In the opening months of the Korean War, the South Korean military and the police executed at least 4,900 civilians who had earlier signed up — often under force — for re-education classes meant to turn them against Communism, the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission announced Thursday.[...]The article goes on to look at how it was covered up after the war, and how even in recent years people were reluctant to talk to the commission. It also mentions that the commission’s term ends next spring and is unlikely to be renewed by the Lee Myung-bak administration. Which is too bad, as much of the commission's work has been useful (though I disagreed with it looking into the colonial era, mainly because of the way it was being used politically (investigating Koreans who served in the Japanese army down to the rank that Park Chung-hee held, for example) and because the ROK didn't exist then). As for the rest, I think it's great that details about, for example, the Silmido incident were turned up, or in related investigations by the Supreme Court, that those executed on trumped up charges in the Inhyeokdang case were retried, found not guilty, and their families were compensated. Other such cases are here.
Although the panel has reported on similar civilian massacres in the past, the announcement Thursday represented the first time that a state investigative agency confirmed the nature and scale of what is known as “the National Guidance League incident” — one of the most horrific and controversial episodes of the war.
The anti-Communist and authoritarian government of President Syngman Rhee had set up the league to re-educate people who had disavowed Communism in the months before the war, and forced an estimated 300,000 South Koreans to join. At the time, the government was facing a vicious and prolonged insurgency by leftist guerrillas.
But the commission reported that many of those who joined the league had never been Communists. They either were swept up because they had provided food or other aid to Communists hiding in the hills, often at gunpoint, or were required to join by local officials seeking to meet a government quota for the number of Communists being re-educated. In some instances, the panel said, peasants were lured into joining with promises of bigger rice rations. [...]
On Thursday, the commission unveiled old government documents that contained partial lists of league members who had been killed. Documents showed that the police kept surveillance on the league members’ relatives as late as the 1980s to ensure that their children did not get government jobs, the panel said.
While taking into account how these findings can be used for political ends, I can only see a state taking responsibility for its past crimes and mistakes as a good thing.
(Hat tip to Tom Rainey-Smith)