13 June 2005

An Interfering Journalist in the Korean War

Executions for political reasons began when Seoul was recaptured by the allies [as if they never occurred when Seoul was first captured by the North!], and when the South became threatened again they increased at an alarming rate.

John Colless, an Australian working for AAP-Reuter, reported that the police shot fifty-six political prisoners alongside the Sariwon railway station and then watched American troops give first aid to those who had not died outright....

One correspondent took direct personal action to stop the executions. He was Alan Dower, of the Melbourne Herald. Dower, a former commando officer, was driving into Seoul with [the BBC's Rene] Cutforth and a cameraman, Cyril Page, when they passed a column of women, many carrying babies, and wearing straw masks over their heads, being escorted by South Korean policemen. Dower stopped the jeep and asked what was happening. "These Communists," a policeman said. "They go be shot, executed." Dower said, "What? Babies Communist? Who say they Communist?" The policeman looked puzzled. "People say. People in street point and say that person Communist." The three correspondents followed the column to a gaol on a hill at the outskirts of Seoul and watched the heavy gates clang behind it. Then Dower, who was armed, thudded on a peep-hole with the butt of his carbine. When a policeman's face appeared, Dower pointed the gun at him and threatened to shoot him if he did not open the gates. Inside, the correspondents saw the column of women and children kneeling alongside a deep, freshly dug pit. On the other side were two machine guns. "Hell," Dower said, "this is a bloody fine set-up to lose good Australian lives over. I'm going to do something about this." The correspondents stormed into the office of the gaol's governor and found him sitting behind his desk. Dower aimed his carbine and said, "If those machine guns fire I'll shoot you between the eyes." After the governor promised that the guns would not fire and that there would be no executions, Dower threatened that if he failed to keep his word Dower would seek him out and kill him.

In Seoul, Dower went to United Nations officials and told them what had happened. "They pleaded with me not to make an international incident out of it. I told them that I had sent my paper an outline of the story, but if there were any more executions, then I'd send a story that would rock the world. They promised to see that there would be no more women and children death marches and as far as I could find out there weren't." But what had already been published, by Dower and by a few other correspondents, mostly non-American, caused a wave of disillusionment with the South Korean regime and with the war in general. The British Sunday newspaper Reynolds News summed up this feeling: "Terrible things are being done in Korea in your name. They are being done by Syngman Rhee's police sheltering behind US and British United Nations troops."
SOURCE: The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-maker from the Crimea to Kosovo, by Phillip Knightley, with an introduction by John Pilger (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2000; first published in 1975), pp. 374-376

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