A question of fairnessThe Incheon Metropolitan Council passed an ordinance endorsing financial compensations to people who received damages due to the Incheon landing and subsequent battles in the port city in September of 1950 that later helped UN-backed forces retrieve the capital Seoul during the Korean War. The war reparations, 69 years after the battle, could stoke questions about fairness.
The city council last Monday passed an ordinance designed to compensate Incheon residents for their losses during the war. The motion was brought by a ruling Democratic Party (DP) councilman. The city statute proposes compensating surviving residents or descendants from Wolmi Island who lost homes in the battle. About 100 islanders are estimated to have died and those in their 30s or 40s mostly fled the island off the coast of Incheon. The bill is based on a fact-finding national committee report from 2008 that advised residents of Wolmi Island be compensated for their suffering due to the U.S.-led amphibious invasion operation, which took place without evacuating the residents first. The Incheon Council put the ordinance forward in 2011 and 2014 but struck it down both times, calling it an affair that should be addressed in a national context rather than regionally. The council passed the bill this time based on an interpretation from the government that the affair falls under local government jurisdiction under the Local Autonomy Act. The seven members of the council’s planning and administration committee that voted for the ordinance are DP members.
Han In-deok, the leader of a group of Wolmi Island residents, welcomed the news as they have fought for 70 years to find ways to return home. The island has little room left for residents as it hosted U.S. troops and now is a theme park. But few parts were unscathed during the three-year war. One military expert pointed out most parts of Belgium, the Netherlands and Poland were wrecked during UN attack on Nazi-occupied territories, but none were ever compensated. The entire country and people were scarred by the war, and damage payments for a certain region could become controversial, he added.
A committee under the Ministry of Culture has been deliberating since last year on restoring the reputation of those who led the Donghak peasant rebellions in the 19th century. The committee was established under a special law in 2004 and finished its duty in 2009 after registering 10,000 people as descendents of the victims. The committee was revived last year upon a petition from DP lawmakers representing the rural regions, who claimed there had been 200,000 to 300,000 victims. There had been questions about whether it was necessary to spend tax funds to dig up and restore names of those who had died from events 124 years ago.
The internet is brewing with debate. Revisiting the past despite the myriad of ongoing troubles could stir unnecessary division and complaints.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 22, Page 30