Korean History in April
Korean History in April
  • Kim Ji-yeong repotrer
  • 승인 2020.06.08 17:59
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Genocide in Jeju: the Jeju 4·3 Incident

"The Jeju 4·3 Incident was a tragic incident the casualties of which were second only to the Korean War in modern Korean history." This is the opening statement of the preface of the Jeju 4·3 Incident Investigation Report written by Goh Kun, the then Prime Minister.


 The Jeju 4·3 Incident is the massacre in which civilians all over Jeju Island were killed by governmental authority from 3 April 1948 to 21 September 1954. Between 25,000 and 30,000 people were presumed killed. The incident was regarded as part of the global Cold War and the process of division in the Korean Peninsula. Though Korea regained its independence from Japanese colonial rule in August 1945, the delights of liberation did not last long. There remained an ideological confrontation between the left and the right. The militaries of the United States and the Soviet Union entered and stationed in Korea. Under this confusing and unstable condition, the Jeju 4·3 Incident broke out.


 On 1 March 1947, an incident occurred that became the starting point of the Jeju 4∙3 Incident. After noisy sounds of gunshots by police, six people were dead. People expressed anger starting a general strike on 10 March. People from banks, companies, schools, and government offices joined the strike. The US Military Governor accused Jeju of being an 'island of Palgaeng-i,' which means pro-communists. As a result, many police were dispatched. Members of the Seobuk Young Men's Association (SYMA) flooded into Jeju beating and murdering under the pretext of 'red hunting.'


 On 10 May, a parliamentary election would be held only in South Korea. If the election took place, South Korea's government would be established, and the country divided. The Jeju branch of the South Korean Labor Party decided to raise an armed uprising against the election. At 2 a.m. on 3 April 1948, an armed uprising began with signal fires blazing at every hill around the slopes of Mt. Halla. Groups of armed citizens simultaneously attacked provincial police stations, Seobuk Young Men's Association headquarters, and houses of key figures affiliated with the right-wing party.


 Ahead of the election on 10 May, the US Military Governor and the group of armed citizens signed a peace agreement. However, a few days later, rightist young men committed an arson attack in Ora-ri village, but the US military and the Korean police accused the armed rebels of the arson. The peace negotiation broke down and the military began an armed suppression. Jeju Island tried to boycott the election. Armed citizens attacked the election offices and voting places. Villagers agreed with the rebels, refusing to vote and going up the mountain. Consequently, voting in Jeju was considered invalid after failing to reach a majority. The US Military Governor judged that Jeju people rebelled against the system and started an armed suppression once again.


 After 15 August 1948, the Korean government was established. The government reinforced the ground forces in Jeju and took extreme measures to put down the disturbance. The government declared that those who passed through the middle mountainous area, which is more than 5 kilometers off the coast, would be considered a mob and executed. After that, the military started to set fire to the middle mountainous area killing innocent civilians. Martial law was declared on 17 November, not only the middle-mountainous villages but also coastal villagers lost their lives supporting the armed citizens. It was a Massacre. This massacre continued until after the Korean War. Finally, on 21 September 1954, the prohibition of passing through Mt. Halla was completely lifted. The Jeju 4·3 Incident ended. 


 The incident was a massacre by public power. However, the government did not accept fault and suppressed the facts. The pain of the event was covered for about 50 years until Jeju people tried to lift the veil. As a result, in 1999, a special law was passed by the National Assembly. The legislation included contents reflecting on failures to find the truth, and it restored victims' honor. In 2003, the Jeju 4·3 Incident Investigation Report was published, and President Noh officially apologized for the government's fault. The textbooks will be changed, reflecting the Investigation Report. Recently, members of the National Assembly have made an effort to pass the revised law. Now, we pay attention to the legislation for victims and hope that massacre will not happen again.

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