Atrocities Before and During the Korean War

Mass Civilian Killings by South Korean and U.S. Forces

Author: Suh Hee-Kyung


Drawing on the results of forty-eight case studies completed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Republic of Korea (TRCK), this article analyzes the characteristics of "mass killings of Korean civilians" committed in South Korea (south of the 38th parallel) from October 1948 to March 1952. First, the author identifies four groups of perpetrators who committed the mass killings: the army/ police of the Republic of Korea (ROK), ROK police and army intelligence agencies, ROK police and security agencies, and the U.S. military. Second, the author shows that the political circumstances at the time of each mass killing had profound effects on the ways in which these mass killings were carried out, how victims were selected, and how the perpetrators mobilized. Immediately before the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the ROK army/police were mobilized to suppress rebels within the army and civilian opponents to the government. This resulted in mass killings. Immediately after the war started, potential collaborators with North Korea were summarily executed by army intelligence agencies/police. Finally, collaborators, or suspects, with the North Korean People's Army were vengefully punished after United Nations forces recovered Seoul. Also, the U.S. military was engaged in killing refugees and civilians in enemy territory throughout the war. The series of mass civilian killings demonstrates, in the most grotesque way, that the Korean War was the final outburst and culmination of conflicts that arose from the high political tension caused by the establishment of the two governments after Korea's independence in August 1945. To substantiate these claims, this article details some of the civilian mass killings whose veracity has been confirmed by the TRCK.

Regions: East Asia
Countries: Korea
Topics: Imperialism

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December 2010
© Sai Latt