Soseong-ri: An Outpost for Peace Against Thaad

By Dae-Han Song (Chief Editor, The [su:p])

The village of Soseong-ri is nestled among mountains, with one lone road leading to and running through it. Cloistered from the rest of the world, the village appears still, even as breezes rustle its leaves, bushes and trees. It exists calm, peaceful, breathing.

An elder extols its clean water, air and home-grown food. “No one’s sick here,” she concludes. She recalls how during the Korean War, its location protected Soseong-ri from the worst of the fighting. “The People’s Army soldiers, they were so well behaved,” she says. A North Korean hospital was set up here to bring the wounded from nearby battlezones. They’d look at the grandmas and remark how it reminded them of home.”

The lone road that leads to Soseong-ri continues a few kilometers down to the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile shield. Although it was ostensibly established to block missiles from North Korea, closer inspection of its location and capability reveals its true function: detecting high-altitude missiles from China. 1 Thaad places Soseongri at the faultlines of war and peace in Asia. The villagers and ally occupiers have set up a blockade on the road to prevent Thaad components and personnel from entering. My traveling companion and I come to this last outpost against Thaad to learn about their struggle for peace.

At the core of the blockade and opposition to Thaad are the villagers: the youngest in her mid-60s but most of them in their 80s and 90s. “We are plainspoken. We don’t use big words. Simply, we want peace,” says Eum Goon-seun, president of the village’s association of mothers. “We want to live peacefully like right now. We don’t want the current North-South tension. North Korea shoots missiles. South Korea installs Thaad. We want them to figure this out through dialogue. All of the elders have lived through the Korean War, so we don’t want war. Since there are nuclear weapons now, even if one lands then the whole country goes. Let’s not do this. Let’s dialogue.” Those involved in the anti-Thaad fight explain how the struggle might have started as a NIMBY 2 fight against the potential harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation, 3 but it has become a much larger fight for peace in the Korean Peninsula, the region and the world: Thaad’s approach of intercepting missiles fails to address the root cause – war – and simply escalates the arms race in the region with each country finding ways to outdo the other’s missiles and missile defense systems.

We catch a ride to the nearby city of Seongju to attend the 312th candlelight protest against Thaad. These candlelight protests have taken place through winter snow and summer downpours. “In the winter, we turn on these stoves that we made,” says Kim Chun-hwan, chair of the Seongju branch of the Anti-Thaad Committee. “In the rain, we wear raincoats.”

The candlelight protests have continued even after protests successfully expelled Thaad from the city. “If we want to protect peace and people’s lives, then we have to block this,” Kim says. “Our consciousness increased like this, and that’s why we keep fighting.” Thaad’s importance is felt beyond Soseong-ri, beyond Seongju, to all across the country.

After the candlelight protest ends around 9 pm, we catch a ride back to Soseong-ri. Next to the blockade, a wood stove cooks squid and sweet potatoes, and people gathered in chairs sing songs while strumming on guitars. Tonight, the Kims are at the center of the singing: mother and father on guitars, daughter on flute and son tending the stove’s fire. The father and mother had been part of the student movement as cultural activists in their college days. After steadily attending the candlelight protests in Busan, this weekend they decided that instead of camping, they would plop their tent next to the occupation site. My traveling companion picks up a guitar and joins the singing. Her music unlocks a way into this community. I eagerly follow her in.

After singing Korean movement songs, she is asked to sing those social movement classics: “Yesterday,” “Let It be,” “Imagine.” Several hours later, we rise to sleep, but open protestations keep us. “Another song.” Thirty minutes later, we are finally allowed to go. These bonds formed over music, fried chicken and makgeolli remain in the morning. My timidity melts, and I approach people to hear their thoughts and stories.

“I never sang and played guitar in public before coming here,” Jeong Jin-seok admits after I compliment his singing during the Catholic mass. He is from Daegu and has lived in the tent since the April 26 struggle when, in the final days of the previous administration, 4 800 police rammed through key components of Thaad through the bodies of the occupiers and the village elders. After April 26, he realized he needed to stand guard here permanently until the issue was resolved. 

I interview Kim Chae-young of Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea (Spark)  who’s been here since March when it was announced that the Lotte corporation signed a contract allowing the government to situate Thaad upon its golf course. Six years ago, inspired by the Gangjeong Village struggle against the U.S. naval base, he quit his job and joined the peace movement full time. He finds hope in the new political landscape created by the candlelight protests. While President Moon hasn’t ruled out Thaad, he has stated he will investigate the implementation process of the previous government and go through the proper legal process. North Korea’s recent missile launches along with people’s misunderstanding that Thaad will protect Korea have put public opinion at 50-50. Kim hopes closer inspection of the problems and fundamental limitation and purpose of Thaad will tip public opinion against it, paving the way for a complete blocking of Thaad.

A woman announces that breakfast is ready then adds that lunch will be spicy bean noodles. I sit by Lee Young-woo, a teacher at a technical high school in Pohang and a member of the Korean Teachers Union. He had played and sang the night before flourishing his notes with added finger work. “I’m usually the drummer.” It’s easy to imagine him playing guitar for his students. He also started coming after April 26. He scarfs down the soup thirstily to deal with his hangover.

I continue talking with allies and villagers to hear their stories until it’s time to leave. As we drive off to the bus station, I talk with the driver whose wife had coordinated our rides, lodging and food. She drives here almost every day. “Thirty minutes with no traffic. An hour and thirty with traffic.” He comes every weekend despite his busy schedule. Sometimes, they bring their children. For their wedding anniversary, he took time off work, and they both promptly spent it in Soseong-ri.

I hear all their stories for they weave into the resolution that will fortify this outpost.


  1. Since Thaad is meant for high-altitude missiles, its location in Seongju would be unable to detect short and medium-range missiles aimed at the greater Seoul metropolitan area, where nearly 50 percent of South Korea’s population resides. 
  2. NIMBY is short for “not in my backyard” and refers to community struggles against locating perceived as harmful or dangerous projects of installations in their neighborhoods. 
  3. NIMBY is short for “not in my backyard” and refers to community struggles against locating perceived as harmful or dangerous projects of installations in their neighborhoods. 
  4. Following the impeachment and removal from office of President Park Geun-hye, her prime minister served as acting president.