Mass political executions of ‘leftists’ and their children: South Korea 1950

Government investigators digging into the grim hidden history of mass political executions in South Korea have confirmed that dozens of children were among many thousands shot by their own government early in the Korean War.

The investigative Truth and Reconciliation Commission has thus far verified more than two dozen mass killings of leftists and supposed sympathizers, among at least 100,000 people estimated to have been hastily shot and dumped into makeshift trenches, abandoned mines or the sea after communist North Korea invaded the south in June 1950.

The killings, details of which were buried in classified U.S. files for a half-century, were intended to keep southern leftists from aiding the invaders at a time when the rightist, U.S.-allied government was in danger of being overrun by communist forces.

Declassified records show U.S. officers were present at one killing field and that at least one U.S. officer sanctioned another mass political execution if prisoners otherwise would be freed by the North Koreans. Uncounted hundreds were subsequently killed, witnesses reported.

Some mass killings were carried out before the war; many came in the first weeks after the June 25, 1950, invasion, and others occurred later in 1950 when U.S. and South Korean forces recaptured Seoul and the southerners rounded up and shot alleged northern collaborators.

The executioners at times cold-bloodedly killed families of suspected leftists, the commission has found.

In late 1950 and early 1951, in Namyangju, 16 miles northeast of Seoul, the commission estimates that police and a local militia slaughtered more than 460 people, including at least 23 children under the age of 10.

Survivor Kim Jong-chol, 71, said his father, a South Korean border guard, had been forced to work for the conquering northerners, and then was executed by the southerners as a collaborator. More than a dozen relatives were also killed, including Kim’s grandparents and 7-year-old sister, he said.

“Young children or whatever were all killed en masse,” Kim told The Associated Press. “What did the family members do wrong? Why did they kill the family members?”

The AP has reported that declassified U.S. military documents show U.S. Army officers took photos of the assembly line-style executions outside the central city of Daejeon, where the commission believes between 3,000 and 7,000 people were shot and dumped into mass graves in early July 1950.
Other once-secret files show that a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel reported giving approval to the killing of 3,500 political prisoners by a South Korean army unit he was advising in Busan, if the North Koreans approached that southern port city, formerly spelled Pusan.

The files show the U.S. command was aware in other ways as well of the organized bloodbaths.

On Nov. 13, four representatives of bereaved family groups met with a U.S. Embassy official in Seoul to ask that the U.S. open a “dialogue channel” with them and provide any documents relevant to a U.S. role in these deaths a half-century ago.

“It’s the first time we relatives have met U.S. officials,” said Oh Won-rok, 68, representing family survivors of a wartime mass killing in the southwestern county of Haenam.

Oh Byoung-Han, 65, representing those who lost relatives in the huge Daejeon-area slaughter, charged that the U.S. was involved “directly and indirectly” in that case.

“We asked them to review the case and cooperate positively,” Oh said. “We demanded an apology.”

Charles J. Hanley and Jae-Soon Chang, “Children ‘Executed’ in 1950 South Korean Killings: ROK and US responsibility” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 49-5-08, December 7, 2008.


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