No Gun Ri: What Really Happened?
The incident at No Gun Ri has been considered as the Forgotten War wherein U.S military troops massacred hundreds of Korean and Vietnamese civilians in July 1950. The AP (Associated Press) reports of July 1950 incident contains various discrepancies and inconsistencies in the occurrences of events. The statements of the veterans concerning whether the refugees beneath the bridge started the firing and whether they later located North Korean troops among the dead have become one of the biggest questions in its historical discrepancies. The account of the events from No Gun Ri massacre has never been recorded appropriately and in detailed; hence, U.S veterans decline the acknowledgement of its AP reports, which eventually lost its place in discovery and truth.
The Korean wars that occurred at No Gun Ri caused the lives of approximately more than 400 individuals from the vulnerable groups (e.g. children, women, elderly). According to Steinberg and Galucci (2005), the Associated Press journalists led the investigation that proved the occurrence of massacre through declassified documents and military records as well as through interviews with more than forty disparate people whose recollections meshed down to small details (p.67). From the reviews and historical discoveries, the findings contradict to U.S forces being the victims of the casualties than the massacred refugees, the accidental firings of the U.S troops, the faulty military orders from the U.S higher command, and many more contradicting details. However, as far as history is concerned, the AP reports was given the major consideration on what really happens during the No Gun Ri wars.
Discrepancies of No Gun Ri War
The slaughter of two to four hundred Korean and Vietnamese refugees during the July 1950s war at No Gun Ri conceived various theories from historical point of view. First, the theory pointing to the origin of the kill had branched from two speculations: the direct order of the U.S 25th Division to shoot to kill all Vietnamese and Korean refugees on sight, and the concerns on accidental killing.
According to the statements of Lee (2003), the decision to kill was apparently not from the perspective of individual soldiers but from the orders of higher command (p.181). Such killing was said to be due to the strike of fear, malice and paranoia presented to the military soldiers. The top echelons command of the U.S first Cavalry Division and the U.S. 25th Division decided to initiate the activity of massacring every Korean and Vietnamese refugee sighted within the field. Added by the information from Steinberg and Galucci (2005), prior to the incident, the U.S troops based in the area obtained a hint that the enemies, Inmin-gun soldiers, were infiltrating the lines disguised as refugees (p.67). Hence, in order to prevent possible infiltration, General Kean, the commander of the 25th Infantry Division, issued an order of “All civilians send in this area (No Gun Ri) are to be considered as enemy and action taken accordingly (Lee, 2003 p.181).” The stigma on the communist opponents had heightened and the suspicion was diverted into paranoia that caused the inclusion of vast refugees passing during that time in the area. From the U.S troop defense, such killing was conducted in order to defeat the possibility of opponent infiltration to No Gun Ri and other nearby areas, which eventually resulted to massive casualties.
On the other hand, the cause of the dispute was also regarded as a mere accident and an indirect assault that caused the lives of these refugees. According to the statement of Goff (2004), it was becoming ever clearer that hundreds of thousands of Korean civilians were murdered with the complicity and participation of U.S troops by the ROK’s hated Syngman Rhee regime (p.137). The complexity caused an indirect and unintended assault towards the refugees of the area, which consequently included the incident of massive deaths. In addition, the disguise of the opponents as refugees had caused the meltdown among U.S troops in command that eventually led to the order of killing every refugee on sight.
From the perspective on origins of war at No Gun Ri, theories on its purpose were also proposed by the military analysts. First purpose was mentioned in the statements of Lee (2003) wherein the massacre was supposed to reduce the possibility of infiltration among U.S camps present in the area (p.181). Meanwhile, after the lightning advance of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) against the Republic of Korea (ROK) and American troops in 1950, General Douglas Macarthur ordered the wholesale destruction of Korea. The orders of Macarthur were the wholesale destruction of Korea. Under this command and the following introduction of new U.S military weapon, napalm bombs, every means of communication, installation, factory, city and village from the front line to the Yalu River were ordered to be annihilated. Such theory proposed the aggressive efforts of U.S troops in assassinating every individual present in the war fields during that scenario. The provision of such command had caused the military directives through the generals in the area, which was consequently theorized as the second purpose for instituting such massacre.
Ignition of No Gun Ri War
Prior to the incident of No Gun Ri massacre, the U.S military reinforcements in South Korea poured onto the peninsula to engage the Korean military mission. In 1950, the forces based in the DPRK of the North launched a blindingly successful offensive ground action against the ROK forces off the peninsula and almost the entire Taegu Island (Goff, 2004 p.137). Due to this condition, American expeditionary force was sent to ROK in order to provide military aid towards their war against the DPRK. However, the DPRK troops were able to equally compete against the military levels of the American aid. The vast lost of armies from both sides were inevitable.
In addition, the events of war ongoing between the ROK and DPRK had caused the Korean villagers from Gae Ri and Joo Gok Ri to evacuate the area due to the possible risks of danger from wars. Approximately, five to six hundred refugees evacuated their homes in an effort of escaping the impending propulsions of war. According to Korean accounts, some testified the U.S troops even escorted them towards the Southern parts towards the riverbank of Ha Ga Ri. The militia asked some of the evacuating refugees to stay in the area during the evening. In July 26, 1950s, the refugees were asked to continue south along Seoul-Pusan road with the accompaniment of U.S military troops. From the moment the refugees reached the vicinity of No Gun Ri, U.S soldiers halted them at a roadblock and ordered the group towards the railroad tracks. From this point, the initial massacre of U.S troops against Korean refugees occurred. After the assembly, the soldiers ordered an air attack upon the villagers through radio contact, which eventually caused the napalm bombing via the U.S planes the flew over these individuals.
Due to this situation, a case of paranoia had struck the U.S troops that consequently led to an aggressive action towards the Vietnamese and Korean refugees who had been generalized as DPRK opponents. According to Lee (2003), the soldiers of the first Cavalry Division acted according to the order of General Gay not to allow any civilian refugee to cross the lines. Still, officers and enlisted men down the line of command were not entirely blameless because the orders provided some leeway on children and women (p.181). According to the A.P reports, there were more than one hundred Korean refugees that were caught in the borders and vicinity of No Gun Ri. At first, these refugees were brought to the village for the searching of prohibited items (e.g. weapons or other military contraband); however, nothing was found. From the initial orders of General Kean on appropriate military instigation among refugees sighted, Colonel Raymond D. Palmer of the eighth Cavalry Division modified the order and commanded a “shoot to kill” protocol for every sighted individual in the area (Lee, 2003 p.181). Shortly after the assembly of every Korean caught in the fields of No Gun Ri, U.S planes flew over and bombarded the assemblies of Korean refugees, which included children and women. From this point onward, the Korean refugees scattered and each sought for the best possible security that should help them avoid the patrolling U.S troops.
The Events of the War
The events of the massacre at No Gun Ri had significantly changed the purpose of the initial directives of U.S government, which was to provide aid to ROK against the northern Koreans. The massacre of these Korean refugees started from the dropping of Napalm bomb in the morning of July 26. According to the Korean witness, Kim Won Lee, American planes airing in the area dropped napalm bombs over refugees gathered within the No Gun Ri borders. The dropping of the bomb caused massive incineration of children, women and every individuals present in the area (Lee, 2003 p.181). Triggering the traumatic introduction of American troops to Korean refugees, some who survived the bombing fled to various areas. Some parents dragged their children and relatives to the culverts in order to hide from the air raids brought by U.S planes. After the U.S troops spotted their location, they drove these refugees from the culverts to a double railroad overpass tunnels. However, the U.S soldiers fired in both ends of the tunnels for four consecutive days beginning in July 26 to 29th of 1950, which resulted to three hundred more additional deaths.
In another incident of napalm bombing, U.S planes also dropped these in a cave near Danyang, Chungchong Province, which resulted to three hundred Koreans that suffocated to death. According to one of the survivor, Cho Bang Won, the refugees were only hiding within the caves in order to avoid the frequent air raids from U.S planes (Lee, 2003 p.181). In addition, during the time wherein the units from the seventh U.S Cavalry Regiment were retreating, the passed the path underneath a bridge. From there, the U.S troops encountered Korean refugees hiding underneath. Due to their intense paranoia of the possibility that these might be North Koreans, U.S troops from seventh regiment conducted an open fire directed to these refugees underneath, which consequently killed an approximately more than one hundred Koreans (Malkasian, 2001 p.78). According to Goff (2004), the U.S media enthusiastically collaborated in the cover-up of No Gun Ri and the whole U.S conduct of the war, which was why it was still not generally understood (p.137).
Despite of the casualties dealt by the incoherent and unreasonable suspicion of military aggressiveness, an apology to Korean survivors and victims by the United States government was not given. In 2001, President Bill Clinton offered an expression of deep regret for what had happened at No Gun Ri but without acknowledging any U.S wrongdoing. According to the statements of Steinberg and Galucci (2005), the incident at No Gun Ri was “the story that no one wanted to hear”. The U.S massacre of South Koreans at No Gun Ri did not become an inflammatory issue and it did not lead to massive mobilization of the South Korean society (p.67). Furthermore, throughout the No Gun Ri revelations in 1999 and 2000, the United States was even enjoying the spot light and high levels of popularity in South Korea.
The incident of the No Gun Ri massacre involved to a total of more than six hundred Korean and Vietnamese refugees that should only be evacuating their villages due to the impending wars of ROK and DPRK. However, due to the wide paranoia and suspicion present among U.S troops, every Korean was considered part of the communist DPRK and was therefore executed. Although, some suggested (AP analysts) that the commands from higher military authorities directly aimed the execution and the wiping of the vast part of Korean cities and villages. The massacre was triggered during the bombing of approximately one hundred refugees present in No Gun Ri railroad. Children, women and every individual were incinerated by the bombing. Following this episodes were the four days of savage firing within the tunnels of No Gun Ri, bombing in the caves, and the open firing underneath the bridges of No Gun Ri.
Goff, S. (2004). Full Spectrum Disorder: The Military in the New American Century. Soft Skull Press.
Lee, B. (2003). The Unfinished War: Korea. Algora Publishing.
Malkasian, C. (2001). The Korean War: Essential Histories. Osprey Publishing.
Steinberg, D. I., & Gallucci, R. L. (2005). Korean Attitudes Toward the United States: Changing Dynamics. M.E. Sharpe.