Massacres by South Korea in Vietnam
Korean fighters committed roughly 80 massacres resulting in many deaths. The massacre by U.S. troops in Mỹ Lai received much coverage, though memory of South Korea’s massacres mostly evaporated. Unmentioned by the mainstream media and history classes it’s forgotten by younger generations. About 50 years ago South Korea sent the most troops except of the US to Vietnam to fight the Communists. They massacred, abducted, and raped Vietnamese civilians, yet relationship has progressed tremendously between the two countries. Vietnam is leading in Koreas tourism and Korea is the biggest FDI investor.
Acknowledgement, apologize or racialization never took place. Domestic policy, foreign policy, wartime difficulties, and cultural practice are the result remaining silent.
South Korea’s Ministry of Defense claims such systemic and organized massacres didn’t happen. Their government has denied the killings since the beginning. The publication of the 1969 investigation of the massacres was declined by the National Intelligence. Several liberal presidents, including Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, never directly admitted to the massacres. Though they did make apologetic statements.
Park Chumg-hee on the other hand imposed strict regulations of free speech in 1960. Meaning that the domestic politics prevented the issue from the governmental agenda, so the military could cover up their massacres. Whoever speaks out against the troops in Vietnam could go to prison or being tortured.
The United States requested foreign backup in the Vietnam war and transferred certain area to South Korea. Two American aid workers covered an often-cited study of 45 killing cases in the Korean occupied territory. Bringing war context to light was difficult and no other massacres were officially reported. No concrete records were made of the total number of civilians that were killed by the Koreans. The US report was denied by the Korean government and the US authorities were not keen publishing this issue either. Reportedly the US authorities were not only aware of the massacres, but they tolerated them.
Both Vietnam’s and South Korea’s foreign policies put their history in the back chambers. Vietnam never pressed charges or asked for an apology for the massacres and rapes South Korea have committed. Instead, the established close relations between them in the 1990s. This approach reflected Vietnam’s reformed strategy of diversifying relations and promoting economic integration. Currently, South Korea number two trading partner at a time when Vietnam wants to reduce economic dependence on China. They are Vietnams number one FDI investors and number two development assistance provider.
Additionally, South Korea subtly used the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) to deliver aid. In provinces where Korean troops had been occupiers, they aid school, hospital, and land clearance projects. The amount assigned to these areas was unusually much larger than KOICA’s average aid (one school received $2 million, compared to the average $50,000, in 2000). However, KOICA never publicly clarified that the aid was related to or compensation for the killings.
Due to social stigma many Vietnamese survivors do not speak up. Some mixed Korean-Vietnamese people (also known as “Lai Đại Hàn”) were born out of rapes committed by Korean troops. They often face discrimination against them in their own society. They are seen a “product” of rape or sharing blood ties with the aggressors. Government-issued textbooks reinforce the mindset that there is no need to investigate South Korea’s killings. Students often learn from a young age that U.S. imperialism was the main enemy and Vietnam came out as a clear winner.
It is important to understand why the atrocities committed by South Koreans during the Vietnam War are forgotten. But also, to promote the fight for overdue justice. The Vietnamese victims deserve a real apology, especially when South Korea has been fighting for the justice for their “comfort women.”