Fratricidal tragedy erupts before Korean War

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Fratricidal tragedy erupts before Korean War

Jan. 18, 1946
The end of Japanese colonial rule in August 1945 brought great joy to Koreans, but only a few months later they faced a thunderbolt-like bad surprise. Under the postwar Moscow Agreement, the United States, Great Britain and the then-Soviet Union decided Korea would be temporarily governed by trusteeship.
The bad news did not come alone, and Koreans were even more surprised to hear that their country was to be divided into North and South, ruled by the Soviet Union and the United States, respectively. Anti-trusteeship protests flared up across the country. Some, however, welcomed the trusteeship, which brought even bigger tragedy on this date.
The group in favor of trusteeship was the Student Soldiers Union, or Hakbyeong Dongmaeng. Comprising young men who had been forcibly drafted into the Japanese Army during colonial rule, the union was a card-carrying leftist group, thus welcoming the trusteeship of the Soviet Union in the northern part of the peninsula. Korea even back then was seeing cracks starting to develop between the right- and left-wingers.
On this date, an anti-trusteeship protest led by right-wingers took place in Jeong-dong, central Seoul. The protest ended around 5 p.m., but the protesters remained angry, especially against the pro-trusteeship Student Soldiers Union and other leftists.
So they ran to the nearby office of “Inminbo,” the leftist partisan newspaper, and ransacked the office. The protesters then went to the headquarters of the leftist Inmin Party, where they also destroyed furniture and facilities. Only after these attacks did the anti-trusteeship protesters stop and head back to a restaurant where they were supposed to meet their leaders. But many of them did not make it to the restaurant. On their way, they faced a counterattack by the Student Soldiers Union members, heavily armed with guns. The members, in revenge, fired at random into the crowd, killing or wounding more than 40 people before running away.
By then, the Korean police could not ignore this pandemonium in the middle of downtown. Around 2 a.m., more than 300 armed police officers arrived at the headquarters of the Student Soldiers Union in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul. The head of the squad, Jang Taek-sang, cried out loud, “Union members, drop your weapons and come out here. Then you will be released.” But that was the last thing the approximately 120 members of the union, who were gathering at the office, had in mind. Instead, the union members took out their pistols and machine guns and fired at the police. Thus began a three-hour gunfight until dawn. Two leaders of the union, Park Jin-dong, nephew of the leftist party leader Park Heon-yeong, and another executive-level member were shot dead, while all the others were arrested. The police also had two officers injured.
This gun battle, however, only led the public to the opinion that the police were siding with the right-wing anti-trusteeship protesters. John Rheed Hodge, then the army commander of the United States forces based in Seoul, took measures by also cracking down on the right-wing anti-trusteeship group. Even before the Korean War (1950-1953), the Korean peninsula saw brothers killing brothers, divided by ideology.

Jan. 22, 1941
Some say it’s 7 million. Others say it’s 230,000. Most say we will never know the number of Koreans forced to serve Japan as soldiers, laborers and sex slaves in foreign locations like Manchuria, Tokyo, Osaka, Sakhalin and so on. Whether it’s 7 million or not, there’s no argument that such Koreans drafted against their will suffered a great deal.
Even before this date, when the Japanese colonial government officially decided to draft Koreans, people were forced to serve. Colonial government officials said it was “a revolutionary task to selflessly devote to the country,” which was nonsense to Koreans. Japanese officials started to ransack every part of the peninsula to take young men and women, and family members had to say good-bye, many of them never seeing each other again.
Victims and their families have been fighting hard for compensation for decades and the South Korean National Assembly only last year passed a bill for this purpose.


by Chun Su-jin
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