American Historian Sheds Light on
American Involvement in
'April 3 Cheju Massacre'

- After Elapse of 50 Yrs -


The so-called "April 3 Cheju Islands Uprising" have been long considered a kind of taboo as media both at home and abroad virtually ignored to look into the truth behind the unprecedented killing-fields, which was triggered in Apr. 3, 1948 or shortly before the U.S. government, under the U.N. flag, unilaterally held the May 10 single election to employ its first president Syngman Rhee.

Bruce Cumings, professor of the University of Chicago shed light on this unprecedented blood bath, which one survey claims the lives of 80,000 indigenous people on the island (of the total population of 300,000 at most at that time), and studied the issue based on secret documents, works of Korean exiles, local police reports, etc.

His research to Korea's worst nightmare was unveiled on Mar. 14 in Tokyo when he gave a lecture to hundreds of audience.

Bellow excerpts from his speech. (Subtitles are ours. -Ed.)

 

Unanswered Question on Cheju Rebellion

I wish to address today a single question in my lecture, which is the legal and moral responsibility of the United States for the widespread massacres and unsparing brutality with which the Cheju-do rebellion was suppressed.

Under the relevant international law at the time from August 1945 to August 1948, the U.S. Army Advisory Government was the sole legal authorities in Korea, south of 38th parallel.

Under secret protocols, the U.S. also had an operational control of the south Korean Armed Forces and national police from Aug. 15, 1948 to June 30, 1949. The United States and the American people were then and remain today responsible for events that occurred during the occupation. It is that responsibility which I wish to demonstrate and assess today.

Recently some Koreans have begun to demand redress for their sufferings during the Korean War.

Last August, a group of villagers in Yondong County, made up of survivors and bereaved family members of the Korean War, petitioned the south Korean and the American governments for compensation for the massacre by American soldiers and pirates of at least 100 people in Chugok village in the period July 26 to 29, 1950. There were similar massacres by American and south Korean troops throughout the summer of 1950.

One former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency operative witnessed the systematic slaughter of 1,800 political prisoners at Suwon shortly after the Korean War broke out.

I'm quoting him, "I stood by helplessly, witnessing the entire affair. Two big bulldozers worked constantly; one made a ditch-type grave. Tracks loaded with the condemned arrived. The hands were already tied behind them. They were hastily pushed into a big line along the edge of a newly opened grave. They were quickly shot into the heads and pushed into the grave."

However horrible these episodes may be, they occurred during the wartime. On Cheju Island, similar things happened throughout the guerilla zone in peacetime under the American occupation.

Many others, who present here today, know much more than I do about the "April 3 Uprising."

At the time I conducted my research on this tragic episode in the history of Korean-American relations, very little material was available in Korean language, because of the uniformed suppression of information, a barrage of propaganda and historical revisionism by the south Korean government, and the relative distance and lack of involvement in Cheju affairs of the north Korean government.

I utilized the work of Korean exiles in Osaka, especially *Kim Bong Hyong and Kim Min Ju. But mainly I relied on secret documents in the American National Archives.

These materials include everything from local police reports to investigative studies done by the U.S. military government. They were all prepared in 1948-49 by the relevant authorities and information-gathering agencies.

Therefore, they are the best primarily documentation that historians can find. What I'm about to say or to tell you is not a matter of my opinion or interpretation. It is a well-documented and unteachable fact.

 

Active American Role

No one will ever know how many islanders died in this onslaught. The American data long kept secret that 30,000-60,000 people were killed with upwards of 40,000 more having fled to Japan.

More recent research suggests the figure of 80,000 or more killed. There were at most 300,000 people living on Cheju Island in the late 1940s.

Effective political leadership on Cheju until early 1948 was provided by the strong left-wing People's Committee that first emerged in August 1945 and later continued under the American occupation.

The occupation preferred to ignore the Cheju rather than to do much about the committee. It appointed a formal mainland leadership, but let the people of the island run their own affairs.

American Occupation Commander *John R. Hodge told a group of visiting American Congressmen in October 1947 that Cheju Island was "a truly communal area that is peacefully controlled by the People's Committee without much common term influence."

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. military government investigation estimated that approximately two-third of the population on the island were moderate leftists in their opinions. Former Cheju governor named Pak, chairman of a leftist organization, was "not a communist and was very pro-American."

The people, according to this report, were deeply separatists and did not like mainlanders. Their wish was to be left alone.

This survey determined, however, that Cheju had been subject to a campaign of official terrorism for months.

According to Counter-Intelligence Core Information, Pak's successor Governor Yu Hae Jin was an extreme rightist, who had connections to the right-wing Kwangbok and Taedong youth groups. He was "ruthless and dictatorial in his dealing with the opposing political parties."

Governor Yu had built national police units on the island with mainlanders and refugees from northern Korea who worked together with what we call "ultra-rightist party terrorists."

Some 365 prisoners were in Cheju City jail in late 1947. An American investigator witnessed 35 of these prisoners crowded into a 10x12 foot cell.

Direct control of food rationing had also been placed in the hands of politicians responsive to Governor Yu, who operated out of myon or township offices.

Unauthorized grain collections had been five times as high as official ones in 1947.

In May 1948 as election proceeded on the mainland, the rebellion spread to the west coast of the island. Some 35 police and rightists were killed by May 15. On the next day, police began rounding up civilians, taking 169 prisoners in two villages, who were thought to have assisted guerrillas. No election could be conducted on the island.

By the end of May, the violence had left only the eastern coast untouched. Constabulary units swept the mountains from the east to the west.

A month later in June 1948, American Colonel *Rothwell H. Brown reported that Korean and American military units had interrogated 4,000 inhabitants of Cheju Island. Determining from these interrogations, the People's Democratic Army had been formed in April, composed of two regiments of guerillas.

Its strength was estimated at 4,000 officers and men, although less than one-tenth of the army carried firearms. The remainders carried swords, spears and farming implements. In other words, that was hastily assembled as an army.

Interrogators also found evidence that the south Korean Workers' Party had no more than six trained agitators and organizers from the mainland. None of them had come from north Korea.

With some 500 to 700 allies on the island, they established cells in most towns and villages. 60,000-70,000 islanders had joined the party, although it seemed much more likely that such figures referred to longstanding membership of the People's Committee and mass organizations on the island.

I'm quoting a report, "They were, for the main part, ignorant and uneducated farmers and fishermen whose livelihood had been profoundly disturbed by the war and post-war difficulties."

In his own report, Colonel Brown said that the rebellion had already paralyzed all the civil government function. The south Korean constabulary, however, had adopted stalling tactics whereas Brown believed that vigorous action was required at that time. The people on the island were panicked by the violence but also would not yield to interrogators even under torture.

Colonel Brown said:

"Blood ties which link most of the islanders, the families on the island, make it extremely difficult to obtain information."

On May 22, 1948, Colonel Brown directed that the following procedures be used to break up the revolt.

Colonel Brown reported, "Police were assigned definite missions to protect all coast of villages from the guerillas, to arrest riders carrying arms and to stop killing and terrorizing innocent citizens. The constabulary was assigned a definite mission -- breaking up all elements of the People's Democratic Army in the interior of the island.

Colonel Brown also ordered widespread continuing interrogation of all those arrested, and efforts to prevent supplies for reaching the guerillas.

Subsequently, he anticipated the institution of a long-range program "to offer positive proof of the evils of communism and to show that the American way offers positive hope for the islanders."

From May 28, 1948 until the end of July, more than 3,000 islanders were arrested.

Much other evidence demonstrated active American involvement in attempting to suppress the rebellion. These included the daily training of counter-insurgent forces, the interrogation of prisoners and the use of American spotter planes to ferret out guerillas.

One newspaper reported that American troops directly intervened in the Cheju conflict in at least one incident in late April of 1948.

In June 1948, a group of Korean journalists criticized that Japanese officers and soldiers had secretly been brought back to the island to help in suppressing rebellion.

An American embassy official named *Everett Drumwright reported in May 1949, "the all-out guerilla extermination campaign - his term - came to a virtual end in April with order restored in the most rebels and sympathizers killed, captured or converted."

Ambassador John Muccio wired to Washington that "the job is about done."

Shortly, it was possible to hold a special election that finally could send Cheju islanders to the National Assembly in Seoul. None other than *Chang Taek San, a longtime head of Seoul Metropolitan Police, arrived to run for a seat.

By August 1949, it was apparent that the insurgency had effectively ended. The rebel leader, Ri Dok Ku, was finally killed. Peace came to Cheju Island but it was a peace of political graveyard.

American sources reported that 15,000-20,000 islanders had died but the south Korean official figure was 27,719. The north Koreans said that more than 30,000 islanders had been butchered in the suppression. The governor of Cheju Island, however, privately told American intelligent sources that 60,000 people had died and as many as 40,000 people had fled to Japan.

Officially, 39,285 homes had been demolished, but the governor of Cheju thought that most of the houses on the hills were gone. Of 400 villages, only 170 remained. In other words, one in every five or six islanders had perished and one half of villages on the island were destroyed.

To the extent that anyone knows about the guerilla conflict on Cheju, it is assumed to be externally induced by north Koreans with Soviet backing and weapons with Americans standing idly by.

Yet, the evidence shows that Soviet Union had no involvement with the southern guerillas, and north Koreans were connected mainly to attempt the infiltration of guerillas in Kangwon Province or along the 38th parallel.

Americans organized and equipped the southern counter-insurgent forces; gave them the best intelligence materials or commission; planned their actions, and occasionally commanded them directly.

 

Intensified Intelligence War

As the Cheju island insurgency progressed, the event got much more attention by international coverage. Rebellion at a southeastern port city of Yosu soon spread to other counties in South Cholla and South Kyongsang provinces. For a time it seemed to threaten the foundations of the Republic of Korea.

An American General named Roberts said he planned to "contain and suppress the rebels at the earliest moment" and formed a party to fly to Kwangju on the afternoon of Oct. 20, 1948 to command the operation.

This party consisted *Col. Hausman and other Americans from the Korean Military Advisory group and Counter-Intelligence Core, and Col. Chong Il Gwon.

Next day, Gen. Roberts met with *Song Ho Song and urged him to "strike hard everywhere and allowed no obstacles to stop him."

Roberts gave an instruction to Song: "Your mission is to meet the rebel attack with overwhelmingly superior force and crash it. Because of their political and strategic importance, it is essential that Sunchon and Yosu be recaptured at an early date. The liberation of these cities from the rebel forces would be moral and political victories of great propaganda value."

American C-47 transport planes ferried Korean troops, weapons and other materials. The Korean Military Advisory group spotter planes surveyed areas throughout the period of rebellion. American intelligence organizations worked intimately with army and Korean national police counterparts.

The guerillas built up their strength on Korean Mainland after the Yosu rebellion and American advisors were all over the war zone in the south, constantly shadowing their Korean counterparts.

The commander distinguished himself in this suppression of the Yosu rebellion was James Hausman, one of the key organizers of suppression of the Yosu rebellion, who spent the next three decades as, perhaps, the most important American operative in Korea, working in the liaison and nexus point between the American and Korean military intelligence organizations.

Hausman called himself father of the Korean Army in an interview, which was not far from the truth. He said that everyone knew this including Korean officers themselves but would not say publicly. Back in the United States, hardly anyone has ever heard of James Hausman.

In an off-camera, Hausman said, "Koreans were rootle bastard worse than the Japanese." He made their (Korean) brutality more efficient by showing them, for example, how to douse corpses of the executed people with gasoline to hype the method of execution for the blame on communists.

As early as February 1949, Everett Drumwright reported that in South Cholla Province, "there was some not very discriminating destruction of villages" by the south Korean army. But a week later, he demonstrated his own support for such measures if they were discriminating.

He even suggested that an American missionary be utilized for information on the guerillas.

Americans and Koreans were in constant conflict over proper counter-insurgent methods. But out of this tension, they used a mix of American methods and techniques of suppression that the Japanese had developed in Manchuria for combating guerillas in cold weather, mountainous terrain, implemented by Korean officers who had served the Japanese often in Manchuria. Those methods separated the guerillas from their peasant constituencies.

Cold weathers denied them of their undetective movement.

Military encirclement and blockade isolated base areas and prevent re-supply of food and weaponry. The draconian method broke the guerilla from people's nexus.

Winter drastically shifted the advantage to the suppression forces. Large army established blockades usually between the mountains in the low line fields and villages. Small search of destroying unit would then enter the mountains to ferret out the guerillas, often by tracking them in snows.

As a former Japanese army officer put it, winter made guerilla stationary and counter-insurgent forces mobile. Guerillas held up in winter shelters, but the shelters were later detected and burned out. Rebuilding shelters was impossible because everything was frozen.

 

Conclusion

In early 1950, Walter Sullivan, New York Times correspondent - who was almost alone among foreign journalists seeking out the truth about the guerilla war on the Korean Mainland and Cheju Island - wrote, "large parts of the southern Korea are darkened today by cloud of terror, probably unparalleled in the world."

"The guerillas made brutal assault on police and police took the guerillas to their home villages and torture them for information. Police shot them and tied them to the trees as an object lesson."

The persistence of the guerillas, Sullivan wrote, "puzzles many Americans here as does the extreme brutality of the conflict."

Sullivan went on to argue, "there is a great diversion of wealth in the country with both middle and poor peasants living marginal existence."

He interviewed ten peasant families and none of who owned their land and most were tenants. Landlords took 30 percent of tenant produce but additional exaction; government taxes and various contributions range from 48 to 70 percent of the annual crop.

Primary cause of the south Korean and the Cheju Island insurgency was the social unequity of land relations and huge gap between the tiny elite of the rich and the vast majority of the poor. North Koreans were barley involved in this, and indeed the strongest left-wing regions were precisely those farthest from the 38th parallel.

On Cheju Island, the same conditions were inflamed by a brutal Japanese occupation that led to a vast uprooting of the population, by the simple justice of the popular administration that took effective power on the island in 1945 and held it until 1948, and by the elemental injustice of the mainlander dictatorship that Rhee Syngman imposed. The American legal authorities did nothing about but aided and admitted him.

If it should come to pass that any Koreans succeed in gaining compensation from the American government for the events of 1945-1953, certainly the people of Cheju Island should come first.

On this hauntingly beautiful island, the post-war world first witnessed the American capacity for unrestrained violence against the indigenous peoples fighting for self-determination and social justice.

 

Note:

Bruce Cumings (1943-)

Professor at the University of Chicago. After attending Peace Corps during the 1967-68 to evade military service amid the Vietnam War, worked as English teacher in south Korea. In 1971-72, studied Korean affairs in south Korea and Japan. His book titled "The Origins of the Korean War" (published in 1981) still enjoys worldwide reputation today as standard study for modern history of Korea.

Kim Bong Hyong, Kim Min Ju, authors of the book titled "Chronicle of 4.3 Armed Struggle of Cheju Islanders" (published in 1963)

John R. Hodge, General Commander of South Korea Military

Rothwell H. Brown, Commander of South Korea Military in Cheju Region

Everett Drumwright, American embassy staff

Jhon Muccio, an Ambassador to U.S. Forces Korea

Ri Dok Ku, Supreme Commander of the People's Democratic Army (killed in June, 1949)

Chang Taek Sang, Chief of the Metropolitan National Police Agency under U.S. Military

Chong Il Gwon and Song Ho Song, commanders of South Korea Constabulary, who were ordered to sweep the Yosu rebellion.

James Hausman, operation chief representing the (south) Korea Military Advisory group, who was ordered to suppress the Yosu rebellion.

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