Chilling to the Bone

Tuesday 17 June 2008, by JOHN CHERIAN

Evidence is emerging to show that during the Korean War innocent civilians were massacred by the South Korean authorities and the U.S. forces.

THE Korean War, which lasted from June 25,1950, until a truce was declared on June 27, 1953, was one of the most brutal wars fought after the Second World War. It was initiated by the United States at the height of the Cold War. Many atrocities and massacres of innocent civilians were reported but almost all the blame for the war crimes was put on North Korea and China, its main military backer at the time. Now more and more graphic evidence is emerging to show that many of the atrocities in South Korea were in fact committed by the South Korean government and the U.S. forces stationed in the Korean peninsula.

It has also become clear that the mass killings were on occasion supervised by the U.S. Army. American military reports of the slaughter were stamped “secret” and filed away in Washington. Last year, some photographs of the mass killings taken by the U.S. Army were published. They show prisoners clad in white, with heads bowed in submission and hands tied, being thrown face down into a trench. South Korean executioners then shot them in the back of the head. A British journalist, Alan Winnington, working for the Communist Party USA newspaper Daily Worker, reported on the executions in the South Korean city of Daejeon in 1950 itself, but his reportage was dismissed as propaganda.

Witnesses come forward

The existence of a secret burial ground was accidentally discovered in 2002 after a typhoon uncovered one of the many mass graves. The Associated Press reported in the third week of May that more and more mass graves were being discovered near Daejeon. Then, one by one, witnesses who had been too scared to talk because of the authoritarian regimes that ruled South Korea until the late 1990s came forward to relate their first-hand experiences.

The establishment of a Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2006 under former President Roh Moo-hyun, following the rapprochement between the North and the South, greatly facilitated the unearthing of new evidence. Before leaving office, Roh issued a public apology for a massacre that came to light in Ulsan, another city in South Korea. He described the massacres as “illegal acts that the then state authority committed”.

In 1950, the regime of U.S. puppet Syngman Rhee put 30,000 people in prison, accusing them of having leftist sympathies. The government also forced 300,000 peasants whose loyalties were under the scanner to join a state-sponsored National Guidance League. According to a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, initial evidence suggests that all members of the National Guidance League were killed by the South Korean authorities.

In Daejeon, in the summer of 1950, tens of thousand of leftists and poor peasants, including women and children, were massacred in cold blood by the South Korean army. A retired prison guard who participated in the executions told the A.P. that many of those shot were ordinary prisoners and illiterate peasants who “knew nothing about communism”. According to media reports and recently declassified documents, U.S. Army officers were aware of the horrific acts being committed. The victims’ bodies were unceremoniously dumped into open trenches or disused mines, or thrown into the sea. A South Korean television crew recently discovered a sealed mine full of the remains of such victims.

Professor Kan Man-gil of Koryo University, a South Korean academic, observed that “since pictures were taken and official reports made to the U.S. government by the U.S. military, we cannot but examine the question of American responsibility for the massacre”.

Kim Dong-choon, a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, told A.P. that the mass executions of 1950 were “the most tragic and brutal chapter of the Korean War”. Kim said that the fact “that these bones have remained abandoned so long and so close to where we live means that our society is still at a barbarian stage”.

100,000 executed

The commission estimates that at least 100,000 South Koreans out of a population of 20 million were executed. Kim said that these estimates were very “conservative”. The commission is investigating 215 cases in which the U.S. military is accused of indiscriminate killing of South Korean citizens. According to the contents of a declassified U.S. State Department cable, General Douglas MacArthur, the Commander of the U.S. forces in Korea, viewed the killings as “an internal matter”. The South Korean army at the time was under his overall supervision.

The State Department belatedly admitted last year that the U.S. Ambassador in Seoul wrote a letter in 1950 stating that the U.S. military had a policy of shooting approaching civilians. “If refugees do appear from north of U.S. lines, they will receive warning shots, and if they still persist in advancing they will be shot,” he wrote in his letter to then Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Donald Nichols, a former U.S. Air Force Intelligence officer, wrote in his memoirs, published way back in 1981, about witnessing “the unforgettable massacre of approximately 1,800 in Suwon”.

Hundreds of civilians, mainly women and children, were killed in 1950 in No Gun Ri as they approached U.S. Army positions for protection after their village was overrun by the North’s forces. The Commander of the U.S. 25th Infantry Division told his troops that all civilians seen in the area under his command “are to be considered as enemy and action taken accordingly”. In another incident on September 1, 1950, a U.S. Navy destroyer fired at a refugee camp in Pohang. Survivors said that between 100 and 200 people were killed.

A retired U.S. Army clerk, who served in Korea during the war, testified to typing a report written by the commanding officer admitting that 300 refugees were fired on at No Gun Ri. The survivors of No Gun Ri sought acknowledgement and reparations for the killings from the U.S. government in 1960. But the U.S. war claims office in Seoul said the petitioners had missed the deadline for filing the claims. In 1997, after another petition was filed, the U.S. authorities claimed that the U.S. Army was not in the area when the massacres occurred.

The U.S. military involvement in Korea ranks among the bloodiest chapters in American history. It was a test run for the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S. military has targeted unarmed civilian populations. In the Korean War, two million civilians were killed in the three years of fighting. The U.S. armed forces used more bombs and artillery shells than were used during the Second World War. It was during the Korean War that U.S. forces started using napalm against military and civilian targets. Former U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay boasted that U.S. planes had “burned down every town in North Korea” and killed “20 per cent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war or from starvation and exposure”.

Kim Man-sik, who was a military police sergeant in 1950, told The New York Times last year about communist suspects being tied together with military communications wire. “So when we opened fire, they all pulled at each other to try to escape. The wire cut into their wrists. Blood was splattered all over their white clothes,” Kim Man-sik told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The survivors and relatives of those killed continue to be victimised. Kim Sung-soo, a member of the commission, observed in a recent article in The Korea Times that “the bereaved families, guilty by association, are not allowed to get decent jobs or work in the public sector, police tailed them wherever they went and their children were bullied in school”.

The new conservative government in power in Seoul is known to be unsympathetic to the commission. The rightist complaint is that the commission will only reopen old wounds. The fear is that President Lee Myung-bak, whose party traces its roots to the authoritarian right-wing regimes of the 1950s, may cut funding for the commission, which with an annual budget of $19 million and a staff of 280, is constitutionally mandated to serve until 2010.

The commission will issue a final comprehensive report on the anti-Japanese movement during the colonial period and the history of the Korean diaspora, the massacre of civilians after 1945, human rights abuses by the state, and incidents of dubious convictions and suspicious death.

From : http://www.frontlineonnet.com

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