Cheju April 3rd Massacre and the US Military Government in Korea

Jung Hae Gu, Korean Politics Research Institute.

Abstract of a paper presented at the April 3rd 50th Anniversary Symposium held on March 28, 1998 at the Sung-gyun-kwan University, chaired by the Cheju April 3rd 50th Anniversary Pan-National Committee.

[Note: This page was originally on the Web at If it reappears, I will replace the link to this page - GF 10.07.02]

The Issues

This year (1998) is the 50th anniversary of the Cheju April 3rd Mass Uprising. Although a half century has elapsed since the incident, only recently it has become possible to assess the facts and discuss the wrongs done to the innocent victims. The anti-Communist dictators of the past prevented us from unearthing the whole truth about this incident. Several authors have published some facts. Among them are:

The time has come for us to get the truth out and do the right thing for the victims of the holocaust. This article is prepared in this spirit and deals with the issue of American responsibility for the mass uprising and the ensuing massacre of innocent people. This article is incomplete. The complete article will be published later.

In the past, the uprising was passed off as a 'Communist' rebellion. In recent years, it has been accepted as a popular uprising against the terrorism of the US Military Government and police as well as a nationalist movement to prevent the separatist election to divide Korea.

In view of the realization of the true character of the mass uprising, we must reexamine the guilty parties - the US Military Government, police and the right-wing youth gangs - who have been justifying their barbarism under "anti-Communism" banners. We must view the uprising not as an inevitable consequence of left-right ideology conflicts, but instead as a holocaust in which some 30,000 inhabitants (mostly innocent civilians including new born infants) of an isolated island were systematically butchered in 1948-49. We must view this incident as a barbaric genocide, as major world-class crimes against humanity. Killing this many civilians in war times is a major war crime. Killing this many innocent civilians in peace time is an unforgivable crime against humanity.

There are several causes for the mass uprising. One of the main causes was the failure of the US Military Government in Korea (USMGIK) to be in touch with the people. The USMGIK caused the mass uprising and was responsible for the ensuing holocaust on the island.

The Four Phases of the Uprising





Phase 1: Aug 1945 - Feb 1947
UGMGIK & Right-wing Block
vs People & Left-wing Block
March 1st Anniversary
April 3rd Incident
People's commune self-rule under leftists USMGIK+rightists vs People+Leftists conflicts intensified
Phase 2: Mar 1947 - Apr 3, 1948
Dictatorship and anti-'Red' police
14th Regiment Mutiny (Yosu) Cheju infected by Mainland conflicts USMGIK & rightists consolidate power
anti-Communist police ruled the nation
Phase 3: April 3, 1948 - October 1948
.. April 3rd - First suppression Anti-separatist struggle intensified
Phase 4: Nov 1948 - May 1949 .. Second suppression and mass murders Rhee Syngman takes power


As illustrated above, there were four distinct phases in the April 3rd Mass Uprising. After liberation, democratic people's communes were established in Cheju under leftists and the island was peaceful until 1947. This situation changed with the 1947 observation of the March 1st Movement when the police fired into unarmed civilians.

The conflict on the mainland was a major factor for the uprising on Cheju. The October Uprising on the mainland influenced the Chesu islanders and the USMGIK decided to gain control of the island by force. The US strong-arm policy was intensely resented by the islanders. Although the leftist leaders had some contacts with the mainland leftists, their primary concern was to protect the islanders' interests. The leftist people's communes had popular support. Even thought there were rightists among the islanders, the main thrust of the left-right conflict was dictated by the USMGIK.

Phase One

During the period from August 15, 1945 to the end of 1946, the alliance of the USMGIK and the rightists collided with increasingly intensity with the leftists supported by the people. This eventually led to violent confrontations. The leftists took over the country right after the liberation. But the USMGIK instituted a policy of placing the rightists (mostly pro-Japanese collaborators) in charge of the security forces.

The issue of trusteeship intensified the anti-leftist policy of the US military after 1946. The breakdown of the US-Soviet Joint Commission in May 1946 pushed the USMGIK further to the right. The leftist reacted by organizing a general strike in September and a mass uprising in October 1946.

The October incident had popular support. Bruce Cumings calls this "The Autumn Harvest Uprisings" in his book - "The Origins of the Korean War" - (Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), Chap.10). This incident is described by Jung Hae Gu - "The October Mass Uprising - A Study", Yul-um Publishing, 1988).

While the mainland was embroiled in violent clashes, Cheju remained peaceful during this period (1945-1946). The leftists took control of the island after the liberation. The island remained trouble-free in spite of the American attempts to put rightists in power, the issue of trusteeship and rightist terror tactics. The leftists kept the peace on the island.

Cheju was under the jurisdiction of the US Army 59th battalion. Due to logistic problems, the battalion had some degree of freedom from Hodge's HQ and tolerated the leftists on the island until mid-1946. In August 1946, Cheju was designated as a province and came under the direct jurisdiction of the Hodge's HQ. A conservative Cheju islander Park was appointed the governor. Park was on the side of the islanders.

Phase Two

The peace on Cheju was shattered on March 1, 1947 when the rightist police sent to the island by the USMGIK fired into the islanders commemorating the 3.1 event and killed six civilians and wounded many. The shocked islanders went on a general strike. The USMGIK responded by sending more police who used more violence against the islanders who reacted with their own violence against the police.

The immediate cause of the Cheju incident was the March 1 shooting, but the USMGIK allowed the shooting incident to snowball into a major uprising. The USMGIK mistook the populace as 70% 'Communists' and decided to use a massive police force to subdue the islanders. The US blamed the 'Communists" for the March 1 shooting. Some 500 strike leaders were arrested, 66 native police who sided with the strikers were dismissed and the provincial government functionaries - including the popular governor - were replaced with rightists from the mainland.

Phase 3

Early in the morning of April 3, 1948, several hundred armed militias attacked 11 of the 24 police stations of the island. Key leaders of the Northwest Youth Corps, the Greater East (Dae-dong) Youth Corps and other rightists were attacked at the same time. 15 people were killed and many were wounded on this day. Thus began the April 3rd Mass Uprising which consumed the island in a one-year long partisan warfare and scorched-earth tactics of the US military.

It is clear that the US military was well aware of and tolerated (if not encouraged) the war crimes being committed by the police and the rightist youth gangs. Paradoxically, the USMGIK had Gen. Kim Ik Yul, commander of the 9th Regiment, to strike a deal with the rebel leaders for peaceful resolution of the conflict, but the US and police opted for forced subjugation of the island.

Why did the US renege on Gen. Kim's agreement with the rebels?

A peaceful resolution would have meant revelation of the crimes committed by the police and the youth gangs. They would have lost the properties they seized from their victims. The US military was under intense pressure from these criminals to finish the job and gave in to their demand.

Closing Remarks

It is clear that the USMGIK was responsible for the April 3rd Massacre. Instead of addressing the just demands of the Cheju islanders, the US military saw 'agitators' from Moscow, Pyongyang and the South Korean Workers Party. The US military mobilized right-wing gangs and police to squash the islanders under "anti-Communism" slogans.

Some 40,000 innocent civilians were killed by the US military. The silent victims and the conscience of the world demand justice. | | 07 Oct 02