Letter sheds light on No Gun Ri civilian massacre
By Brian Duffy
A historian's recent discovery of a letter from an American ambassador appears to shed new light on one of the most controversial incidents of the Korean War.
The incident involved the killing of South Korean refugees by American soldiers near a hamlet called No Gun Ri, in July 1950. There is no doubt that innocent Korean civilians were shot and killed by American servicemen–relatives of survivors, and even some who claimed to have survived the shooting, had alleged for years that the military had covered up the atrocity. Some accounts placed the number of those killed at more than 200, though some Koreans say the number may be as high as 400.
The controversy took on added dimensions after the Associated Press in 1999 published a detailed account of the killings at No Gun Ri that included statements by American soldiers and officers alleging that the killings at No Gun Ri were carried out on direct orders from U.S. commanders. The report was later awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
If the killings at No Gun Ri were carried out on the orders of superior officers, it would have been the second-largest reported killing of civilians by American servicemen in the 20th century, after the slaughter of some 500 Vietnamese villagers at My Lai in 1968.
As a result of the AP report, the Pentagon conducted a 16-month inquiry and concluded that the incident at No Gun Ri was "not a deliberate killing," calling it, instead, "an unfortunate tragedy."
The letter discovered by historian Sahr Conway-Lanz was dated the same day as the killings at No Gun Ri. Written by then Ambassador to Seoul John Muccio to then Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk, it states: "If refugees do appear from north of U.S. lines, they will receive warning shots, and if they then persist in advancing, they will be shot." In its account of the letter's discovery at the National Archives, the AP, which has since obtained its own copy of the document from the archives, called it "the strongest evidence yet that such a policy [of killing South Korean refugees] existed for all U.S. forces in Korea, and the first evidence that that policy was known to upper ranks of the U.S. government."
Conway-Lanz, a former Harvard historian now working as an archivist at the Nixon collection at the National Archives, takes a slightly different view. In a telephone interview with U.S. News, he said: "I don't interpret [the letter] as smoking-gun evidence of the existence of orders. ... The letter seems to suggest a general understanding of policy but not actual orders." Making it clear that he was speaking in his capacity as a historian, not an archivist, Conway-Lanz concluded: "If there was a misunderstanding by front-line soldiers, it extended up through the ranks of the Eighth Army," whose soldiers were deployed at No Gun Ri.
Pentagon officials say the inquiry into the events at No Gun Ri, which was conducted by the Army's inspector general, was accurate and comprehensive.
A U.S. News review in 2000 of the AP 's original account of the killings at No Gun Ri found a number of anomalies among several of the dozen veterans cited. Three may not have been at No Gun Ri at the time the killings occurred, military records and sources indicate. Three others, reinterviewed by the magazine, said their statements were misconstrued or taken out of context.
Attempting to reconstruct the chaotic events on a long-ago battlefield is a business fraught with peril. Despite the questions about some of the veterans cited in the AP's original account of No Gun Ri, however, the discovery of the letter from Ambassador Muccio appears to indicate that whatever happened on that terrible day, at least some of the killings resulted from something more than panicked soldiers reacting to an unknown threat on a distant and confused field of battle.
http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/artic ... ogunri.htm
A further 7 pages of the original 2000 article can be viewed at http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/ar ... 016967.htm