Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Rehashing Korean War Executions, Again
» by GI Korea

Many people have been commenting and sending me e-mails on the latest article sliming a generation of Korean War veterans from the AP’s Charles Hanley and his latest protege Jae Soon-jang. I apologize for the late posting regarding this article but I have been overwhelmed with work commitments preventing me from writing a good posting on this topic.

First of all let me just direct new readers to my prior posting in response to Hanley’s prior No Gun Ri article that brought him an unwarranted Pulitzer Prize. Reading my response will give good context and background information to how Hanley has been sensationalizing alleged Korean War era tragedies for years now. Let me also direct readers to another prior posting I did that Jae Soon-jang for sloppy and sensational journalism as well.

This latest article is nearly a repeat of an article these two did only two months ago that once again provided nothing new other then Hanley actually found a Korean War era tragedy he could sensationalize where he could actually find bodies at unlike No Gun Ri. You can read my response to this article here.

Once again in his latest article Hanley uses his typical theatrical words of “declassified” or formerly “secret” documents to make the reader believe he discovered something new in regards to the executions of political prisoners in Korea. Here is a perfect example of this:

The AP has extensively researched U.S. military and diplomatic archives from the Korean War in recent years, at times relying on once-secret documents it obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and declassification reviews. The declassified U.S. record and other sources offer further glimpses of the mass killings. [Washington Post]

I don’t Hanley can write an article any more without using words like “secret documents” or “declassified US records” in them in order to create in the mind of the reader how he has uncovered some great government cover up. You will however read later on in the posting how ridiculous Hanley’s claims are.

Political prisoners being executed by the ROK Army.

The fact that South Korean political prisoners were machined gunned by the South Korean army is nothing new. Hanley is playing his old game of making old news, new again. It has been well known for years that the ROK Army was responsible for executing thousands of political prisoners before and during the war. Of course the truth isn’t as simple as the South Korean government lining up and killing hapless political prisoners. 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

Like in his article two months ago Hanley is trying to claim that American soldiers that witnessed the executions are responsible for them. He centers this case around a document that tells a narrative from Lieutenant Colonel Rollin S. Emmerich:

In a confidential narrative he later wrote for Army historians, Lt. Col. Rollins S. Emmerich, a senior U.S. adviser, described what then happened in the southern port city of Busan, formerly known as Pusan.

Emmerich was told by a subordinate that a South Korean regimental commander, determined to keep Busan’s political prisoners from joining the enemy, planned “to execute some 3500 suspected peace time Communists, locked up in the local prison,” according to the declassified 78-page narrative, first uncovered by the newspaper Busan Ilbo at the U.S. National Archives.

Emmerich wrote that he summoned the Korean, Col. Kim Chong-won, and told him the enemy would not reach Busan in a few days as Kim feared, and that “atrocities could not be condoned.”

But the American then indicated conditional acceptance of the plan.

“Colonel Kim promised not to execute the prisoners until the situation became more critical,” wrote Emmerich, who died in 1986. “Colonel Kim was told that if the enemy did arrive to the outskirts of (Busan) he would be permitted to open the gates of the prison and shoot the prisoners with machine guns.”

This passage, omitted from the published Army history, is the first documentation unearthed showing advance sanction by the U.S. military for such killings. [Washington Post]

You have got to love how Hanley just automatically assumes that LTC Emmerich gave “advance sanction” for the execution of prisoners when as far as we know no prisoners were executed. How does Hanley know that LTC Emmerich wasn’t using a stall tactic to stop the executions. If he was it worked brilliantly since as far as we know the prisoners in Busan were not executed. Emmerich should be getting a medal and not be slimed as some kind of war criminal by the likes of the AP.

I also had to chuckle at how Hanley says that Emmerich’s narrative is not in the official US Army history of the Korean War. Could it be because no one was executed in Busan? For those that don’t know Roy Appleman wrote the Army’s official history of this period of the war in his book South to the Naktong, North the Yalu. You can view this book online on the US Army webpage by clicking here. It would be impossible for Applemen to include every narrative sent to him in his book and I would be impressed if he was able to read every single narrative sent to him in the first place considering just Emmerich’s narrative was 78 pages long. I would love to read the entire narrative to see the context of Emmerich’s statements because Hanley has a history of misquoting people and taking statements out of context.

Also the executions of South Korean political prisoners by the ROK government has been publicized before in multiple books about the Korean War. In fact it is even on DVD!
Hanley’s claims that he has uncovered some great scoop that US advisers were present at executions of South Korean political prisoners. For those that have seen the DVD, The Korean War in Color they would see that one of the special features of the DVD is a video of an execution of South Korean political prisoners by the ROK Army. Here is a picture of some of the prisoners and I found it incredible some of them were able to smile for the camera knowing full well they were about to be executed:


The prisoners were tied to a pole and a target tied to them:


The political prisoners were then shot by a firing squad and then this ROK Army soldier went by each body and shot them in the head to make sure they are dead:


The video is gory and shows that executions of communists in South Korea was a regularly used tactic:



The execution took place shortly before the start of the Korean War and the executed prisoners may have been people rounded up in response to the communist insurgency launched in South Korea by the North Koreans. Present at this execution were American KMAG officers:


As can be seen in the video the execution was photographed and documented by the officers:


There may even be a US government official at the execution as well because some western looking man in a suit could be seen walking around in the video:


What this video proves is that despite Hanley’s claims of sifting through “secret” documents, going through “declassification” reviews, and filing Freedom of Information Act requests the fact that US military advisers were present at executions of political prisoners was available at his local video store. Like I have mentioned before in regards to his No Gun Ri reporting, he should have contacted me before hand, I could have loaned him my DVD and saved him a lot of time.

Another important point I want to make about this video is, should anyone be surprised that these same KMAG officers who were photographing and documenting South Korean executions before the war were doing the same during the war as well? It is pretty clear that the US government treated the execution of communists as an internal ROK matter.

In the article Hanley and the people he quotes continually try to make the claim that MacArthur authorized the executions. Once again this is inaccurate. If people read David Halberstam’s excellent history of the Korean War, The Coldest Winter he documents in great detail how little attention General Douglas MacArthur gave to events in South Korea before the war:

It became clear that MacArthur wanted no part of Korea in the period from 1945-1950. There were countless cables coming across his desk from Hodge, pleading for his help or his advice: “I urgently request your active participation in my difficult position …” Faubion Bowers, who was a principal MacArthur aide in those days because of his ability to speak Japanese, remembered Hodge deciding on his own to come to see MacArthur, and being kept waiting for hours, hoping to see the general, only to be told that he was to take care of Korea himself. “I wouldn’t put my foot in Korea. It belongs to the State Department,” MacArthur told Bowers later as he was driven home. “They wanted it and got it. They have jurisdiction. I don’t. I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot barge pole. The damn diplomats make the wars and we win them. Why should I save their skin? I won’t help Hodge. Let them help themselves.” [The Coldest Winter - Page 61]

General John Hodge was the military commander in charge of US forces in Korea and he repeatedly try to get MacArthur to take an active interest in Korea because General Hodge could not stand South Korean President Syngman Rhee:

Those most comfortable with Rhee did not, however, include the Americans in Korea who actually had to deal with him on a daily basis, many of whom came to loathe him. General John Hodge, the unusually rough and undiplomatic commander of American troops in South Korea, despised Rhee. He considered him, as Clay Blair, the military historian, wrote, “devious, emotionally unstable, brutal, corrupt, and wildly unpredictable.” [The Coldest Winter - Page 69]

Could it be General Hodge hated Rhee because of things such as his KMAG advisers reporting back to him with pictures of mass executions? This shows how little control the KMAG advisers had of ROK troops in Korea that Hanley wants everyone to believe they had some kind of command authority to override Korean sovereignty in regards to how they handled their prisoners. This is obviously not true.

In fact Hodge quarreled so much with Rhee that Rhee was able to prevent Hodge from becoming the 8th Army commander in Japan and that is how General Walton Walker received the posting. ROK Drop readers should remember that General Walker would go on to play a critical role in saving South Korea from the communist attack and has since been rewarded with multiple Korean cities refusing to allow the construction of a statue in his honor.

Also Hanley’s attempts to link MacArthur with approving the executions of political prisoners is obviously not likely considering how little MacArthur cared about internal Korean matters in the first place.
The dubious nature of Hanley’s claims gets even more pathetic when like his No Gun Ri reporting he has to start relying on North Korean newspapers to substantiate his claims:

A North Korean newspaper said 1,000 prisoners were slain in Incheon, just west of Seoul, in late June 1950 _ a report partly corroborated by a declassified U.S. Eighth Army document of July 1950 saying “400 Communists” had been killed in Incheon. The North Korean report claimed a U.S. military adviser had given the order.

Hanley’s next source is just as pathetic:

Journalist Alan Winnington, of the British communist Daily Worker newspaper, entered Daejeon with North Korean troops after July 20 and reported that the killings were carried out for three days in early July and two or three days in mid-July.

He wrote that his witnesses claimed jeeploads of American officers “supervised the butchery.” Secret CIA and Army intelligence communications reported on the Daejeon and Suwon killings as early as July 3, but said nothing about the U.S. presence or about any U.S. oversight.

It is pretty sad to see an American journalist sourcing his story with North Korean and communist news reports. I couldn’t get away with sourcing a term paper in college with such obviously flawed sources much less these sources being used in a newspaper article to be published around the world. It is shocking how far American journalism has fallen.

So how is it that Hanley is once again passing off such flawed history? It is because he is once again relying on the Korean Truth & Reconciliation Commission. I have already shown their sloppy historical revisionism before and the sloppy work of this committee is sure to continue as evident by this latest article.

I will direct everyone to read my prior posting on the leftist leanings of the leadership of the T&R Committee to include Kim Dong-choon who is quoted heavily in the AP article. Here is a sample of what Kim Dong-choon has said in the past in regards to the Korean War:


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.

The president of the T&R Committeee Ahn Byung-ook who is quoted in Hanley’s latest article, is a member of the Korean Peace Network which is a North Korea apologist group that has advocated for the removal of North Korea from the State’s Sponsors of Terrorism List and even signed a open letter to the American people published in the New York Times for Americans to vote for John Kerry and remove the Bush administration because of their North Korean policies.

It is pretty clear of the political leanings of Kim Dong-choon, Ahn Byung-ook, and their cohorts at the Korean Truth & Reconciliation Committee that Charles Hanley is relying heavily on to substantiate his article. Is it any wonder why there are so many inaccuracies in Hanley’s reporting? 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.

LTC Emmerich pictured on the left.

However, what I find most despicable about this article is that Hanley is specifically sliming a man as a war criminal, LTC Emmerich who is no longer alive to even defend himself. If I was LTC Emmerich’s family I would be outraged.

The one Korean War veteran quoted in the article had this to say that pretty much sums up what happened:

The Koreans were responsible for their own actions, said the retired Army lieutenant colonel, 81. “The Koreans were sovereign. To me, there was never any question that the Koreans were in charge,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Bellingham, Wash.

It is disgraceful that one American Korean War veteran is quoted in a four page article filled with quotes from multiple Korean leftist historians and people with similar sympathies like Bruce Cumings. This was definitely a hit piece which is even more evident considering the timing.

First of all it is suspicious that this article which is very similar to the one published just two months ago, was published now? I suspect Hanley had the article published over the 4th of July weekend because he knew more people would read it then and hopefully get some traction from it. His article published in May received little traction in the US or even in Korea due to the focus on Cows Gone Wild beginning then. Hanley is probably hoping the story would gain traction if more people saw it over the holiday weekend, but it appears so far there has been little interest. It would take television news stations to run with Hanley’s story to make it big like No Gun Ri became. However, I think Hanley has been so discredited after his No Gun Ri reporting that a major television news network isn’t willing to run with one of his stories.

Secondly notice how the Truth & Reconciliation Committee features prominently in Hanley’s articles all the sudden only after the Lee Myung-bak regime announced that funding for the committee was going to be discontinued when its mandate runs out in 2010. It is pretty clear the T&R Committee is feeding Hanley his stories in order to turn these executions into something that captures the Korean public’s attention in order to pressure President Lee to continue the committee after 2010. It will be interesting to see if any of the leftist anti-US groups try to run with issue or not. After the hysteria of Cows Gone Wild anything is possible.
The issue of civilians killed during the Korean War is a very real one that unfortunately people with biases are using to advance their own agendas that are aided by sensational media reports from people like Charles Hanley.

The Truth & Reconciliation Committee in theory is a very good idea that I support, but it is the people that are leading it that is the problem. The T&R should be a committee dedicated to creating an accurate history of the war. I have already demonstrated this current group of people are not interested in doing so.

Since the Korean War was a UN action maybe a joint UN research team from countries heavily involved in the Korean War could investigate the claims? Just an idea that I would be interested to hear what other people think of. This idea is definitely better then having Kim Dong-choon and the rest of the clowns at the Korean Truth & Reconciliation Committee left to interpret the history of the Korean War.

Bottom line though is that veterans and civilians deserve an accurate accounting of what happened during the war which Charles Hanley, Jae Soon-jang, and the T&R Committee are currently not interested in doing which is just another continuing tragedy of the war.

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