Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Hour of the Wolf

The next time someone comes around yelling about "American War Crimes," you should remind them that there are a lot more bodies buried in other parts of the world. Today brings news of a dark echo from the early days of the Cold War: South Korean Commission Details Wartime Massacres

In the opening months of the Korean War, the South Korean military and the police executed at least 4,900 civilians who had earlier signed up — often under force — for re-education classes meant to turn them against Communism, the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission announced Thursday.

The government killed the civilians out of fear that they would help the Communists who were invading from the north and forcing South Korean and American forces into retreat during the first desperate weeks of the war, the commission said.

Although the panel has reported on similar civilian massacres in the past, the announcement Thursday represented the first time that a state investigative agency confirmed the nature and scale of what is known as “the National Guidance League incident” — one of the most horrific and controversial episodes of the war.

The anti-Communist and authoritarian government of President Syngman Rhee had set up the league to re-educate people who had disavowed Communism in the months before the war, and forced an estimated 300,000 South Koreans to join. At the time, the government was facing a vicious and prolonged insurgency by leftist guerrillas.

But the commission reported that many of those who joined the league had never been Communists. They either were swept up because they had provided food or other aid to Communists hiding in the hills, often at gunpoint, or were required to join by local officials seeking to meet a government quota for the number of Communists being re-educated. In some instances, the panel said, peasants were lured into joining with promises of bigger rice rations.

“The authorities pressed us to join the league,” said Kim Ki-ban, 87, at a news conference called by the commission on Thursday. “We had no idea that we were joining a death row.”

South Korea is probably the developed nation with the most recent history of mass-murdering its own citizens. As late as 1980, South Korea bloodily suppressed a pro-democracy uprising in the city of Kwanju. It's a historic legacy that could one day taint the US; rumors of US war crimes during the Korean War, followed by tacit complicity with excesses during the subsequent decades of military rule, have long fed the virulent anti-Americanism that seems to lurk behind South Korea's famously wild street protests. And yet this is something rarely discussed in an American political scene where congressmen of a certain persuasion are willing to leap for the microphones to denounce imaginary outrages like GITMO's flushed Korans and Haditha's fictional massacre. Finally, our historical illiteracy has worked out in our favor!

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