[This article is written by a JDC Junior Journalist. The JDC Junior Journalist program is an educational project sponsored by Jeju Free International City Development Corporation (JDC). JDC Junior Journalist articles are only briefly edited by mentors before publishing.]
In the history textbooks used by Korean middle school students, the 4.3 Massacre is explained with two sentences while a page is filled with the content of 5.18 Gwangju Democratization Struggle. Ironically, the number of the dead from 4.3 Massacre was 14,000, but the number of the dead from 5.18 Gwangju Democratization Struggle was 160.
What would have made the difference in importance between the two cases? Misunderstandings of 4.3 Massacre among lots of people are the biggest thing that made the difference. At that time, people from the mainland thought that 4.3 Massacre was just a rebellion of communists because the government announced it as a rebellion of communists and the misunderstanding still stands in the minds of the mainlanders today. The background of 4.3 Massacre answers why the government announced that 4.3 was a rebellion.
According to the New World Encylopedia, the detested Japanese occupation of Korea, which began in 1910, finally ended with Japan's defeat in World War 2 on August 15, 1945. American and Soviet troops arrived to accept the Japanese surrender in southern and northern parts of the Korean Peninsula, respectively. American and Soviet armies stayed separated at the 38th Parallel by a prearranged agreement between United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. Therefore, in Korea a massive war was fought and the country was divided. The region was eventually separated into free and communist blocs in the process of the Cold War and captalists and communists strongly went against each other. The government used this social tendency for avoiding criticisms about killing innocent people by announcing that 4.3 was a rebellion of communists who are the people South Koreans hated the most.
On the other hand, though there was a rebellion of communists during 4.3 Massacre, it’s not correct to see 4.3 Massacre as just a rebellion. In accordance with the explanation of Jeju 4.3 Laboratory, the 3.1 firing incident was the start of 4.3. Jeju people were so upset with the firing that they were on strike. The US army military government in Korea realized the seriousness of the situation, therefore the government sent a research group to Jeju and analyzed that the strike was due to South Korea Labor Party in Jeju. After the analysis, the government tried to arrest members of the party, and the members decided to survive with an armed struggle. Eventually, on April 3rd, 1948, the armed members attacked governors and right-wing organizations. So, the government proclaimed martial law in Jeju and announced to kill Jeju people because the government thought that Jeju people helped the armed members. The massacre had continued until September 21st, 1954. Jeju people were killed because the government treated the unification struggle as a rebellion.
The ambition of US that wanted to have an ally in Korean Peninsula, and the ambition of Lee Seung Man that wants to be a president impeded the unification of Korea. Also, they treated the honorable Jeju unification struggle as a rebellion and killed so many people. However, the Korean government apologized after 50 years and the US government has never mentioned any apology to Jeju people. So, though the president No Moo Hyun apologized to the victims and their families, it seems that it wasn’t enough to heal their minds.
Many Jeju people have argued that 4.3 should be admitted as a unification struggle just like 5.18 has been admitted as a democratization struggle. The chairman of 4.3 victims’ association said, “Now, 4.3 is defined as an incident made by communists in Jeju, so victims can’t receive damages. However, 4.3 should be defined as a struggle that went against the national division of Korea and the government has to compensate victims for damage.”
For Korea, Jeju is an important island for geographical, economical and military reasons. Moreover, the government tried to build a naval base in Gangjeong village though there is a strong disagreement of Jeju people. However, without accepting the request of the Jeju people, how can Jeju people accept the request of the government? Therefore, it is sure that the government has duty to admit 4.3 as an unification struggle.