Don’t let students hold the banner
Since July 12, candlelight vigils have been continuing from 7 p.m. at the county office parking lot. At first, 300 locals gathered voluntarily to protest the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile defense system in Seongju. By July 17, the number of protesters had grown to 1,500. The Seongju Office of Education estimated that 200 elementary, middle and high school students in the county participated in the protest.
On July 15, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn visited the county office for an information session on the decision to deploy Thaad in Seongju. Hwang said, “Once again, we are sorry that we couldn’t inform you earlier.”
But the residents condemned him and protested, “we oppose the Thaad deployment,” “guarantee us the right to live,” and “you should come live here.” Hwang was surrounded by fuming local residents and tractors for six and half hours.
Hundreds of students witnessed the scene. Many students were close to tears and said that they also oppose the Thaad deployment.
When student participants increased suddenly, the Committee Against Thaad Deployment in Seongju requested parents to make sure their children do not participate in the rallies and protests during the school day, while adding that participating in candlelight vigils after school is voluntary.
The surprise and resistance of Seongju residents was expected as the government suddenly chose Seongju as the Thaad site. It is understandable that the farmers are concerned about the potential damage to melon production. Seonju produces 70 percent of Korea’s melons.
The government is primarily responsible for failing to explain to local residents the possible consequences and issues that the residents are worried about, such as potential health risks, prior to the announcement.
Nevertheless, young students’ participation in the Thaad protests leaves a bitter taste. Some people are worried that it could unfold like the mad cow disease rallies in 2008 did during the Lee Myung-bak administration.
At this juncture, the Committee Against Thaad Deployment declared that it will stage peaceful demonstrations, asking outsiders to stay away from local protests.
Now that peaceful protests will hopefully replace violent rallies, let’s have the grown-ups handle the Thaad issue in a responsible manner. Let’s send young children who are handing out leaflets on a hot summer day back to the classroom.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 20, Page 30
*The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.