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Monday, May 17, 2004



When I libved in Kwangju a few years ago teaching university students, I found there were significant numbers of students who fully believed that American GI's had stalked the streets killing Koreans. They would get a wary look in their eyes as I tried to tell them that Korean paratroopers had machine-gunned Korean civilians - "Lying Foreigner!"

Other students with more of a grip on the actual history usually insisted that ChunDoo Hwan was doing the United States bidding, or at the very least the United States could have stopped it. I usually asked two questions

"So, do you think America should have disposed of the Korean dictatorship and assumed military control of Korea?" - "NO!"

"So, if ChunDoo Hwan gave his paratroop general one order, and the American general in charge told him to ignore it, who do you think the paratroop general would be more afraid of crossing? - the American general who could not hurt or affect him in any way, or ChunDoo Hwan who could have the guy and his family in jail in hours?" - "Hmmm....he's trying to trick me with his foreigner logic."

Ahhh, Kwangju. Epicenter of Korean racism....


Koreans aren't racist... It's just the barbarians in the rest of the world don't understand their 6,000 years of culture...

or 5,000, or 4,000, depending on who's talking...


good job posting on this critical day in korean history, yangban. i lived in kwangju for quite some time and learned much about this event from firsthand witnesses, not a single one of whom ever denied that korean soldiers were doing the killing, but who were certainly disappointed that the United States they looked towards as a human rights protecting nation did nothing to stop the massacre.

too bad your historical respect is sullied by what has come to be the all too typical drivel that thoughtful conservative korea-bloggers seem to attract in gobs.


According to that Village Voice article, "Even the most radical of the student leaders thought the United States would intervene on their behalf, against the coup."

Well they can't have it both ways - imagining US intervention on one hand while condemning it for not intervening. The fact is, the US has had little influence over Korean politics since the time of wildcard President Rhee Sigmund.

The US government also had no culpibility in this strictly internal affair and, aside from counciling moderation and releasing troops to keep order (both reasonable actions) the US was not involved in the massacre in any way, nor had prior knowledge of it.

In fact, the US was largely responsible for fostering democratization in Korea by keeping Chun Doo Hwan from executing Kim Dae Joong in exchange for Chun's invitation to Washington. In retrospect this was probably a mistake, considering how it has been misinterpreted as support for a military coup (the US was supporting Korea as a nation, not the Chun government).

Its difficult for Koreans to blame themselves for their historical internal divisiveness and to squarely face the responsibility for such atrocities, but to lay this at the doorstep of an ally whose presence ensured and fostered the development of democracy in Korea seems illogical.

But is it really illogical? It results from a combination of two historical tendencies: 1st, misplaced anger - Koreans have a marked tendency to blame others rather than practice introspection. 2nd, a xenophobic persecution complex that comes from being squeezed between China and Japan.

It is interesting to note that, just as Chinese culture was readily adopted by Koreans of the past, Korea today owes its economic development to the largess of the US. (Most cultural artifacts of suposed Korean origin actually have Chinese roots).

Although the US has done nothing to harm Korea, and has allowed the relationship to be one sided with Korea reaping all the gains, in historical context one can well understand the paranoia of a people who were betrayed by their Chinese mentors centuries ago. This anxiety and mistrust, known as "han", underlies all Korean relationships. The US has been too good an ally to be true, and it is now time to find fault with the American benefactors, even though it means twisting the facts to suit the case.


[using narrator voice from old Westerns]

And now it's time to say goodbye, as the sun slowly sets in the West...

[back to regular voice]

They don't like us "cowboys"? Ok, we can spend all our time and money on Japan...

Mizar5 sounds like a genius compared to me!!!


At least, the then commander of U.S.F.K. was responsible for not blocking General Chun\\\'s deployment of Korean troops to Kwangju.

You must realize that the commander of U.S.F.K. has the final say in where to deply both American and Korean troops in South Korea. In other words, this person is the boss, and Korean generals are subordinates.

The then U.S.F.K. commander did nothing to prevent this unusual deployment of troops.


Khan, your point, while logical within a unilateral command context, fails to take into account the intricacies of combined command. The USFK command authority is exactly that; command over U.S. Forces in Korea. I.e., zero authority over any Koreans. As concurrent commander of CFC (Combined Forces Command), he has operational command of Korean troops only within the context of maintaining the Armistice or defending the ROK against a North Korean attack. He had no authority over Korean forces engaged in internal order missions. At best, if this deployment endangered CFC's ability to accomplish their mission, he could have complained to the Chairman of the ROK Joint Staff that it was doing so. Even the KATUSAs, who receive day to day operational direction from U.S. superiors, remain under ROK command for purposes of order and military discipline. Thus if the then regime had ordered all then KATUSAs to leave their U.S. units and join a ROK unit, they would have been legally obliged to do so.

In short, there was nothing the U.S. commander could have done to prevent that "unusual deployment" of Korean troops, other than report to his higher headquarters that it was taking place.

I apologize if this seems like counting dancing angels on a pinhead, but if so, welcome to the world of combined command.

Mr Peas

ONe more point to Khan.

THe usfk only had operational control over ROK if there was a war or (for example) if all the reagons in SK were under martial law. in the time of Kwangju, there was martial law but not in Jeju. so the ROK military had control.


Being a young Korean-American interested in both politics and history here is what I make of the situation.

Honestly even though I think the massacre personally was terrible. I think Carter did make a logical decision of supporting Chun Doo Hwan. This is because I believe if a violent clash broke out, then North Korea could've opportunisticly invaded the South. I think that this was plausbile due to what the North did to the South in the 1970's and 80's. I think it's easy to look in retrospect and say that Carter made a mistake, yet for the time he could've possilby done the right thing had more riots broken out and gotten completely out of hand.

Also I think Kim Dae Jung was mistaken for pardoning Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo. They are criminals, and I think Kim Dae Jung was frankly stupid for pardoning them. If anything instead of starting his whole thing on forgivness he should've executed to leave behind the dark chapter in history known as the Gwangju Massacre.

And to finish this off, it's completely terrible this happened because some people in Korean happen to hate the U.S. for this whole thing and cause all these riots for the country that had the primary role in saving them from everyone in Korea having to starve....


Well if the US did intervene or at least threaten the SK government with some kind of action, then I guess the 200 or 2000 people did not have to die. I'm not solely blaming the American government, no- that's just stupid and ignorant but, the US should and should've use their influence as a superpower correctly and when it is appropriate. I mean, your government has the power to change the course of history with a flick of the finger. The power to save people; the power to change lives; the power to bring peace and security. (BTW I'm Aussie)

The international world was silent then and it is silent now. Burma, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, North Korea, etc. Why are the Americans and other countries (including Australia) wasting their time in Iraq when there's real proof of ethnic cleansing and other horrific abuses of power?

The answer? $

And, it's a bit hard not being anti-American these days... but please be aware that when I say anti-American, I don't mean the general population but the government/administration.

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