In Vietnam, a rare discussion of South Korean soldiers’ wartime civilian massacres

Posted on : 2016-09-23 18:11 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Extensive media reporting suggests a changing mood in Vietnam, and more efforts to address wartime atrocities
Reports that appeared from Sep. 11-15 about Vietnam War massacres of civilians by South Korean soldiers
Reports that appeared from Sep. 11-15 about Vietnam War massacres of civilians by South Korean soldiers

Between Sept. 11 and 17, Vietnamese daily newspaper Tuoi Tre ran seven stories about the testimony and activity of survivors of civilian massacres carried out by South Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War. It is unusual for an influential Vietnamese daily newspaper to cover the stories of survivors of the massacres.

Tuoi Tre, which has the widest circulation in Vietnam, was the first newspaper in the country to cover the issue of civilian massacres after the story broke in the Hankyoreh 21, a South Korean weekly news magazine, in 1999.

Starting on Sep. 11 with an article titled “Life After the Massacre, Part 1: So Agonizing I Thought It Would Kill Me,” Tuoi Tre ran five stories that chiefly dealt with the testimony of the survivors of the massacres. The sixth installment in the series, called “My Last Mission: Living to Tell the Story,” related the experience of Nguyen Tan Lan, a 65-year-old survivor of the massacre at Binh An, who in Apr. 2015 became the first massacre survivor to visit South Korea.

 in Tuoi Tre
in Tuoi Tre

“During a meeting with the members of the people’s council of Binh Dinh Province in July of last year, I recommended that the Vietnamese government make three official requests to the South Korean government in regard to the Binh An massacre, in which a total of 1,004 people lost their lives,” Lan said in an interview with the newspaper. What Lan recommended was for Hanoi to ask the South Korean government to apologize for its actions and to take responsibility for the surviving victims and for the families of those killed in the civilian massacres.

These requests go one step beyond the original position of the victims, that South Korea need only acknowledge the massacres carried out by its troops. “We adequately accepted and combined his recommendations, and we submitted them during the session of the people’s council for Binh Dinh Province that was held from July 8 to 10 of last year,” said Banti Kkimnyung, a representative of the people’s council of Binh Dinh Province who listened to Lan’s requests.

Now that the survivors of the massacre have reached their 80s and 90s, the government is starting to make an effort to record their testimonies. “Once all of Vietnam’s provinces compile primary information about the survivors, we will be able to organize a meeting of the survivors before the end of the year, which is the 50th anniversary of the massacres,” said Nguyen Tangbu, director of the office of culture and communication for Quang Ngai Province, where more than 1,500 people were killed in a total of 18 massacres.

“With the issue of the Korean comfort women, the movement gained momentum through the realization that the survivors, the ones who could testify, were dying off. It’s a similar situation in Vietnam. There’s a strong sense among the survivors that the problem has to be resolved before their generation passes on,” said Ku Su-jeong, a member of the board of the Korean-Vietnamese Peace Foundation. As a reporter for the Hankyoreh 21, Ku was the first to report on South Korean troops’ civilian massacres.

 a Vietnamese daily newspaper. (provided by the Korean-Vietnamese Peace Foundation)
a Vietnamese daily newspaper. (provided by the Korean-Vietnamese Peace Foundation)

After the Vietnam War, which began in 1960 and lasted for 15 years, the Vietnamese government put the highest priority on national unity and reconciliation, under the slogan of shutting the door on the past and opening the door on the future. The civilian massacres by South Korean troops were also part of the past on which the door had to be shut.

Since the Vietnamese government exerts a powerful control over the media, the series of articles by Tuoi Tre can be regarded as having occurred with the tacit consent of the government., thereby suggesting that the mood in the country is changing.

The issue of South Korean troops’ civilian massacres was first made an issue by the Hankyoreh 21 in 1999 through interviews with victims in the five provinces in central Vietnam where South Korean troops conducted operations.

“Since 2000, statues and memorials have been erected in various parts of South Korea to commemorate veterans of the Vietnam War, and those memorials extol South Korean troops as heroes who fought for freedom in Vietnam. This is a distorted perspective, and it is liable to create a false impression among future generations,” Tuoi Tre said in the seventh and final article in the series.

South Korean troops were responsible for more than 80 massacres during the Vietnam War, causing the deaths of more than 9,000 civilians. The heaviest civilian losses occurred in 1966 during the Binh An massacre, in which 1,004 people were killed by the Tiger Division, and the Binh Hoa massacre, in which more than 430 people were killed by the Blue Dragon Division. This year, which marks the 50th anniversary of these massacres, ceremonies intended to commemorate the spirits of the victims were held at various locations in central Vietnam.

The South Korean government does not acknowledge that South Korean soldiers carried out civilian massacres in Vietnam.

By Hwang Keum-bi, staff reporter

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