On the morning of 16 April 2014, as the MV Sewol was traveling its usual route, from Incheon, South Korea to Jeju, South Korea, the ferry capsized, killing 304 of the 476 passengers onboard - most of whom were high school students on a class field trip. As the boat was sinking, Captain Lee Joon-seok and his crew told passengers to stay seated, while they fled the scene and were among the first to be rescued by the Korean Coast Guard.
Since the Jung Hee Park regime seized power in South Korea through a military coup in 1962, the government’s economic policy had grown more pro-market and anti-union. Because of its large economic success (in terms of large economic measures like GDP) the public sentiment toward his economic policy was supportive enough to sustain it. Many people adhered to Park’s political narrative of a “growth-first ideology” at the cost of sacrificing labor rights.
The massive South Korean nonviolent campaign against the tradition of authoritarian regimes happened only seven years after the notorious Kwangju Massacre of 1980—governmental mass violence that was intended to shut down completely the movements for social justice.
From 1980 to 1983 the government tried to “cleanse” the society of activists, purging or arresting thousands of public officials, politicians, professors, teachers, pastors, journalists, and students. Activists not arrested went quiet or continued their activities in low profile or secretive ways.
In 2003, the government of South Korea announced a ban on beef imported from the United States. Prior to the ban, South Korea had been the third largest purchaser of U.S. beef product. The decision to ban the product came after an animal in Washington was discovered to suffer from mad-cow disease. All together, more than fifty countries decided to ban U.S. beef imports after the incident, and consequently, the value of U.S. beef exports declined by $2.4 billion dollars over a three-year period.
When the United States proposed an expansion of its military base in the Pyeongtaek region of South Korea in 2001, it threatened to be the third time that the people of the region were to be displaced from their land. The people who lived in Pyeongtaek, primarily farmers, were first evicted when the Japanese occupied the region in World War II. Then they were forcibly displaced a second time in 1952, when the United States built its military base, Camp Humphreys.