Remember Jeju As Island of Peace
By Arun Ranjit
Jeju is the South Korea’s largest island located in the southern part of the peninsula. It is well known for its beautiful beaches and mountains and for being one of the most favorite holiday destinations in the South Korea. This Island, also known as the "Island of the Gods," is a popular vacation spot for Koreans and many Japanese. It remains one of the top honeymoon destinations for Korean newly-weds couple.
The island's mixture of volcanic rock, frequent rains, and temperate climate, make it very similar to the Hawaiian Islands in the United States. The island offers visitors a wide range of activities: hiking on Halla-san the South Korea's highest peak, catching sunrises and sunsets over the ocean, viewing majestic waterfalls, riding horses, or just lying around on the sandy beaches.
Not many people, however, are aware that this beautiful island was covered with blood 70 years ago. The April 3rd Uprising and Massacre is a tragic serioes of incidents that happened between 1 March 1947 and 21 September 1954 on Jeju Island. It was a chaotic period right after the independence from Japan and the Korean Peninsula was entering into the cold war era.
The Jeju uprising and massacre was an insurgency which was followed by an anti-communist suppression campaign that lasted from April 3, 1948 until May 1949.
The main cause for the rebellion were the elections scheduled for May 10, 1948, designed by the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) to create a new government for all of Korea.
Some people including the first president of South Korea and the US government wanted to establish a government in South Korea separate from the North, while others wanted to establish a unified country with the North.
The elections, however, were only planned for the south of the country, the half of the peninsula under UNTCOK control. Upon this news, Jeju erupted. Fearing the elections would further reinforce division, guerrilla fighters of the Labor party leaders like the communist Workers Party of South Korea reacted with protests.
Jeju Islander’s courageously stood up the division of the Korean peninsula and strongly protested against the first election that formed the republic of Korea in the South in 1948. Unfortunately, military and police officers severely cracked down on Jeju islanders. Approximately 30,000 people lost their lives during this period.
After the massacre, the South Korean government covered up the Jeju Uprising and Massacre, outlawing the Workers Party of South Korea and intimidating any who dared to mention the Jeju Massacre with beatings, torture, and prison sentences.
A cave with remains from the massacre was sealed and the event purged from historical records. Though atrocities were committed by both sides, the methods used by the South Korean government to suppress protesters and rebels were especially cruel. Some 40,000 others fled to Japan to escape the fighting.
Decades after the uprising, memory of the event was suppressed by the government through censorship and repression South Korean government has acknowledged and apologized for the suppression and massacre. In 2006, almost 60 years after the rebellion, the Korean government apologized for its role in the killings. The then president Roh Myun-hyun officially apologized with promised of reparations. Today, efforts are still being made to understand the scope of the massacre and compensate survivors.
Before and during the Korean War, the South Korean army and semi-official militias were responsible for massacres in which hundreds of thousands of civilians and political prisoners perished. Some work has been done under past governments to uncover the truth and restore the honor of the victims, but the memory of the massacres remains highly contentious and divisive. Many South Koreans do not even know they happened, and some deny they ever took place.
However, many conservatives criticized the commission’s work, and saw it as a tool for political campaigning directed against them.
Despite the commission’s work, the massacres remain left out of much of the official historical narrative. Many South Koreans have barely even heard of the massacres, which are often excluded completely from school history lessons.
Seventy journalists from around the world, who gathered in Seoul of the Republic of Korea to take part in the World Journalists Conference 2018 in early March organized by the Journalists Association of Korea, were in Jeju as a part of sight-visit of the event. The world media people were able to catch-up historic primary information by visiting Jeju Peace Park and Bukchon Neobeunsungee and talked with the then 7-year old girl.
However, when visiting the Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul, this scribe was unable to find even a single word about the massacres. Events such as the Jeju and the Yeosu massacres are still described only in terms of communist rebellions that were quashed.
Those in the older generation who have direct memories of what happened are becoming fewer, and the younger generation, despite the massacres having figured in a number of popular movies and books, seems to care very little. In the case of the massacres history will perhaps remain just history.
As the Korean Peninsula is still with the highest risk of a possible war, the Jeju April 3rd uprising and massacre commemoration is an expression of Jeju Islanders’ aspiration for a unified country. And also it reminds the importance of the people’s lives and human rights.
However, there has been seen some progress in the relationships between North and South Korea after the PyongChang Winter Olympic Games 2018. In this connection, the talks of the US and two Koreas’ leaders discussed the issue at Helsinki of Finland.
Meanwhile, the supreme leaders of two Koreas, US and North Koreas top leaders’ bilateral talks have been fixed. However, the set of six party-member US, China, Russia and Japan have also been set up their bilateral, trilateral talks to give a dream of peace in Korean Peninsula and unification of two Koreas into a reality.
So, to avoid repeating the tragic past that Jeju Island suffered from the conflicts between different ideologies and went through a catastrophic tragedy the Jeju April 3rd Uprising and Massacre should be remembered and reborn as the Island of Peace.