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Opinion Column
For the week of May 3 through May 9, 2000

Half a century and the terror of war cloud a reported massacre

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

The caller, an Army master sergeant in the Pentagon, said he’d gotten my name from former Maj. Hal Steward, my unit commander in Korea, and wanted to ask about my time early in the war in 1950.

His question was to the point:

Did I know anything about American GIs massacring South Korean civilians in our sector in July, 1950, under a bridge outside No Gun Ri, a month after the war began with North Korea’s crossing of the 38th Parallel?

Sorry, sergeant. I didn’t arrive and join the First Cavalry Division until mid-September, and, like most "news" that lowly GIs get up front, we’d only heard rumors.

So, here it is some 50 years ago after the reported massacre, the search for facts, truth and justice is underway, relying on aging South Koreans and a few ex-GIs now in their 70s who said they were there or heard about it.

In this day and age when most Americans were born after the Korean War and have no earthly knowledge of the demoralizing retreat from the Yalu River and the stalemate finale, the spectacle of innocent civilians being massacred understandably stirs revulsion and disbelief.

But like most wars, men who’re asked to do the dirty work, and survive incomprehensibly risky circumstances, adjust tactics to the moment with niceties taking the hindmost.

By the time we arrived in September, ample evidence had already accumulated that men and women dressed as refugees —some were suspected of being North Korean infiltrators—were tossing hand grenades into passing U.S. Army trucks or into bivouac areas at night, killing and wounding American as well as other United Nations troops.

Moreover, some First Cavalry Division soldiers also were found massacred in a ditch with their hands tied.

So if there was a massacre of civilians, the stage had been set: young and frightened troops rushed into a country being overrun by communist North Korean troops; U.S. forces had their backs to the sea at Pusan at the tip of the Korean peninsula; troops were warned about being attacked by civilians; the sight of dead and wounded comrades was everywhere.

Hanging over the emotional state of young GIs and the desperate possibility of being overrun were fresh memories of "fanatic" Japanese troops—Orientals like the North Koreans—in the recent Pacific war who’d rather die than surrender.

Atrocities cannot be excused or condoned. But those who live the horror of battle understand a cardinal, if not legal or moral, rule of survival on the battlefield: when in doubt shoot first, ask questions later.


A recent U.S. Senate vote televised on C-SPAN explains why some politicians can claim to have voted for or against certain legislation that’s high on the voter popularity list and leave voters confused as to how they voted the way they say or voters think they did.

On this particular issue, members voted on "the motion to table the Conrad Amendment to the Allord Amendment to Senate Concurrent Resolution 101 to the Budget resolution."

So, figure for yourself if Idaho’s senators did the right thing with their votes for or against tabling an amendment to another amendment that might’ve been good or bad for Idaho involving a budget resolution.


Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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