Massacre of Civilians by the Korean Armed Forces
Ku Soo-jeong(M.A. candidate in history at Ho Chi Minh National University)
To talk about crimes committed against the Vietnamese by the Korean Armed Forces during the Vietnamese War was considered to be a challenge to the government under Park Chung-hee, who decided to dispatch the Korean army there. During the regime of Chun Doo-hwan, who had served in the war as a regimental leader, it was also regarded dangerous to openly speak of the massacre of civilians. The government has made use of the war whenever they want to provoke the so-called “national security” among Koreans. The Korean dispatched soldiers who were merely mercenaries for the U.S., even though it was praised as a crusade for peace and justice by governmental authorities. Moreover, it has come to be known that even young children and women were butchered in that so-called “peace and justice crusade”, even though the authorities alleged that they had only killed the Viet Cong. However, the truth about the Vietnamese War had to wait a long time before being recognized by the Korean people.
Viet Cong Everywhere
The Korean Army killed anyone they met on battlefields if they were Vietnamese, regardless of their age and gender. This clearly illustrates that the war was strongly supported by the Vietnamese people. The U.S. army regarded children to be pre-Viet Cong and the old post-Viet Cong, so they could butcher any Vietnamese. In fact, the U.S. soldiers call the Vietnamese a sort of garbage to be wasted. However, it should be noted that the U.S. army had called the Koreans garbage too, during the Korean War (1950-1953), and they massacred Korean civilians during that war, particularly in a small village, Nogun-ri.
The U.S. army shouted openly that they would turn Vietnam back to the stone age, so they poured down 9 million tons of bombs on Vietnamese territory, one and half yimes the number of bombs they had used during World War II in the Pacific region. However, they had to leave Vietnam defeated by the people of the country. We could see all kinds of conflicts in the war, such as between colonizers and colonized, revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries, freedom and oppression, the white and the yellow, and so on. However, the U.S. refused to acknowledge this complicated nature of the War, or at least they tried to ignore it.
In the meantime, the U.S. intervention in the War was not supported in their own country. The number of the young men who refused the call by the army reached 570,000. To this war, the Korean soldiers were dispatched. The yellow garbage soldiers were sent to the Vietnam War, which was acknowledged to be one of the dirtiest and the most brutal wars in the 20th century.
Korean Soldiers Dispatched
Park Chung-hee, president of Korea at that time, called the Korean soldiers dispatch to Vietnam a holy long march, but that was far from the truth, even though Korea is far distant from Vietnam. He tried to justify the dispatch insisting that the Koreans should repay the debt owed to the U.S. for aid given to Korea during the Korean War.
In 1965, the U.S. asked 25 countries to dispatch soldiers to Vietnam in order to internationalize the war. Only seven countries responded positively: Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan(Province of China), Thailand, Great Britain, and Korea. Korea was the only country which dispatched combat units. A large number of Korean soldiers were sent to Vietnam, the number being around 320,000 in total.
The official dispatch of the Korean army to Vietnam was decided in 1965, but this issue had already been dealt with by the Korean president Park Chung Hee and the U.S. president John F. Kennedy in November, 1961. Taken power by a military coup, president Park desperately needed U.S. support for his legitimacy. The Park government planned to recover its legitimacy with rapid economic growth. In this respect, the dispatch of the Korean armed forces to Vietnam was an economic opportunity. He thought that Korea could enjoy a special economic boom by the Vietnamese war as Japan did during the Korean War. In addition, the Korean government could ask the U.S. to improve military equipment of the Korean army. For his personal political aim, the blood of both the Vietnamese and the Korean soldiers had to be shed in the near future.
On September 22, 1964, the Republic of Korea began to intervene in the Vietnamese War sending Korean Martial art, Taekwondo, trainers and medical units to Vung Tau in southern Vietnam. However, in October of the following year, the Korean government dispatched its combat forces. The Korean armed forces headquartered in Saigon, and their field operation headquarters was located in Natrang. The number of Korean soldiers sent to Vietnam reached 312,858 from 1965 to 1973. Among them, 4,687 soldiers died there. The Korean army committed 1,170 field operations of large scale, and 556,000 of small scale during that time. As the price for their lives, the U.S. government promised economic, military, and technological aid to Korea. Furthermore the Korean army had experienced real military operations and their equipment was much improved with the U.S. support.
Massacre of Civilians
It is frequently insisted that the Vietnamese War was a war without a front. The Viet Cong were everywhere and nowhere. Some villages were under the control of Viet Cong during night time, but were under the governmental control during daytime. This strongly predicted a sort of massacre of civilians. The Korean headquarters openly claimed that fish without water must die, therefore, kill, burn, and destroy clearly. This means that the soldiers’ guns were aimed at civilians too.
The Vietnamese government claims that the number of civilians butchered by the Korean army is around 5,000. But this represents only the numbers surveyed in the 1980s. There were about 80 massacres of civilians in the five southern provinces where the Korean army had stayed. Thus, it is strongly estimated that the number is not 5,000 but around 9,000. This number is only the result of investigations of massacres, so the number is likely to increase as the investigation progresses.
The first commander of the Korean army in Vietnam, General Choe, Myung-shin said, “I ordered that you should protect 100 civilians even though you fail to kill one Viet Cong.” The Korean army built roads, schools and hospitals, and distributed a lot of essential goods to the Vietnamese, too. However, the other face of the Korean army was also witnessed by the civilians. The 75 year old Ungwen Kam, who witnessed the first Korean army in his village, said, “many villagers were killed when they first came to my village. So the villagers had to flee from them when they were staying in my village. The villagers were able to go back to the village only after the War”, when the Korean soldiers withdrew. He lived in Tui Hoa village in Phu Yen Province, where there were combats between Korean soldiers and the Viet Cong every three or four days. Another villager Nguyen Tan Trung (50 years old) said, “Many villagers were killed when a single Korean soldier was killed during a combat, or even when some of them were injured.” The Korean soldiers massacred the civilians as revenge. One Korean platoon leader Choi Woo-shik confessed the same kind of story, “my soldiers killed 53 villagers after I was injured by the Viet Cong”.
On September 22, 1966 around five or six in the morning, Korean soldiers came to the Mt. Bah area. They burned any villages they visited and one platoon of them killed 88 villagers in Trung Chon Nam village in the following day. Massacres took place in strategic villages, which all the villagers were forced to move to by the army. They expected protection by the Korean army, but they were killed by them. The trace of the Korean army was witnessed without any difficulty in all the villages in the Provinces such as Quang Ung Ai, Binh Son and Binh Hoa Sa. The evidence of massacres survives up to now. One villager testified that from 3 to 6 of December in 1966, 430 villagers were butchered by the Korean soldiers. Seven pregnant women were included in the killed. They raped two women and beheaded one 80-year-old man and hung his head in the village. They brutally killed the civilians because they wanted to warn the Viet Cong that the villagers were killed due to the Viet Cong. They also tried to warn the villagers that they would be killed if they supported the Viet Cong.
The Survival Agony
It is not difficult to meet pagodas and cemeteries in commemoration of those who sacrificed their lives during the war in Vietnam. In any village, they built pagodas and cemeteries and have kept them clean. However, you can hardly find a pagoda or a cemetery for those who were massacred by the Korean army. They did not receive any respect even after their death both from the Korean and the Vietnamese governments. They did not receive any compensation by the Korean government nor received any financial help from their own government.
An old woman Nguwen Tini (85 years) in Tuibo village, Quang Nam Province lost the lower part of her chin and half of her tongue. Her daughter, son-in-law, and three grand children were killed by the Korean army during the war. Because of the big injury, she cannot eat or drink without help. Whenever she eats or drinks, she has to lay herself down and someone else should pour food or water into her mouth. Pham Tuc, 41 years old, lost his legs by land mines installed by the Korean army. The only survivor of the Binh Hoa Sa Cau massacre was a baby, merely 34 months old. Even though he survived the massacre, he lost his sight because the gunpowder flowed into his eyes. Trong Thi Phung was one year old when there was a massacre in his village, and he became deaf because of the big sound of gun shots in the massacre.
The survivors were imprisoned by massacre even though they survived it. Thirty years have passed since the war, but their agony continues.
The responses of the Vietnamese
The official response of the Vietnamese government is to shut the door of the past and open up the door of the future. The Vietnamese government is reluctant to take an active action concerning the massacres committed by the Korean army during the war. The government is reluctant because the diplomatic relationship could be damaged and investment of Korean companies in Vietnam could shrink if the government took any active action against the Korean government. General Lechi Tuon expressed his personal opinion about those who had experienced combat with Korean soldiers: There are around 10 million war victims in Vietnam. The poor government cannot take care of them all, so it could bring about social turmoil if the massacres are revealed and discussed publicly. And he also added that it must be the assailants who should apologize, whether or not the victims claim their sufferings.
Hot potato in Vietnam, Reporting the massacres
In contrast to the government attitude, the common people in Vietnam are interested in the massacres. To openly discuss the massacres has been forbidden in Vietnam as well as in Korea. However, a major Vietnamese daily newspaper, Tuoije started dealing with the massacres committed by the Korean army during the war under the title of Forgotten massacres of civilians and the survivors. In the meantime, a Korean weekly magazine, the Hankyoreh 21, began to write articles on the massacres under the title of Remember those who were killed! Both the Vietnamese and the Koreans have strongly reacted to the newspaper and the magazine.
The massacres by the Korean soldiers became a hot social issue in Vietnam and this made the government embarrassed. The Tuoije newspaper decided to report the campaign of the Korean newspaper, the Hankyoreh, and the result of an opinion poll concerning the massacres. It is quite difficult for the Vietnamese to openly discuss the massacres. But they showed courage to a great extent. Now it is the Koreans turn to respond to them. One Vietnamese said, The crime committed against our people by the Koreans is far less than that by the US forces during the war. The US government has never apologized to us directly or indirectly. However, the Korean people’s campaign for apology is quite a shock to us.
The Koreans think that the reality of the massacres should be revealed first. In order to do this a joint investigation committee should be set up between Korea and Vietnam. Then a kind of reconciliation monument should be built, as some Korean veterans insist. Apology comes first, and then reconciliation.
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