Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland


U.S. Troops carried out mass-killings of civilians in Korea
Seán Mac Mathúna

The Massacre at My Lai, Vietnam, 1968

U.S. Military charged with mass murder in Panama, 1989

The railway bridge at No Gun Ri, Korea where U.S. troops slaughtered 300 Korean civilians

One of the last acts of the Clinton administration in January 2001 was the admitting that its troops had carried out the massacre at No Gun Ri in 1950. Outgoing US Defense Secretary William Cohen announced plans for a memorial and commemorative scholarships "as a symbol of our deep regret". It was in June 200 that the President of South Korea, Kim Dae-jung, called on the US government to conduct an inquiry into the alleged mass killing of Korean civilian refugees by US soldiers at a railway bridge No Gun Ri, South Korea on July 26th,1950. Recent investigations by the Associated Press news agency, started by the journalist Charles HanIey in 1997, into a number of incidents, have shattered the conventional picture that all the atrocities in the Korean war were committed either by the North Koreans or their Chinese allies. The attack is similar to another massacre carried out later by U.S. troops in My Lai, Vietnam on March 16th 1968 when U.S. soldiers went on a rampage, raping, looting and killing as many as 400 unarmed Vietnamese civilians.

According to the AP investigation, early in the Korean War, U.S. soldiers had machine-gunned hundreds of helpless civilians, under the railway bridge at No Gun Ri. The AP investigation is supported by 12 ex-U.S.. soldiers who have supported the claims made by South Korean survivors surrounding the massacre. As well as at least 300 civilians killed in this attack. another had 100 died in a preceding air attack. U.S. commanders had ordered units retreating through South Korea to "shoot civilians" as a defense against disguised enemy soldiers - itself is a major war crime.

Six former members of the 1st Cavalry Division say that they fired on the refugees trapped under the bridge at No Gun Ri, and AP found six others who say said they witnessed the mass killing. Some soldiers refused to shoot what one described as "civilians just trying to hide." Another soldier at the scene described the event as "wholesale slaughter".

The massacre had started when U.S. planes strafed an area near the tunnel where the refugees were resting. With scores killed, terrified parents dragged their children into a narrow culvert beneath the tracks. After this, the survivors were directed into the bridge underpasses - and after dark, U.S. soldiers opened fire on them from nearby machine-gun positions. Apparently, one senior officer, Captain Melbourne Chandler, after speaking with superior officers by radio, had ordered machine-gunners from his heavy-weapons company to set up near the tunnel mouths and open fire after saying:

"The hell with all those people. Let's get rid of all of them"

The bursts of gunfire killed those near the tunnel entrances first, which left Korean civilians pulling dead bodies around them for protection. During three nights under fire, some trapped refugees managed to slip away, but others were shot as they tried to escape or crawled out to find clean water to drink. Some U.S. soldiers said that the massacre at No Gun Ri didn't have to happen: As the U.S. army was scared that these refugee columns contained agents from North Korea, the refugees could have been screened up on the road or checked out under the bridge. But the US army command took the decision to massacre them all.

When the AP research team investigated the period of 1950/51, they also found other alleged war crimes by the United States military, such as when US jets repeatedly attacked groups of Koreans in civilian clothes on the suspicion that they harboured enemy infiltrators. In another strike, US aircraft used firebombs which killed 300 civilians trapped in a cave. Apparently, some pilots expressed concern that they were machine gunning innocent people. In another incident, on a single deadly day in August 1950, and six weeks into the Korean War, a U.S. general and other Army officers ordered the destruction of two strategic bridges as South Korean refugees streamed across, killing hundreds of civilians, according to ex-GIs, Korean eyewitnesses and U.S. military documents.

Not only have Korean newspapers have called for a full investigation of all the incidents, the South Korean defence ministry in Seoul is said to have heard of nearly 40 similar cases of alleged civilian killings by US forces. Apparently, more Korean civilians were killed by US bombing during the war, particularly during the saturation bombing of Pyongyang in 1952 when, all in all, some 10,000 litres of napalm and 697 tons of bombs were dropped, resulting in the killing of some 8,000 people. Other allegations include:

  • South Korean soldiers and police, observed at times by U.S. Army officers, executed more than 2,000 political prisoners without trial in the early weeks of the Korean War, according to declassified U.S. military documents and witnesses.
  • In 1950-51, as war refugees flooded South Korea's roads, American jets repeatedly attacked groups of Koreans in civilian clothes on "suspicion" they harbored enemy infiltrators, according to declassified U.S. military documents and Korean and American witnesses.

As the real history of the conflict comes out, we find out that the war - with echoes of the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident - itself was essentially another U.S. instigated conflict: South Korean troops had attacked the North a year before the Korean war broke out. The AP research team described this as the "latest disturbing revelation" about the conflict which almost led to global war. In one such incident, more than 250 guerrillas from the South are said to have launched an attack on North Korean villages along the east coast in June 1949. Some reached the town of Wonsan, but all but 50 were killed in two weeks.