Thursday, February 9, 2012

38th Parallel

Sixty-one years ago today, on February 9th 1951, elements of the 11th division of South Korea’s army began killing people in the Geochang County of South Gyeongsang Province. Over the next two days they would kill 719 purported communist sympathizers. 385 of the communist sympathizers were children.

The 11th division had just come off a two day rest. Two days earlier, on February 7th 1951, they had been massacring people in nearby Sancheong and Hamyang counties of the same South Gyeongsang Province. They only found 705 communist sympathizers on that day, 85% of them were described as either “women, children, or the elderly”.

The commanding general of the 11th division was Choe Deok-sin.

The year before, on June 25th 1950, Kim Il-sung’s North Korean army invaded South Korea starting the Korean war. Two days later, on June 27th 1950, President Syngman Rhee ordered the execution of Bodo League and South Korean Workers Party related people. Over the summer Rhee’s people would find and execute between 100,000 and 1,200,000, but nobody was keeping good count.

American officers photographed some of the mass executions, and reported them to General Macarthur. He replied that the executions were an internal South Korean matter.

British troops discovered one massacre in progress, and seized the site to prevent the massacre from continuing.

The South Koreans initially blamed the mass graves produced by the executions on the North Koreans. The truth was slow in percolating out. As late as 2008 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission discovered a mass grave filled with the bodies of children near Daejon; South Korea’s fifth-largest metropolis. The National Archives in Washington DC has recently released declassified photos taken by Americans at the Execution sites.

Syngman Rhee was South Korea’s first president. Rhee was a rabid Christian, having converted in 1899 while serving a lifetime prison term (obviously commuted) for sedition. In 1904 he traveled to the US where he studied, amongst other things, Christian theology. He returned to Korea in 1910 to become the chief secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association in Seoul. He escaped tensions with Japan in 1912 by emigrating to Hawaii where he began a Christian school for Korean immigrants. Rhee bounced around doing, amongst other things, Christian missionary work until the end of WWII, when he returned to Korea more permanently. With the help of the US he was installed as South Korea’s first president on July 24th 1948.

In 1986 general Choe-Deok sin defected to North Korea. There he served as a chief of the central committee of Chondogyo religious movement.

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