There was a solemn atmosphere as soon as I stepped into the main hall in Peace Park and crept down a dark tunnel. I knew about Korea’s suffering under Japanese occupation and expected some of that history to be on display, but this was more about after 1945 when Koreans thought they’d be liberated.
Some 60 000 Korean males who were forced into coal mines, battlefields and factories in Japan returned home. But after the war, the U.S.A. and Russia occupied the country and divided it in two. The U.S. wanted to install a puppet government in the south so gave positions of power to citizens who had been in collusion with the Japanese.
This angered the Koreans so in 1947 an uprising took place when some 30 000 Jeju residence were killed in clashes with armed civilian groups and the military government. Innocent residents were forced out of their inland villages and dragged into seaside villages in the hope of eradicating interior hideouts and supply routes for armed civilian groups. Often mass murders of these uprooted citizens took place.
Until South Korea’s liberation in 1958, a tenth of Jeju’s population was murdered. Nearly 400 remains were uncovered near the runway at Jeju International Airport. But bodies were also discovered near waterfalls, valleys and sandy beaches, some of which were reconnected to remaining family members through DNA testing.
I left the main hall and climbed to the Lost Villages. These were stone walls representing the many villages destroyed during U.S. occupation. Further on were rows and rows of graves and a remembrance building where the circular wall was filled with names of those who’d lost their lives. Luckily, I’d left off visiting this site until the end of the day because I trudged away with a sombre feeling in the pit of my stomach and a new respect for the survivors of U.S. colonialism.