When will the United States Apologize for its War Crimes? Importance of the Korea Truth Commission to this End

July 1, 2001

The U.S. decision to divide Korea upon the surrender of the Japanese on August 15, 1945, and the subsequent U.S.-directed reign of terror that led directly to the civil, and then, consequently, the hot war, to be followed by extensive periods of military dictatorships supported by the U.S. government, surely must rank as one of the cruelest tragedies of the Twentieth Century. This is virtually unknown history in the West.

U.S. President Clinton’s recent refusal to explicitly apologize for the murder of Korean civilians by U.S. military forces during the Korean War is another lost moment of desperately needed "American" honesty.

The United States inquiry, and Clinton’s statement of mere "regret," was focused on only one crime scene at a particular location. It implied that the deaths were unfortunate rather than part of a systematic pattern to murder cumulatively as many as 3 million civilians. Careful examination of the empirical record reveals multiple dozens, perhaps a couple hundred, massacre sites at various locations throughout the entire Korean Peninsula suggest malicious intent was incontrovertible. There was an overwhelming pattern of systematic targeting the Korean people, with no serious effort to distinguish "civilians" from "combatants."

This should come as no surprise! Beginning in 1945 the U.S. record in Korea is horrendous! It would behoove our political leaders, and academicians, to learn an authentic history of Korea. Simply relying on popular comic book demonization of North Koreans without recognizing the U.S. role in creating the conditions that led to the war in the first place, continues a tragic disservice to history. When the Japanese were finally defeated on August 15, 1945, the vast majority of the people who resided on the Korean Peninsula immediately began to celebrate, then organize for a return to Korean sovereignty after 40 years of hated foreign occupation. When the U.S. immediately insisted on creating the peninsula as a Cold War arena with the Russians, people throughout Korea organized resistance, at first nonviolent, later in the form of a guerrilla war. The U.S. created a puppet government, similar to what it later did in Vietnam, and between 1945-1950 oversaw the systematic repression and murder of hundreds of thousands of Koreans who rightfully demanded independence. That U.S. military and political policy to this day does not understand this fundamental Korean history continues one of the most tragic chapters of the Twentieth Century.

During the Korean "hot" war, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the U.S. Air Forces "destroy every means of communication, every installation, factory, city, and village" south of the Yalu River boundary with China. Massive saturation bombings, especially with napalm and other incendiaries, alone murdered perhaps 2.5 million civilians. Major General William B. Kean of the 25th Infantry Division ordered that "civilians in the combat zone" be considered enemies. The famous July 25, 1950 Fifth Air Force memorandum to General Timberlake declared that adherence to Army orders to "strafe all civilian refugees [have been] complied with." USA Today (Oct. 1, 1999) and The New York Times (Dec. 29, 1999) reported from declassified U.S. Air Force documents the "deliberate" strafings and bombings of Korean "civilians" and "people in white." In the August 21, 1950 issue of Life, John Osborne reported that U.S. officers ordered troops to fire into clusters of civilians.

U.S. racism has been an unfortunate but tragic feature (along with arrogant ethnocentrism) of the origins of the U.S. American Republic and has substantially contributed to the cruelty of its long imperial history under the rubric of "American Manifest Destiny" that has engineered well over 400 overt military, and as many as 10,000 covert, interventions in over 100 countries. Directed toward the Korean (and later Vietnamese) people, who we regularly called "gooks," racism helped justify commission of a gruesome, almost unlimited and careless war. In Korea this included use of germ warfare and the regular threat of dropping nuclear bombs. The highest law officer in the land, President Truman’s second Attorney General, J. Howard McGrath, referred to the Koreans as "rodents." The massive saturation bombings in World War II in Germany and Japan had been conducted with no pretense of striking only military targets. They legitimized bombing with no concern for civilians, despite explicit prohibition by the U.S. Field Manual 27-10 Rules of Land Warfare. These indiscriminate saturation bombings were routinely and relentlessly continued in Korea.

The roots of U.S. racism are deep and historic. The defining and enabling experience of the Republic of the United States of America continues to be the genocidal elimination of the human beings who originally lived on our lands. Eurocentric racism and so-called divinely inspired ethnocentrism have been inherent characteristics facilitating the "development " of our civilization. This development has been accomplished through a long history of exploitation of land, labor, and natural resources that first began on the North American Continent, but now stretches to every corner of the globe.

Captain John Smith of the Virginia colony in the early 1600s referred to our original inhabitants as "subanimals" and "beasts" worthy only of "extermination." Puritan leader John Endecott of the Massachusetts Bay Colony regularly ordered "death" to the Pequot Indians. Our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, refers to our original inhabitants as "merciless savages" and George Washington termed them "beasts of prey" to be "destroyed." European settlers regularly called them "brutes" or "vermin" to be "destroyed." General William Tecumseh Sherman in the 1870s ordered "extermination" as the "final solution" to the "Indian problem."

During what we call the Spanish-American War U.S. forces fought against Filipino citizens, calling them "goo-goos," while murdering upwards of a half million of them under orders such as "burn and kill the natives" issued by General Jacob H. ("Hell-Raising") Smith to U.S. Marines.

Lyman Frank Baum, author of the ever popular The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), called for the "annihilation" of all Native Americans.

Another name for our racism is native-hating, whether "Redskins," "Niggers," "Chinks," "Japs," "Greasers," "Dagoes," "Wops," – or "Gooks." The fact is that from the very beginning the people whom our European ancestors were demonizing, both here and abroad, were real human beings, tragically caught in the path of merciless "American Manifest Destiny." Under any legal or moral definition, virtually all would be considered "civilians," until some chose to defend their sovereignty and land from the invaders and exploiters from the West, in which case they became "combatants."

With the advent of aerial bombings during World War I, the number of civilians murdered dramatically increased. The bombing of civilian targets by U.S. forces preceded similar crimes by Italy in Ethiopia in 1936-37 and Germany in Guernica, Spain in 1937. The U.S. used aerial bombings in Haiti in 1919 and Nicaragua in 1927 in efforts to rout native people resisting U.S. occupation forces, murdering countless civilians in the process, always disregarding the cries of
the people for due recognition. The stage was set for the massive indiscriminate bombings of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Serbia/Kosovo.

This cultural trait also contributes to a long pattern of misrepresentations and out-and-out lies. For example, in 1973, as part of the Paris Peace Accords ending the U.S. War against Vietnam, Henry Kissinger, representing President Nixon, promised the Vietnamese over $4 billion in reparations as part of the ceasefire agreement. The United States dishonored that agreement, consistent with what Native Americans have concluded all along, "White Man speaks with forked tongue," citing the U.S. government’s violation of each of the 400 treaties signed with the Indigenous.

President Clinton came close to apologizing to Guatemala in 1999 for the earlier role of the U.S. in supporting for decades repressive forces that murdered over 200,000 Mayan Indians. He stated that U.S. policy was "wrong," even as it continues to support economic policies destined to preserve miserable poverty there. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara confessed in his book, In Retrospect (1995), that what the U.S. did in Vietnam was "wrong," though he did not acknowledge that we had violated moral or legal codes. Clinton’s Defense Secretary William Cohen visited Vietnam in March 1999, and explicitly refused to apologize. Clinton, during his visit to Vietnam in November 1999, also failed to issue an apology or to explain why the reparations promised in 1973 have never been paid.

The question continues to beg: when will the United States confess to its long history of crimes against humanity, thereby revealing that a genuine humility has replaced U.S. arrogance? Failing that, the lives of all the people of the world, including our own, are endangered by an arrogance continually nourished by insidious racism that seeks to mercilessly spread its unwanted "neoliberal" values. The American Way Of Life (AWOL) inevitably creates rage among billions of people who resent the forced imposition of U.S. values and policies.

An apology by the United States, followed by an offer of appropriate reparations to the Korean people, would be a tremendous new omen for a peaceful world based on mutual respect and justice.

What event or events might begin to produce such an historic reckoning? The work of the Korea Truth Commission might be instructive for understanding how this might work.

When news of the July 1950 Nogun-ri massacre finally reached the U.S. mass media via the Associated Press in September 1999, it opened up the floodgates in Korea. Koreans in many villages began to publicly talk about the brutal role of the U.S. Military during the 1950/53 Korean War in their village. The cries of victims, relatives and witnesses to the atrocities against Korean civilians, were finally being heard after years of silence and fear.

In May 2000, in Beijing, social justice, human rights and peace organizations from both (north and south) Koreas and representatives from overseas Korean communities formed an international organization to conduct a full, comprehensive investigation of war crimes committed or directed by the U.S. military.

The Korea Truth Commission was created from this meeting, and now has chapters in both Koreas and several overseas’ chapters, including in U.S., Canada, Japan, Europe and China. The KTC first opened an Office of Joint Secretariat in Washington, D.C. in June 2000 in order to coordinate internationally and to build solidarity with Korean people. Working on behalf of 70 million Koreans, the KTC hopes its work will lead to the U.S. government launching a comprehensive investigation of the numerous massacres of Korean civilians, a formal admission and apology to the Korean people, and full reparations to the victims and their family members!

The work intends to bring the suppressed, buried, and forgotten truth about the U.S. military massacres of civilians to light, but also to restore the trampled sense of Korean national dignity and the stolen right of self-determination of Korean people.

It has already begun the investigation of U.S. military massacres of civilians: first, the period during the 1950-53 Korean War; second, the period from the arrival of MacArthur’s U.S. Occupation Army in the southern part of Korea on September 8, 1945 until June 25, 1950; and third, more than 100,000 crimes committed by U.S. troops stationed in south Korea since July 23, 1953. It will publish a report on massacres in order to reveal the extent and nature of war crimes committed during the Korean War and reveal a more people’s version of the truth of the Korean War. It has already sent international delegations to both (north and south) Koreas in order to gather evidence that will be presented at the Tribunal.

On June 23, 2001, it conducted the first Korea International War Crimes Tribunal in New York City, where representatives from Korea and overseas Korean communities participated, along with representatives of the nations that participated in prosecuting the war. Following the Tribunal, there was an International Peace (and bus) March (June 24-25, 2001) to Washington, D.C. On June 25, hundreds of thousands of Korean signatures were presented to a representative at the White House gate, calling for the U.S. government’s formal admission of their numerous atrocities against Koreans, a formal apology to Korean people, full reparation to the victims and their family members, and the immediate removal of U.S. troops from South Korea.

The KTC is considering bringing the case to appropriate international legal bodies such as the International Court of Justice in Hague, to international commissions such as the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, and eventually to the U.S. legal system itself.

Korea has been evolving as a unified culture for 5-6,000 years. Only artificially divided for the past 56 years, it is time for Koreans to once again be in charge of their own destiny. The continued presence of 37,000 U.S. military forces and their weapons systems (including depleted uranium U-238) at 42 major bases (four Air Force, two Navy, and thirty-six Army) and nearly sixty smaller installations, along with their two practice bombing ranges (at Mt. Taebaek, more than 100 miles southeast of Seoul, on the coast near Wondok; and at Koon Ni, 50 miles south of Seoul, at the west coast village of Maehyang Ri), continues to be a grotesque and provocative assault on Korean sovereignty. No other "free" country in the world is so occupied as is Korea.

Korea deserves it authentic independence from the United States and its continued military occupation. Only by reckoning honestly with this tragic history can there be healing and reunification. The KTC intends to strive to this end. It just might ultimately contribute to a radical transformation of the U.S. consciousness as well.


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