After intense internal struggle
South Korean gov’t admits massacres
Published Dec 6, 2009 9:38 PM
It took almost 60 years, but the government of south Korea has finally admitted
what many in the younger generation had already found out through the
progressive movement there: Thousands of civilians were massacred by the south
Korean regime at the beginning of the 1950-53 war, for no other reason than
that they were considered sympathizers with the communist revolutionaries who
had liberated the north of Korea from Japanese rule during World War II and
were now battling U.S. imperialism.
What makes the politics around this official revelation even more charged is
that it comes during the tenure of a right-wing government in south Korea that
has tried to suppress the commission tasked with bringing out the facts.
For many years, if south Koreans spoke about these mass murders by the Syngman
Rhee regime, they risked imprisonment and even death. But in the last few
decades, a vigorous and courageous people’s movement has carried out
massive strikes and protests that resulted in the shelving of the brutal
military dictatorships imposed on Korea by the U.S. military occupation of the
south. In the space these popular movements achieved, an effort was begun to
unearth the truth about the period of the Korean War.
The Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in 2005, when a more
liberal government was in office than now and efforts were being made to ease
the tensions between north and south. But the struggle to tell the truth about
the massacres had begun years earlier.
In June of 2000, 50 years after the start of the Korean War, this writer
visited the Tae Won Valley—Tae Won means “suppressed sorrow and
rage” in Korean—and met scores of south Koreans working with both
an Investigations Committee and a Committee of Victims’ Families. They
were filming and taping oral histories from survivors of the fascist pogroms of
Yoo Yoon Ham, president of the Committee of Victims’ Families, told this
reporter that for many years “we were accused of being communist
sympathizers, so we couldn’t speak out.” But people were finally
coming forward with what they knew.
Even earlier, Lee Bong Yon had served eight years in jail for trying to
investigate the mass killings. Attempts to get the south Korean government to
release secret documents had failed.
On the trip in 2000, visitors were taken to an abandoned cobalt mine outside
the village of Kyengsan. A vertical shaft led down to a cave where you could
still see human bones.
Chae Sim Ho of the Investigations Committee told the group that some 3,000 to
3,500 people had been killed in that area by the army and police in 1950. Some
had been led to the shaft, bound together in groups of eight, and then shot so
that their bodies fell down into the mine. Many were political prisoners who
had been held in Taegu Prison under a preventive-detention law dating back to
Japanese occupation. (See Workers World article, “Hidden history of
Korean War,” June 15, 2000.)
At the time the massacres happened, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was overall
operational commander of all military actions in Korea and was therefore
responsible for the deeds of the south Korean army.
The current government commission that issued its report this Nov. 26 found it
difficult to get cooperation from the police and military. At a news conference
in Seoul, members expressed worry that the current government would try to shut
the commission down before it could complete its work. They reported they had
identified nearly 5,000 people illegally executed by the Syngman Rhee regime.
The commission was able to ferret out some old government lists giving names of
people who had been killed and showed them at the news conference.
The Committee of Victims’ Families was also at the news conference and
said this was just the tip of the iceberg. It demanded that the government
extend the commission’s deadline.
An article in the New York Times appears to be the only acknowledgment by the
corporate media in the U.S. of this dramatic development in Korea.
It reported on the difficulty the commission experienced in trying to get
information from officials, but said that “Lee Joon-young, 85, a former
prison guard who witnessed assembly-line-like executions near Taejon, south of
Seoul, in July 1950, was one who stepped forward.
“’Ten prisoners were carried to a trench at a time and were made to
kneel at the edge,’ he said in an interview. ‘Police officers
stepped up behind them, pointed their rifles at the back of their heads and
fired.’” (New York Times, Nov. 26)
This corroborated the accounts given by unofficial investigating teams and
The biggest impediment to this truth-seeking mission is the continued
occupation of Korea by U.S. troops, which strengthens the far right in Korean
politics. It is no wonder that most of the corporate media have shunned
reporting on the reign of terror in the south that accompanied the launching of
an all-out war on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the
That war, hyped as a struggle for “democracy” and against
“totalitarianism,” cost the lives of millions of Koreans and more
than 60,000 U.S. troops. In a prequel to Vietnam, the U.S. imperialists,
despite all their high-tech weaponry, finally had to admit they could not break
the people’s resistance and signed an armistice agreement with the
But to this day the troops remain and Washington refuses to sign a peace
agreement. The U.S. is still technically at war with the DPRK and threatens a
new assault with every manufactured “crisis.” Thus, knowing the
truth about what happened in Korea after World War II is of the greatest
importance to the people of the U.S. as well as to Koreans.
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