Monday, July 7, 2008

1st Hard Evidence U.S. Condoned Korean Slaughter

Associated Press continues to follow the story being unravelled by South Korea's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, investigating war crimes and atrocities long kept secret from the Korean War of the early 1950s. Their latest story follows an earlier report last May, which I also discussed here.

The latest news continues the grisly tale of uncovering mass graves, and unearthing formerly classified documents. The number of leftists, political opponents, and just plain innocent citizens killed at the orders of then South Korean President Syngman Rhee, shortly after North Korean troops invaded the south. The number killed is estimated to be from 100,000 to 200,000 people, many of them lined up above hastily-dug trenches and shot by military police. Some apparently were buried still alive.

There were no charges or trials for these victims. Furthermore, though U.S. officials definitely knew about the killings, and maybe condoned or even ordered some, a number of U.S. military personnel seem to have had foreknowledge of the killings. The full story of U.S. involvement awaits the declassification and study of hundreds of previously classified documents.

The bulk of the evidence thus far shows that while some U.S. commanders on-site had qualms about the killings, General Douglas MacArthur, in charge of U.S. forces there, saw the killings as an "internal matter". Other officers appeared to approve, at least conditionally.

In what is the biggest exposure thus far of U.S. involvement, in an uncensored version of a narrative of events written at the time by U.S. adviser in Korea, Lt. Col. Rollins S. Emmerich admits he gave advance sanction to summary executions in the city of Busan (now Pusan). According to the AP report, a a South Korean regimental commander wanted "to execute some 3500 suspected peace time Communists, locked up in the local prison". Lt. Col. Emmerich at first thought such atrocities unnecessary, but then seemed to change his mind. (Emphasis in bold added)
"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."
Later that summer, hundreds of prisoners apparently were summarily executed in Busan.

There are plenty of atrocities to go around. A North Korean report describes the killings of 1,000 prisoners in Incheon in June 1950, supposedly at the orders of a U.S. military adviser. A British communist journalist at the time reported U.S. forces were supervising "the butchery" at Daejeon. One U.S. officer invited another to come witness the "turkey shoot" outside the city. While the officer so invited apparently declined, others went and took photos of the killings. (Warning: these are gruesome photos.) Today, U.S. historian Bruce Cumings at the University of Chicago finds the U.S. guilty of collaboration in the Daejeon killings, and also of a cover-up. Of course, during the Cold War the U.S. labeled all communist reports of massacres in Korea as "lies".

But, it was the United States that was involved this time in massive lying, covering up serious war crimes by its South Korean "ally", who was being sold to the world as a supposed democratic alternative to the godless communists. As I wrote when this story first broke last spring:
After "shock and awe" in Iraq, the carpetbombing of Vietnam, the mass executions of the Phoenix Project, and the thousands imprisoned and untold tortured at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and other "global war on terror" U.S. prisons (including the detention of thousands of minors), after these revelations and many, many more, it is time that Americans woke up and began to accept the reality of their history. That history is far bloodier than they care to imagine, and the fact that atrocities of this magnitude were done by or under the guidance of Americans is a hideous truth that we must not hide from.

More importantly, we should not let those implicated in crimes past and present escape without accountability. A civil commission of the most respected Americans -- none of whom should be from government or the military, as they are too tainted -- should be assembled to investigate the full extent of U.S. involved war crimes. This should include the evidence about use of biological weapons by the United States, as well, during the Korean War. [The cover-up of this aspect of the war has been implicated in the origins of the U.S. torture program at Guantanamo and throughout Bush's "war on terror" gulag.] The use of torture post-9/11 should also top the agenda.

We cannot have a clean start, a la Obama, without facing the truth, as ugly as it may be. I ask all of you: are we really a genocidal country? Do we let mass murder go unpunished? How has it come to this, that one has to even ask such questions in this day and age? Speak out now. U.S. militarism has led us to the gates of a moral holocaust. It is happening now.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on appearing in The Public Record, too!

I so appreciate learning the history and context of US policy and torture and terrorism. Please consider compiling your work into book form. It isn't easy to read (an N=1 opinion only), and it takes me a while to contemplate and digest what you write. If you published a book, my copy would be dog-eared and littered with bookmarks and notes.

Just a thought (and hopefully a temptation-)

Thanks for all you do. I can't imagine that it's easy to research and to write.

Valtin said...


You are the second person to mention the book idea today. And, coincidentally, I was thinking about that last night myself. I have a little time off soon, perhaps I can work up a book proposal.

One idea I had was to produce a compendium of different blog pieces about torture. A more difficult and time consuming task, I fear. Anyway, much thanks for your N=1 opinion. It's a very strong N.

Anonymous said...

It could be in the form of a series of essays/posts, a la Thomas Paine or Benj. Franklin....
(Because maybe it's several books needing to be written eventually....Ha!) Thanks for considering it - the index and cross referencing, not to mention any footnotes you might include - would be tremendously beneficial.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post about what happened in the chaotic stages of the Korean War--

I wonder if adding into all of this the absolute total and complete dominance of the situation by General MacArthur and his staff (which was massive at the time) might help clarify the "why" part of all of this.

At the time of the outbreak of war in Korea, MacArthur had controlled the region for the better part of five years, exercising complete authority over virtually everything that came out as far as news or information. MacArthur detested the Truman and Roosevelt administrations and undercut them at every turn, feeding information to the conservative wing of the Republican party of the day that was designed to embarrass Truman and give his conservative protectors in the Congress ammunition to use against the administration.

MacArthur in turn exercised control over every bit of information--not allowing the State Department to do its job and only allowing his own people to filter the news going back to the United States. MacArthur did everything he could to massage the news and make himself look good--therefore, the reality of what was going on in Korea (mass executions, turmoil, corruption, incompetence especially) was kept from the American people and the lies MacArthur sent back were amplified and repeated by the conservative Republicans (who were screaming about "who lost China" while ignoring evidence China was entering the war.)

It is only because the entire rotten edifice came crashing down--with hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops--that MacArthur was finally weak enough to be fired. By then, he had covered up many of these crimes and no one wanted to courageously unearth the truth--they wanted the MacArthur era over.

Just a few thoughts--

Anonymous said...

Virtually everything I just said--verifiable by reading Halberstam's last book on the Korean War--

A little too focused on Vietnam, but that's how Halberstam viewed everything. An excellent book, nonetheless.

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