To What Extent Is America Responsible in the Suppression of the Jeju Uprising?
Identification and Evaluation of Sources
The Jeju April 3 Incident Investigation Report that was prepared by the National Committee for the Investigation of the Truth about the Jeju April the Third Incident provides a detailed and thorough investigation of the Jeju uprising and its resultant suppression. The objective of the report was to come up with causes, nature and true facts about the Jeju Massacres. The task force was appointed by the South Korean government to investigate the complicity of the massacre and the subsequent suppression of the information. The object of the research was to bring into common consciousness the happenings during the Jeju uprisings, their effect on the general public and most importantly, the people who suffered, lost relatives and underwent through the trauma during the suppression of the uprising. The Committee has provided the report in an exemplary way, and a lot of painstaking worlds seem to have gone into its preparation including interviewing witnesses, visits to some of the mass graves and acquiring other data. However, the report also has a bias. In the first place, it interviewed a very few of the perpetrators of the violence instead focusing on the victims. The report has a limitation regarding the year of publication. While the Jeju Uprising occurred in the late 1940s, the Committee only published the report in 2003, half a century later. Thus, the collective memory of the incident might have ended because many of the victims might have died while others could have chosen to forget rather than relive the memories.
In the US Government Responsibility in the Jeju April Third Uprising and Grand Massacre – Islanders’ Perspective, Chang-Hoon Ko tries to present the story of the U.S. complicity in the suppression of the Jeju Uprising from the side of view of the islanders. The author teaches Public Administration at the biggest university on the island, and thus, has a sound factual basis for the article. Ko starts by explaining the reaction of the residents when they heard that the Committee charged with investigating the massacre has accepted the report on the issue. According to him, the reaction was why it had taken so long for the government to appoint the committee and adopt the terror and massacre that Korean and American forces unleashed on the people of Jeju. This shows the personal nature of the research. In no unequivocal terms, Ko explains that the South Korean government crushed the Islanders’ vision with the help of the American government. This article articulates in its presentation of the massacre from the point of view of the Islander. However, therein also lies its major weakness. While the article has given voice to the thousands who died and the rest who have had to live with the trauma, the article is also one-sided. However, the two above-mentioned sources are the most useful and most articulate in this area.
The leadership of the Jeju Island had been led by left-leaning committees. These continued even during the American occupation. At first, Americans did not see them as any threat as they had determined that these groups were not in any way related to Comintern. The committees also did not seem to have any apparent link to communist organizations on the mainland on both sides of the 38th parallel.
However, after some time, the American and the South Korean government started to want to control the affairs on the island. The Korean Leader, Syngman Rhee, wanted to institute a separate government on the island. Americans encouraged the South Korean government to form the government on the island, in contravention of the already existing one. This stoked embers on the island. The people on the island, with the instituting of a new government, led to a guerrilla welfare in which the island’s residents resisted the new regime instituted by the American and the South Korean government. South Koreans blamed the insurgency on the North Koreans agitators rather than acknowledging that it was as a result of their importation of the a parallel governments which people could not condone. It is, thus, apparent that the U.S. involvement in the affair was from the very beginning.
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The most baffling event, in this case, was that the American commander John R. Hodge affirmed that the people’s committees were not part of the communist agitation but were peacefully controlled by the governing communal organizations. However, Americans were alarmed to learn that a significant part of the population was leftist in their political orientation. The South Koreans were also horrified to discover that the people on the island were not enthusiastic about union with the mainland. Their self-government had seemed to work for a long time, but now, they were to be governed directly from Soule. The Korean government, with the approval of the American forces on the island, appointed a governor with extreme right views to the island. The governor sought to impose extreme right rule on the island that was traditionally left-leaning. To do this, he took control of the food rationing on the island. The governor did this with the knowledge and possible the quiet acquiesce of American authorities. Media in the United States, including a newspaper that exclusively reports on issues to do with the American military, the Stars and the Stripes, ran stories on the massacre. However, the U.S. Army did not take any steps to stop. Furthermore, the governor introduced right wing militias into the island from the mainland some of whom were refugees from the Soviet Controlled zone (North Korea) and had extreme right views; thus, they viewed the islands’ residents as their communist enemies. Therefore, they embarked on a widespread campaign to suppress the residents.
With the holding of elections in the mainland and the continued suppression of the people on the island by the rightwing militias assisted by the police and the governor were the direct cause of the uprising. Furthermore, when the police started rounding up many of the islands inhabitants, Americans sat by and watched. This led the residents to attack government facilities like police stations, roads, and telephone utilities. The residents, enraged by the right-wing violence, called for separate elections and a reunification with the communist north. Direct American intervention in the suppression of the insurgency started at this point. The American military in South Korea was involved in the interrogation of more than 3,000 insurgents. This was meant to determine the scale of the insurgency and the number of guerillas it composed.
A person who is interested in investigating American involvement in the brutal suppression of the insurgency finds another significant fact that under the secret agreements, the United States had operational control of the South Korean Army and national police during the entirety of the suppression. After the Japanese had surrendered in the South Korea, the U.S. Army Advisory Government was the primary legal authority and the body of last resort in the U.S. administered part of Korea (South Korea). This means that they had the power to stop the Korean government deploying military forces in the area backed up by the right wing youths. They, however, chose not to do this.
The rebellion on the island paralyzed its civil life. Colonel Brown, who was in charge of the American military on the island, recommended an action to deal with the crises. The South Korean government delayed while the issue grew in severity. Brown also ordered the continued interrogation of the islanders. It seems that torture was used in the interrogation, again with the acquiescence or knowledge of Americans. However, most of those arrested and interrogated would not give information as the island was composed of a complex mix of families that all seemed to be related. Consequently, filial ties ensured that a vast majority of those interrogated did not share data. The interrogation that employed torture as a method of extracting information might have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. Unfortunately, there are no numbers on this.
Moreover, there is an assertion that America intervened by having its special forces fighting the guerillas in at least a single incident in 1948. Additionally, American planes ferried the police and the military had been sent to the island. It is also evident that Americans stationed a destroyer near Jeju to intimidate the insurgents and might even have shelled villages. Some authors have explained that the combined US and South Korean forces hunted insurgents while torching villages in a manner that foreshadowed what would happen in Vietnam a few years later. This led to the exile of more than 40,000 people with the death of between 14,000 and 30,000 of the population that did not number more than 300,000. Moreover, it also appears that the American authorities allowed the Japanese police to return to the Island to help in suppressing the rebellion. Many years of Japanese rule had made Koreans, on both the island and mainland, antagonistic towards the Japanese. The Japanese police were also hostile towards the islands population, and thus, the deployment of the Japanese police by the Americans led to more massacres. The Korean military and police also were dependent on the American intelligence to perpetrate their massacres. These and the other premises mentioned above make the America culpable for the massacres that occurred on the island. The American Embassy official noted that the “the job is about done” about the killings of the rebels and their sympathizers while another pointed out that the “guerrilla extermination campaign” had come to an end. This further shows the level of the American complicity in the massacre.
It is apparent that while the American and even South Korean complicity Jeju uprisings were for a long time ignored, or even suppressed, it has come back to the public consciousness, especially in South Korea. It is important to mention that several facts abound in the issue. Firstly, Americans were in charge of the whole of Korea South of the 38th parallel. This includes Jeju Island. It was within their power to stop the massacres on the island, but they chose not to. Additionally, they participated in the massacres themselves by hunting down the guerrillas and their sympathizers. Thus, it is evident that Americans were culpable for the events in the suppression.
In the investigation, the most prominent method was the framing of a historical question using historical sources. These sources have included books, journal articles and a report by a committee that the government of South Korea created to investigate the issue. While this method affords one the ability to gather a wide array of data and information, which because of peer review is more accurate and objective, it is limited in that a historian does not interact with the people in the historical event and thus have no first-time view of the event. Another limitation is that the scholar has to trust the judgment of other historians who published the work that he/she uses as a source. However, by looking at a source, one can know its potential reliability. For instance, one can look at the reputation of the source; a peer review scholarly journal is more reliable than a blog post. The caliber of the source will also determine its reliability. For example, an eye-witness account is more reliable than a work of fiction. Regarding this, a historian should be careful to use only the sources that are reliable.
While modern history uses a scientific method in the investigation of the historical questions, a historian still meets challenges that other investigators might not confound. In the first place, given the same set of circumstances, a historian can come up with different conclusions. For example, it is entirely possible that another history student conclude that the United States was not culpable for the Jehu massacre given the same set of sources. This is not a problem a mathematician will meet since mathematical results tend to be certain.
Historians have the role of not only recording history but also interpreting it given the events of the time. In the recording of the events and their interpretation, there is always a chance that opinion of the historian might shade his/her judgment. Consequently, it is factually impossible for a historian to be completely unbiased. He/she will seek to tell history from a particular point of view, and subsequently, the choosing of what is historically significant, plus the discarding of other materials by the historian might betray unintended bias. For instance, in using primary sources such as diaries, when the historian has to choose which ones to use and which ones to disregard.