Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Murdered by capitalism: Past and present






First the past:
Thousands killed by US's Korean ally

DAEJEON, South Korea (AP) — Grave by mass grave, South Korea is unearthing the skeletons and buried truths of a cold-blooded slaughter from early in the Korean War, when this nation's U.S.-backed regime killed untold thousands of leftists and hapless peasants in a summer of terror in 1950.

With U.S. military officers sometimes present, and as North Korean invaders pushed down the peninsula, the southern army and police emptied South Korean prisons, lined up detainees and shot them in the head, dumping the bodies into hastily dug trenches. Others were thrown into abandoned mines or into the sea. Women and children were among those killed. Many victims never faced charges or trial.

The mass executions — intended to keep possible southern leftists from reinforcing the northerners — were carried out over mere weeks and were largely hidden from history for a half-century. They were "the most tragic and brutal chapter of the Korean War," said historian Kim Dong-choon, a member of a 2-year-old government commission investigating the killings.

Hundreds of sets of remains have been uncovered so far, but researchers say they are only a tiny fraction of the deaths. The commission estimates at least 100,000 people were executed, in a South Korean population of 20 million.

[snip]

The roots of the summer 1950 bloodbath lie in the U.S.-Soviet division of Japan's former Korea colony in 1945, which precipitated north-south turmoil and eventual war.

In the late 1940s, President Syngman Rhee's U.S.-installed rightist regime crushed leftist political activity in South Korea, including a guerrilla uprising inspired by the communists ruling the north. By 1950, southern jails were packed with up to 30,000 political prisoners.

The southern government, meanwhile, also created the National Guidance League, a "re-education" organization for recanting leftists and others suspected of communist leanings. Historians say officials met membership quotas by pressuring peasants into signing up with promises of rice rations or other benefits. By 1950, more than 300,000 people were on the league's rolls, organizers said.

North Korean invaders seized Seoul, the southern capital, in late June 1950 and freed thousands of prisoners, who rallied to the northern cause. Southern authorities, in full retreat with their U.S. military advisers, ordered National Guidance League members in areas they controlled to report to the police, who detained them. Soon after, commission researchers say, the organized mass executions of people regarded as potential collaborators began — "bad security risks," as a police official described the detainees at the time.

The declassified record of U.S. documents shows an ambivalent American attitude toward the killings. American diplomats that summer urged restraint on southern officials — to no obvious effect — but a State Department cable that fall said overall commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur viewed the executions as a Korean "internal matter," even though he controlled South Korea's military.

Ninety miles south of Seoul, here in the narrow, peaceful valley of Sannae, truckloads of prisoners were brought in from Daejeon Prison and elsewhere day after day in July 1950, as the North Koreans bore down on the city.

The American photos, taken by an Army major and kept classified for a half-century, show the macabre sequence of events.

White-clad detainees — bent, submissive, with hands bound — were thrown down prone, jammed side by side, on the edge of a long trench. South Korean military and national policemen then stepped up behind, pointed their rifles at the backs of their heads and fired. The bodies were tipped into the trench.

Trembling policemen — "they hadn't shot anyone before" — were sometimes off-target, leaving men wounded but alive, Lee said. He and others were ordered to check for wounded and finish them off.

Evidence indicates South Korean executioners killed between 3,000 and 7,000 here, said commissioner Kim. A half-dozen trenches, each up to 150 yards long and full of bodies, extended over an area almost a mile long, said Kim Chong-hyun, 70, chairman of a group of bereaved families campaigning for disclosure and compensation for the Daejeon killings. His father, accused but never convicted of militant leftist activity, was one victim.

Another was Yeo Tae-ku's father, whose wife and mother searched for him afterward.

"Bodies were just piled upon each other," said Yeo, 59, remembering his mother's description. "Arms would come off when they turned them over." The desperate women never found him, and the mass graves were quickly covered over, as were others in isolated spots up and down this mountainous peninsula, to be officially "forgotten."

When British communist journalist Alan Winnington entered Daejeon that summer with North Korean troops and visited the site, writing of "waxy dead hands and feet (that) stick through the soil," his reports in the Daily Worker were denounced as "fabrication" by the U.S. Embassy in London. American military accounts focused instead on North Korean reprisal killings that followed in Daejeon.

But CIA and U.S. military intelligence documents circulating even before the Winnington report, classified "secret" and since declassified, told of the executions by the South Koreans. Lt. Col. Bob Edwards, U.S. Embassy military attache in South Korea, wrote in conveying the Daejeon photos to Army intelligence in Washington that he believed nationwide "thousands of political prisoners were executed within (a) few weeks" by the South Koreans.

Another glimpse of the carnage appeared in an unofficial U.S. source, an obscure memoir self-published in 1981 by the late Donald Nichols, a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, who told of witnessing "the unforgettable massacre of approximately 1,800 at Suwon," 20 miles south of Seoul.

Such reports lend credibility to a captured North Korean document from Aug. 2, 1950, eventually declassified by Washington, which spoke of mass executions in 12 South Korean cities, including 1,000 killed in Suwon and 4,000 in Daejeon.

That early, incomplete North Korean report couldn't include those executed in territory still held by the southerners. Up to 10,000 were killed in the city of Busan alone, a South Korean lawmaker, Park Chan-hyun, estimated in 1960.

His investigation came during a 12-month democratic interlude between the overthrow of Rhee and a government takeover by Maj. Gen. Park Chung-hee's authoritarian military, which quickly arrested many then probing for the hidden story of 1950.

Kim said his projection of at least 100,000 dead is based in part on extrapolating from a survey by non-governmental organizations in one province, Busan's South Gyeongsang, which estimated 25,000 killed there. And initial evidence suggests most of the National Guidance League's 300,000 members were killed, he said.

Commission investigators agree with the late Lt. Col. Edwards' note to Washington in 1950, that "orders for execution undoubtedly came from the top," that is, President Rhee, who died in 1965.

But any documentary proof of that may have been destroyed, just as the facts of the mass killings themselves were buried. In 1953, after the war ended in stalemate, after the deaths of at least 2 million people, half or more of them civilians, a U.S. Army war crimes report attributed all summary executions here in Daejeon to the "murderous barbarism" of North Koreans.

Such myths survived a half-century, in part because those who knew the truth were cowed into silence.

"My mother destroyed all pictures of my father, for fear the family would get an image as leftists," said Koh Chung-ryol, 57, who is convinced her 29-year-old father was innocent of wrongdoing when picked up in a broad police sweep here, to die in Sannae valley.

"My mother tried hard to get rid of anything about her husband," she said. "She suffered unspeakable pain."

Even educated South Koreans remained ignorant of their country's past. As a young researcher in the late 1980s, Yonsei University's Park Myung-lim, today a leading Korean War historian, was deeply shaken as he sought out confidential accounts of those days from ordinary Koreans.

"I cried," he said. "I felt, 'Oh, my goodness. Oh, Jesus. This was my country? It was true?'"

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission can recommend but not award compensation for lost and ruined lives, nor can it bring surviving perpetrators to justice. "Our investigative power is so meager," commission President Ahn Byung-ook told the AP.

His immediate concern is resources. "The current government isn't friendly toward us, and so we're concerned that the budget may be cut next year," he said.

South Korean conservatives complain the "truth" campaign will only reopen old wounds from a time when, even at the village level, leftists and rightists carried out bloody reprisals against each other.

The life of the commission — with a staff of 240 and annual budget of $19 million — is guaranteed by law until at least 2010, when it will issue a final, comprehensive report.

Later this spring and summer its teams will resume digging at mass grave sites. Thus far, it has verified 16 incidents of 1950-51 — not just large-scale detainee killings, but also such events as a South Korean battalion's cold-blooded killing of 187 men, women and children at Kochang village, supposed sympathizers with leftist guerrillas.

By exposing the truth of such episodes, "we hope to heal the trauma and pain of the bereaved families," the commission says. It also wants to educate people, "not just in Korea, but throughout the international community," to the reality of that long-ago conflict, to "prevent such a tragic war from reoccurring in the future."
The images are all via Associated Press.

Now on to the present. Donald Rumsfeld apparently finds the brutal South Korea dictatorship as his model for the ideal Iraq puppet regime:

Now, here's why we're talking about Rhee today. About two weeks ago, a tape recording emerged of Donald Rumsfeld sitting around jabbering over lunch with some friends. These were not just any friends, though. Remember the devastating New York Times story by David Barstow from April 20 about the "military analysts" who appeared regularly on US television who were supposedly objective but in fact were a) trained by the Pentagon in the arts of positive spin and b) often had a financial stake in military contractors doing business in Iraq? These were the friends in question.

The lunch took place on December 12, 2006, as Rumsfeld was preparing his long-overdue departure from the government. The chit-chat was of course never intended for public consumption, but the audio tape of the lunch (you can listen to it by going here) was delivered to the NY Times in a pile of materials the paper had requested under the Freedom of Information Act, so the Pentagon released the tape of its own volition.

One analyst, so far unidentified, asks Rummy whether the democratic Iraqi government can survive, or "Do we need an authoritarian government like South Korea after the war?" Rumsfeld lurches his way through an analysis of the pluses and minuses of Iraq's three post-Saddam prime ministers - Iyad Allawi, Ibrahim al-Jafaari and incumbent Nouri al-Maliki. Allawi "had steel up his backside" but "was not as attentive as he needed to be." Al-Jafaari was a weak type who always agreed with "the last guy he talked to." And Maliki? "This fella's better than the one before, but he's not Syngman Rhee."

Not much ambiguity there. In the minds of both the questioner and Rumsfeld, Rhee is a symbol of sturdy authoritarian leadership. You know, the kind some countries need from time to time, strictly for their own good.

Because after all, none of the mess that we see in Iraq today is Rumsfeld's fault, right? Good God. I'm not much of a believer, but when I contemplate men like this, I hope there is a hell.

And finally, what might the above exchange intimate to us with regard to Iraq's future? We never hear the war's proponents discuss the need for a good old-fashioned strongman in public, because they know that wouldn't do. But should we be naive enough to think that the Rumsfeld-analyst exchange was the only private one to take place in Washington in the last two years along these lines?

It's enough to make me wonder what John McCain really thinks. Yes, he has condemned Rumsfeld. But he did not condemn him because he was a war maker; like William Kristol, he condemned Rumsfeld merely because he was an incompetent war maker. Lately, McCain, who's rewriting his own history furiously these days, has lately been trying to say that he called for Rumsfeld's resignation, even though he did not.

Does McCain's vision of a pacific Iraq as "a functioning democracy" circa 2013, etched out in his fatuous speech of May 15, have wiggle room for a little dash of authoritarianism if need be? After all "functioning democracy" can mean a lot of different things. Ask the survivors of hundreds of thousands of dead South Koreans. Or ask Rumsfeld and his analyst friends.

Not exactly pleasant reading, eh?

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