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The Northwest Youth LeagueHow an abuse of power led to another Korean tragedy
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승인 2011.04.10  19:29:56
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According to the National Committee for Investigation of the Truth about the Jeju April 3rd Incident, the Jeju April 3 “incident” was a series of events that lasted from 1947-1954 in which thousands of islanders were killed as a result of clashes between armed civilian groups and government forces.

At that time, then-Governor Yu Hae Jin, a mainlander known for his scorn for the local islanders, called upon then-President Syngman Rhee to send reinforcements to Jeju in order to squash the escalating rebellion. President Rhee, sharing in his contempt for anti-democratic leftists, sent hundreds of extreme right-wing para-military (known as the Northwest Youth League) to Jeju with orders to assist local police and military in seeking out and pacifying rebellious forces.

According to the paper “Paramilitary Politics under the USAMIGK and the Establishment of the Republic of Korea” by Jeju College of Technology Professor Kim Bong Jin, the Northwest Youth League was established on Nov. 30, 1946 and was composed mainly of North Korean refugees who had fled North Korean oppression. Murals in the Jeju April 3rd Peace Park Museum state that the Northwest Youth League members held animosity towards the Soviets and Communist Koreans because “members of their family had been imprisoned, raped or murdered in the North Korea, and that their property had been confiscated.”

As a result, members of the Northwest Youth League were vindictive towards Communists and those who opposed the Korean Democratic Party (KDP).

In an interview with The Jeju Weekly, Oh Seung Guk, April 3 Peace Foundation researcher said members of the Northwest Youth League had no legal right to exer-cise brute force of power. Oh confirms the Northwest Youth League’s hostility towards leftists stating that they were sup-ported by President Rhee and “indignant toward the North and the Commies.” Despite the Northwest Youth League lacking legal backing to exercise their power, President Rhee and the KDP allowed the group to use aggressive force against supposed Communists without restrictions.

In a paper presented at the 50th Anniversary Conference of the April 3, 1948 Chejudo Rebellion, Professor Bruce Cumings of the University of Chicago states that at the time, Jeju’s local government and police were comprised mostly of mainlanders who “worked together with ultra-rightest party terrorists,” otherwise known as the Northwest Youth League.

According to Cumings, they were brutal towards the islanders, exercising more police power than the police. This resulted in Jeju citizens having a deep resentment towards the Northwest Youth League. What had begun as a group of patriotic anti-communist civilians, quickly became a means to crush anyone who opposed President Rhee and the KDP.

While there is no evidence the United States had a direct role in the killings, the U.S. military, who were currently occupying the southern half of the peninsula, did little if anything to stop the mass murder of thousands of innocent civilians.

However, Col. Jimmie Leach, a retired U.S. military officer, maintains a different view of the events that happened on Jeju. According to a letter dictated by Col. Leach and published on the Marine Corps Community for USMC Marine Veterans Web site in 2006, the role of the military and its supporters was to end raids and disruptions by small bands of Communist sympathizers who were terrorizing farmers and civil officials. As the liaison between the U.S. Military and South Korean forces, Col. Leach recalls the events on Jeju as a “legitimate military action against a rebellion that threatened a legitimate government.”

One of the military units assembled to fight the rebellion was made of members of the Northwest Youth League. Col. Leach confirms that there was violence during this time but states with complete certainty “that no hint of such mass killings happened on my watch there on Cheju-do from May through September 1948.” He left a month before scorched earth — the military campaign, given the go-ahead by the U.S. military, that resulted in 70 percent of the deaths that occurred during the April 3 Massacre.

By the end of 1949, an estimated 300 members of the Northwest Youth League had joined the local police while approximately 200 became either members of the local government or merchants.

After the massacre, many of the remaining members of the Northwest Youth League joined the Korean military and fought in the Korean War while other, more moderate members, stayed on the island and married Jeju women. The most notoriously brutal members of the Northwest Youth League were despised by the Jeju citizens and left the island of their own free will. Despite the acknowledgement on both sides regarding the Northwest Youth League’s illegal exertion of brute force, no charges or apologies for their crimes have been made.

(Interpretation by Koh Yu Kyung. Darryl Coote contributed reporting)
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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