Presented at the ‘4·3 from the Perspective of Foreign Journalists’ session held at the 2018 Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity


By Tim Shorrock

In 2016, when I visited Jeju for the first time, I was lucky enough to get a guided tour of the 4·3 Museum and Memorial from a Korean friend. I was struck very strongly by the museum’s thorough-profile display of U.S. colonels and generals from the U.S. Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) on the scene in 1947 and 1948 and the depiction of their deep role in the military suppression of the revolt.

This reflects in part the conclusions of many Jeju historians of 4·3, who place blame for the violence clearly on the U.S. forces under USAMGIK. Their analyses appear in the “Jeju 4·3 Grand Tragedy” book, JEJU HISTORY:

“It was on hauntingly beautiful island of Jeju that the postwar world witnessed the American capacity for unrestrained violence against indigenous people fighting for self-determination and social justice,” writes Hun Joon Kim, professor at Korea University, placing the revolt in the context of U.S. Cold War policy that followed World War II.

“The Jeju events were a series of armed uprisings and counterinsurgency actions that occurred between 1947 and 1954 … The counterinsurgency campaign was extremely brutal, involving mass arrests and detentions, forces relocations, torture, indiscriminate killings, and many large-scale massacres of civilians.”

Chang Hoon Ko, president of the World Association of Island Studies, professor of Jeju National University, traces the U.S. and USAMGIK complicity to the first day of the uprising, March 1, 1947. On that day, “The American military administration¹ opened fire on people who were watching the movement [on national liberation day].” He notes that six people were killed and six wounded. “In response to the USAMGIK action, general strikes in both governmental and non-governmental levels erupted.” He cites USAMGIK’s branding of Jeju as “red island” and documents how the U.S. military government ordered the military crackdown on the Jeju April 3 uprising.

Thus from this viewpoint, from the beginning Jeju 4·3 was a U.S.-orchestrated, U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign.

The JEJU HISTORY relies on declassified U.S. documents to underscore its argument. After strikes and protests broke out after the March 1, 1947, incident, it notes that “the USAMGIK strategically made use of these incidents by classifying Jeju Island as a ‘Red Island’ and 70% of the locals were either branded as ‘Reds’ or “friendly to Reds.” Other documents estimated that population of Jeju was “70 percent left wing in political sympathy,” comprising “60 to 80 percent of the population.” These politics and documents set the ideological underpinning of the US-led suppression campaign.

Thus, the USAMGIK role in the suppression of the movement in Jeju was direct, and not only through the South Korean military and constabulary. JEJU HISTORY notes, for example, that the U.S. military put hundreds of Jeju citizens on trial, with 72 trials, and 328 defendants — 158 of whom were declared guilty. IN 1948, following the YoSu Uprising, the U.S. and the Rhee government developed “the policy of ground subjugation” in Jeju, with military operations lasting until 1954.

“These operations were practiced in turns from arrest, to dispersion, to incendiary fire, and to execution in 169 villages. Weekly periodic reports (G-2) from the U.S. Army Forces in Korea showed that the [U.S. Provisional Military Advisory Group] participated in completing a mass-slaughter program against citizens.” Altogether, around 30,000 people were massacred, with “military-police forces committing 80% of the massacres,” JEJU HISTORY concludes.


This was originally a presentation at the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity for a session organized by the Jeju 4·3 Research Institute on June 28, 2018.

Although the USAMGIK was the ultimate authority below the 38th parallel, the shooting on March 1 was carried out by Korean police who had been relocated from the mainland to Jeju. The degree of USAMGIK control over the shootings is still hotly debated.