A South Korean genocide that was kept secret
By: Naveed Qazi
South Korea has its own problems of genocide. The country has hosted several military dictatorships. For decades, the Bodo League massacre had been unknown to the world. Part of South Korea’s least known ‘the forgotten war’, it had happened in a place called Daejon mainly in October 1950, now an industrial city. Some people believed this systematic massacre was started two months earlier.
During 1991, a construction worker preparing for a concrete foundation at some place, south of the city, discovered something, which shattered the fabric of the South Korean society in the times to come.
Amidst the soil, he found a human skull of a child with several bullet holes. This human remain was not the last one in the debris to be unburied from beneath. After contacting the manager of his company, the later discoveries revealed hundreds of sites, with hundreds of skeletons, smothered beneath the soil, some with peasant clothing’s on them, while others having military uniforms. These were human remains of civilians including infants and children.
When a thorough investigation was done by archaeologist Park Raegan, he concluded that more than hundred thousand civilians were estimated to be massacred in and around Daejon. A local Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated a figure of around four hundred thousand.
With time, it gradually came forward the people who were massacred were Communism sympathisers. It is a huge embarrassment for a country that calls itself a bastion of democracy and development. It is because, for decades, the government concealed its savage feats, the survivors were not allowed to talk about it and public revelation, if carried out by locals, was warned with brutal torture and even death.
When American troops had landed in September 1945, they were adamant against nationalisation, distribution of land to peasants, local councils, labour unions, a similar revolution of reform that happened in North Korea. With the result, there was an abolition of the Democratic Republic of Korea with a military decree. Officials serving for the government were assassinated, buildings were bombed for several months. The United States installed its own military establishment in the country that aroused sentiment against them from the Japanese empire, despite allowing them to keep a number of bases.
In September 1980, eight thousand workers in Busan, lead a strike that spread to other towns and cities. When around forty policemen were massacred, including twenty Japanese officials by the rebels, a martial law was declared. Hundreds of demonstrators were fired. Eventually, in 1948, the name South Korea was constituted from the First Republic of Korea. Exiled Syngman Rhee, an anti-communist and nationalist, was flown to Seoul and made President. In his internal force, he kept hundreds of communism partisans in internment camps, where they endured torture and worked as slaves for many years. He diverted social welfare of people into arms sales in international arms market. His paramilitary personnel froze to death in during harsh winters, when their winter uniforms were sold to the black market. The -Suncheon Rebellion followed, in which three thousand soldiers rebelled against him, flying red flags. A capitalist government had been formed on mass killings and terror, that sustained itself for coming years.
Years later, South Korean President, Syngman Rhee in 1950 had about 20,000 imprisoned. This movement was carried by Korean jurists who had collaborated with the Japanese. Many thousands were shot by the Korean State Forces for their alliance with North Korea. These executions were carried out by President Syngman Rhee without trials. There was brainwashing in academic institutions and in the media machines.
According to official US reports, some US army soldiers witnessed and photographed the slaughter. One military police investigator, Sergeant Pearce wrote in his report for the command centre that people were getting killed for being ‘spies’. Some were shot at the back of their head.
“About three hours after the executions were completed, some of the condemned persons were still alive and moaning. The cries could be heard coming from somewhere in the mass of bodies piled in the canyon,” Sergeant Pearce wrote, in his report.
US government labelled it as an internal matter. At one point in time, the US government called the act as ‘illegal’ and ‘inhumane’. Around forty people had their back broken with rifle butts, while many others were tied together and thrown into the sea. In 2008, there were some trenches discovered in Daejon where dead remains were found.
On a BBC report, Lee Bok Ryong, who lost his father said, “Our first goal is simple, to let the world know that this massacre of a gigantic scale really took place.”
A generation of villagers in the Dokchon area, remember truckloads of civilians, tied together and brought to the hills for execution.
Conversely, the defenders of the regime had other opinions, which were harsh and unjustifiable. When one of the retired South Korean admirals, Nam Shang Hui, was interviewed in New York in 2000 by the Associated Press, he said: “I authorised three ships to carry 200 people out to sea off the eastern port of Pohang. There, the police shot them and their bodies were thrown into the sea, weighted with stones. There was no time for trials for them. Communists were streaming down. This kind of summary execution was a common practice at that time. It happened during a critical situation for South Korea. We should not judge these incidents through the standards of peacetime.”
Naveed Qazi is the author of ‘The Trader of War Stories’ (2018) and ‘Musings on Global Politics’ (2018). For feedback, write to [email protected]