Cold War, Modern Day, News

South Korea to Compensate Vietnam War Massacre Survivor

  • Nguyen Thi Thanh sued the South Korean government for $24,000.
  • Thanh survived a massacre carried out by Korean troops in the Vietnam War.
  • The court found the government responsible for its atrocities. 
  • The South Korean court’s landmark ruling is a milestone.

Seoul: A South Korean court has found the government responsible for a massacre committed by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War. For the very first time in history, the government has found the South Korean government responsible for such atrocities. According to the ruling, the government must compensate the survivor. 

Nguyen Thi Thanh, the plaintiff, was seven when South Korean marines killed five of her family members and shot her in the stomach in 1968. 

In 2020, Nguyen Thi Thanh sued the South Korean government for nearly $24,000. 

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The court argued that Viet Cong guerrillas, communist fighters, were mixed in with the locals. However, the court rejected the argument.

76-year-old Ryu Jin-Seong, a former South Korean marine unit member responsible for the killings, appeared in one of the trials last November. He corroborated Nguyen’s testimony and said that a commander had told the marines to kill the civilians.

War Crimes
A court hearing about war crimes by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War. Sadly not a rare occurrence.

Nguyen Thi Thanh, now 62 years old, was granted 30 million won (US$23,800) in reparations by the court. Nguyen will also be additionally compensated for attorney fees and delayed interest.

According to U.S. military documents and survivors, South Korean marines killed more than 70 civilians. In addition, they wounded 20 more in two villages of Quang Nam province.

South Korea deployed an estimated 350,000 troops to fight in Vietnam, the most significant contingent of any U.S. Ally.

The incident occurred just weeks before the My Lai massacre, committed by U.S. troops further south.

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The South Korean court’s landmark ruling is a milestone. However, it is forcing the country to face the consequences of alleged atrocities committed by its soldiers.

The case is the first of its kind in South Korea. It came after decades of efforts by Korean and Vietnamese activists to shed light on a dark side of the country’s history.

The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was a conflict between Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Fought from 1 November 1955 to 30 April 1975, It was the second of the Indochina Wars between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. 

Nguyễn Thị Thanh
Nguyễn Thị Thanh, shows her scars from the massacre in her village when she was seven years old.

The Soviet Union, China, and other communist states supported the North. In contrast, the United States and other anti-communist allies supported the South. As a result, the war is widely thought to be a Cold War proxy.

The war lasted almost 20 years, with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973.

South Korean involvement in Vietnam War 

Under the regime of Park Chung-hee, the South Korean government had an active part in the Vietnam War. South Korea sent 350,000 soldiers to South Vietnam from September 1964 to March 1973.

The South Korean Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force all participated as an ally to the United States. The number of soldiers from South Korea was much more significant than that from Australia and New Zealand. They were only second to the U.S. military force for foreign soldiers located in South Vietnam. 

The participation of Korea in the war included both non-combatant and combatant roles.

South Korea alleged war crimes

Various groups have accused the South Korean military of war crimes. In contrast, the Korean Ministry of Defense has denied all such accusations.

Korean forces allegedly perpetrated the Binh Tai, Bình Hòa, Bình An/Tây Vinh, and Hà My massacres. Further alleged incidents have occurred in An Linh and Vinh Xuan villages in Phú Yên Province.

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The Korean Army operated in Quảng Ngãi and Quảng Nam Provinces. They allegedly conducted 45 massacres, including 13, which killed over 20 unarmed civilians.

Moreover, the Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacre is confirmed to have occurred within these two provinces. A Research and Development (RAND) employee Terry Rambo reported in a 1970 New York Times story that he conducted interviews in early to mid-1966 in Phu Yen Province, confirming widespread atrocities. These included systemic mass killings and deliberate policies to massacre civilians, with murders running into the hundreds.