Koreans tour U.S. with Truth Commission
Published Apr 19, 2009 9:08 PM
Members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of south Korea have recently
toured the U.S. and Canada, speaking out about how bloody repression by the
U.S.-backed dictatorship of Syngman Rhee accompanied the political partitioning
of Korea in 1948.
Their first stop was Columbia University on March 24, where TRC Standing
Commissioner Dr. Kim Dong-choon and Dr. Hee Kyung Suh, a member of its
Investigation Bureau, talked about some of their findings.
The TRC is investigating massacres carried out by the Rhee dictatorship both
before and after the 1950-1953 war in Korea, as well as disappearances and
murders that occurred under later military dictatorships.
Among the many incidents of mass killings, two stand out: the bombing of Jeju
Island and the Yeosun-Suncheon Uprising.
Until 1948, there was one Korean nation. Japan in 1905 had imposed colonial
rule over all of Korea, but by the time of Japan’s surrender at the end
of World War II, liberation forces led by Kim Il Sung, a communist, had freed
the northern half of Korea while U.S. troops occupied the south.
When Syngman Rhee, a puppet of Washington, announced the establishment of a
Republic of Korea in the U.S.-occupied area, a rebellion against the division
of the country broke out on Jeju Island on April 3, 1948. It quickly spread and
was supported with armed actions by communist guerrillas against both local
police and troops of the U.S. occupation.
Washington ordered the RoK army to use scorched-earth tactics against civilians
and guerrillas alike. The U.S. bombed the island indiscriminately with napalm,
causing an enormous number of civilian casualties. By the RoK army’s own
estimates, there had been less than 3,000 guerrillas on the island. Before the
U.S. napalming of civilians, Jeju had 400 towns and villages. Only 170
survived. U.S. military estimates of the dead ranged between 15,000 and 20,000.
The Seoul government claimed that 27,719 had perished, but according to an
account by Jung Byung-joon in “Attempts to Settle the Past during the
April Popular Struggle,” “The Jeju provincial governor told a U.S.
intelligence agency that over 60,000 people were killed and 40,000 migrated to
When word got out about the savage U.S. bombing of civilians on Jeju Island,
the masses were outraged. The anger spread to the rank and file of the RoK
army. On October 19, 1948, troops of the 14th Regiment of the National Defense
Guard of South Korea were ordered to the island to finish off the resistance to
the U.S. occupation. Instead, the soldiers rose up in rebellion against not
only their deployment but also the partitioning of their nation. When the 2,000
rebel soldiers arrived in Yeosun, they found that the people were in full
solidarity with their rebellion, which quickly spread throughout the eastern
areas of Jeonnam Province.
Memorial placards at Suncheon National University, Suncheon Station and
Dongcheon River tell the story: “On October 20th, the Suncheon police and
right-wing youths from adjacent regions established a defensive line at
Gwangyang Samguri, but failed to keep the insurgent forces from advancing to
downtown Suncheon because the 4th Regiment, a support troop from Gwangju,
joined the insurgents. The nearby Suncheon Northern Elementary School was the
site of questioning and executing of civilians who were suspected of taking
sides with the insurgents. The victims were executed without trial on the levee
of a rice paddy behind the school auditorium.”
The only reliable element for the RoK state was the cops, who remained loyal to
the Rhee dictatorship during the Yeosun-Suncheon Uprising. According to Jung
Byung-joon, “The police retained their pro-Japanese officers. According
to 1960 statistics, those who had served as police officers under Japanese
colonial rule accounted for about 15 percent of the 4,000 police lieutenants
nationwide, about 30 percent of the 500 police captains, about 40 percent of
the 160 senior superintendents, and about 70 percent of the 20 police
commissioners and superintendents general. ... The pro-Japanese nature of the
police, a remnant of Japanese colonialism that should’ve been eradicated
in the wake of the nation’s liberation in 1945, remained intact under
Syngman Rhee. Pro-Japanese police officers ... suppressed democracy to maintain
the security of the Syngman Rhee administration.”
The same was true of the RoK army brass, most of whom had been in the Japanese
Imperial Army during the colonial period. As stooges for imperialist Japan in
its occupation of the part of China known as Manchuria, they carried out
Japan’s “Kill all! Burn all! Loot all!” tactics against the
people in an attempt to stamp out their resistance.
During the Korean War, when the U.S. had operational control over the RoK
military, this kind of savagery was repeated. The Korean communists, led by Kim
Il Sung, were fighting to liberate their country from these agents who had
switched from one imperialist master to another. Park Chung-hee, a general who
ruled the south with U.S. blessings from 1961 to 1979, had himself been a
member of the Japanese army and was an informer for the RoK government at the
time of the Yeosun-Suncheon revolt.
The TRC is in the process of investigating the many pre- and postwar massacres
carried out by the Rhee dictatorship, as well as later disappearances and
murders. The commission was set up in 2005 by the south Korean government in a
period of democratic opening that followed a mass, student-led movement that
battled the cops and the military in the streets in the 1980s.
Nodutdol, a progressive New York-based Korean grassroots community
organization, says the TRC “represents a dramatic change from the silence
imposed by past authoritarian regimes in South Korea about massacres of
civilians committed by U.S. forces and the South Korean police/military both
before and during the Korean War.”
Now a right-wing government in Seoul is trying to hinder the TRC’s
investigations and strip it of its funding. Nevertheless, Washington is worried
that the truth about Korea is coming out.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Support independent news DONATE