In “Living Along the Fenceline,” director and camerawoman Lina Hoshino travelled to seven countries and captured women on camera while they told their personal and emotional stories about growing up near a US military base.
Countries include the United States (Hawaii and Texas), Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea. Every woman’s situation is unique, however and each narrative shares common threads. The women tell stories of prostitution, pollution, health problems, poverty, violence against women, and activism among women including efforts to both remove the military and protect and care for people affected by their presence.
▲ From left, Gwyn Kirk, co-director and writer; Deborah Lee, narrator, writer, producer; and Director Lina Hoshino. Photo courtesy Lina Hoshino
Ms. Kirk agrees with the women in the film, who all share the opinion that military security does not provide the security necessary for their daily lives.
“The military is not a good investment,” said Gwyn Kirk, co-directer and co-producer of the film.
The film’s opening states the seven women will tell the untold secrets of the military security system. We learn there is an estimated 1,000 US military bases around the world, a fact most Americans are unaware of. A powerful image appears of a world map covered with US flag pins indicating every military base. This map is a tangible symbol of the US’s global dominance.
Ms. Kirk, who came to Jeju for the international debut of the documentary, said we are led to believe that our general security comes from military security. Yet she points out that, “everyday security” has nothing to do with the military. Ms. Kirk believes general security is about jobs, respect for the environment, safety from violence, and health, and the military cannot provide this kind of general security.
The underlying goal of the film, she said, is “to generate a conversation about the real security,”adding, “the difficulty is imagining a different general security and what it could be.”
“Living Along the Fenceline” focuses on women’s perspectives and depicts a new side to the story. Ms. Kirk said women’s perspectives are “often ignored, often not included.” It is important to give women the opportunity to speak about their opinions of general security. Every day security for women is not about the military, it is about being safe from rape and sexual assault, being safe at nighttime, securing a good job with enough income to support their families, living in a healthy environment, and having good health.
Ms. Kirk conveyed a story from her childhood that remains vivid in her mind.
“The Korean War was the first war I knew about, I read the newspaper about the war,” said Ms. Kirk, “I was totally shocked. I thought WWII was the end of war.”
War has been a theme throughout her life. Ms. Kirk’s father first sparked her interest in the topic of war as a child living in England. Her father was a conscientious objector during WWII and worked on a farm. In the early 1980s, Ms. Kirk became active in a women’s peace movement outside a military air force base in England. She said her involvement in this campaign changed her life. Her activism background combined with her “academic life path” is what inspired her to become involved in the creation of “Living Along the Fenceline.”
“The US military presence in South Korea is a big, complicated, and long history,” said Ms. Kirk regarding her decision to include a story from South Korea in the documentary. “It [the US military] is a complicating factor in the creation and separation of the Korean states.”
Ms. Kirk thinks American citizens do not know much about Korea or the war, the Korean war is commonly referred to as “the forgotten war.” Ms. Kirk believes it is important for Americans to understand the significance of Asian countries.
Sumi Park, from Seoul, South Korea, tells a different kind of story than the other women in the film. She is a passionate, young social worker working for an organization that provides services to women who work in bars close to military bases.
Ms. Kirk explained that Sumi’s story is different from the other women in the film because she is the only one not personally affected.
“She is an example of someone who went to college and wants to do something meaningful with her life. She a model for many people, a model for how to have a meaningful life to something that matters.”
Ms. Kirk said Sumi is very professional. She is a very serious person with a lot of empathy for the women affected by military culture. She is an example of what Ms. Kirk hopes will become a trend.
The film was screened for the first time outside of the United States at the 12th annual Women’s Film Festival in Jeju on Sept. 25, 2011. The documentary was included in the Festival’s new section, “Women and War.”A question and answer session commenced after the screening with Ms. Gwyn Kirk. Ms. Kirk sat down with me afterwards to discuss the film further. Ms. Kirk said she was impressed by the participants insightful and passionate questions about militarism. The crowd, ex-pats and Koreans alike, was especially interested in the military in Korea and the current debate over the proposed naval base in Gangjeong.
▲ Courtesy Lina Hoshino
One expat asked the most provocative question of the evening. He asked Ms. Kirk if she thought Jeju Island and its forthcoming naval base represented an inevitable pattern around the world for the creation of more military bases. Ms. Kirk answered she believed the US will inevitably want to build more bases if US imperialism continues to grow. She conveyed that if we can imagine a different kind of future that actively addresses climate change, use of resources, etc… then it is not inevitable. We need a change in leadership and attitude in the US and US allies, including South Korea, who should refuse to have a US military base in the country.
Answering another question, Ms. Kirk said today the United States government spends half of its tax dollars on the world military system, not including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A grassroots campaign advocates spreading the money from the defense budget to other social programs including education, health care, care for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities, and domestic violence shelters. Unfortunately, these programs are being cut because of the economic crisis. But, the military budget remains intact.
Secondly, Ms. Kirk said there is another campaign to educate people about the military worldwide. People are unaware about the US’s worldwide military presence and are often shocked by the actual number of bases. This film is part of this education campaign.
Ms. Kirk hopes the film inspires people to think about what a military base means in their communities. She said it is important for people to be clear what happens when a military base is installed in a new location. She said, “It is tempting to think military bases will bring jobs. The reality is military spending generates the fewest amount of jobs of any government spending.” The military is a capital intensive industry, not a human capital intensive industry. The same amount of money spent on a military base spent on education or health care would generate far more jobs.
The producers of “Living Along the Fenceline” are ready to release the film to the public. The film will be made available to NGOs, activist groups, university classes, and other film festivals.
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