Thursday, November 26, 2009

At least 4900 civilians executed by ROK military and police in opening months of Korean War

This is one of those nasty parts of history that we don't like to talk about. One of those things that's difficult to admit. It's alluded to in films like Brotherhood of War (태극기 휘날리며), but for years it was something that, like the Cheju Massacre of 1948, people just didn't talk about.

Yes, it was bad, but what the North did was much worse. That rationalization was the best people could come up with. It is this foundation of secrecy, denial, and even distortion on which revisionist writers like Bruce Cumings have been able to build their own empire of ideological factoids.

And it is stuff that is finally being brought to the light of day, though with an ideological taint. The nefarious excesses of Rhee's regime join the collaborations of the Japanese occupation to make one big festering sore. And as Choe Sang-hun of the New York Times writes, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission aims to heal that wound by starting with the ripping off of band-aids:
The commission, set up in 2005 with a parliamentary mandate, has investigated and confirmed similar civilians massacres by the wartime South Korean authorities, who summarily executed thousands of leftist prison inmates or machine-gunned villagers during their mountain operations to exterminate communist guerrillas, dumping their bodies in the sea or mass graves.

But its announcement on Thursday marked the first time a state investigative agency confirmed the nature and scale of what is known as "the National Guidance League Incident" _ one of the most horrific and controversial episodes of the 1950-53 war.

In the months before the war, the anti-communist and authoritarian regime of President Syngman Rhee forced an estimated 300,000 South Koreans to join the league, supposedly set up to re-educate people who had disavowed communism.

When the war broke out in June 1950 with the invasion from the North, the South Korean military and police hurried to round up unsuspecting league members and many of them vanished. Discussion of their fate had been taboo during the decades of postwar military rule.
Indeed, it is a tragedy. How many of these thousands of people were truly supportive of the DPRK? How many were just doing what they had to in the crazy days following liberation and national division just to survive? Maybe some of them were indeed fifth columnists, but summary execution makes you know better than the enemy. [UPDATE: The Associated Press is also carrying the story, via WaPo.]

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