"But I don’t want to go among mad people," said Alice. "Oh, you can’t help that," said the cat. "We’re all mad here." ~ Lewis Carroll
Current scenario: Nineteen guys with box cutters instigated the "Global War on Terror" seven years ago, which is directed by the US government against a guy who is said to be holed up in a Pakistani cave and his "Islamofascist" organization. Really. As a part of the "GWOT" the United States is currently fighting two wars, one of them for almost seven years and the other for over five, which is over-reacting just a tad, I’d say. As a result the US military is stretched thin. Many are being killed and injured so the need for human and economic resources to continue these wars is an onerous burden on the country. The enlistments of soldiers are being involuntarily extended, national guard troops are being activated and soldiers with mental disability are being sent back to the war zones. Huge supplemental budgets are passed to fund these wars, which shift a billion dollars every couple of days into greedy hands. These expenditures, along with the routine military corporate-welfare expenditures of another three billion dollars every couple of days have driven the national debt to sky-high levels, with every man, woman and child in the US bearing a $30,000 portion of the national debt. Printing all this additional money has deflated the value of the dollar, and the resulting inflation of prices has caused a heavy burden on Americans and diverted resources from domestic infrastructure needs. It’s a time of giant folly and dire need.
That’s madness enough but the Pentagon has found a way to exceed its own limits, to waste resources in irrelevant places while spending additional borrowed-billions on the US empire. At a time when people and dollars are stretched to the breaking point, the mad hatters in the Pentagon puzzle palace, prattling persistently about the "GWOT," have found a place to build a new military city. It’s in a faraway place, completely unrelated to "Islamofascists." It’s not down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole, but it might as well be. This new military city, this wonderland, this new bulking up of the US empire, this novel way to spend money that we don’t have uselessly is in the land of the rising sun, Korea.
Korea isn’t that the place where the US fought a war over half a century ago? But that’s over, isn’t it? Isn’t that the country that produces the inexpensive Hyundai and Kia automobiles which are now partially responsible for Detroit seeking $50B in loans from Congress? Korea, with the thirteenth ranking economy of the world?
Korea is obviously not a combat zone any longer, and hasn’t been for fifty years. The US Secretary of Defense has recently, finally gotten around to admitting it. On June 4, 2008, Robert Gates acknowledged that the threat of an attack from the North doesn’t exist. "I don’t think anybody considers the Republic of Korea today a combat zone," Mr. Gates told reporters on the final day of a weeklong Asian trip. You can see that this guy earns his salary with innovative thinking like that. I guess the intelligence on Korea is improved over what it was for Iraq.
Carlton Meyer: "North Korean soldiers suffer from malnutrition and rarely train due to a scarcity of fuel and ammo. Most North Korean soldiers could not attack because they are needed to defend the entire DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone) and coastal approaches (they remember the 1950 landing at Inchon) while entire divisions must remain throughout North Korea to fend off heliborne offensives, food riots, and probable coups.
"On the other hand, the entire 700,000 man South Korean active duty army can be devoted to the defense of [Korea]. The modern South Korean army is backed by over 5,000,000 well-trained reservists who can be called to duty in hours. South Korea has twice the population of the North, thirty times its economic power, and spends three times more on its military each year. South Korean military equipment is first class whereas most of the North Korean military equipment is over 30 years old and much is inoperable due to a lack of maintenance. If war broke out, South Korea has a massive industrial capacity and $94 billion in foreign currency reserves to sustain a war, while North Korea has no industry and no money. As a result, South Korea is roughly five times more powerful than North Korea."
South Korea can obviously defend itself, a fact which will result in the Pentagon grudgingly allowing South Korea, not right away but four years from now, to control its own military after sixty years of US support and training. (Contrast this with Iraq, where the Iraqi President has taken control of the New Iraqi Army.)
The Pentagon has finally grasped the truth. SecDef Gates, the Grand Chief Military Vizier of the Empire, announced last November that there would be a realignment plan and a transition of control of allied forces to a South Korean joint military command by 2012. Gates: "Our discussions touched on transformation and realignment of U.S. Forces Korea, measures to increase defense preparedness, and South Korean plans to increase its defense capabilities. In particular, we had a good discussion and review of how we plan to transition wartime operational control of Republic of Korea forces by 2012."
Gen. Joseph Fil, 8th Army commander and chief of staff of US Forces Korea: "It is a transformation in the command and control." As part of the transformation, the Army will relinquish to the Republic of Korea army its leadership role in the demilitarized zone in the north. Most importantly, the responsibility for the defense of Korea will be passed to its rightful stakeholders the South Koreans. That transfer of operational control is currently expected to take place in April 2012. In place of the combined forces command, the Koreans will stand up their own headquarters, under the ROK’s joint chiefs of staff. The United States will, in turn, stand up a Korea Command in the country to provide support. Fil "It is a transformation in the command and control." Spoken like a true General of the Empire, no? Generals love command and control, even when nothing’s going on.
In June, Gates said that Korea is not a combat zone and he supported extending the tours of thousands of troops stationed there to three years and allowing their spouses and children to live with them during their assignments. There has been no public discussion of this matter, and not even a Pentagon press conference, as there are on other matters, most of them trivial. But there were news report of the Great One’s momentous decision. SEOUL, South Korea, June 2, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today he’s not only receptive to extending U.S. troop deployments here to three-year, accompanied tours, but personally believes it’s "overdue." "I don’t think anybody considers the Republic of Korea today a combat zone. . .I don’t see a reason why our troops in Korea should have unaccompanied tours any more," Gates said, particularly in light of planned operational and quality-of-life changes under way here. Gates conceded that permitting the 28,000 U.S. troops here to bring their families with them has financial implications, because it would require more family housing and other facilities and services. "But as a matter of principle, I think it is past time," he said.
The Grand Chief Military Vizier of the Empire has determined that financial implications shouldn’t stand in the way of doing something that is "past time," and he kindly gave the news to reporters while on a foreign trip.
The New York Times then picked up the story, with an interesting twist at the end. SEOUL, South Korea, June 4, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that he supported extending the tours of thousands of troops stationed here to three years and allowing their spouses and children to live with them during their assignments. His endorsement adds momentum to a policy shift favored by commanders to improve the quality of life for most of the 28,500 troops assigned to South Korea on unaccompanied 12-month tours. Such a change would also reverse decades of Pentagon policy for South Korea, acknowledging that the threat of an attack from the North has declined . . ."I don’t think anybody considers the Republic of Korea today a combat zone" Gates said. . . .But Mr. Gates, elaborating on comments he made on Monday, noted that extending tours and allowing families to join soldiers here would require building more housing and consideration of other financial and logistical details, suggesting that such a step was still years away.
"Still years away?" We’ll get to that.
The Associated Press picked up the story on June 6th, and it was published in the Air Force Times: "As a matter of principle, I think it’s past time" to extend the tours to three years and allow troops to bring their families with them, Gates told reporters traveling with him on the plane to Seoul. "It communicates that … our view of the reality here is that the Republic of Korea is literally safe enough for our families to be present." But, the Air Force Times adds: The Air Force is not moving toward "normalized" tours on the Korean peninsula, Capt. John Ross, a spokesman for the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan, told Air Force Times in March. The number of accompanied tours at Osan Air Base will increase slightly during the next three years from 5 percent to 10 percent and Kunsan Air Base will remain at 100 percent one-year, unaccompanied tours. So, while Gates failed to make this clear, the "normalization" of military tours in Korea apparently applies only to the Army. In Korea, Air Force tours will not be normal.
Why do we need nearly 30,000 US troops in combat-free Korea, at a time when resources are needed elsewhere and the South Koreans can defend themselves? As Charley Reese said about Japan, are we expecting the Mongols to descend? Why does the Pentagon claim that the South Korean army, after fifty years of US support, is only "increasingly capable?" And not only does the US have troops in Korea, but it is extending their tours of duty and thereby spending billions of dollars to provide them and their families which can now accompany them with all the amenities they will need for the next hundred years.
US bases in Korea will undergo a transformation. The US Military will reduce its presence from 41 installations down to just 10, while one installation, Camp Humphreys, undergoes a huge expansion.
At Camp Humphreys, in the central part of South Korea, construction is already underway for the move. In addition to housing operational facilities, Camp Humphreys will also include facilities to support military families. There are new schools, childcare centers, gymnasiums, playgrounds, dining facilities and family housing. The new infrastructure is being put in place because the Army plans on changing two things about a soldier’s assignment to Korea. First, tour lengths will be "normalized," as they are in other locations. Instead of one year, they will be three years. Second, instead of telling soldiers they must leave their families back in the States, they will be allowed to bring them along to Korea,
Officials at Camp Humphreys have begun an $8.2 billion-dollar construction project, with some financial aid from the South Korea government, building high-rises full of single-soldier barracks, bachelor officers’ quarters and family apartments.
"It’s the right thing to do," said 8th Army Commander Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Fil. "This alliance is strong and enduring. It will last through the 21st century and beyond. It is time to make this permanent instead of doing it one year at a time." A hundred more years! A hundred plus fifty already passed!! Permanent!! Where have we heard that before? General Fil has served in Iraq that’s it! (Meanwhile, the funding for Afghan security forces, supposedly a high priority in the "GWOT," is budgeted at $3 billion, much less than the expenditures in Korea.)
The troops at Camp Humphreys will get spiffy new barracks buildings, with the latrine and showers at the end, right?
This will not be your father’s barracks. Each enlisted soldier arriving in Korea can expect what officials call the "two-plus-two" standard: one roommate and a private bathroom attached to their room. The furniture can also be arranged to divide the room into two separate areas, giving each soldier as much privacy as possible. The ultimate goal, officials said, is a private room for every soldier.
And the families will get the familiar plain vanilla Wherry and Capehart housing units, right?
No, not by a long shot.
Homer Capehart would be shocked. To house the families which will now accompany soldiers on assignment to non-combat zone Korea, the Army plans to build thirty-six 12-to-15-story apartment buildings that will house almost 3,000 families. The sizes will vary, but the apartments will be larger than the standard in the States or Europe. The model has four bedrooms, two bathrooms and almost 2,000 square feet, with space for a living area, dining area and a den. Three of the towers have already been completed, are surrounded by playgrounds and are within walking distance of the post elementary school.
Thirty-six 12-to-15-story apartment buildings for families, plus others for unaccompanied soldiers and officers, and note that "three of the towers have already been completed" which means that Gates was a bit off-truth when he suggested that such a step was still years away. So it’s a fait accompli it is being done, and we heard all about it, well not quite all, from Gates on a plane to Seoul. This is a government? But I digress.
The kids will they have schools and other facilities?
Camp Humphreys will gain a 40,000 square-foot education center and a new food, beverage and entertainment complex. Both the child-development center and the school at Humphreys are rapidly expanding and offer the newest facilities in Korea. Right now, Humphreys’ elementary school can accommodate 255 students; soon it will be able to accommodate about 350, and new schools are planned. The new child development center is only partially full now and can accommodate about 300 children.
That little pool in the back of the NCO club will be great in the summer, right?
No, they have more.
Humphreys has a "Splish ‘N Splash" water park with different water slides that as many as 500 people visit at once in the summer, and a miniature golf course.
And a sweaty gym?
Many of the units will have their own, smaller gyms in addition to the "Super Gym," which, when completed, will be one of the largest in the Army, with more than 100,000 square feet.
General Fil: "Korea’s a great place to be assigned. We seek to make this be the dream assignment for soldiers," he said. And it is a dream assignment, at a time when it’s a nightmare to be sent back to the Iraq killing fields for the third or fourth time, or to the Afghanistan quagmire.
The Fletchers agree that Korea is a great assignment. Sgt. Delaina Lynn Fletcher, who married Spc. Lonnie Fletcher while in Korea and recently had a baby, said she’s taken advantage of a number of classes in childbirth and parenting offered by Army Community Services in Seoul. The assignment, she said, is very family friendly. She and her husband don’t have jobs that require a lot of time in the field, so they can focus on each other and their baby. In Korea, they have a dream assignment.
Chalmers Johnson: "The total of America’s military bases in other people’s countries in 2005, according to official sources, was 737. Reflecting massive deployments to Iraq and the pursuit of President Bush’s strategy of preemptive war, the trend line for numbers of overseas bases continues to go up." Yes, it will be literally up, with more than 36 tall apartment buildings at Camp Humphreys, Pyeongtaek, Korea.
The sun never sets on the American military empire, and now we have high-rise housing and a Splish N Splash water park in the land of the rising sun, which can only be done in a remote conflict-free zone. Krazy in Korea! The guy in the cave must love it.
Note: Much of the information in this article was taken from the August 2008 issue of Soldiers Magazine (pdf).
August 27, 2008