Korea: October 11, 1999

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US defense officials have arrived in South Korea to discuss the news stories of the killing of South Korean civilians by US soldiers in 1950 near No Gun Ri. This incident, and many similar ones, have long been common knowledge to US soldiers who served during the Korean war, or later. It was a common practice for North Korean troops to wear civilian clothes and mix in with fleeing South Korean refugees in order to get behind US troops. This tactic was learned by the 100,000 North Koreans who had served with the Chinese Communist army during the Chinese civil war, and then transferred to the new North Korean army in the late 1940s. The Chinese Communists openly preached the use of guerilla war tactics during their war with with Japanese and Chinese Nationalist forces from the 1920s to 1949. As a result, civilians were often fired on if they approached troops who feared (often from past experience) that there were armed enemy soldiers mixed in with the civilians. Americans learned of this tactic the hard way in the Summer of 1950, as they retreated before the advancing North Koreans. A similar tactic was used against Pakistani UN peacekeepers in Somalia in the early 1990s. In one incident, 24 Pakistanis soldiers were killed. The same tactic was seen by US troops in the 1993 Mogadishu shoot that killed 18 US soldiers. In that fight, US troops quickly learned to either shoot at the civilians the gunmen were hiding behind, or get shot themselves. Some two million Korean civilians were killed during the 1950-53 Korean war. Survivors of the No Gun Ri killings are demanding compensation from the US or South Korea. It has long been army policy not publicize  incidents like this, or things like the high friendly fire rate among American troops (estimated to be as high as 20 percent of friendly casualties in some battles.) It's bad for morale. The troops don't like dwelling on the fact that in battle their own weapons sometimes kill friendly troops, or innocent civilians. The commander on the spot is in a no-win situation. If he does not order using fire to keep civilians (and enemy infiltrators) away from your troops, then he has to suffer losses to his own troops when the enemy infiltrators get behind friendly lines and begin ambushing American troops. This is especially the case during a retreat, which is when the No Gun Ri shootings took place. When the troops are in one place, they have more options to deal with masses of moving civilians. But during a retreat, when everyone is moving and you're not sure where the enemy will show up next, the tendency is to shoot first and check IDs later.

 

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