The trigger for the Jeju 4·3 Uprising and Massacre

Artist Kang Yo-bae’s depiction of the 1947 ‘Shooting Incident,’ sketched from the descriptions of witnesses.

The tragic March 1 Shooting Incident occurred following a ceremony for the March 1 Independence Movement held at Buk Elementary School. At around 2 p.m. as the ceremony came to a close, the crowd marched toward Jeju Gwandeokjeong Pavilion. As the people were marching to the west of the pavilion, a boy was trampled by the horse of a mounted police officer. The crowd was enraged when the police officer ignored the injured boy and some of them began pursuing the mounted policeman and throwing stones.

As people ran after the mounted police officer while he headed to the nearby police station, police officers fired on the crowd from a watchtower. As a result, six civilians were killed and six more were injured. Nevertheless, no one could have imagined that this shooting incident would trigger the Jeju 4·3 Uprising and Massacre that would leave an estimated 30,000 dead.

Ahead of the ceremony to mark the March 1 Independence Movement, the USAMGIK deployed around 100 police officers from the police reserve. The police who fired the shots that day were part of a deployment from the mainland.

It was an overreaction by the police against an unarmed crowd. Most of the people killed had been shot from behind, evidence that the police shot at them while they were running away. One of the victims was a woman carrying a baby while others were students and bystanders. If it was a mistake, the police should have apologized and sought to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, the police insisted that they acted in self-defence. Furthermore, the police then started arresting the organizers of the March 1 Independence Movement ceremony. This only served to further infuriate the Jeju people.

Who ordered the shooting? Was it possible for the police to use their weapons then without an order from the USAMGIK?