In 1964, South Korean president Park Chung-hee began sending troops into Vietnam. He aimed to gain favor with the United States by providing support for their troops that were already on the ground. Park also hoped that this move would reduce the number of troops America would pull away from South Korea, leaving the Republic of Korea more vulnerable to North Korean forces. The first units South Korea sent arrived in February of 1965 and were deployed to the South Vietnamese region of Biên Hòa. These soldiers mainly provided medical and logistical support. The tides began to turn when South Korea sent combat forces to the Phú Yên province to face the Viet Cong in 1996. Official reports state that the ROK forces were tactical in battle, targeting only the Viet Cong with minimal civilian casualties. The locals tell a very different story.
Soon after South Korea began to take over the role of providing security, reports came flooding in of massacre after massacre in South Vietnam. It was rumored than South Korea had begun a depopulation initiative, with the aim of leveling villages they came across in order to prevent “enemy combatants” from being able to hide in plain sight. Families were torn apart by brutal, unprovoked executions. Villages were set ablaze and flattened by South Korean tanks and tractors. South Korean soldiers insisted that they were not harming civilians, and that they were only trying to force the Viet Kong to come out of hiding.
However, this story begins to fall apart when you look at the victims of these massacres. Most of the victims of these brutal attacks were women and children, newborns included. Once an attack on a particular village was complete, South Korean soldiers would drive tanks or tractors over the remnants, destroying the bodies and other evidence of the men, women and children they killed. Survivors would return to the areas they had grown up in and find nothing but ash and charred human remains left behind. The 1973 withdrawal of South Korean troops put an end to the violence, but not the pain they had left behind.
According to Nguyen Thi Thanh, a survivor of the Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre that killed over 75 people, “No South Korean government officials have asked us survivors whether we wanted an apology. We do want an apology”.
Officially, only two South Korean presidents have acknowledged these crimes. Former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Moon Jae-in have both issued short apologetic statements, but nothing close to a full statement of acknowledgement and responsibility has occurred. The closest the South Korean government has come to apologizing for these massacres came by way of a pre recorded statement from then-president Kim Dae-jung in 2001. President Kim apologized for South Korea’s role in the Vietnam war, but made no mention of the massacres or the survivors. He faced intense public backlash for his statement of apology. Park Geun-hye, a prominent conservative politician, lambasted Kim Dae-Jung publicly for driving “a stake through the honor of South Korea”.
Park Geun-hye went on to become 11th president of South Korea from 2013 to 2017 before she was impeached on charges of corruption and jailed. While Park Geun-hye was in power, all talks of formal apologizing to Vietnam came to a halt. Later that year, then-President Moon Jae-In also attempted to make an official public apology to the people of Vietnam, but again stopped when faced with pressure from prominent conservative South Korean politicians, leaving many to question whether or not Moon Jae-In’s words were genuine.
To this day, South Korea as a whole continues to deny and ignore the atrocities their soldiers committed. Please consider signing our petition to help bring justice to the Lai Dai Han and other Vietnam War survivors.

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