[KS] Brian Hwang's Discussion Question (Tae Gyun Park)
jiyulkim at gmail.com
Mon Apr 16 08:02:24 EDT 2012
I write as someone who studied this issue in some detail albeit some
time ago by writing a MA thesis on it (US and Korea in Vietnam and the
Japan-Korea Treaty: Search for Security, Prosperity and Influence,
Harvard, 1991 available at www.dtic.mil "ADA237979"), as a career US
Army officer (28+ years) and PhD candidate in History with focus on
Korea of 1968-1972.
Labeling the Korean soldiers in Vietnam as "mercenary" is overly
simplistic. It is my understanding that only volunteers were sent.
Although entire units were sent (9th White Horse Div, Capital Tiger Div,
Marine Blue Dragon Bde) they were filled with volunteers who were
carefully screened. The reason being that as the first overseas
deployment of South Korean forces and a major one at that Korea did not
want to force anyone to go over and only send the best qualified. All
soldiers destined for Vietnam went through intense training and preparation.
The motivations of the volunteers are complex. Economic was undoubtedly
a key factor in a period when Korea was one of the poorest countries in
the world. It is true that the USG paid a lot of money and provided
materiel, but most of those funds, routed through the USG, were kept by
the ROKG to fund modernizing programs. But they were also motivated by
ideological (anti-Communism in a period that saw intense NK provocations
1966-1970), patriotic (the enthusiasm for the nation building project
under Park) and sense of duty (repay the debt of the Korean War). The
sense of national mission and purpose among the general populace that VN
generated in the mid 60s was intense. It filled Koreans with intense pride.
The atrocities of civilian massacres, of which there were many as shown
by a Friends Committee investigation in the early 70s and more recently
in the late 90s, is also a complex subject to explain. I gather that the
"type of warfare" that Brian mentions is counterinsurgency (COIN)
although I have no idea what "civilian warfare" means as I have never
encountered the term in my career and study of history of warfare. COIN
is messy and difficult as we have found out again in Iraq and
Afghanistan and military forces are perhaps not the best means to
conduct it. But I think there is a greater factor, a cultural one.
Although the Korean deployment was officially depicted as a "crusade" to
save another Asian nation from Communism, the Korean soldiers in Vietnam
almost immediately looked down on the Vietnamese. The Koreans seemed to
have had a sense of cultural and physical (Vietnamese were generally
smaller in stature) superiority calling the Vietnamese /ttangk'ong/
(peanuts). Of course this is a generalization and many Koreans deeply
respected the Vietnamese. It was similar to the way many Americans
looked down on the Vietnamese that contributed in small part to the
American defeat because the PAVN/VC were underestimated (how often have
we done that in Asian wars). In a certain sense and in the passion of
the battlefield I don't think it was not difficult to see the Vietnamese
in less than human terms. There is also the general emotions of the
battlefield in any time and place where soldiers, the ones with the
instruments and powers to determine life and death, feel empowered
beyond reason. This is fortunately a relatively rare occurrence due to
military training discipline and simple sense of human decency, but
exceptions happen (Sergeant Bales in Afghanistan).
Don Kirk's recommendation to talk directly with Korean veterans could
help define this issue even if not definitely.
In any event, I say these things only to state that issue complex.
On 4/16/2012 1:56 AM, Eugene Y. Park wrote:
> Dear all,
> My contribution here is strictly anecdotal rather than research-based.
> Two my of my relatives (i.e. my grandmother's younger first-cousins)
> both volunteered (chawo(n, ??) and both came from families that were
> financially struggling. At the time, both were active-duty soldiers in
> the ROK army. One did end up going to Vietnam and died when the
> helicopter that he was on was shot down. Another one, whom I got to
> chat with about all this last summer, told me that he volunteered to
> go to Vietnam as promised incentives were very attractive to him, but
> somehow he got rejected when he applied.
> Eugene Y. Park
> Korea Foundation Associate Professor of History
> Director, James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies
> University of Pennsylvania
> On 4/15/2012 10:34 PM, don kirk wrote:
>> By "forcefully mobiilized in combat units," you mean they were
>> draftees whose units were sent there, right? That would make sense
>> since two big divisions were in Vietnam, the White Horse and the
>> Tiger. Wouldn't think all or most of them would have been
>> "volunteers" though special forces may have been mostly volunteers,
>> not sure. (Korean forces in Vietnam totalled 50,000 or more troops
>> much of the time. The term "forcefully mobilized" would seem to be
>> another term for drafted. All young Korean men were subject to the
>> draft. Still are -- though some think of ways to avoid it.)
>> Don Kirk
>> --- On *Sun, 4/15/12, tae gyun park /<tgpark3 at gmail.com>/* wrote:
>> From: tae gyun park <tgpark3 at gmail.com>
>> Subject: Re: [KS] Brian Hwang's Discussion Question (Tae Gyun Park)
>> To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
>> Date: Sunday, April 15, 2012, 6:21 PM
>> Dear Brian,
>> There is an interesting documentary, "Black Sergeant Kim returning
>> from Vietnam"(no.77, 2004) in "I can say now (Ijeneun Malhalsu Itda)"
>> series, produced by MBC in South Korea, for which I was an adviser.
>> According to interviews in the documentary, most of the Korean
>> soldiers in Vietnam were not volunteers, but were forcefully
>> in combat units. Of course, there were volunteers in Korean combat
>> divisions in Vietnam. I do not have any statistics, unfortunately.
>> Tae Gyun Park.
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