The Unknown Truth About Korea: U.S. Sanctioned Death Squads and War Crimes, 1945-1953

January 1, 2000

The mostly unknown record of the brutal U.S. occupation and subsequent control of Korea following the Japanese defeat in August 1945, and the voluminous number of war crimes committed between 1950 and 1953, have been systematically hidden under mountains of accusations directed almost solely against the "red menace" of northern Korea. The Korean War itself grew out of U.S. refusal to allow a genuine self-determination process to take root. The Korean people were exuberant in August 1945 with their new freedom after being subjected to a brutal 40-year Japanese occupation of their historically undivided Peninsula. They immediately began creating local democratic peoples’ committees the day after Japan announced on August 14 its intentions to surrender. By August 28, all Korean provinces had created local peoples’ offices and on September 6 delegates from throughout the Peninsula gathered in Seoul, at which time they created the Korean People’s Republic (KPR).

The United States had a different plan for Korea. At the February 1945 Yalta conference, President Roosevelt suggested to Stalin, without consulting the Koreans, that Korea should be placed under joint trusteeship following the war before being granted her independence. On August 11, two days after the second atomic bomb was dropped assuring Japan’s imminent surrender, and three days after Russian forces entered Manchuria and Korea to oust the Japanese as was agreed to avoid further U.S. casualties, Truman hurriedly ordered his War Department to choose a dividing line for Korea. Two young colonels, Dean Rusk (later to be Secretary of State under President’s Kennedy and Johnson during the Vietnam War) and Charles H. Bonesteel, were given 30 minutes to resolve the matter. The 38th parallel was quickly, and quietly, chosen, placing the historic capital city of Seoul and 70 percent, or 21 of Korea’s 30 million people in the "American" southern zone. This was not discussed with Stalin or any other political leaders in the U.S. or among our allies. Surprisingly, Stalin agreed to this "temporary" partition that meant the Russians already present in the country would briefly occupy the territory north of the line comprising 55 percent of the peninsular land area. On August 15, the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) was formed and on September 8, 72,000 U.S. troops began arriving to enforce the formal occupation of the south.

The Korean People’s Republic officially formed just two days prior to the first arrival of U.S. forces was almost immediately shunned by the U.S. who decided its preference was to stand behind conservative politicians representing the traditional land-owning elite. The U.S. helped in the formation on September 16 of the conservative Korean Democratic Party (KDP), and brought Syngman Rhee to Korea on General MacArthur’s plane on October 16 to head up the new party. Rhee, a Korean possessing a Ph.D. from Princeton (1910) and an Austrian wife, had lived in the United States for more than 40 years. To his credit he had detested the Japanese occupation of his native country, but he hated the communists even more. Just before Rhee arrived to begin efforts to consolidate his power in the south, long-time resistance fighter Kim Il Sung returned from exile to begin his leadership in the Russian occupied north. As a guerrilla leader Kim had been fighting the Japanese occupation of China and Korea since the early 1930s.

Rhee and his U.S. advisers quickly concluded that in order to build their kind of Korea through the KDP they must definitively defeat the broad-based KPR. While Kim, with the support of the Russian forces in the north, was purging that territory of former Japanese administrators and their Korean collaborators, the USAMG was actively recruiting them in the south. In November the U.S. Military Governor outlawed all strikes and in December declared the KPR and all its activities illegal. In effect the U.S. had declared war on the popular movement of Korea south of the 38th Parallel and set in motion a repressive campaign that later became excessively brutal, dismantling the Peoples’ Committees and their supporters throughout the south.

In December 1945 General John R. Hodge, commander of the U.S. occupation forces, created the Korean Constabulary, led exclusively by officers who had served the Japanese. Along with the revived Japanese colonial police force, the Korean National Police (KNP), comprised of many former Korean collaborators, and powerful right-wing paramilitary groups like the Korean National Youth and the Northwest Youth League, the U.S.Military Government and their puppet Syngman Rhee possessed the armed instruments of a police state more than able to assure a political system that was determined to protect the old landlord class made up of rigid reactionaries and enthusiastic capitalists.

By the fall of 1946, disgruntled workers declared a strike that spread throughout South Korea. By December the combination of the KNP, the Constabulary, and the right-wing paramilitary units, supplemented by U.S. firepower and intelligence, had contained the insurrections in all provinces. More than 1,000 Koreans were killed with more than 30,000 jailed. Regional and local leaders of the popular movement were either dead, in jail, or driven underground.

With total U.S. support Rhee busily prepared for a politically division of Korea involuntarily imposed on the vast majority of the Korean people. Following suppression of the October-December insurrection, the Koreans began to form guerrilla units in early 1947. There were sporadic activities for a year or so. However, in March 1948, on Korea’s large Island, Cheju, a demonstration objecting to Rhee’s planned separate elections scheduled for May 1948 was fired upon by the KNP. A number of Koreans were injured and several were tortured, then killed. This incident provoked a dramatic escalation of armed resistance to the U.S./Rhee regime. The police state went into full force, regularly guided by U.S. military advisors, and often supported by U.S. military firepower and occasional ground troops. On the Island of Cheju alone, within a year as many as 60,000 of its 300,000 residents had been murdered, while another 40,000 fled by sea to nearby Japan. Over 230 of the Island’s 400 villages had been totally scorched with 40,000 homes burned to the ground. As many as 100,000 people were herded into government compounds. The remainder, it has been reported, became collaborators in order to survive. On the mainland guerrilla activities escalated in most of the provinces. The Rhee/U.S. forces conducted a ruthless campaign of cleansing the south of all dissidents, usually identifying them as "communists," though in fact most popular leaders in the south were socialists unaffiliated with outside "communist" organizations. Anyone who was openly or quietly opposed to the Rhee regime was considered suspect. Therefore massive numbers of villagers and farmers were systematically rounded up, tortured, then shot and dropped into mass graves. Estimates of murdered civilians range anywhere from 200,000 to 800,000 by the time the hot war broke out in June 1950.

The hot war allegedly began at Ongjin about 3 or 4 A.M. (Korean time) June 25, 1950. Just how the fighting started on that day depends on one’s source of information. It is mostly irrelevant, since a civil and revolutionary war had been raging for a couple of years, with military incursions routinely moving back and forth across the 38th parallel.


13 Comments

  1. Ed Baugh
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    During the winter of 1950-51 subsequent to Chinese intervention in the Korean War, the South Korean Army (ROKA) conducted draft sweeps mainly in Seoul. These ‘draftees’
    were brutally herded over mountain trails, largely out-of-sight of American forces, to concentration like training camps. Many of these draftees died in route. Those who made it to training camps were mistreated even by the harsh standards of Rhee’s era. A ROKA general officer responsible for this program was supposedily tried and executed by the ROKA. I suspect that this brutal chapter in Korea’s history was largely covered-up, Do you have any information pertaining to the events I discibed. Thanks for you attention. Ed Baugh, Livonia, MI

  2. Posted July 17, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate hearing of this history. I did not know of it. Were you a witness to this practice or know of citations that document it? I don’t doubt it at all, but if I use it I need to cite my source. You would be a good source if you can reveal how you know about it. Thanks.

  3. Ed Baugh
    Posted August 23, 2010 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    A very brief Wikipedia entry list a few references. See http://www.brianwillson.com/the-unknown-truth-about-korea-u-s-sanctioned-death-squads-and-war-crimes-1945-1953/.
    Of particular note is the footnote based on a NY Times article, “50,000 Koreans Die in Camps in South,” p. 3, June 13, 1951.

  4. Posted August 23, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Bibliography sourcing Korean history and US Intervention:

    Alexander, Col. Joseph H., Don Horan, and Norman C. Stahl. The Battle History of the U.S. Marines: A Fellowship of Valor (New York: Harper Perennial, 1997).

    Arbuthnot, Felicity. “Allies Deliberately Poisoned Iraq Public Water Supply in Gulf War,” Sunday Herald (Scotland), Sunday, September 17, 2000.

    Bailyn, Bernard. Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986).

    Bamford, James. Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency From the Cold War Through the Dawn of a New Century (NY: Doubleday, 2001).

    Bard, Mitchell G. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to World War II (NY:Macmillan Publishing/Alpha Books, 1999).

    Bergman, Peter M. The Chronological History of the Negro in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1969).

    Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1995).

    Blum, William. Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2000).

    Borie, W.D. The Growth and Control of World Population (New York:Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970).

    Bower, Tom. The Paperclip Conspiracy: The Hunt for the Nazi Scientists (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1987).

    Caute, David. The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1978).

    Chomsky, Noam. Deterring Democracy (NY: Hill and Wang, 1992).

    Chomsky, Noam. Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1989).

    Churchill, Ward. A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1997).

    Clark, C. Population Growth and Land Use, 2nd Ed.>

    Colley, David. “Hot Spot in the Cold War: American Advisors in Greece 1947-49,” VFW Magazine, May 1997, pp. 34-37.

    Cumings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997).

    Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. I: Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes 1945-1947 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981).

    Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. II: The Roaring of the Cataract 1947-1950 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990).

    Cumings, Bruce, and Jon Halliday. Korea: The Unknown War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988).

    Currey, Cecil B. Edward Lansdale: The Unquiet American (Dulles, VA: Brasseys, 1998; originally published by Houghton Mifflin, 1988).

    Donnelly, Desmond. Struggle For the World: The Cold War: 1917-1965 (New York: St. Martin’s press, 1965).

    Drinnon, Richard. Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire Building (New York: Schocken Books, 1980).

    DuBois, W.E.B. The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America 1638-1870 (Williamstown, MA: Corner House Publishers, 1970, reprinted from original 1896 Harvard College edition).

    Durand, John D. “Historical Estimates of World Population: An Evaluation,” Population and Development Review, 3:253-96, 259, 1977.

    Dvorchak, Robert J. Battle For Korea: A History of the Korean Conflict (Pennsylvania: Combined Publishing paperback edition, 2000; Copyright 1993 by the Associated Press).

    Endicott, Stephen, and Edward Hagerman. The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets From the Early Cold War and Korea (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998).

    Evans, Harold. The American Century (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998).

    Fleming, D.F. The Cold War and Its Origins, Vol. I, 1917-1950; Vol. II, 1950-1960 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961).

    Francis, Lee. Native Time: A Historical Time Line of Native America (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996).

    Fresia, Jerry. Toward An American Revolution: Exposing the Constitution and Other Illusions (Boston: South End Press, 1988).

    Gettleman, Marvin E., Jane Franklin, Marilyn Young, and H. Bruce Franklin. Vietnam and America: A Documented History (New York: Grove Press, 1985).

    Goulden, Joseph C. Korea: The Untold Story (New York: Times Books, 1982).

    Griffis, William Elliot. “American Relations With the Far East,” The New England Magazine, November 1894, pp. 269, 270.

    Grose, Peter. Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994).

    Hart-Landsberg, Martin. The Rush to Development: Economic Change and Political Struggle in South Korea (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1993).

    Higham, Charles. Trading With the Enemy: The Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949 (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1995).

    Hodgson, Godfrey. The Colonel: The Life and Times of Henry Stimson 1867-1950 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990).

    Hoyt, Edwin P. Inferno: The Firebombing of Japan March 9-August 15, 1945 (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 2000).

    Johnson, Chalmers. BLOWBACK: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000).

    Kahin, George McTurnan, and John Lewis. The United States in Vietnam (New York: The Dial Press, 1967).

    Kim, Young Sik. Eyewitness: A North Korean Remembers (Columbus, Ohio, 1995).

    Kolko, Gabriel. The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945 (New York: Random House, 1968).

    LaFeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War 1945-1971 (NY: John Wiley and Sons, 1972).

    LaFeber, Walter. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion 1860-1898 (Itthaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963, 1998).

    Liem, Channing. The Korean War: An Unanswered Question (Albany, NY: Committee For A New Korea Policy, 1992).

    Lindqvist, Sven. A History of Bombing (New York: The New Press, 2001).

    Malcom, Ben S. White Tigers: My Secret War in North Korea (Washington, London: Brassey’s, 1996).

    Marshall, Jonathan. “Opium, Tungsten, and the Search for National Security: A History of the Secret Alliances that Helped Shape Today’s Clandestine Traffic in Narcotics,” Prevailing Winds, September-December 2000, pp. 92-112.

    McClintock, Michael. Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerrilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990 (New York: Pantheon, 1992).

    McEvedy, Colin, and Richard Jones. Atlas of World Population History (Facts on File, 1978).

    Oxford Atlas of World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

    Park, Sung Yong. “Rethinking the Nogun-ri Massacre on the 50th Anniversary of the Outbreak of the Korean War” (Research paper, June 2000, available: sungyong@astro.ocis.temple.edu, Ph.D. candidate, Temple Univ. in Philadelphia).

    Parkman, Frances. The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada (Boston: Little, Brown, 1886).

    Powers, Thomas. The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979).

    Prados, John. President’s Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations From World War II Through the Persian Gulf (Chicago: Elephant Paperback/Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 1996).

    Pringle, Henry F. Theodore Roosevelt: A Biography (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1931).

    Roosevelt, Theodore. Autobiography (New York: Putnam, 1917).

    Salisbury, Harrison E. The Unknown War (NY: Bantam Books, 1978).

    Simpson, Christopher. Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effect on the Cold War (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988).

    Shorrock, Tim. “The U.S. Role in Korea in 1979 and 1980,” Sisa Journal, February 28, 1996.

    Shrader, Charles Reginald, Ed. Reference Guide To United States Military History 1865-1919 (New York: Facts On File/Sachem Publishing Associates, 1993).

    Stannard, David E. American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

    Stearn, E. Wagner, and Allen E. Stearn. The Effects of Smallpox on the Destiny of the American Indian (Boston: Bruce Humphries, 1945).

    Stinnett, Robert B. Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor (New York: The Free Press, 2000).

    Stone,I.F. The Hidden History of the Korean War 1950-1951 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1952; republished by Little, Brown and Company, 1988).

    Toland, John. Adolph Hitler, Vol. II (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1976).

    Toland, John. In Mortal Combat: Korea, 1950-1953 (New York:William Morrow, 1991).

    Thornton, Russell. American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987).

    Valentine, Douglas. The Phoenix Program (Lincoln, Nebraska: iuniverse.com, Inc. as An Authors Guild Backprint.com Edition, 2000; originally published by William Morrow and Co., Inc. 1990).

    Williams, William Appleman. Empire as a Way of Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).

    Williams, William Appleman. The Roots of the Modern American Empire (New York: Random House, 1969).

    Zepezauer, Mark. The CIA’s Greatest Hits (Monroe, ME: Odonian Press/Common Courage Press, 1998).

    Zezima, Michael. Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of “the Good War” (New York: Soft Skull Press, Inc., 2000).

    Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Perennial, 1980).

  5. skyblu5555
    Posted November 27, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    I learned nothing about the Korean War during all of my years of schooling. It is unbelievable. Only now as an old person watching the Military Channel I have caught two segments on combat on the ground at two different locations, Marine platoons, and the political tension between then President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur that resulted in Truman’s recall of MacArthur from Korea.

    I have learned:
    the U.S. lost 54,000 troops during the Korean War; hundreds of thousands of civilians and Chinese were killed;

    2. Truman considered dropping four or more atomic bombs of China but England talked him out of it as again the war would become WWIII;

    3. The U.S. Marines were sitting ducks and entire platoons were massacred.

    Your essay above describing the political history of Korea at the time of the Japanese occupation and withdrawal with the close of WWII; the speed with which the Korean people organized all around the country to implement self rule and self determination; and then the authoritarian edict determined Korea’s fate, i.e. breaking that nation in 1/2 at the 38th parallel; the installation by Truman et al of a right wing Princeton PhD education guy who lived for 40 years in the U.S. and hated by the Korean people
    is beyond shocking…the pattern is inescapable and has been brought home to the U.S.:

    Korea
    Viet Nam
    Iraq
    Afghanistan
    US: Phony “War on Terror”
    Instill fear and subservience in the populous
    Destroy the currency
    Remove jobs
    Sell Off the public’s assets
    De-vest from America;
    and more.

    My goal is to learn as much as I can about the Korean War. I do wonder whether FDR and Stalin were in their right minds at the time of the Treaty of Yalta.

    I appreciate your bibliography/reading list.

    I memory of all of the innocents and those killed and maimed during all of our wars…the interesting thing is this country was established on the principle of tranquility, not authoritarianism and certainly not militarism. But I do know the “Dept of Homeland Security” and the
    “National Security Economy” are a real danger and threat to world peace and must be DEFUNDED.

    Sincerely,
    D. Shatin
    skyblu5555@aol.com

  6. Posted January 27, 2013 at 4:59 am | Permalink

    Our single largest problem on this planet are, politicans. Politicans are by default liars, crooks, thieves, and coveteousness dictators. The U.S. Constitution does not start with “we the politicians”. Rather, as we know it begins with “We the People”!

  7. Imperial_Treaty
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    I apologize, but all this anger over American imperialism was b/c they want to violate the war norms of war treaties. Anyone heard of victor goes to the spoils? That’s all it is. What would American soldiers think if they risked their lives for nothing? They will revolt against their very nation. Look back @ all the conquerors in the world. There’s always a treaty somehow (or just massacre).

  8. VNOhara
    Posted July 30, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Brian.

    The similarity to the tactic US used in VN is chilling.

  9. Posted December 26, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    My partner and I stumbled over here from a different website
    and thought I might as well check things out. I like what I see so
    now i am following you. Look forward to finding out about your web page for a second time.

  10. Posted January 12, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    I needed to compose you the little bit of remark in order to thank you as before for these pretty principles you have discussed here.

  11. Posted January 20, 2014 at 3:43 am | Permalink

    I pay a visit daily a few web pages and websites to read articles,
    but this website offers feature based posts.

  12. Kim Yung Illin
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    America liberals are such suckers for communist agitprop.

  13. Posted September 21, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Las galletas de la suerte fortuna se pueden encontrar a través de el lugar web, de manera gratuita a fin de que de este modo cualquier persona que tenga acceso a
    un ordenador y a la internet, puedan percibir estos bonitos y
    apropiados mensajes de todos y cada uno de los aspectos de la vida, claro que haciendo
    más énfasis en temas como el amor, la fortuna y
    la felicidad. Son muchas las preguntas que se pueden responder a través de
    las galletas de la fortuna fortuna y de una gran diversidad de temas, estas pueden ser inmediatas a fin de que se cumplan en un determinado tiempo.

8 Trackbacks

  1. [...] http://www.brianwillson.com/the-unknown-truth-about-korea-u-s-sanctioned-death-squads-and-war-crimes… Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Načítání… [...]

  2. [...] The Unknown Truth About Korea: U.S. Sanctioned Death Squads and War Crimes, 1945-1953, S Brian Willson. [↩] [...]

  3. [...] The Unknown Truth About Korea: U.S. Sanctioned Death Squads and War Crimes, 1945-1953, S Brian [...]

  4. [...] 4. The Unknown Truth About Korea: U.S. Sanctioned Death Squads and War Crimes, 1945-1953, S Brian Willson. [...]

  5. [...] 3   The Unknown Truth About Korea: U.S. Sanctioned Death Squads and War Crimes, 1945-1953, S Brian Willson. [...]

  6. [...] http://www.brianwillson.com/the-unknown-truth-about-korea-u-s-sanctioned-death-squads-and-war-crimes… [...]

  7. [...] http://www.brianwillson.com/the-unknown-truth-about-korea-u-s-sanctioned-death-squads-and-war-crimes… [...]

  8. By Come Home America on August 8, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    [...] by a truth commission recently set up in the US backed Republic of Korea in the South, proceeded to mass massacre nearly 200,000 communists, socialists, unionist, farmer organizers, members of that overthrown [...]

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

Real Time Web Analytics