Attempts to Settle the Past during
the April Popular Struggle
Explosion: The April 19 Uprising
and the Legacies of the Syngman Rhee Government
The April 19 Uprising of 1960, known to Koreans simply
as "April 19," was a popular democratic struggle
against Syngman Rhee's 12-year dictatorship that initiated
the first social reform movement in South Korea after
the Korean War. It is the only instance in the modern
history of South Korea in which popular resistance toppled
a regime. Though it had a tangible victory in overthrowing
the Syngman Rhee government, the April 19 Uprising failed
to realize its demands for democracy and national reunification
due to the absence of leadership and a guiding ideology.
The April 19 Uprising progressed in three stages,
beginning with a high school student demonstration in
Daegu on 28 February 1960. This first phase culminated
in the fall of Rhee's Liberal Party government on 26
April 1960. Public outcry over Rhee's scheme to prolong
his rule climaxed over the general election for Rhee's
fourth term as president held on 15 March 1960. The
authorities extensively rigged the election to ensure
Rhee and his heir apparent Lee Gi-bung (Yi Gi-bung)
would be elected president and vice president. On 19
April thousands of students and citizens peacefully
marched on the presidential mansion in protest, demanding
Rhee's resignation. Alienated from the public, the regime
declared martial law. The police fired on the demonstrators,
killing 184 and leaving some 6,000 wounded. Sacrifices
of human lives were made for the development of democracy.
Although the United States had been aware of the
rigging of the March 15 election, it did not denounce
the Syngman Rhee regime until after the declaration
of martial law. Deprived of support from the citizens
and the United States, Rhee attempted to ride out the
crisis by dismissing all of the cabinet members, demanding
the resignation of the vice-president-elect, Lee Gi-bung,
and stepping down from the Liberal Party chairmanship
himself. The situation took a decisive turn when 300
college professors, who had kept silent during the demonstration
of high school and university students, and ordinary
citizens, and the ensuing violence, took to the streets.
Rhee an-nounced his retirement from politics on 26 April,
putting an end to the 12-year dictatorship of his Liberal
Party. He secretly left Seoul for Hawaii on 29 May in
self-imposed exile, and Lee Gi-bung and his entire family
The second phase is the transition period between
the collapse of Rhee's government and the inauguration
of the Second Republic under the Democratic Party, which
had previously been the opposition. The day after Rhee's
flight, Huh Chong (Heo Jeong), then minister of foreign
affairs, took over a caretaker government as acting
president. Although the caretaker government was tasked
with establishing a new social order, it was not able
to fulfill this mandate.
Toppling the Syngman Rhee regime, April 19 leaders
had emerged too spontaneously and were lacking in the
organizational capability necessary to assume power.
With this power vacuum, no radical changes to power
and institutions could take place, and only the old
bureaucracy underwent internal reshuffling, leaving
the old system, ideology, and power elites intact.
Conservatives called for the National Assembly to
amend the Constitution in favor of a cabinet system
and then to establish a new government by holding a
general election. As a result, a constitutional amendment
was effected on 15 June, which was to curb presidential
powers and reinforce those of the prime minister as
the head of administration. In the general elections
that took place on 29 July 1960 under the amended constitution,
the Democratic Party won and fringe parties, including
reformist ones, were trounced.
Although it subsequently emerged as a powerful ruling
party, the Democratic Party failed to form a stable
government with leadership because of an intense internal
split between the old and new factions.
After many twists and turns, the Second Republic was
inaugurated with Yun Po-sun (Yun Bo-seon) from old (conservative)
faction elected president and Chang Myon (Jang Myeon)
from new (progressive) faction nominated prime minister.
The third stage begins with the establishment of
the Democratic Party administration and ends with the
May 16 coup in 1961. The period saw energized grass-roots
unions of farmers, teachers, and youth movements and
the drive for reunification. Demands for the liquidation
of old systems and a fresh start surged up in the political
and social sectors. Starting as an anti-dictatorship
and pro-democracy drive, the April 19 Uprising moved
forward to grapple with restoring basic civil rights,
which had been trampled under anticommunism, and resolving
the territorial division, the central issue engulfing
the Korean peninsula. The country's democratic constitutional
order, however, was disrupted by the May 16 coup.
The 12-year rule of the Syngman Rhee government left
behind absolute supremacy of state power in all social
sectors and dictatorship backed by police power.
For slightly over a year from the April 19 Uprising
until the May 16 military coup, many attempts were made
to remove the political, economic and social legacies
of the Rhee's regime. At the center of these efforts
was the attempted cleansing of the political legacy
of Rhee's dictatorship, embodied in election rigging,
and the economic legacy of illicit fortune accumulation.
This was carried out in three phases: first, through
ordinary trials conducted by the Huh Chong caretaker
administration and during the early half of the Democratic
regime; second, through special trials carried out by
the Chang Myon government; third, through revolutionary
trials held by the military regime following the May
Such moves to settle the past, initially motivated
by a need to address election riggings, led to calls
to redress grievances involving massacres committed
before and during the Korean War, which the political
establishment could not. The first social appeal and
push to redress these grievance after the Korean War
was made possible by the ousting of Syngman Rhee. The
April 19 Uprising granted socially marginalized bereaved
families of the massacred an arena for political action
and a sense of confidence. In essence, it was the first
challenge to anticommunism, the ideological basis of
the Syngman Rhee government, in the name of the universal
values of human rights, the dignity of life, and rule
The April 19 Uprising initially launched to denounce
election rigging and call for democratization, eventually
evolved into a movement tackling the major issues facing
the Korean peninsula: territorial division, reunification,
and the United States forces stationed in South Korea.
From the latter half of 1960s, students and advocates
of reform raised the reunification issue on one hand,
and the role of American forces in South Korea on the
Huh Chong Caretaker Government:
Revolution through Non-revolutionary Means
The Huh Chong caretaker government (April to August
1960) was mandated to purge the legacies of the Syngman
Rhee government: accumulation of illicit fortunes, involvement
of some military officials in election rigging, and
police enforcement of it. But Huh Chong himself had
been a member of Syngman Rhee's cabinet and had arranged
for Rhee's exile in Hawaii. As Huh's sole source of
power was the government structure of the Rhee regime,
including the bureaucracy and the police, he was placed
in the contradictory position of needing to destroy
the very political structure that formed his power base.
Accordingly, despite public demands that special measures
be legislated to punish those who accumulated illicit
fortunes and masterminded the election rigging, Huh
attempted to deal with them under the existing laws.
In a step to punish those behind the election rigging,
the caretaker administration detained several senior
government officials including Rhee's minister of home
affairs, Choe In-gyu, and several pro-government lawmakers.
In the end, however, no verdicts were reached and the
Chang Myon government inherited the unresolved trials.
The caretaker government also faced demands for the
elimination of the corruption networks and their source
that had flourished under the Syngman Rhee regime. Public
opinion at the time called for punishment of the jaebeol
(business conglomerates) as the biggest collaborators
and beneficiaries of the corrupt Syngman Rhee regime,
billed as "economic revolution" that ought to be carried
out in parallel with "political revolution"
the April 19 Uprising. Having taken
over the bureaucratic structures of the Rhee regime
intact, however, the caretaker government remained lukewarm
toward this matter, presenting no strict guidelines
for investigation and punishment. The Punishment of
Tax Evaders Act set forth the principle of punishing
only those who made fortunes through illicit, not irregular,
means without impeding smooth capital accumulation.
The caretaker administration merely let several illicit
fortune accumulators voluntarily confess their wrongdoing
and return their fortunes.
Huh Chong feared that reorganizing military leadership
and expelling some key generals would turn the military
hostile. So he chose not to deal with military involvement
in election rigging, judging that making an issue of
it would provoke the military and disrupt the military
principle of maintaining political neutrality. But a
group of young officers waged a military purification
drive, which paradoxically provided the basis for the
moral superiority and empowerment of the group that
would lead the May 16 coup.
Despite strong popular demand that police officials
implicated in the election rigging be punished, the
caretaker government did not take proper steps because
of fears that punishment would undermine the security
of the administration. More serious was the fact that
the police retained their pro-Japanese officers. According
to 1960 statistics, those who had served as police officers
under Japanese colonial rule accounted for about 15
percent of the 4,000 police lieutenants nationwide,
about 30 percent of the 500 police captains, about 40
percent of the 160 senior superintendents, and about
70 percent of the 20 police commissioners and superintendents
general. Of some 33,000 police officers, about 20 percent
of plainclothes and 10 percent of uniformed officers
had served in the colonial Japanese police. The pro-Japanese
nature of the police, a remnant of Japanese colonialism
that should have been eradicated in the wake of the
nation's liberation in 1945, remained intact under Syngman
Rhee. Pro-Japanese police officers who thwarted the
activities of the Special Committee for the Investigation
of Collaborationist Activities against the Nation from
1948 to 1949 against those who aided and abetted Japanese
colonialists, suppressed democracy to maintain the security
of the Syngman Rhee administration.
The caretaker government, although given only a four-month
mandate from April to August 1960, was criticized for
not taking a clear stance and thus wasting time until
the inauguration of a new government. The Huh Chong
administration was evidently an extension of the Syngman
Rhee government, ill-qualified to manage a period of
great political and social upheaval. Under the slogan
"Enforce revolutionary tasks through non-revolutionary
means," this incompetence and inaction, the result of
the caretaker administration's reluctance to disrupt
any sector of society adversely affected the Chang Myon
government, which came into power at a point when no
justice had been achieved even for evidently grave crimes.
Chang Myon Regime: Faltering Revolutionary Trials
The Chang Myon government (August 1960-May 1961) inherited
the issues the caretaker administration had failed to
resolve, principally six political scandals perpetrated
under Rhee's regime and the settlement of illicit fortune.
Billing the trials of offenders as "revolutionary trials,"
by the April 19 Uprising, the public demanded that they
be held by means of legislating retroactive laws. This
was, however, initially rejected. The trials progressed
extremely slowly, giving rise to concerns that the perpetrators
of election rigging would go free. It was nearly impossible
to rectify the wrongs committed by the Syngnam Rhee
government under the laws that had enforced them.
On 8 October, the Seoul District Court's Criminal
Department No. 1 handed down verdicts in the first trials
of 48 defendants. The criminal panel gave death sentences
to three of the 13 defendants for whom the prosecution
had demanded the death penalty, and acquitted or dismissed
the charges against the eight others. The then minister
of home affairs, the key official behind the order for
the police to open fire on the demonstrators, was only
given a nine-month prison sentence, and the chief presidential
bodyguard a three-year sentence, while the national
police chief was found not guilty. However, the Seoul
metropolitan police director was sentenced to death
and the Seoul police security head was given life imprisonment.
Despite the fact that as many as 6,500 people were either
shot to death or wounded in the uprising, the dictator
fled the country on a self-imposed exile, and his henchmen
were given light sentences. Citizens who had hoped for
an improved society on the basis of their sacrifices
saw their expectations turn into disappointment, which,
in turn, grew into indignation.
Legislation of Special Laws
Protests erupted nationwide. The press criticized
the trials as "nonsense trials with dubious fairness."
who had been wounded in the April 19 Uprising, many
of them on crutches, took over the National Assembly
Hall, an incident that reminds us that the leading force
of the April 19 Uprising was not the Chang Myon government,
but rather national indignation. This prompted the public
to call for more severe punishment of the accused under
special retroactive laws.
The National Assembly overwhelmingly approved a constitutional
amendment that paved the way for retroactive laws. The
revised provisions stipulated that retroactive laws
may be legislated for the purpose of restricting the
civil rights of those guilty of election rigging and
antidemocratic acts, and punishing those who had accumulated
illicit fortunes. They also provided for the establishment
of a special court and prosecution to proceed with the
trials. Under the amended constitution, late in 1960
the National Assembly legislated the Act on the
Establishment of a Special Court and a Special Prosecutors
Office, the Act on the Restriction of Civil Rights of
Anti-Democratic Acts Perpetrators, and the Act on the
Punishment of People Involved in Election Rigging. In
April 1961, the government promulgated the Special Act
on the Disposal of Illicit Fortune Accumulators. The
result of public pressure and indignation, the legislation
of these special laws did not come about until eight
months after the April 19 Uprising. In other words,
the existing political establishment was not ready to
accommodate the sweeping changes demanded by the public.
The clearer the gap between public demands and the responses
possible within the existing legal system, the deeper
the conflicts became; and thus there was a time lag
between public demands, and politicians' recognition
of the issues and the subsequent enactment of the laws.
Punishment of Election Riggers
The Special Prosecutors Office, created on 17 January
1961, squandered half of its two-month period of prescription
making preparations. The office was criticized for dealing
with only minor figures and failing to catch the big
fish. Several reasons were cited for this. First, the
Chang Myon regime was passive and bowed to pressure
applied by the United States government. The office
had to suspend its investigation of military involvement
in the election rigging in the face of opposition mounted
by the Chang Myon government and General Carter B. Magruder,
the commander of the 8th U.S. Army in South Korea. Second,
the police were defiant and uncooperative. The police,
the lowest-echelon perpetrators of election rigging,
held a negative attitude toward the special prosecution
and court. Their lack of cooperation made it difficult
to collect evidence and track down suspects. Third,
there was internal discord in the Special Prosecutors
Office between the public prosecutors and the attorneys.
Lawyers actively expanded investigations but lacked
the experience to actually conduct them, while prosecutors
were preoccupied with sustaining public actions already
prosecuted. Fourth, the two months period alloted by
the special law was too short. Having already spent
one month in preparations and recruitment of special
prosecutors, the office had only one month left to act
The Special Court, consisting of five panels of judges
and a consolidated panel, equivalent to an appeals court,
launched its activities on 25 January 1961, taking over
all pending cases at district courts across the nation.
For three months until mid-May, the Special Court dealt
with 103 cases involving 263 defendants. Until the special
trials were forcibly discontinued by the May 16 coup,
however, the Special Court was unable to hand down verdicts
in the first trials of the most critical cases.
Restriction of Civil Rights
Meanwhile, the Act on the Restriction of Civil Rights
of Anti-Democratic Acts Perpetrators stipulated the
restriction of such offenders' civil rights, such as
the right to vote and to be elected or appointed to
public office. Civil rights restrictions on a total
of 1,282 persons were enforced at the end of April 1961,
including senior officials of the Rhee's regime and
16 lawmakers. The civil rights restriction measures
taken by the Chang Myon government, however, were soon
invalidated by the May 16 coup. Pak Chung-hee, leader
of the coup, enacted the Act on the Purification of
Political Activities, temporarily suspending political
activities by established politicians. The law targeted
none other than the leaders of the Chang Myon regime.
Punishment of Accumulators of Illicit Fortune
The most troublesome of the Chang Myon administration's
tasks was dealing with the illicit fortune accumulation.
The public was strongly hostile to the jaebeol that
had flourished under the aegis of the Syngman Rhee dictatorship
because these companies had grown not by creating value
through manufacturing, but by transferring value of
foreign assistance through privileges in the distribution
of supplies and preferences in bank loans. The Syngman
Rhee regime received financial contributions from the
jaebeol in return for the privileges it bestowed. The
rigged March 15 election was a typical instance of this
collusion between government and business. To control
the outcome of an election, Liberal Party leaders collected
an enormous sum of political funds; providers of the
funds were condemned as holders of illicit fortunes
following the April 19 Uprising.
The public outcry was so strong that on 10 May 1960
right after Rhee's downfall, demonstrators gathered
in Pagoda Park in downtown Seoul carrying placards reading,
"Return Illicit Fortunes to the National Treasury."
Chang Myon administration proclaimed a series of drastic
reform measures to eradicate practices of economic corruption
perpetrated under the Rhee regime and ensure the effective
distribution of aid resource, and a realistic currency
exchange rate. But the regime was interested not so
much in the punishment of perpetrators of illegal economic
action as in the possibility of economic decline, stressing
economics to the extent of declaring "Economy-First Policy"
one of its central policies. Convinced that its success
hinged on economic development, the Chang Myon government
launched national reconstruction projects in the spring
of 1961, while drafting a five-year economic development
plan (1962-1966), the first of its kind in Korea. As
a consequence, congressional approval of special law
to punish illicit fortune accumulators was delayed.
The regime requested suspension of investigations on
the grounds that summoning business leaders implicated
in illicit funds for questioning would cause a business
decline and deterioration of the national economy. On
the other hand, the Chang Myon regime itself could not
be absolved of suspected collection of political funds
from those businessmen who had funneled funds to the
The United States also applied pressure against the
punishing of alleged illicit fortune makers in South
Korea. Though aware of the misuse of American military
and economic aid for illicit wealth accumulation, the
U.S. government held the view that these businessmen
were needed for the growth of capitalism in South Korea.
In an official letter to Chang Myon, the U.S. State
Department warned that returning illicitly made fortunes
to the public coffer could be construed as an act similar
to the confiscation of private property in Cuba by the
Jaebeol and capitalists also mounted an organized
resistance. In the face of strong protests by the nation's
five business organizations, including the Korea Businessmen's
Association (the predecessor of the present Federation
of Korean Industries), the number of businessmen targeted
for punishment plummeted from 57,000 to 600. The final
list was confined to businessmen who, in connection
with the March 15 election, had voluntarily donated
to the Liberal Party 30 million won or more, and public
servants and party officials who had accumulated wealth
illicitly. But in the end no one was punished: the deadline
for voluntary reporting by those subject to punishment
under the special law coincided with the outbreak of
the May 16 coup.
During its nine months in power, the Chang Myon government,
due to its reluctance and inability to effect change,
failed to hand down a single verdict on election rigging
or accumulation of illicit fortunes.
Indignation: Bereaved Families of the Massacred
Before and During Korean War
In contrast to the political establishment's faltering
disposition of crimes evidently committed under the
Rhee regime, the private sector made a big issue out
of a number of massacres that took place before and
during the Korean War. These incidents had long been
un-touched, perhaps because the April 19 Uprising brought
up collective memories of past atrocities, which had
been repressed under the ideology of anticommunism.
On 11 May 1960, residents of Geochang-gun county, Gyeongsangnam-do
province, beat Bak Yeong-bo to death and burned his
body. Bak was the head of Sinwon-myeon town of Gochang-gun
county when troops from the 8th Regiment, 11th Division
of the Republic of Korea Army massacred 719 people from
the town. Bak had falsely accused many local residents
as communist sympathizers and incurred the enmity of
their families. The incident led to the exposure of
several massacres of innocent people perpetrated before
and during the Korean War. Numerous deaths caused by
false accusations, long buried under the cloak of anticommunism
and war, came to public attention. It was an outcry
over basic human rights, not ideology.
Most incidents of genocide or political massacres
in South Korea's history took place between 1949 and
1952. From its inauguration to the outbreak of the Korean
War, the Syngman Rhee government confronted riots, uprisings
and strong domestic challenges to its rule as well as
Communist offensives from outside. In that process,
the regime preemptively executed large numbers of people
it considered a political danger to prevent possible
security problems and for other political reasons without
following legal procedures. Genocide refers to an unilateral
and deliberate execution of a group of unarmed civilians
by state power and power agencies related to it for
political reasons without conducting proper legal proceedings
Those massacres committed before and during the Korean
War took place mostly in the process of "scorched earth"
Scorched earth operations were employed by Japanese
troops against the "righteous armies" or local guerrillas
prior to Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910, scorching
small mountainous villages, the bases of righteous armies,
and transporting the villagers to villages under their
control. The collective village operations Japanese
forces employed in Manchuria in the 1930s and the strategic
village tactics United States forces adopted in the
Vietnamese War originated from this tactic.
To subdue guerrilla units operating in Manchuria
in the 1930s, Japanese forces massacred a large number
of farmers in efforts to stop them from cooperating
with guerrillas. Their so-called "kill-all, burn-all,
and loot-all" campaigns were linked with relocating large
populations into protected villages, and either executing
or "converting" captured guerrillas. Among key Korean
military leaders prior to and during the Korean War
were those who had served with Jiandao special operations
units that had been responsible for subduing guerrillas
in Manchuria in the 1930s. The key strategy of the special
operations forces too was thwarting guerrillas from
winterizing by burning all their bases, irrespective
of the survival of villagers. Such tragic history
was reflected in the large-scale genocide before and
during the Korean War.
Typical massacres in the process of scorched earth
operations were carried out on Jeju island from October
1948 to early 1949, which stemmed from the Jeju Insurgency
of April 3 and the "Keeping the Position with Cleansing
the Fields" (gyeonbyeok cheongya) conducted by army troops
in the Geochang massacre of innocent citizens in 1951,
both tragedies in South Korea's modern history. On 3
April 1948, a riot erupted on Jeju island in protest
of the establishment of a separate government in the
South. Leftist forces on Jeju island subsequently launched
guerrilla attacks against the U.S. military government
and the South Korean police, and the U.S. military government
responded by asking the South Korean forces to employ
scorched earth tactics, even though the estimated number
of guerrillas operating on Jeju island was no more than
3,000. American data put the death toll on the island
at the end of 1949 at between 15,000 and 20,000, and
the South Korean government recorded it as 27,719. The
Jeju provincial governor told an U.S. intelligence agency
that over 60,000 people were killed and 40,000 migrated
to Japan. Of 400 villages across the island, only 170
remained intact. The American military government
and the Syngman Rhee regime were responsible for massacring
ten times as many innocent civilians as guerrillas.
It was a criminal act to massacre innocent civilians
without giving them legal protection and due process.
The victims were stigmatized as suspected leftists,
and their families subsequently suffered from serious
disadvantages through guilt by association for a long
time. Furthermore, when the Korean War broke out, Jeju
island was subjected to still more violence because
of the so-called "preventive massacres" targeting rehabilitated
In Yeosu, a port city on the southern coast of the
Korean peninsula, troops of the 14th Regiment of the
ROK Army, who were being mobilized to suppress the riots
on Jeju island, revolted in October 1948, six months
after the April 3 uprising On the island. This incident,
known as the "Yeo-Sun (Yeosu-Suncheon) Rebellion"
"Yeo-Sun Military Revolt", erupted spontaneously. The
number of participants jumped from 6 to 40 and then
to 2,000 in a matter of hours. The revolt, touched off
in Yeosu, soon spread to nearby Suncheon and across
Jeollanam-do province as the rebelling troops raided
public institutions, such as administrative offices
and police stations. The death toll reached at least
2,000. Like many other incidents that took place at
the time, the Yeo-Sun military revolt was not so much
a movement as a riot. It confirmed that the police alone
were loyal to the government, and civic freedoms were
stymied in the wake of the Yeo-Sun riot due to widespread
perceptions that communist threats remained, as an American
While the victims of the Jeju and Yeo-Sun riots were
suspected of having been leftists or Communist sympathizers,
innocent citizens were executed. In December 1949, South
Korean troops killed over 100 people, male and female,
young and old, in Seokdal village in Gyeongsangbuk-do
province. The South Korean police and military claimed
that communist guerrillas had slaughtered them. Following
the April 19 Uprising, bereaved families demanded that
the truth of the massacres be revealed, the honor of
the victims be restored, and those responsible be punished.
The South Korean government ignored their appeals and
the military regime taking power in the May 16 coup
suppressed them. But a recently declassified document
of the U.S. Korean Military Advisory Group reveals that
troops of the 7th Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment,
3rd Division of the ROK Army killed 86 villagers, including
23 children, for no apparent reason.
Following the outbreak of the Korean War, the South
Korean government carried out great numbers of executions
of political prisoners and rehabilitated leftists. According
to American military documents, 1,800 political prisoners
were executed in Daejeon in three days during the first
week of July 1950, and between 200 and 300 political
prisoners were executed on the outskirts of Daegu on
10 August as alleged "North Korean prisoners of war."
No legal procedures were taken prior to their executions.
Besides the political and ideological prisoners executed
during the early stages of the Korean War, no small
number of innocent citizens was bombed or shelled to
death by American forces. There were many incidents
including the massacre of civilians at the Nogeun-ri
bridge in Yeongdong-gun county, Chungcheongbuk-do. The
South Korean Ministry of National Defence accepted a
total of 42 such cases declared from October 1999 to
January 2000, 40 involving American forces and two South
Korean forces. Of them, four cases were of massacre
by shelling from U.S. forces and warships, claiming
over 100 lives. Illegal executions of civilians by
South Korean forces were so frequent that Army Chief
of Staff General Jeong Il-gwon issued a directive on
27 April 1951 to his subordinate units, urging them
to exercise restraint in their discretionary executions.
Despite such massacres committed during the war,
few of the officials implicated in them were punished.
The victims were often identified as leftists or collaborators
with North Korean Communists. Syngman Rhee claimed that
the Geochang incident was the outcome of a proper military
trial of collaborators, and his government even threatened
to execute lawmakers who visited the scene to investigate.
Though the incident developed into a serious political
issue to the extent of dispatching a congressional investigation
team, few officials involved were punished or brought
to account. Two junior army officers were given life
sentences and Kim Jong-won, the commander of the civil
affairs division of martial law, a three-year term in
prison. All three were freed after serving only one
Influenced by the continued activities of bereaved
family associations, the National Assembly formed the
Special Investigation Committee on the Truth of Innocent
Citizens Massacred, and conducted investigations at
the scenes from 31 May to 10 June. Three investigation
teams, each composed of three members, toured Gyeongsang-do
and Jeollanam-do provinces. It was impossible for nine
investigators to discover in only 11 days the truth
behind the massacres that took place across the nation.
To make the task more difficult, among the investigators
were people who were linked, directly and indirectly,
with officials implicated in the massacres. The investigators
stayed at each location for merely a day or two. Nevertheless,
the number of innocent citizens to have been slaughtered
reached 8,522. This figure only covered those declared
voluntarily and did not include similar incidents that
took place in the rest of the country Seoul, Gyeonggi,
Chungcheong, and Gangwon.
1. Statistics Compiled by Special Investigation Committee
the Truth of Innocent Citizens Massacred of the 4th
A three-member investigation team stayed on Jeju
Island for only six hours, during which 1,800 deaths
were reported a figure less than 10 percent of the
total death toll confirmed later. Commenting on this
outcome of the investigation, a Jeju-based journalist
wrote, "Despite the low public expectations for the congressional
investigation, the outcome proves to be even less than
a squeak of a mouse in the mountains."
The families of the victims and survivors, anticipating
the implementation of democratic principles following
the April 19 Uprising, began to organize themselves
to appeal to the government for justice. Late in May
1960, they organized the Bereaved Family Association
of the Gyeongsangbuk-do Province, which was most systematic
and effective in raising the massacre issue. A similar
organization soon appeared in Gyeongsangnam-do province.
On 20 October, city and country representatives in Gyeongsang-do
provinces formed the National Bereaved Family Association
of the Massacred in Seoul. Such organizations were most
active in the two Gyeongsang provinces, because they
were not occupied by North Korean forces during the
Korean War, and hence the victims were relatively free
from the ideological accusation of being "leftists."
families demanded that the family registry records of
the slaughtered be rectified to read "innocent citizens"
of "communist collaborators," that those responsible for
the massacres be punished, that bereaved families be
protected by the state and compensated for their loss,
that the victims' remains be exhumed, and that memorials
be built in their honor.
The Huh Chong and Chang Myon administrations, however,
did not respond to these demands. The bereaved families
demanded justice under the rule of law, but it was beyond
the capability either of the administration to legally
deal with the issue because numerous officials responsible
for the massacre under the Syngman Rhee regime remained
in office. The abortive activities of bereaved families
of the massacred following the April 19 Uprising reflected
a gap existing between the genuine objectives of the
uprising and the realities of the country then.
Destination: North and South Korea Reunification
While demands for settling the past came from inside
and outside the political establishment, other demands
that had long been suppressed erupted in various social
sectors. Grass-roots movements of laborers and farmers
achieved rapid growth in the wake of the 29 July 1960
general elections. Unionization made rapid progress
with the emergence of a teachers' union and democratic
trade unions and youth and student organizations launched
reunification movements. Cooperative bodies like the
Council for Self-Reliance of National Reunification
of Korea were formed to consolidate reformist political
forces and movements. Most reformist political forces
at that time advocated democratic socialism, acknowledging
the existing political establishment. Though branded
by the military regime as leftist or radical political
forces deviating from the bounds of liberal democracy,
reformists were in fact a collection of the "fringe"
forces excluded from the one-sided rightist political
arena, rather than a group sharing a common ideological
That student and reformist political forces mounted
a forceful reunification movement in the wake of the
July 29 general elections was natural in that the central
issues of the Korean peninsula fundamentally stemmed
from the division of the country. The April 19 Uprising
that started as an anti-dictatorship and democratization
drive attempted to grapple with the reunification issue
which was seen as the national priority. The reunification
debate and movements in the private sector at the time
were more powerful than in any other movements in the
contemporary history of South Korea. It was the first
instance of the reunification movement gaining popular
support since South Korean nationalists, led by Kim
Koo (Kim Gu) and Kim Kyu-sik (Kim Gyu-sik), had
advocated the peaceful reunification of the nation in
1948. Following the Rhee administration's execution of
Cho Pong-am (Jo Bong-am), then the strongest opposition
leader, on charges of advocating peaceful reunification
only three years earlier, this represented remarkable
progress. The forceful reunification policy by advancing
to the North, once advocated during the initial phase
of the Korean War, ran out of steam completely. The
students' slogan, "Southerners go north, and northerners
come south so that we may meet at Panmunjeom,"
Although this approach to reunification was maligned
as romantic and unrealistic, given the world situation
in the early 1960s influenced by the coexistence of
the East and West, the emergence of nationalism in the
Third World, and North Korea's peaceful reunification
offensive the time was ripe for making an issue of Korea's
Frustration: May 16 Coup
The moves to purge the legacies of the Syngman Rhee
government and efforts to grapple with national division
were crushed by the May 16 military coup (1961) led
by Park Chung-hee. The Democratic Party administration,
despite being the beneficiary of the April 19 Uprising,
brought about its own downfall because it failed to
embrace the students and urban citizens who had given
it the leadership. Some maintain that Korean society
in 1961 was not yet ready for a democratic political
system. It should be noted, however, that democracy
did not fail it was overthrown by military power.
Supported by the Liberal Party and the United States,
the Korean military officers who centered around Park
Chung-hee formed the most organized group in the country.
Soldiers with an eye on political power had attempted
a coup before in vain during the 1952 political turmoil
in Busan, home to the evacuated Seoul government, with
the tacit approval of U.S. forces. The military also
attempted a series of abortive coups in late 1950, in
April 1960 and in April 1961. The May 16 coup, participated
in by a mere 3,500 troops, succeeded thanks to the flight
of the top officials of the Democratic Party regime
and ambivalent attitudes on the part of President Yun
Po-sun and the U.S. government. The United States, which
had been aware of the probability of a coup, recognized
the military regime after verifying its anticommunist
May 16 coup marked the beginning of a 20-year military
dictatorship. Adopting a "development-oriented dictatorship"
a means of guaranteeing its survival and retaining American
support, the military regime once again suppressed democracy,
human rights and the reunification issue debate, the
unfulfilled tasks of the April popular struggle in the
name of economic development.
Having established the revolutionary court and revolutionary
prosecution billed as military revolution, the military
regime suspended all the special trials that were being
held under the Chang Myon administration. It also suppressed
and distorted those issues raised and debated by private
organizations since the April 19 Uprising. The military
revolutionary trials, completed by April 1962, were
characterized by two phenomena.
The military regime was very lenient to those who
had accumulated illicit fortunes, while it was very
stern toward illicit election offenders, to whom harsh
penalties were meted out. Initially it was stern toward
illicit fortune makers, but, realizing economic development
was a means of legitimation, the regime subsequently
adopted a growth strategy centered on big capitalists.
As a result, businessmen, even those identified with
illicit fortunes, were allowed to construct plants deemed
necessary for national reconstruction on the condition
that they donate a specified portion of their stocks
to the government, and to attract foreign loans needed
for plant construction, with repayment guaranteed by
the government. Hence they were able to cement their
position in the Korean economy paradoxically owing to
their status of being illicit fortune buiders. This
marked the beginning of the 1960s economic development
strategy centered on the jaebeols or business conglomerates.
On the other hand, those involved in the bereaved
family associations and political reform and reunification
movements that were staged actively following the April
19 Uprising were dealt harsh punishments under charges
of having engaged in "special acts of sedition."
regime destroyed the graves of the massacred and the
gravestones their relatives had erected with public
donations. Activists in the bereaved family associations
were detained as communist sympathizers, with some targeted
with trumped-up espionage charges. Also arrested were
some journalists who had covered incidents of genocide.
The Minjok Ilbo (National Daily), a progressive newspaper,
was shut down and its president Jo Yong-su was executed
along with the ringleaders of the rigged March 15 election
and the officials responsible for the police firing
on April 19 demonstrators. The military regime, advocating
anticommunism as its paramount national policy, denounced
citizens who lodged complaints of state-perpetrated
crimes as pro-North Korean elements or leftists. The
activities of the bereaved family associations came
to an end, and the victims went back to being labeled
as "reds." Reformist political activities and all debates
over reunification were also banned. The idea of reunification
by force put forth under the Syngman Rhee regime, however,
could no longer be advocated following the reunification
debate made in the wake of the April 19 Uprising.
What the Korean people wanted during the April popular
struggle was to prove the truth of past atrocities and
bring the criminals involved to justice. All the facts
were so evident that what was needed was to acknowledge
the truth for what it was and follow the judicial prescription
for it, rather than proving and verifying the truth
anew. As pointed out by Human Rights Watch, the status
at the time contained both truth and justice phases.
What then remained was to restore the honor of the victims
and compensate their families, and provide the public
with renewed justice and reconciliation. Remembering
past wrongs and rectifying them was the proper way to
restore the truth. The task of settling the past during
the April popular struggle, however, failed to even
clearly define the political and economic crimes committed
in the past and duly punish those responsible.
The prolonged dictatorship and anticommunist ideology
left not only political and economic damage but also
social and cultural effects. The psychological pain
and suffering the people sustained were not alleviated.
This indicates that although the April 19 uprising toppled
a dictatorship and opened a space of political freedom
for the first time in the history of South Korean democracy,
the democratic forces steering the country were too
weak to expose the truth and to punish those responsible,
let alone restore the honor of the victims and compensate
their families. But public conviction in their struggles
against dictatorship and for democratic procedures,
their successful challenge of politics based on violence
and repression, and the emergence of the student movement
as the vanguard of the democratization and reunification
movements helped nurture the development of democracy
in the nation. The student movement, in particular,
played a pioneering role in developing democracy in
Korea, guaranteeing the right to a livelihood for workers
and farmers, and struggling against dictators to secure
the sovereign rights of Korea as a nation.
Jung Byung-joon (Jeong, Byeong-jun) is
an instructor of the Mokpo National University.
He received his Ph.D. from Seoul National
University with a dissertation entitled
"Yi Seung-man-ui dongnip noseon-gwa jeongbu
surip undong" (Syngman Rhee's Independence
Lines and Government-Establishing Movement)
in 2001. His publications include Mongyang
Yeo Un-hyeong pyeongjeon (The Life of Yeo
Un-hyeong: A Critical Biography) (1995),
Hanguk hyeondaesa gangui (Lectures on the
Contemporary History of Korea) (comp., 1998),
and other articles concerning Syngman Rhee.
His research interest concerns the modern
political history of Korea and historical
figures. (E-mail: email@example.com.)
1. Ahn Byung-ook (An Byeong-uk),
"4 wol minjung hangjaeng" (The April 19 Uprising),
in vol. 3 of Hanguk yeoksa immun (Introduction
to Korean History), ed. Organization of
Korean Historians (Seoul: Pul Bit Publishing
Co., 1996), pp. 695-696; Hong Seuk-ryule
(Hong Seok-ryul) and Jeong Chang-hyeon,
"4 wol minjung hangjaeng yeon-gu-ui jaengjeom-gwa
gwaje" (Issues and Tasks of Studies of April
Popular Struggle), in 4·19-wa nambuk
gwan-gye (April 19 and North-South Korea
Relations), ed. April 19 Uprising Study
Team, Organization of Korean Historians
(Seoul: Minyon, 2000), p. 13.
2. National Election Commission
(NEC), Daehan min-guk jeongdangsa (History
of Korea's Political Parties) (Seoul: NEC,
1964), pp. 607-608.
3. Yi Gap-yun, "Je 2 gonghwaguk-ui
seon-geo jeongchi: 7·29 chongseon-eul
jungsim-euro" (Election Politics of the Second
Republic: Centered on July 29 General Elections),
in Je 2 gonghwaguk-gwa hanguk minjujuui
(The Second Republic and Korean Democracy)
(Seoul: Nanam Publishing House, 1996).
4. Han Sung-joo (Han Seung-ju),
Je 2 gonghwaguk-gwa hanguk-ui minjujuui
(The Second Republic and Democracy in Korea)
(Seoul: Chongno Book Center Co., Ltd., 1983),
5. Dong-a Ilbo, 9 June 1960; Kong
Je-uk, "Bujeong chukjaeja cheori-wa jaebeol"
of Illicit Fortune Makers and Jaebols),
in 1960 nyeondae-ui jeongchi sahoe byeondong
(Political and Social Changes in the 1960s)
(Seoul: Paeksan Publishing Co., 1999), pp.
6. Bae Gwang-bok, "Dokjeom jabon-gwa
uihoe minjujuui bujeong chukjae cheori gwajeong
(1960-1961)-ui bunseok" (Monopolistic Capital
and Parliamentary Democracy An Analysis of
the Process of Disposing Illicit Fortunes
(1960-1961)) (M.A. thesis, Korea University,
1987); Kyung Hyang Shinmun, 20 July 1960.
7. Im Dae-sik, "Banminbeop-gwa
4·19, 5·16 ihu teukbyeolbeop
wae jwajeol doe-eonna" (Why the Special Act
on the Punishment of the Activities against
the Nation and of the Special Laws Enacted
after the April 19 Uprising and the May
16 Coup Were Not Enforced), Yeoksa bipyeong
(Critical Review of History) 32 (1996):
8. Dong-a Ilbo, 7 May 1960.
9. Im Dae-sik, op. cit., pp. 46-47.
10. Kim Seong-du, "Hanguk-ui dokjeom jaebeol
hyeongseong-ui teugiseong" (The Formation
of Monopolistic Jaebeols in Korea), Sasanggye
(Sept. 1968): p. 110.
11. National Assembly Stenographic Records,
30 September 1960.
12. Bak Jin-hui, "Minjudang jeonggwon-ui
gyeongje jeiljuui-wa gyeongje gaebal 5 gaenyeon
gyehoek" (The Democratic Regime's Economy-First
Policy and Five-Year Economic Development
Plan) Guksagwan nonchong (Collection of
Thesis on Views of National History) 84
(1999): pp. 270-285.
13. Chosun Ilbo, 27 July and 6 September
1960; Korean Revolutionary Trial History
Compilation Committee (KRTHCC), Hanguk hyeongmyeong
jaepansa (The History of Korean Revolutionary
Trials), vol. 1 (KRTHCC, 1962), pp. 289-291.
14. Dong-a Ilbo, 13 August 1960.
15. Kim Dong-chun, Jeonjaeng-gwa sahoe:
uri-ege hanguk jeonjaeng-eun mueot ieotna?
(War and Society: What Was the Korean War
to Us?) (Seoul: Dolbegae, 2000), p. 205.
16. Fuziwara Akira, Ilbon gunsasa (History
of Japanese Military Affairs), trans. Eom
Su-hyeon (Seoul: Current Japanese Language
Co., 1994), pp. 54, 138.
17. Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the
Korean War, vol. II (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1990), p. 286.
18. Baek Seon-yeop, Gun-gwa na (The Military
and I) (Seoul: Daeryukyeon Press, 1989),
p. 226; Nam Chang-ryong, Manju jeguk joseonin
(Ethnic Koreans in Imperial Manchuria) (Seoul:
Sinserim, 2000), p. 179.
19. "The Background of the Present War
in Korea," Far Eastern Economic Review (30
August 1950): pp. 233-237; RG 349, FEC G-2
Theater Intelligence, Box 466, (23 May 1950)
G-2 Report on Jeju; Bruce Cumings, op. cit.,
20. Richard Allen, Korea's Syngman Rhee
(Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company,
1960), p. 108.
21. "Army Attach, Seoul Embassy to Army,"
ARMA 10, 11 January 1950, MacArthur Archives;
National Archives, Record Group 338, Entry
11007, Box 69, KMAG, Brig. General W. L.
Roberts (Personnel Correspondence), 379.64
file (Guerrilla Warfare).
22. I.D. No. 715579. Subject: Execution
of Political Prisoners in Korea, 23 September
1950, RG 319, entry 85, Army-Intelligence
23. John J. Muccio to Lt. Gen. Walton
L. Walker, Commander, 8th Army, 25 August
1950, "Documents on Korean War 1950-51,"
October 1959. SEO-812-1-A, RG 84, Korea-Seoul
Embassy, Top Secret Records 1950-56, box
24. Hankyoreh, 7 February 2002.
25. ID No. 715579, Subject: ROk Military
Conduct toward Civilians, 3 May 1951. RG
319, Entry 85, Army-Intelligence File.
26. Special Investigation Committee on
Geochang Incident, "Geochang sageon josa
bogoseo" (Investigation Report on Geochang
Incident), submitted on 8 May 1951.
27. Special Investigation Committee on
the Truth of Massacred Innocent Civilians,
4th National Assembly, "Yangmin haksal sageon
jinsang josa bogoseo" (Investigation Report
on the Truth of Massacred Innocent Civilians)
28. Jeju April 3 Uprising Research Institute,
2001, 1960 nyeon gukhoe yangmin haksal sageon
jinsang josa teukbyeol wiwonhoe (1960 National
Assembly Massacre Investigation Special
Committee: National Assembly Investigation
Report on Massacre), vol. I and II; Jeju
Sinbo, 1 and 7 June 1960.
29. The number of deaths declared in
one year since the National Assembly passed
the Special Act Regarding Revelation of
Truth and Restoration of Honor of the 4·3
Jeju Incident in December 1999 was 14,028,
and the numbers declared to the Jeju Provincial
Council by the end of 1999 was 14,841. Jeju
Provincial Council' April 3 Special Committee,
Jeju-do 4·3 pihae josa bogoseo (Investigation
Report on Jeju Island's April 3 Incident),
2nd ed. (2000), p. 28.
30. Jeju Sinbo, 22 June 1960.
31. Busan Ilbo, 17 May 1960; Hankook
Ilbo, 17 May 1960.
32. Han Sang-gu, "Pihaksalja yugajok munje"
Issue of Bereaved Families of the Massacred),
in vol. 2 of Hanguk sahoe byeonhyeok undong-gwa
4 wol hyeong-myeong (Korean Society Reform
Movement and April Revolution) (Seoul: Hangilsa
Publishing Co., Ltd., 1990), p. 175.
33. Jeong Tae-yeong, Hanguk sahoe minjujuui
jeongdangsa (History of Korea's Social Democratic
Parties) (Seoul: Semyong sogwan, 1995).
34. Hong Seuk-ryule and Jeong Chang-hyeon,
op. cit., p. 26.
35. Gregory Henderson, Soyongdori-ui
hanguk jeongchi (Korea, the Politics of
the Vortex), trans. Bak Haeng-ung and Yi
Jong-sam (Seoul: Hanul Publishing Co., 2000),
36. Hong Seuk-ryul, "5·16 kuteta-ui
wonin-gwa hanmi gwan-gye" (Causes of May
16 Military Coup and South Korea-U.S. Relations),
Yeoksa hakbo (Journal of History Society)
37. NIE, 42.1-2-60, "Prospects for the
Republic of Korea," 22 November 1960. Foreign
Relations of United States, 1958-1960, vol.
XVIII, pp. 697-698; "Memorandum from Director
of CIA Dulles to President Kennedy,"
1961; Foreign Relations of United States
1961-1963, vol. XXII, pp. 456-457.
38. Yi Yong-won, Je 2 gonghwaguk-gwa
Jang Myeon (The Second Republic and Chang
Myon) (Seoul: Bum Woo Sa, 1999), pp. 201-202.
39. Kong Je-uk, op. cit., pp. 253-255.
40. Priscilla B. Hayner, "Fifteenth Truth
Commissions 1974 to 1994: A Comparative Study,"
Rights Quarterly 16. 4 (1994): p. 605.