On the outskirts of Sejeong City this morning I accompanied Park Sunjoo to the Mausoleum where remains from the Daejeon Massacre are currently stored. This isn't just a resting place for those so cruelly murdered at this time, but also a storage facility that allows future testing of the bones. The reason for our visit today was precisely for that reason. As I arrived samples of the bones were being split into bags for a trip to Seoul where they can hopefully be identified at a later date. Once this process has been completed the families will be notified of the results, and if they want to bury the remains after all this time they will have the opportunity. When we eventually open the Peace Park in Daejeon the remains currently being excavated will also be stored on site.
Hearing about all this DNA testing and how this complicated process is designed to end made me think of all of the remains that will never be identified throughout the Korean Peninsula. There will be many places like this in the North, but usually families were able to identify and bury the dead after a short period of time had passed. I would recommend people read Monica Felton's pamphlet for evidence of this. In the South, however, there was only ever an extremely small window for burials before the territory was back in control of the the American and South Korean militaries. I remember accounts of people who travelled to the site in Daejeon to recover the bodies of their loved ones at the time, only to find it impossible because of their condition. Often these people never returned to the mountain valley. It existed instead as a forbidden place at the edge of the city, a site of confluence where opposing narratives led only to a mutually agreed (or “enforced”) silence. This was a place spoken of in hushed terms by both the victors and the victims. Pain, guilt, or even ignorance, leading to a strange and terrifying omerta across the spectrum.
When we were testing for DNA at the mausoleum today Professor Park showed me all of the other places that he had so far excavated for remains. One of these was the place in Gongju that originally drew my attention to this history, but there were also many others of which I had no knowledge at all. To end this post it might be worth drawing attention to one of these in particular. The ramifications of what happened at this place are instructive for many sites in South Korea, where unlike in Daejeon evidence is extremely thin on the ground.
The picture above shows an excavation in a place called Oegong-ri, quite a remote area even today. The specificity of this place comes from the massacre that took place here in 1951. Nobody seems to know why these people were killed, or even where there came from. There were buttons found at the time from "Incheon Commercial School" amongst others (suggesting that many of the victims were children), but they were certainly not local people and no one seems to have come forward to claim they knew exactly who they were. All that is known is that maybe 11 buses came to this place at that time and the killing commenced soon after. Six pits were excavated in 2008.
It is these kind of places that define the Korean War I think. We must focus not just on the families that received some kind of closure, but all of the people who suffered through knowing absolutely nothing about what happened to their good friends and relatives. Even the act of searching became a crime in itself, especially if the name of the person they were seeking had once been on a blacklist. The future Peace Park in Daejeon draws attention well to these unknown stories. It could bring speech and light to a place previously identified with silence and darkness. I hope in design terms that consists of a space that encourages conversation about the multiple ways in which people suffered at this time. Not just what is known as historical fact, but what could be unknown still. Which means cultivating a curiosity about the past and the future. Imagining the things that human beings have been, and could be, capable of again.
This picture released by the American Military of the site in 1950 (taken by Major Abbott on his Leica Camera in July of that year), overlaid on a more contemporary photograph shows exactly what has been at stake in Daejeon over the past 15 years or so. The inhuman activities of Abbot at this time, paradoxically provide a window into the past that makes the recovery of remains possible. This knowledge is constantly shifting and changing, dependent on the sources themselves but also the revelations that come from looking at the topography on site. The mountains in this case are very much a witness, or a provide a constancy that it is hard to obtain from the accounts of local people after so much time has passed.
I was told last week that even though it is a rumour at the second (and longest) massacre site that the government disposed of the remains when building the road, in reality the elderly witness to what occurred at that time mistook the new road for the original one that had existed somewhere else. In which case, there could be much to be found in a completely different place. This kind of work is never an exact science. Probably a mixture of accounts resembles the truth (including Winnington's own). All that exists is rumour and supposition that must be collated and inspected in the light of genuine facts. One clear fact is that bone fragments and "black rubber shoes' have been uncovered by farmers in this valley for some time. But to find the precise source requires opportunities much like in the transhistorical overlapping of images seen above.
There are similar opportunities that arise from Winnington's own evidence, particularly when we consider things like the capacity of military trucks at the time and the evidence he gained via a translator. I hope to cover a few of these soon.
As something of an addendum - and using information from the a series of articles written by the journalist Shim Gyu Sang over the past few days in South Korea - similar patterns emerge to do with Winnington's own report. Of the six "pits" that Winnington discovered in his pamphlet it is clear now that the first three are at massacre site number one, whilst the fourth and fifth (including the longest one by the road of 200 yards) are at the second site, with the sixth in the far distance at the third massacre site. It looks very much like the third massacre site is the one found by using the mountains as topographical markers in the picture at the top of this post.
At the site in Daejeon today we commenced the digging with an official ceremony. This is a month long process, so I will be returning wherever possible to search for updates. Park Sun Joo tells me that they hope to recover a third of the bodies in this one area. There will be digging in other places too.
Like always happens with this history, it seems a strange coincidence its almost 70 years exactly since the publication of Alan's pamphlet. There is a brochure from the event that I will be slowly releasing parts of both on this site (when I deem it appropriate) and in more detail in a newsletter that I will sporadically produce for people who are genuinely interested in this. Send me your email via the tab on the right of this page if you are.
It's worth briefly reminding people of the significance of these events for both the history of the Korean War, but in a much wider sense what passes for journalism in the present. I think of the barely covered trial of Julian Assange at the moment, or how meticulously this story has been withheld from public knowledge for 70 years. Even if this story was known to some in England and America, Alan's Pamphlet only ended up in South Korean hands in 2002. Even then it was most likely in the form of "communist contraband".
I have a lot more to write about this but for now consider this passage from Alan's posthumously released autobiography, where he extremely accurately recounts how his report was received in the UK at the time:
"Apparently not a single British or American journalist paid a visit to rangwul to investigate what would of been a world scoop if they had uncovered a "commie" lie. The British did not ask any of their advisors in Korea to look into it. The labour cabinet even concealed that they had discussed it, by recording their discussion in a secret cabinet paper not to be made publiC till thirty years later when they would all be dead or in the house of lords - Breakfast with MAo, 1986 ( 115)