yoo Ga-il 유가일 제공

In fact, she had been doing peace activity long before she even called herself as a ‘human shield’ in Iraq. During her school days, she went to Dongan church in Imun-dong, Seoul and volunteered for military camp town women. During 1998~2000, she volunteered for teaching Korean and providing medical services in places like Yanbian China and Kenya Africa. So to speak, ‘peace’ has been life and religion to her.

For the reason why she had not revealed her experience early, she said “when it got revealed somehow, I was worried I would not come up to the expectations of villagers or other activists.” She then said, as she had started to do the peace school work, there had been many instances she had been compelled to explain to people why she had started the work.

I told her “it will be all right if you talk to people at the candlelight vigil in Christmas” but she eventually didn’t do that. “My Iraq experience did not become completely of me yet. I am scared of it being revealed publicly anyhow. I will contact you again when my heart gets prepared as it flows.”

I decided to respect her opinion. She was not a spy who should come clean anyway; neither did I think I should torment her by revealing her past experience which had become a severe trauma to her just for my covet for an article.

But in less than a day after Christmas, she got detained. She was not angry about the pain she was experiencing; but she was furious about the detention of 26 other villagers and peace activists. She who called herself a ‘human shield’ in the middle of Baghdad Iraq under heavy bombing is calling herself a ‘peace protector’ again.

“It’s a little shame but will it make a news if I, not as an individual but as a peace activist in Gangjung who worked as a human shield in Iraq, got detained by police? No media pays attention to this where twenty seven are taken away by police from a village without any account of crime. If I reveal myself in this way, will there be even a small chance for people to pay more attention to Gangjung village?”

She, in such a hard way, did the ‘self-revealing’ thing on her way to the police detention center. Then, she regretted that she was not ‘more famous’. Probably, she may have something like celebrities’ remarks on some social problem spark national attention and the issue becomes a national agenda at no time in mind.

At least for the past 5 years, celebrities’ remarks on Gangjug village have been very limited. Because of that, support from people who follow those celebrities has been quite feeble as well. So, her opinion is also a kind of resistance to such an awful dismissal of Gangjung village by ‘mainland media and public opinion’ for the last 5 years.

“I regret I am not so famous”

Book <Children do not know war> of her own accord of 110 days of experience in Iraq as an anti-war peace activist. (the book cover)

I think of her, Gangjung villagers, and all peace activists in Gangjung as ‘stars’; they, with their own hands, made the naval base issue in Gangjung village the top 10 urgent social issue in Korean without any proper support from celebrities.

In due course, villagers and peace activists paid fines over 100M KRW for the last five years fighting a not so shiny battle, about 200 villagers became criminals, and were sued for damage compensation over 200M KRW.

Like director Yeo Gyoon-dong’s remark, this has not been a battle; it rather has been a ‘tenacious waiting’. These people who have been fighting this battle not one year but five years are true ‘stars’, right?

She and others are still in the detention center. What does she think right now? Does she, by any chance, regret the fact that she revealed herself? I really hope that she and other detainees will be released sooner than later.

And, I hope that she will stand confident herself for being revived as a ‘Gangjung village peace protector’ from an ‘Iraq human shield’.

“Do you know what it’s like in the morning of the next day of bombing? Still blue sky, still chirping birds, water purifiers that reminds me of a swimming pool, a room with a clean bed prepared for a human shield … a boy who hands me flowers while walking around the village and saying hello to people … Everything is strangely peaceful and calm. Very ironic.”

– A diary by ‘Iraq human shield’ Yoo Eun-ha (Yoo Ga-il)

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