Truth, neither old nor malicious .. National Guidance Alliance incident

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of a half-article half-blog post by a renowned journalist Sang-wook Byun on October 12, 2011 regarding one of the most tragic not-so-well-known incidents of modern Korean history, the National Guidance Alliance (NGA) incident in the afteramths of Korean war in 1950. Although it is quite an old incident, it’s true nature has been concealed for a long time and it is officially recognized only quite recently through the activity of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). However, many believe the whole story has not been fully revealed yet. Hopefully, this post will provide some hindsight of the whole issue. All rights of this post stay with the author of original post and this post will be scrapped at his request immediately. Original post (in Korean) can be located by the link at the bottom.

Truth of unjust death, neither late nor malicious

In December 1949, national army who set out to clear up red guerrillas in Munkyoung, Kyoungbuk, indiscriminately massacred residents of Seokdal village, Munkyoung. 81 of 127 village residents died on the spot; 70% of the deaths were children, the old and the infirm. Of course army announced a fabricated report of the massacre as red guerrillas had killed those victims.

Demanding truth of the massacre, surviving families were arrested and prosecuted 10 years after the incident, in 1960, under the charge of antinational deeds. Again waiting for 40 years, in 2000 spring, surviving families filed a constitutional appeal and, in July 2008, filed a damage lawsuit against country.

Raising reasons that ‘because surviving families started to appeal to the law since 2000, the 3-year statute of limitation ended in 2003; it’s even 5 years later than that, so the court will not try this case’, the court rejected the lawsuit.

However, a week ago on October 8, the supreme court’s ruling on this case flipped this prior decision. “Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) announced the investigation report in June 2007, the statute of limitation ended 3 years after that, in June 2010. So, the lawsuit by surviving families in 2008 should not be dismissed due to the expiration of the statute of limitation. High court must start the trial.”

In last June, the supreme court also ruled on a case of National Guidance Alliance (NGA) where civilians were inhumanely massacred during Korean War that “the statute of limitation begins from November 2007 when TRC announced its fact-finding report.” The court ruled “people are the victims and the country is the wrongdoer. The wrongdoer covered up the truth of the incident by designating related records such as the execution list as 3rd level secrete and even prosecuted surviving families for demanding the truth. The argument of the country, the wrongdoer, why the victims are seeking for damage compensation belatedly now is severely unjustified.”

Possibly due to the supreme court’s ruling, simple descriptions about the NGA case appeared in my cell phone twits in October 13 morning. Since this incident is something I covered before, I turned on my computer and looked for those twits again in my office later. Then I got this:

When I looked for them through another route, I got an English error message, ‘Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!’, and could not find those twits. When I looked at the government bodies in charge below the message, they were cyber National Police Agency (NPA) and Korea Communications Standards Committee. Do they see contents of these twits, NGA case, malicious information? Or do they define the uploaders of those twits as malicious figures and filter their twits by regulating them separately?

Since NGA case was officially investigated by a government office, exposing its truths, and the chief of NPA, in last year’s funeral address, expressed his sincere apology with deep reflection of his agency’s faults, I guess it might be the latter case.

NGA – a list for guidance and protection turns into a hit list

Following the enactment of National Security Act to eradicate left-wing thoughts in South Korea in 1948, NGA was established under the superficial purpose of guiding and protecting people who had left-wing inclination or left-wing activity experience starting from June 1949. It was an organization exactly replicating the structure of a similar anti-socialistic organization promoted by the Japanese Government General of Korea near the end of Japanese colonial era.

The NGA members’ doctrine were ‘We absolutely support the government of Republic of Korea’, ‘We object North Korean Il-sung Kim’s regime’, ‘We oppose communistic thoughts that ignore freedom and nationality’ etc. Since it was a national anti-communistic public initiative, government bodies, to accomplish certain results, indiscriminately recommended people to join the organization. They allotted a recruitment goal to every region and some of them even distributed barley grains to those who joined it. Rumors like NGA members would get helping hands in advance during seasons of rice planting or harvesting also spread.

Countryside farmers who did not know right-wing or left-wing stamped their seals or thumb prints and joined it with the belief that a nation-approved ‘certificate’ would make them more secure or would be more useful in receiving flour rations. Parents dragged their children’s hands to join it since children in their 10s were also allowed to join it. So, it was estimated that about 300,000 people joined it eventually.

But, just after the Korean war broke out, South Korean government decided to kill all on the list and retreat for fear that they would readily join communist party. So, they issued a call-up order for NGA members and gathered them. In some cases, they gathered them by lying to them that, since NGA members are anti-communist people, they decided to transfer NGA members first. They, then, put such gathered people in prison collectively and massacred them right away under the reason that they are dangerous left-wingers.

July and August 1950 just after the start of Korean war was the time when massacres against NGA members took place intensely. Since they were committed while retreating southward from Han river, incidents in Gyeonggi, Choongcheong regions were centered in July and those in Kyoungsang region were centered in August. Some of the confirmed victim counts are as follows. △ 265 deaths (but about 1,000 presumed) in Oknyeobong, Cheongwon, Choongbuk, cemetery and Soltijae in Gammulmyeon, Goisan. △183 deaths in Ssarigogae, Hoam-dong, Choongjoo, Choongbuk. △about 1,400 deaths presumed in Golryeong-gol, Sannae of Chungnam-Daejeon area. △about 1,000 sacrificed in valleys of Daewoon-san, Ulsan, Kyoungnam in August 1950. Victims’ families were looking for the massacre site just after April 19 and found  825 skulls. They collected them and built a joint tomb. But President Jeong-hee Park’s military government dug the joint tomb, got rid of the tombstone, and prosecuted the surviving families under the guilty-by-association charges.

Sometimes they locked NGA members inside a warehouse, burned the warehouse, and gunned those who barely escaped the burning warehouse down. Or they dug a hole on the ground, drove NGA members to the hole, gunned them down indiscriminately, and filled the hole again. When I gathered a team of reporters and reported the facts of some areas 15 years ago, some surviving families contacted us saying that ‘they have been living a life neither looking nor waiting for their fathers who were dragged out and never came back for more than 40 years. Hearing the report made them believe that the valley might be the place their fathers could have been buried and they would examine the place even now.’

Lives of people and their dignity are the reasons of a country’s existence as well as its composition

It is not still clear how many were killed in this way. The activity of the committee to find out facts about past deaths was based on surviving families’ applications and, as a consequence, limited. We still simply say at least 5,000 but don’t know how many times of that can be the truth. Even if we want to forgive and reconcile with those responsible for those deeds, we should know what to forgive and whom to reconcile with first. It is simply something not finished yet.

Protection of people’s dignity and their lives is a basic component of a country. People’s lives should not be sacrificed without legitimate procedures and processes under any circumstances. I hope government authority not to forget people’s lives and dignity are the existence reason of our country in all places … not only in damage compensation and indemnification lawsuits by surviving families of NGA incident but also in recurrent incidents of protest suppression, demolition suppression, and complications between labor union and company.

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