Further revelations have come to light in south Korea regarding the wholesale massacre of patriots, communist sympathisers and simple innocent civilians by the pro-American regime in the opening days of the Korean War, 1950-53.
Successive reactionary regimes in south Korea did their best to keep these atrocities hidden, but they have been uncovered one after the other in recent years by the work of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
This commission was set up in December 2005, under the presidency of the late Roh Moo-hyun, who had a background in the democratic movement, and who stood for reconciliation and cooperation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north. Since the right-wing conservative forces returned to power in south Korea under the presidency of Lee Myung-bak, the commission has been threatened with being closed down this spring.
The latest work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was reported in the New York Times of 26 November 2009 as follows:
“In the opening months of the Korean War, the South Korean military and the police executed at least 4,900 civilians who had earlier signed up – often under force – for re-education classes meant to turn them against communism, the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission announced Thursday.
“The government killed the civilians out of fear that they would help the communists, who were invading from the north and forcing south Korean and American forces into retreat during the first desperate weeks of the war, the commission said.
“Although the panel has reported on similar civilian massacres in the past, the announcement Thursday represented the first time that 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 war.”
The paper went on to say that many of those who had joined the National Guidance League had actually had no involvement in politics at all but had been enrolled by local officials in order to meet quotas they had been set by higher authorities. Others had simply given food to guerrillas in the hills, or had been lured in with promises of extra rice rations.
“‘The authorities pressed us to join the league,’ said Kim Ki-ban, 87, at a news conference called by the commission on Thursday. ‘We had no idea that we were joining a death row.’
“Mr Kim, who at the time was a villager in Cheongwon, 60 miles south of Seoul, said that he and more than 60 other league members had been locked up in a warehouse in the second month of the war, but that he escaped during the confusion caused by an allied aerial bombing. The next day, he said, all the others were shot to death, their hands tied behind their backs with wire.”
The commission stated that it feared many thousands more innocent people were killed in this campaign, but added that the true figure may never be known because of the present government’s determination to close down the commission.
As the commission has never had any power to compel witnesses or to indict, many of those responsible for the atrocities have simply refused to cooperate, further hampering its work. One of those who did come forward was Lee Joon-young, 85, a former prison guard who witnessed assembly-line-like executions near Taejon, south of Seoul, in July 1950.
“‘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.’” (All quotations from ‘South Korea admits civilian killings during war’, by Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, 26 November 2009)
The persecution continued for several more decades. Documents unearthed by the commission show that police surveillance of relatives and descendants of the victims continued into the 1980s, ensuring, for example, that they were not able to get government jobs.