Jan. 23  2020
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Growing movement in Korea exposes U.S. war crimes

An international delegation of the Korea Truth Commission recently returned to the United States after spending a week in south Korea.

Source  :  Workers World

By Sharon Ayling

An international delegation of the Korea Truth Commission recently returned to the United States after spending a week in south Korea.

From May 17 to May 24, the delegation traveled around southern Korea investigating sites where civilians were killed during the Korean War. Out of the 3 million who died from 1950 to 1953, about a million were civilians.

Over the past two years, the KTC has sent seven international delegations to Korea in an effort to uncover the facts about U.S. responsibility in these civilian deaths.

The delegation learned that as the United States fought the northern Korean People's Army and southern Partisan guerrillas who resisted U.S. occupation, it also carried out brutal repression of the civilian population. These were the people the U.S. claimed it was defending during the war.

At each of the 12 sites that they visited, delegates heard people recount their painful experiences as if they had happened yesterday.

These witnesses told of being shelled and strafed by U.S. fighter jets, of their homes burned to the ground, of losing their mothers or fathers, of living with disabling injuries.

The delegates were also shown structural damage to buildings and tunnels.

On a beach on the eastern coast of Korea near the industrial city of Pohang, 63-year-old Choi Pang Il told the delegates of the horror he witnessed on Sept. 1, 1950.

About 1,000 refugees had gathered on the beach a few days before. They had come down from the surrounding hills to escape the U.S. bombing. They were camped along the shore with about 50 of their cows.

Two large U.S. naval battleships were stationed in the bay, which today is dominated by the world's biggest steel mill.

At about 2 p.m. that day, a big storm with heavy rains hit the encampment. People started running for cover under the trees. That is when the two ships opened up with their heavy guns.

The U.S. Navy bombarded the fleeing crowd for 30 to 40 minutes.

Choi explained that since the investigation of the site had just begun, only 40 of the people who died had been identified so far. One hundred people are believed to have been killed. He lost a younger brother and his father in the bombing.

'Boldly demanding an apology'

Yoomi Jeong, KTC leader in the United States and organizer of the delegation, spoke with me about her impressions of the trip shortly after we both returned from Korea.

"One of the things that impressed me this time was the newly gained political consciousness of the survivors and families. Previously, people were generally afraid to speak and were not sure who was responsible for their suffering, especially when the killings were carried out by the south Korean military or police.

"Now with the activities of the KTC and the progressive movement, more people are aware of the historical background to their suffering. Now they are more boldly demanding an apology and compensation from the U.S. government," Jeong said.

"In April, 'Kill 'Em All,' the BBC documentary on the U.S. massacre of civilians at Nogun-ri, was shown on Korean national television. It had a big impact on the population's understanding and acceptance of what KTC has been saying--that the U.S. deliberately targeted civilians during the war.

"Now many more are speaking out about their bitter suffering and they are finally finding a sympathetic audience.

"Another change that I noticed is that the mainstream Korean media is giving much more attention to the civilian massacre cases. The delegation received wide local and national media coverage--newspapers, radio and television. Reporters were aware of the issue and seemed genuinely interested in reporting on the people's suffering."

A growing movement

Workers World asked Jeong how this movement is going. "It is definitely growing," Jeong replied. "A new group, the National Association of Families of Massacre Victims, has been formed and is putting forward its own demands.

"And last winter, the 'grandmothers' of this movement staged a month-long demonstration in front of the National Assembly in Seoul. Every day for a whole month in very cold weather, women in their 70s and 80s picketed the government building demanding recognition of their suffering."

During the trip, the delegation met with Jeon Kap-Kil, a member of the Korean National Assembly from Kwangju. He is the main sponsor of a bill on the civilian massacres.

Jeon told the delegation that after the Assembly passed a special law acknowledging a massacre on Cheju Island, survivors and families got together and demanded a law be passed recognizing the many other massacres. The bill now covers 100 sites.

The bill would require the south Korean government to acknowledge that these massacres occurred and were carried out by U.S. troops or south Korean troops under U.S. command. It would also recognize the innocence of the victims, and require that memorials be erected and annual commemorations be held at all of the sites.

Jeon said that getting the bill passed is an uphill battle. The Defense Department doesn't want this investigation, and officials are very cautious when speaking about the U.S. government.

While the military ended its direct rule in south Korea 15 years ago, it still holds vast power--except for its subordinate relationship to the U.S. military command.

"In addition to passage of this bill, the movement is also demanding that the Korean government finance the excavation of these sites and the identification of the remains so that they can be returned to the families for proper burial," Jeong said.

Workers World asked what people in the United States can do. "We must demand that the U.S. government declassify the thousands of Pentagon and CIA documents on the war so that an independent investigation can be done--not a whitewash like the one the Pentagon carried out on the Nogun-ri massacre.

"And, of course, the movement must demand that the U.S. government officially apologize for these crimes, compensate the victims and their families, and withdraw its troops that have continued to occupy Korea to this day.

"It is more important than ever to expose U.S. conduct during the Korean War in light of Bush's 'axis of evil' threats against north Korea that raise the real danger of another war on the Korean Peninsula," Jeong concluded.

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