[KS] Brian Hwang's Discussion Question (Tae Gyun Park)

Jiyul Kim 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.

Jiyul Kim
Oberlin, Ohio

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.
> Best,
> Gene
> ---
> Eugene Y. Park
> Korea Foundation Associate Professor of History
> Director, James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies
> University of Pennsylvania
> http://www.history.upenn.edu/faculty/park.shtml
> 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
>>     mobilized
>>     in combat units. Of course, there were volunteers in Korean combat
>>     divisions in Vietnam. I do not have any statistics, unfortunately.
>>     Best,
>>     Tae Gyun Park.
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