Today, the Sailors of the George Washington Battlegroup are steaming towards the Yellow Sea, to participate in Naval Exercises with South Korea, in response to North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island this week. Of course, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and the Sailors will be absent from their families once again. For Sailors in the Forward Deployed Naval Forces, this is routine. I have had my share of Thanksgiving meals served shipboard, and I don’t miss them. In fact, I missed plenty of Christmases, Birthdays, and Weddings as well. Today, I give thanks that I am home with my family, and that these Sailors and their families are making a sacrifice for all of us. It is certainly not easy, as my wife will attest.
It was a busy weekend in my old stomping ground, the Western Pacific. Late last week South Korea announced that clear evidence points to a North Korean submarine in the March 26 attack on the South Korean corvette Cheonan. South Korea, with U.S. backing, announced that it would sever all trade with North Korea, which would deny the Stalinist regime an estimated 14.5% of its international trade and $253 Million in revenue. Of course, North Korea relies on China for much of its trade, and China is and an awkward position. One wonders if this crisis dance will ever end, or whether China will take a firm hand with North Korea. It looks like this will be a busy summer in the waters off the Korean Peninsula.
Further south, Japan relented to American pressure and agreed to keep the Marine Corps Air Station on the island, against the wishes of Okinawans. This was a loss of face for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who campaigned on a promise to remove the air base from Okinawa. The islanders have been upset with the American presence on Okinawa since the 1995 rape and abduction of a 12 year old girl by two Marines and a Sailor. The history of this island is fascinating, and revealing. Until 1868 it was part of the Ryukyu Kingdom, an independent regional trade hub between China and Japan; Japan annexed the island and it became the Ryukyu prefecture in 1879. Just a few weeks ago, on the excellent Tom Hanks-produced mini-series The Pacific, the Battle of Okinawa was portrayed; over 150,000 U.S. and Japanese troops, and over 100,000 Okinawans died during the 82-day battle, which the Americans fought to get a staging ground to attack the Japanese mainland. The island was actually under U.S control from 1945-1972, and many military bases were built on the island. Okinawa is perched in the East China Sea at a location that all but guarantees its continued military significance.
UPDATE: (5/25) NY Times: Relations between North and South Korea, already strained over the sinking of a South Korean warship, deteriorated to their worst point in years on Tuesday as the South Korean president redesignated the North as its archenemy, and the North said it would sever its few remaining ties with the South.