Sunday, July 15, 2012

April Third Peace Park

On Tuesday July 3rd, Ko planned a much more somber trip then our previous excursions. We were going to the April Third Peace Park.  The April Third Peace Park was built in the early 2000s after the Korean government formally acknowledged and apologized for the horrendous massacres that occurred on Jeju Island from April 1948 to 1953. As I explained in my previous post the Korean government covered up the massacre going as far as jailing those who tried to expose the truth. It was not until 2006 that the Korean government formally apologized for their role in the massacre.

Before leaving for the April Third Peace Park we were given an article which explained the history of the incident. The article was very critical of the American role in the massacre. At the time of the massacre the American military was the de-facto government of Korea and largely encouraged the suppression of the “uprising”. I was nervous that the peace park would be unfairly anti-American.  But I decided to clear my head of this preconceived view of how the museum and Peace Park might portray the incident and try to view the museum as unbiased as I possibly could.

Ko had commissioned a bus to take us to the Peace Park which is located east of Jeju National University but still deep in the interior of the island. The weather was perfect. The sky was deep blue with clouds cutting through the sky as the sun beamed down on us. We zoomed along the countryside passing horse farms and open fields of green. Eventually we cut into a wooded area of the interior which was incredibly tranquil and stunningly green. The bus driver seemed to know the roads well as he barreled around turns taking up the entire roadway; I figured he had some sort of psychic ability which allowed him to be confident that there were no cars coming in the opposite direction. I figured our ten tons of bus would protect us from any oncoming two door Hyundai so I was not too worried about the possibility of a violent death on the way to the Peace Park. As emerged from the forest we were again surrounded by the green fields of the foothills of Mt. Halla. After traveling down the mountain for a bit the bus pulled into a parking lot which sat adjacent to a building which looked like an upturned UFO, Ko announced that we had arrived at the Peace Park.

We went directly to the museum, it was getting late and we didn’t want to miss the last tour. The interior of the museum is very spacious, with polished stone pillars leading supporting the high ceilings and freshly buffered stone floors. Ko lead us to the front desk where there were five or six smiling museum attendants, he has a quick conversation in Korean and then tell us that we will have a tour guide and he will translate for her. We were then lead down a ramp which has been built to resemble a cave, a homage to those who hid in caves to avoid being killed during the massacre.  At the end of the hallway is a circular room with a rectangular cut of marble in the center. The room had no ceiling rather the walls lead up about fifty feet to open air which allowed for natural light to penetrate into the otherwise dim room. The tour guide explained that the reason the cut of marble was lying flat and had no markings was because the April 3rd Incident has no true name and the marble will only be lifted and engraved when there is an official name of the incident.

The tour guide led us from room to room which gave an overview of Jeju before the massacre, during the massacre and after the massacre. The exhibits were incredibly well done, providing original documents and sources.  I am going to provide a brief summary of what I learned about the April 3rd Incident from the peace park. On April 3rd 1948, police from the mainland fired upon demonstrators at rally celebrating the emancipation over Japanese rule.   The shootings occurred after a police officer’s horse accidently trampled a small child. The police officer did not stop to see if the condition of the child rather he kept moving forward. Demonstrators saw this and started to yell at the police officer, when the police officer continued to ignore them stones were thrown and the police officers retaliated by firing upon the protestors, killing nine.

This shooting caused cascading effects, Jeju had a somewhat strong socialist party. The shooting by the extreme right police officers, who were chosen by the US government, only strengthened the left leaning party as droves of people when to join them after the shooting. The left party organized and burned down several police stations and polling stations for the upcoming election. The US military saw this as an act of outright communist rebellion and brought far right dissenters from the north to go and stop the rebellion by any means necessary.  Bringing in far right ideologues only exacerbated the conflict leading to a complete breakdown in peace talks.  Moderate military officers who wanted to pursue peace talks were promptly fired by the US military and were replaced by officials who would follow orders. The interior of the island was designated “kill and burn zone” anything and anyone in that area was to be destroyed. This included the all of those who fled to the interior early on during the conflict when there was fighting in the city. By 1949, between 14,000 and 60,000 people were killed during the massacres that followed the April Third Incident. For the next fifty years the massacre was covered up. The official story was that there were communists in Jeju and they were killed. It was not until 2006 that the South Korean government apologized for the massacre and it was only in 2009 when an official report documenting the massacre was released.   

The entrance to the April 3rd museum 

A close up of the banner

A section of the Berlin Wall

Looking up from the room with the "Unnamed Monument" 

A US Military map of Jeju Island

One of the many stops on our tour with Ko translating for our tour guide

Most of the exhibits were set up like this. Very well done with equal parts English and Korean.  The lighting was very dim so a lot of my photos came out sub-par. 

A part of an official US Military document regarding the massacre that has since been declassified. 

A meeting with American generals and Korean generals on Jeju Island. The man on the far right wanted to take a more moderate route dealing with the any rebels. He was quickly reassigned. 

More shots of the exhibits 

The museum was incredibly fair and balanced. The purpose of the museum is not to assign blame or try to gain justice for those massacred rather it seeks to educate people on the existence of this massacre.  The simple act of recognizing the fact that the massacre occurred is needed in order for families to reach peace about how their ancestors died. For nearly 60 years those who suffered through the massacre and those whose families were torn apart by the massacre were forbade from the simple act of acknowledging the event that shaped their families history. There was also a feeling of shame and guilt attached to having relatives who died during the massacre because the Korean government framed the massacre as a killing of communist rebels who were sympathetic to the north. So if you were to acknowledge that your relatives were killed during the massacre you were essentially saying your relatives were communist which is a horrible accusation in South Korea .

After our tour of the museum we walked around the park. The sun was beginning to set but the sky was still wonderfully blue and clear. The park is stunningly beautiful and peaceful. We only explored the area immediately outside of the museum but we could see even more monuments in the distance. It was nice to have an area of tranquility to reflect on the tragedy that had occurred on Jeju Island sixty years before. I asked Ko if anyone ever talked about the massacre when he was growing up, he told me that nobody spoke of the massacre and the few times that anyone did speak of the massacre they said that it was just the killing of communist rebels in Jeju and that it was a good thing. Jung Lee a professor from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey who grew up on the mainland of Korea said she never learned anything about the massacre. 

As an American walking through the museum and seeing the truth of the massacre is very unsettling. I am not at all a person who thinks that America is some god-like country who can do no wrong and has done no wrong. I have learned about the evils of that America has perpetuated throughout my country’s history. Even though I knew about the atrocities and were disgusted by them, I would always somehow rationalize them.  Walking through the museum on the island where the massacre occurred made it impossible to rationalize the actions of the US government and be comfortable about it. The US military amplified the extremes of both the far right and far left on Jeju Island by arming the far right and allowing them to kill without discretion. Without the US intervention the April Third Incident may have been peacefully resolved rather than escalading into mass violence.  But the museum was not trying to assign blame to the United States military; rather it just displayed the facts. It was clear that the only motive of the museum was to try to bring attention to the fact that this massacre occurred and that there was a cover up of the true story. The museum and the Peace Park are the start of a long delayed mourning process for those who died during the massacre over sixty years ago.

The plaza outside of the April 3rd museum 

More shots of the plaza 

A lily pond looking next to the plaza

The park stretched out farther in that direction but we did not have time to visit. 

View of the museum from the lily pond. Apparently on the upper two decks there is a wall with  the names of all of those who died during the massacre, unfortunately we did not have time to view the wall.

4.3 Incident. Americans are weird and count the day before the month.



  1. I haven't known that specific story until now(to see your blog).

    1. You should visit the peace park on clear day. It is really a wonderfully peaceful place.