South Korea Denies Its Role in the Civilian Massacres During the Vietnam War
As the United States continues its 13-year commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, the Vietnam government discreetly requested South Korea to shelve its plans for official events to observe its 40th anniversary of sending its troops to fight alongside the Americans in Vietnam.
The My Lai massacre committed by US armed forces stands out as the most notorious incident in the war. It was first covered-up by the commanding officers involved but international condemnation and investigative journalism forced the US to conduct an investigation that brought three officers into trial.
The South Korean forces which were dispatched to Vietnam to help the US troops were not lacking in the atrocities department either. The more infamous ones total about eight, with Binh Tai listed as one of the worst war crimes ever committed. But information gathered by American Quaker aid workers revealed that more than 45 such massacres were perpetrated by the ROK forces, surpassing any other country’s crimes committed. Yet until now, the world hardly hears about South Korean atrocities, let alone an admission or apology from Seoul.
So why is South Korean President Park Geun-hye so insistent on a Japanese apology for the alleged “comfort women” but adamantly refuses to recognize her own country’s role in the Vietnam comfort women and countless civilian massacres during the Vietnam War?
Her people likewise feel the same. Kim Sung-wook, a veteran who fought in 1967 — ’69, says “Our service in the war was to protect the security of Vietnam. To claim otherwise is an affront to our honor.” Park, in a 2013 visit to Hanoi for a summit meeting, paid her respects to the tomb of the late former president Ho Chi Minh but the war crimes were never brought up.
One possible reason why Ms. Park remains eternally in denial mode about her nation’s barbaric war acts is to protect her father’s name and image. The Vietnam War broke out during the rule of dictator Park Chung-hee, Ms. Park’s father. It was him who led more than 300,000 ROK soldiers into South Vietnam with orders to kill the Vietnamese people, presuming everyone to be communist Viet Congs. It was him who knew about the massacres, rapes, assaults and mutilations. But his allegiance to the US and the promised aid were more important than human lives in an ongoing war, even innocent ones. Apologizing to the Vietnamese is tantamount to admitting to her father’s wrongdoings.
The South Korean troops did not offer help to the US forces solely out of gratitude for its assistance with the country in the Korean War. It is common knowledge that the United States government offered billions of dollars in grants and subsidies in return for every soldier posted to Vietnam. If Park Chung-hee is credited for putting ROK on the track to economic development and making South Korea the powerful nation that she is now, it was a portion of the US dollars he received that went into infrastructure and investments. Talk is, he pocketed a generous part of the cash. The war was also an excuse to develop the military system and weaponry of ROK and coming to the aid of American troops ensured that the US Korea Forces will stay in their homeland, to defend them in case of another attack from the north.
It was Vietnam’s battle but the interference of the US and South Korea saw 3 million of Vietnam’s men, women and children dead and 300,000 MIA in a war that should have been their liberation. In stark comparison, the Republic of Korea counted 4,960 combatants who never returned and no MIAs.
It’s high time for South Korea to own up to its crimes and apologize to Vietnam. Its harmonious ties with the communist state rest on shaky grounds.