Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Rehashing Korean War Era Executions
» by GI Korea

It seems like every spring Associated Press writer Charles Hanley comes up with some article to milk his prior No Gun Ri fame, which he undeservedly won a Pulitzer Prize for in 2001. In May 2006 he wrote an article about the “discovery” of the Muccio Letter then a year later in April 2007 he wrote a nearly identical article. Now this May he has another article out that was co-authored by Jae-soon Chang, which ROK Drop readers may remember I have called out before for his poor and sensational journalism as well.

The article they have written this time is about the killing of South Korean civilians by the Republic of Korea (ROK) government during the Korean War:

Grave by mass grave, South Korea is unearthing the skeletons and buried truths of a cold-blooded slaughter from early in the Korean War, when this nation’s U.S.-backed regime killed untold thousands of leftists and hapless peasants in a summer of terror in 1950.

With U.S. military officers sometimes present, and as North Korean invaders pushed down the peninsula, the southern army and police emptied South Korean prisons, lined up detainees and shot them in the head, dumping the bodies into hastily dug trenches. Others were thrown into abandoned mines or into the sea. Women and children were among those killed. Many victims never faced charges or trial.

The mass executions — intended to keep possible southern leftists from reinforcing the northerners — were carried out over mere weeks and were largely hidden from history for a half-century. They were “the most tragic and brutal chapter of the Korean War,” said historian Kim Dong-choon, a member of a 2-year-old government commission investigating the killings.

Just like with his prior articles, Hanley is trying to make old news new again. It has been well known for years that the ROK Army was responsible for killing thousands of civilians during the Korean War. Of course the truth isn’t as simple as the South Korean government lining up and killing hapless civilians. In fact before the Korean War even started, South Korea was faced with a North Korean backed communist insurgency. The South Korean government led by autocratic President Syngman Rhee allowed the ROK military to brutally suppress the insurgency, which led to a number of communist guerrillas and civilians being killed. With the intermingling of guerrillas and civilians it is impossible to determine the real number of each that were killed.

Taebak Mountains movie poster

In South Korea the tragedy of the communist guerrilla war has been well known for years with the publication of Cho Jeong-lae’s groundbreaking book “Taebaek Sanmaek” that in great detail describes the effects of the guerrilla war and the follow on Korean War on the civilians who lived in the small South Korean village of Beolgyo. The battle of ideology led to many indiscriminate killings by both the ROK government as well as by the communists. Cho’s book was eventually made into in my opinion the best Korean film ever made, “Taebaek Mountains” in 1994 starring Ahn Sung-kee and directed by award winning director Im Kwon-taek. Follow on Korean movies such as “Taeguki” clearly show how suspected South Korean communist sympathizers were executed by the ROK government. In other words, once again what Hanley published is nothing new.

Taeguki movie poster

This may not be anything new but it doesn’t stop Hanley from pulling out inflated body counts from his No Gun Ri bag of tricks to sensationalize what happened:

The mass executions — intended to keep possible southern leftists from reinforcing the northerners — were carried out over mere weeks and were largely hidden from history for a half-century. They were “the most tragic and brutal chapter of the Korean War,” said historian Kim Dong-choon, a member of a 2-year-old government commission investigating the killings.

Hundreds of sets of remains have been uncovered so far, but researchers say they are only a tiny fraction of the deaths. The commission estimates at least 100,000 people were executed, in a South Korean population of 20 million.

That estimate is based on projections from local surveys and is “very conservative,” said Kim. The true toll may be twice that or more, he told The Associated Press.

At least 100,000 and up to 200,000 dead; that is a lot of bodies which they have so far only been able to recover a few hundred. Heck I’m still waiting for them to find the 400 bodies Hanley says were killed at No Gun Ri much less the 200,000 being claimed now.

The first question that comes to mind when developing this body count, is how were these surveys done to come up with such high numbers? We don’t know because Hanley doesn’t say. The wording of the survey is important because how do you confirm that up to 200,000 people were killed by the ROK government when the people that are missing could have been killed by the communist guerrillas, the North Korean Army, or even forcibly conscripted into the ROK Army like many young men were at the time and died during the war. Just because someone’s family member is missing doesn’t mean that the person was killed by the ROK government as Hanley wants readers to believe.

Plus you have to take a look at the people doing the surveying. These comments by a leader of the Korean Truth & Reconciliation Committee Father Song Ki-in should give everyone a good idea of the motives of the people doing the investigation:

If you look at history to now, (US assistance to Korea) has been out of US national interests, theyve never really helped us in actual fact If just dialogue with Pyongyang goes well, all the United States needs to leave here is a team of advisers. In a 2005 interview with the Weekly JoongAng, he said, North and South Korea, Seoul and Pyongyang first need to join hands to [get the] US military to withdraw. North and South Korea must closely stick together, even if kept secret from the United States. Hes called the US a barrier to Korean reunification, and has blamed the US for the division of Korea, saying, If you look at the old Katsura-Taft Agreement, doesnt it clearly reveal has the United States has treated our nation? Actually, many US troops were killed during the Korean War, but the 38th parallel was drawn by the Americans, and they provided the cause for drawing the parallel.

Let’s take a look at the person Hanley quoted in the article, Kim Dong-choon. Mr. Kim is a Professor at Sungkonghoe University. By reading his prior publications it is clear he is a Charles Hanley cheerleader and a North Korea apologist from the Bruce Cumings school of historical revisionism:

On the basis of newly released information and uncovered stories, the Korean War should be viewed differently and be eventually renamed, taking three points into consideration. First, the Korean War originated from an internal conflict on the Korean peninsula. 25 June 1950 was not a point when the war suddenly broke out; rather it was a turning point when regional guerrilla conflicts that had been going since 1948 became an all-out war (Cumings 1990). calling it as “June 25″ conceals this crucial aspect because it presupposes that belligerent North Korea abruptly invaded a peaceful South Korea.

Kim is trying to spin the narrative that many leftist revisionists have been trying to claim, that Kim Il-sung launched the invasion not out of aggression but to help guerrillas uprising against Syngman Rhee’s autocratic regime. If the US would not have intervened Kim Il-sung could have consolidated the peninsula into one country and everyone would be singing kumbayah with the toppling of Syngman Rhee.

Kim goes on to blame US business interests (where have I heard this before?) for America’s involvement in the war:

Second, the Korean War from the perspective of Westerners was not so much a confrontation between the communists and the liberals as it was “a substitute for World War III” (Stueck 1995).Contrary to the official line towed by Korea’s ruling class, Korea’s urgent need for U.S. involvement was to defend Japan and the East Asian capitalist frontline more than save South Korea and Syngman Rhee.

Kim Il-sung’s invasion of South Korea was authorized by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin because he felt the US would not defend South Korea. This ended up being an incorrect assumption and Truman decided that Korea was going to be the place that the free world was going to take a stand against communist expansionism. It had nothing to do with business interests and more to do with sending a message to Stalin that the US would not allow aggressive communist expansionism. It was best to make this stand in Korea before Stalin was encouraged to try to conduct aggressive communist expansion in Europe. For a good read about the politics and decision making of this time I highly recommend reading David Halberstam’s excellent Korean War history The Coldest Winter.

Finally Professor Kim then goes on to incredibly say that North Korea should not be to blame for starting the war:

Third, the tragedies of the war should not be exclusively attributed to North Korea, but also to the seeming lack of readiness, U.S. indifference as well as quick collapse of ROK forces.So the US Army was ill prepared to fight off a North Korean invasion means that the North Koreans are not to blame for starting the war? The illogic of this statement is mind boggling.

Something of further interest about Kim’s essay is that it is sourced primarily from the writings of North Korea apologist Bruce Cumings, Hanley’s own No Gun Ri book (which has no endnotes), North Korean news reports, and from the anti-US website Kimsoft. Not exactly what I would call a well sourced essay that Hanley decided to copy in order to write his AP article with, but considering his poor sourcing for his prior No Gun Ri work it is not surprising.

My favorite quote of all from Kim Dong-choon comes from one of my favorite journalists Donald Kirk, when he interviewed Kim back in 2006:

Kim Dong Choon, another standing commissioner and author of a lengthy study on killing of civilians during the Korean War, acknowledges “divisions in our society about North Korea” but says, “I have no idea about violations in North Korea.” [Christian Science Monitor]

He has “no idea” about human rights violations in North Korea? It sounds like Kim may be spending to much time hanging out with former Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung. Maybe Professor Kim should spend more time listening to people like this and then maybe he can gain some idea about the tragedy going on in North Korea every single day:

How can someone have the creditability to determine what happened decades ago before and during the Korean War when he has “no idea” about human rights violations going on in North Korea today?

So does anyone still think that Kim Dong-choon’s Korean Truth & Reconciliation Committee has any interest in providing a balanced view of what really happened during the Korean War after reading all this? I have already shown their sloppy historical revisionism before and the sloppy work of this committee is sure to continue. I am all for a proper accounting of incidents that happened during the Korean War, but as I have shown, the Korean Truth & Reconciliation Commission, clearly has an agenda and writing an accurate history of what really transpired during the Korean War is not part of it.

The current South Korean leftists operating the Truth & Reconciliation Committee are just as bad as the South Korean right wingers they so despise in their historical revisionism. Is it any wonder why South Korean students are failing their annual history exams with people like this writing their textbooks?

Something else I found interesting is the majority of Hanley’s article is that it is just a re-worded version of an essay that Kim Dong-choon wrote for the Korea Journal back in 2002. Read Hanley’s article and then read Kim’s essay and you can clearly see the link between the two writings. Hanley might as well as had Professor Kim write the AP article for him.

In the article Hanley likes to make sure he links the US military to killings of South Korean civilians by the ROK Army, but he makes no mention of the number of American soldiers stationed in Korea before and during the early stages of the war. Hanley infers to readers that the US military is allowing the ROK government to conduct these executions when the US military withdrew from Korea in 1949 and left 472 advisors known as the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) to help train the ROK Army.

With only 472 servicemembers in the country there was no way were there enough advisor's to imbed with every single ROK military unit to monitor everything that was going on. These advisors also had no command authority over the ROK Army so it isn’t like they could have stopped the executions from happening even if they wanted to. The advisers that did witness executions documented them and sent the information to higher, which is why pictures and information about the killings exist today. However, these advisers were in no position to stop the executions from happening like Hanley leads readers to believe in his article.

Hanley would do well to learn from International Herald Tribune journalist Choe Sang-hun who wrote a article last year about the same killings Hanley wrote about in his article without the anti-US military bias in it. However, that just wouldn’t be a typical Charles Hanley article then would it?

I have to wonder what Hanley is going write about next year? Here is a suggestion, he could write about the killing of civilians on Cheju Island. Another well documented killing of South Korean civilians that few people in America know about that he can demagogue to claim he has uncovered yet another hidden tragedy caused by the US military. Hanley can show a few pictures, get some inflated body count numbers from his buddy Kim Dong-choon, a few more vague references of American involvement from Bruce Cumings & Kimsoft, and suddenly he will have another US backed atrocity to demagogue and make international headlines with.

Despite writing this article about something that is already well documented, Hanley was able to get the reaction I’m sure he was hoping for. If you type in “Korean War + executions” into Google you will see many mainstream news outlets are running with Hanley’s article. I’m sure Hanley probably must have a lot of self satisfaction with his latest piece of professional atrocity mongering. At least this time he chose a topic where he could actually find some bodies to sensationalize, unlike No Gun Ri.

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