The Kashmir Problem: Why India & Pakistan May Go To War & Why It Matters

By Aalok Joshi 

 

For as long as the nations of India and Pakistan have existed, the region of Kashmir has been the flashpoint of their ongoing international conflict. Both nuclear powers have claimed to be the sole legitimate government of Kashmir and both countries claim Jammu & Kashmir, the full name of the region, to be an integral part of their territory. These nations have fought several wars since 1947 over control of the region, and to this day a final border or solution has not been found. Instead, the balance of the region hangs at the LOC or Line of Control – the de facto border between the two neighbors. Skirmishes between the Pakistani and Indian forces are common and both countries invest large portions of their military budgets in maintaining a large presence in Kashmir and the Siachen glacier.

However, recent events have changed the seemingly never ending deadlock in Kashmir. On September 18th, 2016, four armed terrorists conducted a pre-dawn ambush on an Indian military camp in the border town of Uri. This attack killed 18 Indian soldiers and instantly escalated the situation in Kashmir which has been the center of unrest and killings of protesters since the beginning of this summer.

The Indian response so far has been mixed. Leaders from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have called for a declaration of war and swift justice. The BJP’s Secretary General Ram Madhav posted on Facebook, “For one tooth, the complete jaw”, while Rajnath Singh, India’s home minister tweeted, “Pakistan is a terrorist state and should be identified and isolated as such”. However, to the shock of Indians and Pakistanis alike, India’s firebrand Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has not made any such rash statements. Instead, he has shifted the focus back to development saying, “I want to tell the people of Pakistan, India is ready to fight you. If you have the strength, come forward to fight against poverty. Let’s see who wins. Let’s see who is able to defeat poverty and illiteracy first, Pakistan or India”. Though such rhetoric is a reprieve from war mongering on both sides at best and innocuous at worst, Modi is hinting at certain actions which could have severe consequences for Pakistan. Shortly after the attack, Modi claimed, “Blood and Water cannot flow simultaneously”, referring to the highly contested and vital Indus Water Treaty. This 56 year old agreement allows for water sharing between Pakistan and India as most of Pakistan’s rivers flow through India first. Modi and other BJP leaders have hinted at scrapping the deal altogether as a measure to place sanctions on Pakistan. Voiding the pact would mean that India would resume dam building activities on portions of the Indus and Jhelum rivers, thus crippling Pakistan’s agricultural hub of Punjab. This escalation of water war would no doubt result in the hoarding of water on both sides. Such a move would be extreme and would only heighten tensions between the giants, however, the political climate in India is very conducive to such a move.

The Pakistani response has been less focused on the attack and more focused on the civil unrest in Indian administered Kashmir. Since the killing of Kashmiri militant leader, Burhan Wahi, by the Indian military, the region has witnessed constant civil unrest which has led to the imposition of a week’s long curfew and the death of more than 85 civilians. Leaders of the majority Muslim League party in Pakistan, such as Rohail Dar, have said, “Pakistan is not supporting terrorism, it is rather a victim.” Pakistani political commentators, such as Mosharraf Zaidi, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, have both denied Pakistan’s involvement in the Uri attack . Meanwhile, Sartaj Aziz, one of PM Sharif’s closest foreign policy advisors, has made it clear that Pakistan will take India to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) if it violates the Indus River Treaty. Pakistan is justified in its plan of escalation to the ICJ because it’s mainly agricultural economy would be decimated by a chokehold on a vital input like water. Additionally, Pakistan has mobilized its military and reports of F-16s buzzing throughout the night over Islamabad have made leaders on both sides of the Line of Control even more worried.

Why It Matters…

India and Pakistan have the third and sixth largest standing militaries. Both countries have at least 100 nuclear warheads and the large populations of both nations’ means that any war between them would directly affect 1.5 billion people. The majority of these people coexist peacefully, do not live in Kashmir, and have very little to do directly with this conflict. However, because of a rising tide of Hindu and Muslim nationalism, desperation for control over resources, and underlying socioeconomic consequences, Pew data shows that many people on the subcontinent are ready for war – even nuclear war.

The Kashmir situation has not developed in a vacuum. Major world powers have been positioning themselves for a conflict like this, and since the attack in Uri states like the U.S., China, Russia, and Israel have amplified their rhetoric and action. The recent developments in Kashmir have made Russia’s position in the subcontinent even more complex than it has been. India and Russia have been longtime allies since the Cold War and Russia has been India’s largest military supplier and one of its largest trade partners. However, India’s recent shift toward the United States – seen through Obama’s multiple state visits to India and Modi becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, has been alarming to Russia. Since then, Russia has agreed to begin selling military equipment, like helicopters and jets, to Pakistan. Additionally, as a part of Putin’s realpolitik strategy, Russia has agreed to construct a major natural gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore. On September 23rd, just five days after the Uri attack, Pakistan and Russia conducted their first joint military drill. In the U.S. the shift from Pakistan to India has been marked not only by increased diplomatic and international cooperation between the two democracies, but also by new legislation in the U.S. Congress which would designate Pakistan as a terrorist state and cut off military aid.

As Russia and the U.S. reverse roles with their longtime allies, others like China and Israel remain entrenched in support of their subcontinental horse. China is currently pursuing its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $45 billion project which would give the Chinese direct access to the Arabian Sea. As recently as late September, Beijing has kept its neutral stance on the Kashmir issue, however, due to the strained Indo-Chinese dynamic over economic policies, border disputes, and disagreement on India’s bid for a permanent Security Council seat, it’s safe to say China would like to keep its trump card, Pakistan, close. Following the Uri attack, another nation, Israel, has also made its stance on the Kashmir issue clear. Israeli ambassador to India, David Carmon, suggested after the attack that India adopt a grid based, technology focused plan to secure its border. Israel has since offered its support in developing a system with India that would mimic Israel’s own tight borders.

The Bottom Line….

With Pakistani PM Sharif’s hour long tirade against India at the UN General Assembly  and India pulling out of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit on September 28th, it seems that a quick de-escalation of this conflict is unlikely, however, total war can and should still be avoided. If tensions do rise and one nation declares war on the other – this time it wouldn’t just be the two neighbors squabbling, it could involve other powers like Israel, Russia, China, and the United States in a war which would have globally catastrophic consequences.

Make India Great Again: The Defective Development Gospel

By Shelby House

Behold, the glib, bigoted politician everyone loves to hate. He is self-absorbed, and he loves to put his name on everything. He is nationalistic. He does not disconnect himself from groups that engage in racially-motivated violence, and he gives a special wink to groups that want to kick Muslims out of the country. But he is attractive because he is an ‘outsider,’ undoing years of dynastic politics. This shakes the party base. Many of the party’s founders disavow him, only to recant when his popular appeal becomes undeniable. His fiery speeches and charisma put him in sharp contrast against the scores of boring, old politicians, with all-too-familiar family names, running against him. And he is economically savvy—based on his record, voters see a chance for growth and development. That is, if you define “voters” as “middle class citizens from the dominant racial and religious group.” If you are picturing Donald Trump’s golden coif, you are not wrong—but the world has seen this phenomenon before in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the reigning Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

 

In 2014, the BJP swept the general election and secured 282 seats in the 545-seat lower house called the Lok Sabha. The BJP is a right-wing political organization which explicitly subscribes to Hindu nationalism or Hindutva. According to the party, their conception of Hindutva is not religious or theocratic. Instead, the term refers more broadly to “cultural, territorial, historical concepts referring to a broad-minded, tolerant, catholic, inclusive tradition”—all Indians are Hindus, even the Muslims. Unfortunately, this vague and fuzzy definition does not accurately reflect the actions of the BJP or its partner organizations.

 

The BJP was founded as the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh (RSS), which is frequently called a terrorist organization. The RSS has been involved repeatedly in anti-Muslim pogroms, and the BJP has followed in step. In the 1990s, the BJP, along with the RSS and other Hindu nationalist outfits, led the charge to destroy the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India. The mosque, built in 1528, had become a flashpoint for Hindu-Muslim violence due to Hindu nationalist claims that the mosque occupied the birthplace of the deity Rama. On December 6, 1992, the BJP and VHP led a 150,000-person rally at the site, and the crowd tore the mosque apart. Following this incident, riots rocked India, resulting in at least 2,000 deaths. Throughout the years, BJP manifestos have reaffirmed a “commitment to the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.” BJP leaders have also called for anti-conversion laws, and the party’s 2014 manifesto proposes a uniform civil code. This measure is seen as discriminatory to Indian Muslims who would otherwise receive accommodation for their religious beliefs. The BJP claims to represent secularism, and the group heavily watered down their Hindutva message to gain electoral support in 2014. However, the party’s history and platforms belie any commitment to secularism.

 

While the BJP’s history is disconcerting, Narendra Modi’s personal history with religious violence is even more damning. In 2002, when Modi served as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the state witnessed three days of riots against the local Muslim population, which left “most certainly over 2,000 dead,” according to South Asianist Christophe Jaffrelot. In 2011, in a sworn statement to India’s Supreme Court, a senior police officer from Gujarat stated that Modi took no action to quell the violence, instead saying that the “Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson.” Since Modi has risen to power as prime minister, this convenient silence has remained the status quo. For instance, in September 2015, a Muslim man from Uttar Pradesh was murdered by a mob after a rumor circulated that he had consumed beef—angering the Hindu population, which consider cows sacred. Modi was criticized for waiting 2 weeks before weakly condemning the incident. One month later, a 16-year old was beaten to death in Jammu and Kashmir on the suspicion that he had helped slaughter cows. Days after this, a 20-year old was lynched in Himachal Pradesh on suspicion that he was smuggling cattle. Modi has remained silent, and he surely hasn’t taken measures to curtail this type of religious violence.

 

Nationalism and fear-mongering weaken democracy. While India has a thriving procedural democracy—elections go off without a hitch—Hindu nationalism threatens India’s commitment to secularism. State-sanctioned racial violence cripples the ability of Indian Muslims to live freely, dissent, and prosper in the Indian state, which harbors the third largest Muslim population in the world. As I wrote last April, India’s failure to accommodate its massive Muslim population also exacerbates tensions in problem regions like Kashmir, which is currently in an ongoing “bloodbath” that has been called a “replay of the Gujarat pogrom.” The oppression of minorities, in any state, revokes that state’s right to call itself a democracy. In the words of Dibyesh Anand, a professor at the University of Westminster, “democracy is not a number game… it is very much about minority rights and about individual rights.” If India—or America—wants to play a fascistic game of ethnoreligious majoritarianism, let us be clear about what the political system should be called: a theocracy.

 

However, much like Trump, Modi gained electoral support primarily on his record of economic prowess. Modi ran on a platform of universal application of “the Gujarat model.” As chief minister of Gujarat, the state’s economy boomed. On the whole, the province was richer, more job-wealthy, and more rapidly developing than the average Indian state. Indian voters hoped that Modi would apply this model to the whole country, leading to prosperity for all. However, while Gujarat could be lauded for its strong infrastructure and high GDP, the state lagged behind in poverty reduction and inclusive growth. With Modi at the helm, India’s growth has mirrored Gujarat’s. Modi’s economic policies have left behind the poorest of the poor and exacerbated wealth inequality in the country. India sacrificed social cohesion for the promise of development—and Modi has not followed through on this agreement. And while Trump can say he will be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” there is little evidence that he will live up to that promise. Even if he could, America should not sacrifice everything—particularly tolerance and secularism—for that flimsy promise.

 

While many on the America left see Donald Trump as a disturbing political joke, his trajectory is not unprecedented. When Donald Trump says that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing any voters, we roll our eyes. Narendra Modi was complicit in the slaughter of 2,000 Muslims, and he still rose rapidly to power. Fears about development increase tolerance for ethnoreligious cleavages—which ultimately weakens the quality of democracy, society, and development. Paradoxically, successful development-only platforms have harmed development in the long run; typically, such agendas cater only to the upper-middle class and aggravate gaping inequality. Surely, this analysis should be taken with a grain of salt; Narendra Modi has more political savvy and eloquence than Donald Trump ever will. However, the similarities should prompt closer reflection about how much America could lose if we gamble democratic values for an economic quick-fix.

Kashmir: India’s Problem Province

By Shelby House

 

In early April, the Indian cricket team competed against the West Indies in the World T20 semifinals. At the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar (part of Indian-administered Kashmir), local Kashmiri students cheered for the West Indies, while the majority of NIT students cheered for Mother India. In no time, violence erupted; police reportedly “thrashed” students with wooden sticks. The NIT incident comes in the wake of riots at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, where three students were arrested on sedition charges for allegedly chanting slogans in favor of Kashmiri independence. Clashes like this are not new; India has historically met Kashmiri discontent with an iron fist. However, the Indian government does not treat all sedition equally. To quell ethnolinguistic division in states like Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, the India state has granted major concessions, even going so far as to create new states for discontented minority groups. India has 29 states, which are provinces with a great deal of political autonomy in order to accommodate India’s wealth of ethnolinguistic diversity. Five states, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka did not exist at the time of Indian independence; these states were created after continued agitations from discontented minority groups.

But why are Kashmiri schisms only met with harsh repression—and why isn’t this strategy working?

Kashmir’s geographic location and religious makeup make the region an important symbolic battleground and flashpoint for the India-Pakistan conflict. World powers such as Russia, the United States, and China, have used Kashmir as a proxy battleground for their own conflicts. With each new conflict, India tightens its grip on Kashmir. Laughably, India also points to the Muslim-majority region to prove its commitment to ‘secularism.’

Pakistan split from India in 1947 due to a movement by the All-India Muslim League to attain religious freedom; the leaders of the Azadi (Independence) Movement held that Muslims could never have true religious equality in a land dominated by Hindus. Currently, India—often called Hindustan—is led by the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose figurehead is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a controversial leader who has been implicated in anti-Muslim riots and violence multiple times. India’s claim to secularism is weak on all fronts—but to use Kashmir, which has been crippled politically by the Indian government since Partition, as a ‘shining example’ of India’s commitment to secularism rings hollow. India’s anxiety about losing Kashmir leads to severely authoritarian policies, which would fail in any Indian state.

Most importantly, Kashmir’s border with Pakistan complicates its relationship to the Indian state. Tamil Nadu and Telangana do not border any other country, so their threats to secede are less practicable; the government could easily crush such a secessionist movement. However, Kashmir’s threats are exponentially more credible and achievable due to its location.

Pakistan has asserted a claim over Kashmir since Partition. In the Pakistani view, Kashmir was always part of the “idea of Pakistan”—the k in the country’s name was meant to represent the state’s inclusion in the new nation. However, in 1947, the majority-Muslim Kashmir was ruled by the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh, who delayed choosing to side with India or Pakistan. During this delay, Pakistan began to inflame Kashmiri rebellions and encroach on Kashmiri territory. Singh requested India’s military aid, and India promised to help only if Kashmir was ceded to India. However, Lord Mountbatten, the last Governor-General of British India who helped facilitate the transfer of power during Partition, promised Singh that the Kashmiri people would be granted self-determination at the conflict’s end. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and leader of the Congress Party, reaffirmed this commitment, but the referendum was never held.

Instead, in the 1950s, the Indian government began systematically robbing Kashmir of the right to self-rule. Furthermore, the Delhi government attempted to micro-manage every aspect of Kashmir’s rule through coercive integrative measures instead of democratic power-sharing. Elections were regularly rigged, Kashmiri-chosen leaders were arrested, and the plebiscite is now nothing more than a pipe dream. According to the renowned South Asianist Sumantra Bose, the Indian government realized “hegemonic control could be sustained only by turning Indian-controlled Kashmir into a draconian police state in which civil rights and political liberties were virtually nonexistent.”

India’s has shamefully governed Kashmir. The region has seen multiple wars and innumerable guerilla conflicts; peace processes have repeatedly failed. India’s weak ideological claim over the state exacerbates these tensions. Kashmir was, indeed, originally meant to be part of Pakistan. However, this option has disappeared. Now, the idea of an independent Kashmir has gained substantial support. However, this concept is also politically impossible and further deepens regional cleavages.

India feels that keeping Muslim-dominated Kashmir proves the nation’s commitment to secularism. However, India’s poor governance of Kashmir does not support this claim, and Indian Muslims still feel antagonized by India. Anti-Kashmiri sentiment often takes on a religious tone. In the cricket clashes at NIT, Indian students held up banners that read “Bharat Mata ki Jai”—“victory for Mother India.” The term “Mother India” has recently been a point of controversy; some Indian Muslims believe that the phrase can be equated with idol-worship, treating India as a deity to be worshipped.

India’s governmental chokehold on Kashmir makes a mockery of ‘secularism,’ further legitimates Pakistan’s claims to the region, and inflames Kashmiri discontentment and insurgencies. If India is incontrovertibly dedicated to keeping Kashmir or politically unable to concede it, the government must grant Kashmir the self-rule and power-sharing which other states enjoy. Kashmir cannot function or flourish as an Indian state if the government intends to keep the state held hostage on political grounds.

Kashmir is a territory divided. Many Kashmiris are Hindu and support India; others have given up on the idea of an independent or Pakistani Kashmir and seek normalcy and democracy under the Indian government. However, large, vocal groups still feel dedicated to Pakistan or the idea of a free, independent Kashmir. By crippling Kashmir, India has only made Kashmiri sedition more reasonable and appealing. If India won’t let go of Kashmir, then Kashmiris deserve the same quality of life and respect from the Indian government that other states enjoy. In turn, many Kashmiri rebellions would fizzle out, because the region would finally have a great deal of autonomy and prosperity. Furthermore, Kashmiris would no longer see themselves as the black sheep of India—which inevitably feels linked to Kashmiri religious identity. Then, perhaps, India could actually claim to uphold secularism and religious pluralism within its borders.

Religious Targeting Takes A New Turn

By Dawning Welliver

In Bangladesh, Islamic militant groups launched a string of targeted attacks towards secularist writers and Internet bloggers. Though Bangladesh is officially a secular state, 90.4% of the population is Muslim. An internet “hit list”  statement, released in 2014, traced back Islamic militant group the Ansarullah Bangla Team, is threatening the lives of secular freelance bloggers, writers, and activists, accusing them of being “enemies of Islam.” It demands that “Bangladesh revoke the citizenship of these enemies of Islam” and continues to state that “If not, we will hunt them down in whatever part of God’s world we find them and kill them right there.”

Dangerous political and religious tension in 2009 created the tension between secularists and Islamic fundamentalists that would cause the attacks on these bloggers; 2009 was the year that the Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh was set up in order to investigate war crimes during the War of Independence from Pakistan in 1971.  It was headed by the secular Bangladesh Awami League, one of the two major Bangladeshi political parties. From the beginning of the tribunal, several prominent leaders of the country’s Islamic political party, or Jamaat-e-Islami party were indicted sentenced to life in prison.

Secularists were not satisfied however, and insisted that the party leaders be sentenced to death. As a result, secularists began to protest, calling for the Jamaat-e-Islami party to be banned altogether for its involvement in the 1971 war. These protests were met with counter-demonstrations by Islamic groups, and the situation quickly became violent. The Islamic leaders insisted that secular internet bloggers were atheist and accused them of blasphemy. Islamic extremist groups began targeting bloggers, since blog posts have enabled quick, effective and widespread dissemination of liberal ideas that have harmed Islamists’ religious goals and endeavors.

At least four bloggers on the aforementioned hit list have been gruesomely hacked to death in the past year. Avijit Roy was a Bangladesh-born American, and the author of an online blog entitled “Free Thinking.” In February, he and his wife were attacked on their way back from a book fair in Bangladesh. Roy was hit to death in the head with machetes and knives. In March, Washiqur Rahman, a low-profile writer who criticized “irrational religious beliefs,” was viciously killed right outside his house, by men with meat cleavers and knives. In May, Ananta Bijoy Das, an atheist blogger in support of free expression, was also killed on his way to work by four masked men bearing cleavers and machetes. In August, writer Niloy Neel was hacked to death by six men with machetes in his apartment.  Prior to this hit list and the resulting deaths this year, a different Islamic extremist group called Ansar al Islam Bangladesh published a hit list online. At least 9 of the 84 people mentioned in the hit list were subsequently killed, and many more were attacked.

Unfortunately for Bangladesh, ending the long-standing conflicts of interest between secularist and religious fundamentalists may be a near impossible feat for the moment. Regrettably, this means that free speech, especially secular free speech will continue to come under fire from Islamic extremists who seek to undermine threatening views, furthering the divide between the two groups in Bangladesh.

 

 

Transforming a Desolate Marketplace through Art

By Jung-Min Shin

An “alternative exhibition space” is an unconventional venue that publicly displays artwork – it could be a warehouse, a store front, or in the case of the STONE&WATER exhibitions, a nearly abandoned marketplace. It represents a rebellion against the stereotype that art belongs to white cubicle-shaped galleries, transforming places which are typically unrelated to art into a platform for vibrant creativity and cultural engagement.

While “alternative spaces” have been popular in the United States since the 1970s, they have only gained attention in South Korea during the last decade or so. Initially, these venues were sought out by young South Korean artists who lacked the resources and reputation to display their work at well-established galleries. Recently, however, they have been used as a tool to breathe life back into bleak, deserted spaces, such as the Seoksu Marketplace in Anyang, South Korea.

Seoksu Market was established in 1979 as part of a government initiative to encourage development and economic activity in less populated parts of Anyang. It began as a wholesale produce market that consisted of 120 stores, but it downsized after failing to attract enough customers due to competition with corporate retailers and supermarkets. By 2000, only 30 stores remained in the market, and a strong odor of desolation pervaded the place.

Interestingly, however, things began to change at Seoksu Market with the entrance of a non-profit arts organization directed by Park Chan-eung in 2002. Park, an established South Korean artist who grew up in Anyang himself, recruited his colleagues and younger artists to join him in the transforming the abandoned commerce spot. Calling themselves “STONE&WATER,” the literal meaning of the market’s name, this motivated group of artists aimed to increase public access to art and discover creativity in the ordinary and mundane. To do so, STONE&WATER began by taking up several store spaces and changing them to showcase and work spaces. Its very first exhibition was the “Living Furniture & Public Furniture” show, in which the organization redesigned the interior of a store to a home-like setting that displayed a conglomeration of everyday objects made by artists, such as spoons, bookshelves, and clothes hangers. Since this initiative, STONE&WATER has hosted major public exhibitions on an annual basis, naming the series the “Seoksu Art Project (SAP).” Most recently, SAP focused on the theme of the “Black Market,” in which artists acted as vendors for their own works in a flea market setting.

Besides the SAP, STONE&WATER holds art workshops and educational programs for the local community and facilitates an international artist residency program on a routinely basis. It runs a year-round meeting and workshop space called “Babgeuleut” (rice bowl in Korean), the main avenue through which artists and locals interact with each other. Here, the arts organization invites experts in the arts and humanities fields to hold lectures, operates a mini radio station where locals can run their own broadcasts, and offers various conveniences to nearby merchants, such as electric massagers. As for the residency program, STONE&WATER hosts artists from all over the world to live in Anyang and utilize its exhibition and work spaces, offering them opportunities to partake in the SAP. Artists from various countries, such as Germany, Bangladesh, and New Zealand, as well as diverse fields, like performance art, photography, and craft, have participated in the program.

While initially skeptical of the successfulness and profitability of STONE&WATER’s projects, the Anyang local community is not only the biggest audience for the organization’s endeavors but also its firm supporters today. The activities of STONE&WATER over the last dozen-years have allowed the market to gather increasingly more visitors and media attention, reviving its sense of presence in the city. Slowly but steadily, Seoksu Market has become one of the most unique alternative art spaces in South Korea, and it offers great possibilities for creative developments in the future as well.

Notably, this genuine and powerful renewal of the Seoksu Market would not have been possible if not for STONE&WATER’s long-term dedication to the area. Unlike “guerilla artists,” who exhibit their work on a pop-up basis, moving from one space to the next, STONE&WATER has invested in a single community for over a decade to inspire true transformation. The organization presents art that befits and blends in with the place it inhabits, instead of constructing a temporary show that would soon be forgotten. Given its success so far in attracting both visitors and artists,

STONE&WATER’s more sustainable, long-term goal driven approach seems fruitful. Perhaps, then, more arts organizations should follow in its footsteps in exploring the artistic potential of the most unusual, neglected places, an approach that truly embodies the rebellion against the conventional definition of exhibition venues.

South Korea, Censorship, and the Legacy of the Vietnam War in South East Asia

By Danielle Williamson

In 2001, a series of articles published in Hankyoreh Sinmuh, a South Korean magazine, featured eyewitness accounts of Korean involvement in the Vietnamese war. They detailed Korean atrocities in a manner unprecedented in Korean society. Hankyoreh is a cry against the status quo of the cloud of silence surrounding the over 300,000 South Korean troops who fought in the Vietnam War, known as the “forgotten soldiers” of a forgotten war. This silence has been intentional, the result of concentrated efforts by both the Korean and Vietnamese governments to consolidate power as well as integrate their countries into the global economic sphere. Official commentary on the war has been limited to subtle recognitions and slight gestures of regret in the name of economic progress for the region, leaving the history of Korean involvement in the Vietnam War obscured behind a curtain of fabricated history.

The seeds for the silence can be found in the conclusion of the Korean War. Left governing an unstable infant of a nation thrown into the context of the Cold War and facing not only forming an entirely new government, but also maneuvering within the context of complex and charged geopolitics, South Korea’s leaders turned to autocratic rule, censorship, and a chain of diplomatic decisions that often came at the expense of the country’s citizens. This was done in order to consolidate power and solidify Korea’s place on the world stage.

Syngman Rhee took the lead in establishing a precedent for censorship, enacting the National Security Law in 1949. This gave the government the authority to punish citizens for thoughts, specifically those that aimed to undermine the state and private property, by “preventatively detaining” individuals suspect of “being dangerous and processing unsound thought (Lim 85). In 1950, the Joint Investigations Committee was established with the directive of scouring the countryside for communists and Northern spies. With “no clear legal basis” (Kim Ji 30), the committee prosecuted, and, in extreme cases, executed these suspects. Though the JIC was shut down after the war, it, in addition to the National Security Law, preceded a general trend in Korean politics to use the fear of the public to alter legislative and judicial processes to strengthen leaders’ grips on power in a tumultuous political environment.

Such censorship laws—what many scholars refer to as “thought-control laws” in the context of Korea—picked up in velocity and frequency after Paris Peace Accords, especially during the reign of Chung-Hee. Upon assumption of power in 1961, Chung-Hee immediately added to the canon of thought-control legislation by passing the Korean Central Intelligence Agency Law and the Anticommunist Law (Lim 88). The phrasing of these laws was even more easily abused than their predecessors’ language. They allowed for the prosecution for not only those suspected of conspiring against the state, but also any suspected collaborators or associates—even membership in the conservative party made one vulnerable to being prosecuted under the laws (Lim 85).

Censorship solved the issue of maintaining a leader’s hold on power. An entirely different issue—and perhaps a more pressing one—was how to maintain South Korea’s sovereignty in the shadow of hostile neighbors.  This issue was dependent primarily upon the support of the United States, one half of a peculiarly codependent relationship that ultimately led to Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In American eyes, South Korea remaining capitalist was key to preserving the United States’ legitimacy in Southeast Asia. Note that the United States’ Cold War foreign policy prioritized economic freedoms, not social freedoms. This distinction was evident in post-war Korea’s development into a society that deeply distrusted communism—but lacked the concept of freedom of thought and speech existing as a fundamental right to be guaranteed by the government. By the time South Korea entered the Vietnam War in 1963, it had been an independent country for a mere 18 years, 14 of which had included thought-control laws as a part of normal government legislation.

And South Korea was dependent on the United States not only to maintain a military presence in the region, but also to maintain a viable economy. The war left South Korea poverty stricken, dependent on American aid to survive. Good economic conditions were not just a matter of higher standards of living, they were a matter of national security—in the Cold War era, an unstable economy was considered a breeding ground of Communism (Choi 338). Critical analysts argue that the United States, well-aware of this fact, forced Korea into entering the war by cutting back on South Korea’s desperately-needed financial aid in 1960 and then offering substantially increased foreign aid with the precondition of Korea becoming involved in America’s next front against communism. For this reason, said critical analysts have taken to calling Korean soldiers in Vietnam “mercenaries” (Kim 634).

Korea, of course, took the United States up on its offer, sending the afore-mentioned 300,000 troops abroad, a portion of its population comparable to the American force. Yet the experiences of these two forces was fundamentally different, primarily due to the culture of censorship in South Korea, which drastically altered the domestic reception to and perception of the war.

Korean veterans’ problems stemmed from not societal disgust, but rather governmental negligence—their pain, both mental (post-traumatic stress disorder was common in Korean veterans) and physical, was a dirty stain on the clean image the Chung-hee regime wanted to project. Their stories were casualties of this image, as Hwang Myung Chul, Vice President of Vietnam Veteran’s Association in South Korea, recounts: “We wanted the media to relate our pain and difficulties, but they were told not to. The Government virtually ignored our problems” (qtd. in Sterngold). This included exclusion from a 1984 court decision that guaranteed compensation for Agent Orange-inflicted damage to American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand veterans.  The government responded to the veterans’ pleas for representation with a flat denial (Sterngold).

Though Chung-Hee was eventually deposed and assassinated in a 1979 coup, discussion of Korean involvement in the Vietnam War remained muffled until the late 1990s (Sterngold).  While the continued existence of censorship laws plays some role in this phenomenon—the National Security Law remains on the books to this day (Lim 99)—it is also due in part to a widespread perception in Southeast Asia that Vietnam has “forgotten about the war” (Kim 627). In order to facilitate the friendly diplomatic relations with neighboring countries essential to modernization, Vietnam has adopted an official policy of “closing the past” (Kim 627).

Doi Moi, the Vietnam government’s economic policy that aims to integrate Vietnam into the world market and facilitate economic growth, has accompanied this. South Korea is among the governments Vietnam has reached out to—and South Korea has reached back, actively pursuing an economic partnership with Vietnam to facilitate mutual economic growth. Open discussion of the dark past of Vietnam and South Korea’s relationship is seen as an unnecessary hindrance to this economic development—a figment of the past that would only hamper the potential of the future. Thus, the Vietnamese Ideological and Cultural Commission ordered the Vietnamese press to “not draw attention to the war atrocities on the Korean troops” (Kim 631). On South Korea’s end, a Korean official recently declared “the massacres by the Korean soldiers of Vietnamese civilians should not arise as an issue” (Kim 631).

The end result of these economic policies and half-hearted attempts at reconciliation is the downplaying of the suffering that occurred during the Vietnam War, both as a result of the atrocities committed by South Korean troops and the sacrifices that South Korean “mercenaries” were obligated to make by their government.

The cloud of silence pervades.

Yet Hankoreh stands strong, joined in its mission by the Korean Truth Commission, a grassroots organization, which went so far as to sponsor the authorship of “Forgive us, Vietnam,” a song they proceeded to present as an unofficial apology to the Vietnamese, featuring lyrics such as “We as perpetrators, and you as injured victims/ Tomorrow’s dreams were thrown into the shadows of history” and “Forgive us, Vietnam/ For the tears that you shed in the darkness,/ For the shame that we left in the darkness” (Kim 632).

Until the culture of censorship in South Korea changes, shame of all sorts will continue to be left in the darkness. The government must remember that pushing things under the rug can only go so far—because, as Hankoreh and the Korean Truth Commission prove, people are bound to point out the lump in the carpet eventually. And when they do, they will uncover the discontent of a neglected people.

Lim, Chae-Hong. “The National Security Law And Anticommunist Ideology in Korean Society.” Korea Journal 46.3 (2006): 80-102. Historical Abstracts. Web. 31

Kim Ji, Hyung. “Political Dynamics in The Execution of Suspected Collaborators during the Korean War.” Korea Journal 52.2 (2012): 30-61. Historical Abstracts. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Sterngold, James. “South Korea’s Vietnam Veterans Begin to Be Heard.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 May 1992. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

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