by Yoo Seungki
SEONGJU, South Korea, March 7 (Xinhua) -- When they heard the news report that Lotte signed a contract with the defense ministry to exchange its golf course for military land, they fell into great panic. The bad feeling lasted for days, making the naive, old farmers wandering what to do.
Lotte International, a unit of Lotte Group, South Korea's fifth-largest family-controlled conglomerate, agreed on Feb. 27 to a land swap deal for the U.S. missile defense system - Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). It was formally signed with the military the following day.
"We wept in each other's arms. Grannies wept sorrowfully, shedding tears over just looking at each other. A couple of days had passed in panic," said Im Soon-bun, head of a women's society in Soseong-ri, a little peaceful village in Seongju county, North Gyeongsang province where the U.S. missile shield is scheduled to be sited.
However, they did not sit idly. The villagers stopped weeping and plucked up courage to fight against THAAD. Im said on Saturday that she planned to participate in candlelit vigils, which were to be held in a nearby city, in an effort to make known the legitimacy of their fight and the seriousness of the issue.
Soseong-ri is just a secluded tranquil village in southeasten South Korea without the installment of THAAD system. But, it will never be possible as the deployment decision turned the peaceful village into the frontline of a battlefield to protest the U.S. anti-missile system.
Along the sole road to the village, it is filled with placards and signposts to express their strong opposition to THAAD, which they depict as offensive weapons. The village hall, in front of which the society chief was interviewed, is surrounded by anti-THAAD placards and the lines of white clothes on which their longing for peace is written.
The entrance road to the golf course, just 2 km away from the village hall, was blocked by a squad of policemen who were waving electronic baton to ban anyone from approaching the THAAD site. Police buses stood along the road, with pairs of policemen patrolling near the check point.
The ingenuous farmers, mostly in their 80s and 90s, always feel anxious and unnerved as they face an overbearing police power for the first time, said Yoon Young-eun, a duty director of the anti-THAAD protest in the village with just 150 people.
To prevent the old-age warriors, almost 1,000 policemen are stationed on duty, blockading the two main roads to the golf course, according to the director.
A major fight against the THAAD deployment has already begun in downtown area of the Seongju county. The entire downtown is filled with anti-THAAD banners in every nook and corner. Every resident, who was interviewed, eagerly explained what they have fought for.
The locals have fought for peace in their hometown and their country as shown in one of the famous slogans that reads "THAAD Out, Peace In." They believe THAAD, which is incapable of defending South Korea from missile attacks from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), will raise threats of war and economic risk.
THAAD has a very limited capability to intercept DPRK missiles as it is designed to shoot down incoming missiles at an altitude of 40-150 km. Most of DPRK missiles targeting South Korea travel at an altitude of less than 40 km.
THAAD's X-band radar can peer deep into territories of China and Russia, causing strong backlashes from the two countries. Two of the ground-based X-band radars for THAAD have been placed in Japan.
It breaks regional strategic balance as the U.S. missile defense (MD) strategy will make useless the mutual assured destruction (MAD) in Northeast Asia. The MD is aggressive in nature as more missile shields of one side inevitably bring more nuclear missiles of the opposing side that can break through the anti-missile system.
"(South) Korea has nothing to gain (from the THAAD deployment). It is a weapons system only benefitting the U.S. and Japan. We first want peace in our village, and eventually in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia," said an owner of a coffee shop near the Seongju county office.
She has witnessed protest rallies since last summer as her shop is located across a parking lot, which the residents named as "Peace Butterfly Square." The space symbolizing their longing for peace has resonated with shout for "Stop THAAD" every night following the abrupt announcement in July last year of the THAAD installation.
Their anger was vented on President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached for an influence-peddling scandal that destroyed the normal management of state affairs. Before the December impeachment, their disappointment and resentment at Park had been kindled by a strong feeling of being betrayed.
"Park Chung-hee was once a God-like figure here on recognitions that people were better off by his favor. Almost all of Seongju people were supporters for Park Geun-hye (in the 2012 presidential election) just because she is his daughter," said Bang Min-joo, an owner of a bakery which sells bread having the shape of an oriental melon, the county's specialty.
The Gyeongsang province, including the county, had been a traditional support base for the impeached president and her party, which recently changed its name into the Liberty Korea Party.
The THAAD deployment decision affected the daily life of all Seongju residents. Bang said he postponed the open date of his bakery for six months because of the THAAD outbreak.
Many local farmers reduced the scale of Korean melon farming to make their protest known to the public across the country.
The bakery was decorated with blue and yellow ribbons, which symbolize the anti-THAAD protest and the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster. On April 16, 2014, the passenger vessel capsized and sank in waters off the southwest coast, claiming over 300 lives, mostly high school students on a school trip to the Jeju island.
"We got to realize how severe their agony was after we suffered from the same distortion by the government and the media. We were isolated by distorted media reports and were reviled by the government as pro-North Korea (DPRK) followers," said Bang.
Lee Kang-tae, a Seongju resident who visited the bakery, told Xinhua that he was "duped" by biased media reports. Following the THAAD incident, Lee realized the victims had suffered from the same as he did, driving him to always wear yellow and blue ribbons together.
"I do not trust (South) Korean media nor did grannies and granddads in our village," said Lee Seok-joo, foreman of Soseong-ri village where the Lotte golf course is located. He said all of the villagers had lost their normal life since the THAAD issue erupted.
Im Soon-bun, the female association's head of Soseong-ri, said grannies are fighting for next generations as they believe the war weapons must never exist in their hometown and anywhere in their home country.
On Saturday night, Seongju residents gathered at the Peace Butterfly Square to attend the 235th candlelit protest rally. As usual, they shouted "THAAD Out, Peace In" that echoed throughout the peaceful town.