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Gradually Re-establishing Historical Truth about Jeju Uprising

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On 3 April, 2019 a commemoration ceremony to honor victims of a bloody suppression by government forces of the people’s uprising in 1948-1954 was held on the island of Jeju. More than 10,000 people, including representatives of the government and the National Assembly, revolt participants and offspring of the victims of its clampdown, took part in the memorial. South Korea’s Prime Minister, Lee Nak-yeon, gave a speech at the ceremony. He proposed to honor the memory of all those lost and expressed his deepest condolences to their families. The minister also referred to the incident in Jeju as the worst event in South Korea’s modern history. Lee Nak-yeon emphasized that Moon Jae-in’s administration has undertaken the monumental task of uncovering the truth behind the Jeju massacre, and of restoring the victims’ dignity.

The head of South Korea’s National Police Agency, Min Gap-Ryong, participated in a commemoration ceremony in Seoul. He wrote the following words in the visitor’s book: “I humbly share my condolences before the spirits of all those innocent people who were killed during Jeju April 3, and I respectfully share my wishes that they rest in peace.” Vice Minister of National Defense Seo Joo-seok, who made the aforementioned statement, was also in attendance. He highlighted that the army was fully committed “to the government investigation efforts going forward” and would “take part in healing the wounds and suffering of the family members while restoring the honor of those who were slain”. This was the first comment about the incident made by a South Korean military agency.

Officially, at least 10,000 Jeju residents were killed and almost 3,600 went missing, as a result of the tragedy that stemmed from Korea’s ideological split following its emancipation from Japanese colonial rule, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. In reality, the situation was even more complex. Propaganda from both North and South Koreas portray the uprising as a communist revolt against elections, which were to take place in the South on dividing the peninsula. However, in reality, the uprising was instigated by actions of the police and agitators from so-called “youth groups”, who used racketeering and violence to bring the region, with a powerful left-wing movement, under control.

South Korea’s current strategic policy has its origins at the start of the rebellion, 1 March 1947, when a child who suffered a blow from a police horse’s hoof died during a street protest in celebration of May Day. This led to a confrontation with the police and the crowd was fired on. In response, the Workers’ Party of South Korea declared a general strike. Instead of calming people down, the government made a decision to destroy the left-wing forces once and for all, which led to an even tougher response from the people.

On 3 April 1948, more than 350 armed civilians simultaneously attacked 12 police precincts and homes of representatives of legislative bodies, in order to free detained relatives and force the government to reconsider its policy. The leadership reacted even more violently in turn. Death squads mercilessly dealt with protesters and local residents who helped them. On 17 October 1948, a ban on movement in inner and mountainous regions of the........

© New Eastern Outlook