In 1965, the first South Korean combat forces arrived in Vietnam. By 1996, they had begun a depopulation initiative that was so aggressive it left whole villages leveled and burned. Soon, villagers in even the most remote areas of Vietnam began to realize that once the South Korean Army arrived in an area, their only option was to run and not look back.
In order to avoid imminent death, thousands of civilians were forced to flee their villages in South Korean-controlled areas with little more than the clothes on their backs. Those that didn’t run were attacked and executed. The Korean forces claimed their goal was to remove “enemy combatants” from the villages they passed through. Women, children and the elderly were not spared. Instead, violence against them was used to send a message. After the South Korean Army had passed through an area, it is reported that the Viet Cong would usually gain plenty of new members. These men were mainly the sons and husbands of women that had faced serious violence from the South Korean Army.
According to United States Marines General Robert E. Cushman Jr., who commanded American and other foreign field combat forces in Vietnam, he “never really had control of the Koreans, they didn’t do [a thing] unless they felt like it”. When the South Korean Army failed to perform well on a mission, many of the soldiers would ignore the commands of their officers, including highly ranked foreign officers like General Robert E. Cushman Jr. who were tasked with coordinating joint Korean and American missions. This lack of respect for their leadership caused further horrors to be swept under the rug.
From the beginning of their time stationed in Vietnam, the South Korean Army instigated violence against women. Rape and coerced prostitution were their most common offenses. Because their army helped these men skirt responsibility for their actions, it was easy for the violence to continue, and it did for the entirety of Korea’s time in Vietnam.
The Lai Dai Han (“mixed blood” in Vietnamese) children were born as the result of South Korea’s widespread coercion and violence against women during the Vietnam War. It is estimated that up to 150,000 babies were fathered by South Korean troops. However, it is hard to know just how many Lai Dai Han there are because sexual violence was both rampant and poorly documented. The Korean Army helped sweep these crimes under the rug, and it was not unusual for the same soldiers to be repeat offenders, who attacked the same or multiple women repeatedly and fathered several children. Most of the Lai Dai Han do not know their fathers’ names, nor do they know how many other siblings they may have. South Korea has refused to provide assistance to help these people identify their fathers.
For most of the Lai Dai Han, who were ostracized and neglected by Vietnamese society following the war, this denial has been a lifelong battle. They have not only been ignored and denied educational opportunities, but they faced the threat of violence following North Vietnam’s victory as well. One attack victim’s father was beaten to death by the communist regime shortly after the war ended for supposedly “siding with enemy forces”.
Unfortunately, the cycle of war and violence that led to the birth of a generation of Lai Dai Han is still being swept under the rug. South Korea has never issued an official apology. In fact, many of their soldiers and civilians still practice similar behaviors today. Today, in the Philippines, there are children being born that are known as “the next generation of Lai Dai Han”. Like the Lai Dai Han, these children are the product of sexual coercion and forced prostitution. Their mothers are usually unwed Filipinas who were attacked or coerced by Korean soldiers stationed in the Philippines. These soldiers have a pattern of leaving and refusing to contact the women they fathered children with again, leaving already disenfranchised women with very little support. Like the Lai Dai Han, these Korean-Filipino “Kopino” children face social and economic discrimination.
We need to put public pressure on the government of South Korea, which has yet to apologize for the crimes committed by its soldiers in the Vietnam and the Philippines. Otherwise, these crimes will only continue to be repeated. Please consider signing our petition to help us bring justice to the Lai Dai Han.