A wartime slaughter just waiting to happen, and then did—costing hundreds of innocent civilian lives—is unspooled here in all its misery, by the investigative AP reporters who won a Pulitzer for breaking the story.
Korea, July 1950. North Korean troops were pushing south, routing the green American soldiers—peacetime pickets from the occupation army in Japan hustled over for a “police action”—and their inexperienced officers. When rumors started to circulate that the North Koreans were infiltrating American lines by donning the white garb of civilians, orders were given to stop any refugee columns from passing through front lines. This meant that aircraft could strafe civilian columns and that soldiers could open fire on them. And they did, in one case with particular vengeance, at the bridge at No Gun Ri, where about 400 women, children, and old men were killed over a three-day period. The authors have put together the story from military logs and memos (“The Army has requested that we strafe all civilian parties that are noted approaching our positions. . . . we have complied with the Army request”) and from interviews with survivors, both GIs and Koreans. In crisp and forceful prose, the authors explain the roots of the Korean debacle: how Cold War politicos found Korea “a symbolic battleground of ideologies”; how a broad streak of racism wound its way through American military thinking; how the reactionary Syngman Rhee turned the country into a theater of fear; and, worst of all, how No Gun Ri, like My Lai, was only the tip of the civilian-killing, scorched-earth iceberg. It was the conflict that dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s when it came to posttraumatic stress disorder.
A wrenching story. No one who reads it will question again why Korea is never evoked when our nation’s military past is put on display.