[KS] RE: KSR 1999-04: _Korea: Division, Reunification, & U.S. Foreign Policy_, by Martin Hart-Landsberg
carlwebb at asiafind.com
carlwebb at asiafind.com
Sun Aug 8 00:59:36 EDT 1999
Truth about U.S. atrocities in South Korea must be exposed
Cold War-era massacres by American soldiers kept under wraps for 40 years
By Yong Un Yuk
On April 3, 1948, the people of Cheju Island rose up to protest the rule of the U.S. military government and the separate election in South Korea which threatened to divide the nation. The uprising lasted for seven years, during which nearly one-third of the island's population, or approximately 80,000 people, were killed because they were accused of being communists. This uprising was the first anti-United States liberation effort and struggle for reunification in Korea. We call it the April 3 Cheju People's Uprising.
Today, Cheju Island is a famous international resort that millions of tourists visit each year. It is best known as the honeymoon destination for young South Korean couples who come back with photos of themselves posed against backdrops of fields covered with yellow flowers, sparkling waterfalls and wild indigenous ponies. These honeymoon mementos depict an idyllic island where people are always smiling. What they never show is the dark irony of Cheju-do's past. Less than half a century ago, this island was the place of a bloody massacre - one that was carefully covered up by its perpetrators, the governments of the United States and South Korea.
BACKGROUND: With the end of World War II on Aug. 15, 1945, liberation came like a miracle to Korea. After 36 years of oppressive colonial rule by the Japanese government, Koreans experienced their first taste of freedom. Everyone dreamed of building a new nation where the people would become the owners of their destiny. People's committees sprang up all over the country, bringing order on the local and national levels, and a provisional government was formed to set up an independent nation. The whole country was eager to repair the national economy and overcome the ills caused by decades of Japanese colonialism.
The United States, having emerged as World War II's dominant superpower, landed in Korea uninvited and positioned itself to govern the newly liberated land. Rather than adhering to the Korean people's desires to rebuild the country, the United States took control of the government and launched an anti-communist movement, thus giving birth to the ensuing Cold War. After occupying the southern part of Korea, the U.S. military government banned the political activities of the people's committees and re-employed the former Japanese collaborators and instituted the same colonial system.
In northern Korea, in the presence of the Soviets, the Koreans who willingly collaborated with the Japanese had all been removed from power. In contrast, in southern Korea the U.S. rehired those same pro-Japanese collaborators and returned them to their former positions of power. During the five years following the liberation in the south, the number of political prisoners dramatically increased while poverty and hunger reached new heights, even compared to when Korea was struggling as a colony of Japan. Dreams of an independent Korea were shattered as life became increasingly more difficult and political oppression worsened under U.S. control.
THE BUILDUP: When the Joint Commission between the United States and the U.S.S.R. failed, elections were held, under the auspices of U.S. rule, to form a separate South Korean government. However, the Korean people were opposed to the intentions of the United States. Among those most opposed to separate elections and the presence of the United States were the Cheju-Islanders.
On March 1, 1948, the people of Cheju held a ceremony to commemorate the March 1 independence movement. While marching peacefully, the people demanded the withdrawal of the United States from the Korean peninsula. The United States responded with a barrage of gunfire from all directions. On that day, six people were killed and many more were injured.
Mobilized by their anger, the people of Cheju organized a committee to respond to the incident, and subsequently held a massive strike throughout the entire island which lasted for eight days. In response, the United States declared Cheju "the second Moscow" and labeled its people as communists. Furthermore, the United States brought in military forces from the mainland to suppress the protest. Indiscriminate torture and terrorist actions were unleashed on the people of Cheju. Many Cheju-Islanders were killed and even more were arrested. This was the beginning of heinous atrocities committed against the people of Cheju by the United States over the next seven years.
The police began burning homes and entire villages based on rumors that communists were organizing in these regions. And when the villagers begged for their lives, pleading that they knew nothing, the soldiers brutally gunned them down, including women and children. They made sure that these people were all dead by stabbing each one with bayonets. Because sitting still guaranteed death, the people of Cheju had no choice but to fight. In order to survive, the people began gathering in the mountains and setting up bases. Crude bamboo spears and farming implements were prepared as the main weapons to fight the well-armed U.S. police.
THE UPRISING: On April 3, 1948, the Cheju-Islanders' efforts culminated in a massive uprising. At 1 a.m., signal fires were lit simultaneously on 89 mountain tops of Cheju. As the mountain tops were lit, 1,500 resistance fighters attacked 10 U.S. police stations and their collaborators. This resulted in victory for the resistance fighters and also momentarily impeded the separate election which was to take place in South Korea. Unfortunately, this victory aroused the vengeance of the United States and led to the massacre of the people of Cheju Island.
After the uprising, the leaders of the resistance went in to peace talks with a delegate from the national guard. But tranquillity lasted for only a short period. In order to disrupt the peace talks, the government created a frame-up where a gang of inland police, camouflaged as resistance fighters, terrorized Orari, a village in Cheju. This action provoked further violent retaliation by the people against the police, which in turn justified more violence by the police against the resistance fighters.
THE MASSACRE: On Aug. 15, Syngman Rhee was elected the first president of South Korea. The Rhee government was born after South Korea held its separate elections and the United States relinquished official control over the southern part of Korea. Now that the United States was formally absolved of accountability for the killings that were taking place on Cheju, the massacre's intensity increased. From this point on, the killings were no longer consequences of outsider (U.S.) intervention but a "legitimate" internal suppression.
The operations of the armed forces tightened in toward the mountains and broke down the resistance. People were massacred all over the island. On school grounds, inside a public swimming pool, whether young or old, men or women, the islanders were indiscriminately fired upon or buried alive.
In one example, nearly 600 people in the town of Bucholi were executed by the military in 2 days. Only 4 men survived out of 300 households.
Less than a year later, on June 9, 1949, the uprising came to an end with the capture of the last leader of the resistance force, Duk Kuh Lee, although scattered fighting continued for the next six years. In the final tally, 80,000 of the 280,000 residents of Cheju had been slaughtered. Only a small percentage actually participated in the fighting; most were simple farmers and fishermen. Many who had surrendered out of hunger and cold were either executed or tortured to death.
TODAY: For four decades, the truth about Cheju Island laid buried under the oppressive dictatorships of Rhee Syngman, Park Chung Hee, Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo and their terror organization, the Korean CIA. Only in 1988, 40 years later, did the nation learn of the shocking truth.
Why had the truth not come out sooner? When a third of an island's population is brutally massacred in a frenzy of red baiting and the history is actively distorted to hide the truth, we must ask ourselves why this is happening. There is currently a movement to create a special law that will allow people to uncover the hidden history of the Cheju massacre. Questions are being asked about the role of the United States and its continuing influence on the government of South Korea that has hidden and continues to hide the truth. Even today, human bones occasionally surface from the sand and are discovered by children playing on the beach.
How much longer can we ignore this painful past? In South Korean textbooks, the April 3 Cheju Uprising is still written off as a "riot" agitated by communist factions that was crushed by glorious patriots of the South Korean army. Eighty thousand restless souls cry out for justice.
Please attend an educational program on Thursday, which is being organized by UCLA Korean American student and community organizations. For more information, call 845-0726.
> Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 11:48:13 +1200
> To: korean-studies at mailbase.ac.uk
> From: Stephen.Epstein at vuw.ac.nz
> _Korea: Division, Reunification, & U.S. Foreign Policy_, by Martin
> Hart-Landsberg. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998. (ISBN
> 0-85345-928-2 cloth; ISBN 0-85345-927-4 paper).
> Reviewed by Alon Levkowitz
> Hebrew University
> Korea has for many years drawn attention as one of the last places on
> earth to exhibit the remains of the Cold War. The end of the Korean
> conflict would solve one of the most important problems in Asia, and one
> of the main solutions that has been discussed and researched is
> reunification, an idea boosted after the reunification of Germany. Many
> papers and books have been written and conferences held on the topic
> since German reunification, a list too long to condense easily. Over
> the years several questions have been raised, among them: who is
> responsible for the division of Korea; and why did it take so many years
> for South Korea to become a democratic state? Hart-Landsberg in his new
> book Korea: Division, Reunification, and U.S. Foreign Policy claims
> that the answers to these questions can largely be found in U.S. foreign
> policy towards Korea.
> The author analyzes the relationship between Korea and the U.S. since
> the 19th century. Hart-Landsberg starts with the relations of the U.S.
> towards Korea under Japanese rule, and continues analyzing relations
> until after the end of the Second World War. U.S. policy is criticized
> by the author for the preference given to security and regional
> considerations over the promotion of the democratic process in Korea.
> (This conflict over the need to achieve several at times inconsistent
> goals has been one of the dilemmas for the U.S. in the post WWII years
> in Korea, Japan and other areas. cf. Press-Barnathan (1998)). U.S.
> policy in Korea before the Korean war has been incisively documented in
> the two volumes of Cumings (1981, 1990). Cumings in a very detailed
> manner, and Hart-Landsberg in a more concise way, show their readers
> what they consider to be the mistakes that American generals and
> diplomats have made in dealing with Korea.
> One example cited by Hart-Landsberg is what Commanding General Hodge
> told his officers in August 1945 before arriving in southern Korea, that
> "Korea was an enemy of the United States" (p.71). Korea and not Japan
> is the enemy, according to General Hodge. This statement came from
> Hodge although the Americans fought the Japanese not the Koreans;
> indeed, many Koreans fought with the Chinese forces against the Japanese
> In chapters 3-4, the author states that the American forces under the
> guise of the Cold War assisted the Korean regime to oppress many South
> Korean opposition groups that called for democracy and Korean
> reunification in the years prior to the Korean War. Any attempt to
> promote a socialist government was seen in South Korea as a threat to
> the regime.
> The Korean War is one of the great influential events in twentieth
> century Asia. The legacy of the Korean War still influences the
> policies of both Koreas and U.S. policy in the region, and the remains
> of it can be seen at the DMZ. Who is responsible for the Korean War?
> Was the U.S. defending the democratic world against the communist
> world? The author argues that we should reinvestigate the origins of
> the Korean War and look at other elements that might shed new light on
> the responsibility of the U.S. He does not blame the U.S. as being
> solely responsible, but as one of the factors. The U.S. stressed the
> idea that it was defending democracy and that is why it should join the
> war. One of the main reasons, according to the author, was that it was
> just defending its interests in wider regional considerations. American
> officials believed that Japan and Europe were at stake, and that the
> loss of South Korea would cause the loss of Japan and parts of western
> Comparing U.S. policy towards Korea and towards states in South and
> Central America it is possible to demonstrate that the promotion of
> democracy in these nations was just a slogan and not the real basis of
> policy. For the Cold War decision makers, democracy was seen as a
> weakness in some parts of the world. That is why the U.S. was willing
> to support non-democratic regimes in some parts of the world and at the
> same time support and promote other, democratic regimes elsewhere.
> Hart-Landsberg quotes MacDonald who says that the first opinion survey
> carried out by the American forces in Korea showed that a majority
> supported a socialist economy. But at that stage in history no American
> official would accede to such majority opinion. The result was that the
> American forces worked together with the forces that opposed socialism
> and communism, even though these movements had a following in South
> Korea (p.175).
> The anti-communist policy of President Rhee and his successors found
> support in the American government. The problem was that sometimes the
> main goal of this policy was to strengthen the regime in order to
> provide it with legitimacy, which it was not, in fact, accorded by the
> public (Hong 1999). President Park established the KCIA, whose main
> stated goal was to strengthen the security of South Korea against North
> Korea. However, it was also used many times against political rivals
> (pp.182-3), most well-known among them being Kim Dae Jung, who suffered
> greatly at the hands of the KCIA during the years of the Park era.
> At the beginning of the 70s, Park Chung Hee passed the Yushin
> constitution which allowed him a free hand in various areas. Any
> attempts by students or other organizations to protest against the new
> constitution or other harsh policies were dealt with by force. The U.S.
> government did not express any strong opposition to Park's
> anti-democratic actions. The Carter administration was critical of
> Park, but once the strategic balance in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan
> had changed, policy towards Korea changed due to security
> One of the most controversial issues is the Kwangju uprising, or,
> alternatively, massacre: at the crux of the matter is whether the
> Americans gave the green light to the Korean military to 'solve' the
> problem in Kwangju by using military force. The highest military
> officer of the Americans was also in charge of the Korean forces. At
> this time, U.S. concerns were not limited exclusively to Korea. They
> also focussed on Iran, where the Shah was ousted and replaced by
> Ayatollah Khomeini. The Americans were afraid that the Kwangju uprising
> would weaken the regime in Korea. According to the author they were
> therefore willing to support some of Chun's non-democratic actions in
> order to strengthen his regime (pp.189-192). The Kwangju monument
> stands as an eloquent symbol showing the price that people had to pay
> for their freedom.
> The last chapter of the book is dedicated to the question of Korean
> reunification. What is the best solution for the Korean peninsula? The
> formal policy of South Korea is commitment to reunification. The South
> Korean government supports reunification, but their biggest fear is that
> North Korea will collapse imminently and that reunification will start
> all too soon. The only comparable case study is the reunification of
> Germany. German reunification took place after the collapse of East
> Germany and the subsequent absorption of East Germany by West Germany.
> Should Korean reunification proceed like the German model (i.e. after
> the collapse of North Korea), or should it be handled between equal
> partners? Through the years South Korea has tried to approach the
> reunification process from a position of supremacy. Hart-Landsberg's
> proposes negotiations between equals and assistance to North Korea in
> order to prevent its collapse.
> If the author had published this work a year or two later, he would, no
> doubt, have discussed the change that occurred in South Korea since the
> election of President Kim Dae Jung, who has stressed a "sunshine" policy
> as a process of gradual reunification. In years past, some of the sorts
> of provocation that North Korea has committed would have caused South
> Korea to convince the U.S. to stop any assistance to North Korea.
> President Kim and his "Sunshine" policy display a changed attitude
> towards the North, however. There is an ongoing effort to try to change
> the Balance of Power philosophy that has prevailed in South Korea for
> many years, and a possibility exists that Kim Dae Jung will be able to
> fulfil the "Alternative Solution" offered by Hart-Landsberg.
> It would have been better if, in addition to the footnotes, the author
> had supplied a bibliography. The book covers a long period in
> Korean-U.S. relations, and by doing so, does not get into more detailed
> discussion of specific events. The author could also have included a
> list of recommended books dealing with each period for students. While
> Hart-Landsberg has succeeded in his aim of showing that democracy was
> not the main goal of U.S. policy towards Korea, and that reasons for
> some of the events that have occurred in modern Korean history should be
> re-examined, some of the issues dealt with in this book have already
> received more thorough examination elsewhere, although these latter
> works have focused on more limited timespans. This book is a useful
> introduction to the relationship between Korea and the United States,
> but it cannot replace the need to read more detailed accounts of modern
> Korean history.
> Cumings, Bruce 1990. _The Origins of The Korean War. Volume 2: The
> Roaring of the Cataract 1947-1950_. Princeton: Princeton University
> Cumings, Bruce 1981. _The Origins of The Korean War. Volume 1:
> Liberation and Emergence of Separate Regimes 1945-1947_. Princeton:
> Princeton University Press.
> Press-Barnathan, Galia 1998. _Choosing Cooperation Strategies - The
> U.S. and Regional Cooperation in Asia and Europe in the Early Post-
> W.W.II Years._ Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University.
> Hong, Yong-Pyo 1999. _State Security and Regime Security: President
> Syngman Rhee and the Insecurity Dilemma in South Korea 1953-60_.
> London: Macmillan Press.
> Levkowitz, Alon 1999
> Review of Martin Hart-Landsberg, _Korea: Division, Reunification, & U.S.
> Foreign Policy_ (1998)
> Korean Studies Review 1999, no. 4
> Electronic file:
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