WASHINGTON ― Twenty Korean-American elected officials sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday urging him to avoid “dangerous language” on North Korea and to instead focus on a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.
“While we agree that measures must be taken to reduce or end the tensions on the Korean peninsula,” they wrote, “we respectfully urge you to reconsider the way you and your Administration are reacting to this situation by avoiding dangerous language that could end up unnecessarily escalating the conflicts even more.”
They also urge Trump to “fully staff your State Department with policy experts who understand the Korean peninsula.”
The letter marks the first time Korean-American elected officials have joined together to speak publicly on a national issue, according to Virginia Del. Mark Keam, who spearheaded the effort with Philadelphia City Council member Helen Gym.
Earlier this week, Trump threatened to rain “fire, fury … the likes of which this world has never seen before” down on North Korea. Keam and Gym, both Democrats, realized they needed to bring Korean-Americans’ perspectives to the president’s attention.
“I think it’s incredibly important, especially as I’m watching generals, war hawks and pundits talk about Asia and its people as pretty much disposable collateral damage,” Gym told HuffPost.
I’m watching generals, war hawks and pundits talk about Asia and its people as pretty much disposable collateral damage. Philadelphia City Council member Helen Gym
The letter notes that there are 1.8 million Korean-Americans in the United States. While they make up one of the fastest-growing immigrant communities in the country and the fifth-largest Asian community, there are no Korean-Americans serving in Congress.
Someone needed to share Korean-Americans’ concerns about the prospect of a new war on the Korean peninsula, Keam told HuffPost. Considering the lack of Korean-American political representation at the national level, he and Gym thought, “Why not us?”
“I kind of realized, maybe me being a state legislator, maybe I am in a position where I have a little bit of an obligation to speak, not on behalf of everybody, but at least raise a concern that I know they have,” Keam said.
A war between the U.S. and North Korea ― particularly a nuclear war ― would likely cause millions of casualties in both North and South Korea. But that point is often dismissed by the president, his White House aides and pro-war members of Congress.
Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that “If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here.”
Many Korean-Americans are first- or second-generation immigrants with close relatives on the Korean peninsula. They don’t see their family members as collateral damage. And they’re not only worried about potential deaths in South Korea, but in the North as well.
Gym is a second-generation Korean-American. Her father was born in Pyongyang before the Korean War, which separated him from his mother and sisters. Gym’s grandmother has since died, but her aunts may still be living in the North.
“One of the things that has been really difficult ... is the idea that somehow the North Korean people and the South Korean people are completely different entities, when, in fact, we’re one people divided by war,” Gym said.
She added, “There’s no question that I’m one of millions of Korean families who’ve seen our families torn apart by all of this. What we’re looking for is not only an end to the brinksmanship and not only a peaceful resolution; we actually want to see a unified Korea.”
Noting that she is not “naive” about the North Korean dictatorship, Gym said, “We just have to reject this narrative that somehow there’s this othering of all of North Korea, including its people, because I think it’s a danger to our humanity and civilization.”
Keam also noted that war on the Korean peninsula would threaten approximately 150,000 American citizens who currently live in South Korea. This includes 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in the Yongsan district of Seoul. (The governor of Guam has made a similar point, noting the many American citizens who live on Pacific islands.)
Citing memories of both the Korean War and the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan at the end of World War II, the elected officials write, “The cost of maintaining peace may be difficult, but it is always a better deal than paying the ultimate price of war. And when it comes to atomic or nuclear weapons, we must collectively say, ‘Never Again.’”
It’s just the beginning of Korean-American leaders’ efforts to speak out on this issue, Gym and Keam said.
“Even though we’re all Korean-Americans serving in state and local elected positions, we’ve never really come together before this week on behalf of Korean-Americans or Korean issues ― mainly because we have just diverse constituencies,” Keam said. “It would be shocking to me for a community of that caliber and that relevance to just sit there and say this doesn’t really affect us.”
Read the letter 20 Korean-American elected officials sent to Trump below.
August 10, 2017
President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are a group of Korean American elected officials who serve at the state and local levels of governments throughout the United States. Like all Americans, we are unnerved by North Korea’s continuing display of military actions and saber rattling rhetoric, and we fully recognize the threat that this regime presents to its own citizens and to the entire world.
There are more than 1.8 million Americans of Korean ancestry living in the United States today, many of whom we represent as constituents. While we agree that measures must be taken to reduce or end the tensions on the Korean peninsula, we respectfully urge you to reconsider the way you and your Administration are reacting to this situation by avoiding dangerous language that could end up unnecessarily escalating the conflicts even more.
The Republic of Korea is one of the world’s great democracies and a strong economic and military partner for the United States. It is also one of the most populated regions of the world, with 51 million people living in South Korea and 25 million people living – mostly unwillingly – under authoritarian rule in North Korea.
South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, has a population of 10 million living just 35 miles from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Among them are nearly 30,000 American military service members and civilians who work closely with the Republic of Korea’s government to protect our mutual interests. There are also over 130,000 American citizens who live, work or study in Korea today.
On a peninsula this small in geography, it is clear that no military action involving “fire and fury like the world has never seen” can be targeted solely at the North Korean regime. Any such attack will be absolutely devastating to the entire peninsula and surrounding regions, not to mention the long-term effects of destabilized international relations, destroyed communities, and depressed economies.
Mr. President, this is not a time for any side to escalate the language of warfare and to introduce the threat of nuclear weapons.
As Korean Americans, we have clear and deep memories of the last time military conflict arose on the Korean peninsula. Over 36,000 Americans gave their lives to fight against communism. Millions of Korean families live with collective memories of both the American and Korean bloodshed and the unending yearning for those loved ones who were lost or separated during the three year war.
As Asian Americans, we are also painfully aware of the unspeakable tragedy and destruction from weapons of mass destruction deployed in a small region, as we reflect upon the 72nd anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this week.
If we have learned any lessons from WWII, it is that the cost of maintaining peace may be difficult, but it is always a better deal than paying the ultimate price of war. And when it comes to atomic or nuclear weapons, we must collectively say, “Never Again.”
That is why we ask you to pursue all diplomatic options and strategies and to fully staff your State Department with policy experts who understand the Korean peninsula, so that, working with all stakeholders, we can find a workable and permanent peaceful resolution.
Helen Gym Mark Keam
Councilmember At Large Delegate, Dist. 35
Philadelphia, PA Virginia House of Delegates
Susan Shin Angulo, Freeholder, Camden County, NJ
Mark Chang, Delegate, Dist. 32, Maryland House of Delegates
Christopher Chung, Councilmember, Borough of Palisades Park, NJ
Grace Han Cunningham, Councilmember At Large, Herndon, VA
Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, Pennsylvania
Patty Kim, Representative, Dist. 103, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Ron Kim, State Assemblyman, Dist. 40, New York State Assembly
Peter Kwon, Councilmember, SeaTac, WA
Jin Lee, School Board Member, Maine Township D207, IL
Sylvia Chang Luke, State Representative, Dist. 25, HI
David Moon, Delegate, Dist. 20, Maryland House of Delegates
Ilryong Moon, School Board Member At Large, Fairfax County, VA
David E. Ryu, Councilmember, District 4, Los Angeles, CA
Dennis Shim, Councilmember Ridgefield, NJ
Marilyn Strickland, Mayor, Tacoma, WA
Dr. Young Seok Suh, Former Councilmember, Crescenta Valley, CA
Daniel Park, Councilmember, Borough of Tenafly, NJ
Mark Park, Councilmember, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
Sam Park, Representative, Dist. 101, Georgia House of Representatives