The following is the address given by Cheolho Choi, the founder of the Bargn Nuri Community to the London Conference of the Pilgrimage for Life and Peace hosted by Bargn Nuri  and Christian CND. The event took place at St Ethelburga’s in London and was part of the 1000 Day Pilgrimage by Bargn Nuri which is started in 2020.

In the autumn of 2017, the Korean Peninsula was filled with tensions, and a war almost broke out. Amidst such crisis, we believed it meant the darkest moment before the dawn. This darkness was going to be followed by a new morning, putting an end to the remaining legacy of the empires that surrounded the Korean Peninsula for 130 years and an end to the Korean division and war that has lasted for 70 years. And we began our 1000-day Life and Peace Pilgrimage.

It is our hope that the divided Korean Peninsula will be revived to be a land of life and peace. That we will be a messenger for life and peace to humankind that is suffering from violence. The Korean unification is about building a peace community in Northeast Asia. It will work for abolishing nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. And create a global community that is free of war. We hope that the Korean unification will go beyond the political unification of Koreas and bring about a process for restoring the ecological life where the heaven, earth and humans live in harmony. With the hope for peace in the Korean Peninsula, Northeast Asia and the earth community, we have gathered here today.

To this day, the Korean people are carrying the burdens of the imperialist invasion, the Korean division, war and severe damage to nature caused by the arrogance and sin of 20th Century humanity. And many still groan. The people of Africa, Middle East, and Latin America had also been exploited, separated, and ruled by imperial empires and still suffer from poverty and conflicts to this day. The offenders have moved on and forgotten, but the afflicted still live in agony today. The power of violence and killing is threatening the survival of the earth community. There is an endless arms race for nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, war, severe damage to nature, and the calamity caused to our climate. 

Now we need to put a stop to this civilization of killing. We propose that we create a new civilization of life and peace where life will be saved and peace will be witnessed/testified all over the heaven and earth. We believe that the process of Korean unification will be an event that ends the order of violence and death and brings a beginning of a new civilization of life and peace. It is important to restore the ecological, nature-respecting lifestyle and village community that have been destroyed while our lives became modernized, industrialized, and urbanized. 

An ecological village community provides for a life-saving ground that helps develop sensitivity to life, and where we can help and save one another. With this hope, Bargn Nuri Community has planted and lives in a rural-urban community village in Seoul and Hongcheon (in the northeastern part of South Korea). This rural-urban community seeks to live a village life to complement both farm and city villages. Life and peace begins with the peace which is achieved by your body and mind becoming one, and it matures through village life and develops through the earth community. Ecological villages sprawling all over the earth and meeting together builds for the foundation of a life and peace civilization.

Since we kicked off the 1000-Day Life and Peace Pilgrimage, we’ve been traveling to places where civilians and nature have suffered and into where the hurts and wounds have been ingrained. We have prayed for healing of the wounds and resolving of the sorrows. To this day, many lives throughout the Korean Peninsula continue under the effect and agony caused by Japan’s imperial invasion and colonial rule, the Korean division and war, and the Cold War. The pain is still ongoing and continues to intensify the conflicts within us.

That is the reason we are singing songs for resolving the sorrows and healing the wounds. We have gone to the Jeju Peace Park, Gwangju Democracy Cemetery, Cheonan Independence Movement Memorial Hall, Donghak Peasant Revolution Memorial Park in Hongcheon, and the historical sites in China and Russia where those who fought for Korea’s independence from Japan; in those places we sang our songs for the wounds and sorrows of those who sacrificed their lives. In Japan we went to visit the Choson School whose students are still discriminated in the Japanese society today. They are still living under the impact/influence of the scars from Japan’s imperial period. We also visited the sites where Koreans were forced to labor during the colonial period. During the Vietnam War, the Korean troops were deployed and committed unspeakable atrocities towards civilians. We went to visit the victims’ families and made our apology. Then we sang songs of healing and harmony with them. Power can be driven from resolving the sorrows and healing the wounds to save and lead each other to live a vigorous life.

A new life begins with departing from mundane solutions, sophisticated resignation, and habitual life. In order to achieve peace in the Korean Peninsula where conflicts of the neighboring superpowers such as the United States, China, Russia, and Japan intersect, and North and South Koreas stand in armed confrontations, we need fresh thinking and new ways of practices that are different from what was done in the past.  

“Peace based on the strong military power” is the oldest lie that humankind has been fooled by. North Korea claims its peace can be secured by their nuclear weapons. The United States exercises yet more powerful armed forces to threaten North Korea. It is the same lie/logic on which both parties stand on in the extreme confrontation. However, this premise will not have the rationale to prohibit North Korea’s nuclear weapons. It will not stop those superpowers/empires who possess thousands of nuclear weapons in their arsenals from developing even more cruel weapons of mass destruction. In reality,  it is a deception for the mass violence and arms race committed by the human race. Violence cannot achieve peace. The only way to make and keep peace is peace itself.

North and South Koreas should work together to reduce and abolish nuclear and mass-destruction weapons and expand demilitarized zones; we should work for achieving unification by declaring permanent neutrality. We call for those countries who have been warring on the Korean land to promise to never fight again on the Korean Peninsula. The neighboring nations should permanently recognize political independence and integration of the permanent-neutral Korea and promise for peace in Northeast Asia. The United Nations and other international organizations should guarantee this and a UN peacekeeping mission should be set up at Panmunjom at the Korean border to keep peace on the Korean Peninsula by collective efforts. “Permanently peaceful zone of the Korean Peninsula” (Permanent-peace zone of the Korean Peninsula) will be the shortest way to building a life and peace community in Northeast Asia.

People ask “How is permanent neutrality possible given the conflicting interests of the superpowers in Korea’s neighborhoods?” But I think that is why permanent neutrality is the only answer to this situation. It is not ideal; it is the most practical. It is not idealistic but the most realistic. History has shown us that each of Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, and Costa Rica had their own unique and complex situations but they have been building peaceful countries based on their neutrality.

For solving our unification problem, a clear set of principles have been agreed following the war. It is the principle of “independence and peace.” South Korean presidents spanning several decades signed joint declarations with the three generations of the Kim family in North Korea. (Despite the drastic differences in the backgrounds of these presidents,) they have consistently adhered to independence and peace as the fundamental principles. Anyone who has given serious thoughts to the inter-Korean situation regardless of one’s political affiliation agreed to ending the military confrontation, acknowledging each other’s regime, and achieving unification peacefully and independently.

However, the Korean division problem has long been owned by not only the two Koreas but have complications with the interests of our neighbours. Wisdom is required of us to adhere to our unification principles of independence and peace while attending to the interests of the countries in our neighborhood.

Once the Korean War ends and North Korea and the US enter into diplomatic relations, the US loses its rationale for staying in South Korea. For this reason the United States may be reluctant about ending the Korean War. For the United States, they need “a peace system” in which they will have a valid rationale to continue as a stakeholder. Not a stakeholder of confrontation and conflict but “a peace system to be protected together by the neighboring countries.” That would allow the US and others to play a new role for peace.

It should be something that would ensure Korea’s independence, satisfy the interests of the US and China, as well as (attending to) Japan’s anxiety. This peace system is the Northeast Asia peace community based on Korea’s permanent-neutrality and unification.

Given the tensions between the interests of the United States and China, it is not possible for Korea to take a side with one of them. The Korean division was created by the two sets of strong alliance: one  between North Korea and China, and the other of South Korea and the US. Solving for the division will also bring about changes in the two current alliances that sustain the Korean division today. 

Change is inevitable in the division and the current alliances. And a new peace system will be born. In eventuality, it will be in a shape of multilateral security and peace system of Northeast Asia and peace community in Northeast Asia. South and North Koreas, the US, China and the United Nations will take part in it. In the new multilateral security and peace system of Northeast Asia, Korea will be taking a position permanently neutral to the political interests of the United States and China. The peace system can only be formed and maintained with Korea’s neutrality. 

The movement for creating a “Permanent-peace zone of the Korean Peninsula” aims to achieve disarmament of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction (in the Korean Peninsula). It will expose the lie in the false peace of the empires which is “peace based on strong military power.” With emphasis on demilitarization, the movement exercises a moral pressure against the false peace to drive  anti-war anti-nuclear efforts as well as call for arms reduction. 

When the empires including the U.S. and China possess thousands of nuclear weapons and yet continue to compete in the arms race for even more powerful and cruel WMDs, there is absolutely no moral justification in their alleged commitment for peace and respect for life. 

We hope to work for true peace together with the good, conscientious people who love life and peace. We hope that the “Permanent-peace zone of the Korean Peninsula” (OR “Permanently peaceful Korean Peninsula”) will be the spring for driving anti-war, anti-nuclear, and anti-WMD efforts around the globe.

When humans were in a frenzy for war, violence and destruction of nature in the early 20th century, there were individuals who refused what was prized by the mainstream and believed in the values of life and peace to the end. All over the global community live the conscientious lives that did not fail to adhere to life and peace while the world’s plausible/specious philosophies and sciences and even religions were at the forefront of the imperial war or remained in resignation. 

Hope for the 21st century can be found in living out the spirituality of life and peace, ecological lifestyle, village, and life-saving practices. Yet these are not something new. Those who have pursued simple living in harmony with heaven and earth and all life have already brought them to reality. Hope for the future is never in the future. It always grows from here and now.

Life and peace will bloom more beautifully by restoring self-governing, self-content life. In this life, those who have groaned from war, violence, and natural destruction will be freed from the false peace and the ideology of more development. Each people will preserve and communicate their unique culture with each other. 

It is our hope that the wave of life and peace will flow all over the earth through the heaven, earth and all life living together, and their beautiful harmony. Glory to heaven, peace to earth!