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No Gun Ri: A Military History of the Korean War Incident (review)

From: The Journal of Military History
Volume 67, Number 2, April 2003
pp. 622-623 | 10.1353/jmh.2003.0143

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The Journal of Military History 67.2 (2003) 622-623

No Gun Ri: A Military History of the Korean War Incident. By Robert L. Bateman. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2002. ISBN 0-8117-1763-1. Maps. Photographs. Appendix. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvii, 302. $22.95.

American soldiers committed atrocities during the Korean War, but not at No Gun Ri. In this study, Robert L. Bateman, a retired U.S. Army officer and fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, presents evidence discrediting the Associated Press (AP) story printed in December 1999 that quoted veterans of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, who confirmed South Korean accounts that on 26 July 1950, American soldiers ordered an aerial strafing that killed 100 refugees and then fired for three days into a tunnel where survivors had fled, resulting in 300 more deaths. These eyewitnesses, Bateman argues, were recalling "a collage of several different events" (p. 127) to gain part of $400 million in reparations. His carefully argued recreation describes how American GIs fired in self-defense on 75 to 100 refugees after misdirected mortar rounds to halt their advance landed among the group, causing "around twenty-five dead, with at least that many wounded. Among those deaths were at least two armed South Korean communist guerillas who made the very bad mistake of opening fire on American soldiers" (p. 130).

Readers interested in the AP story will find it reprinted in the text, and the U.S. government report on the incident appears in the appendix. Bateman relies heavily on interviews with veterans, supplementing the results with meticulous research in government documents, his military experience, and common sense. He begins with an inexact explanation of Korean domestic politics after 1945, but accurately describes how No Gun Ri was at the center of "a sporadic and bloody guerilla war" (p. 11). U.S. occupation forces in Japan were unprepared for combat and after deployment to Korea quickly came to fear refugees suspected of either being Communist guerrillas or enemy infiltrators. News of executed GIs intensified "a building sense of panic" (p. 83) that on 25 July contributed to the 2nd Battalion's chaotic "cascade to the rear, towards No Gun Ri" (p. 98). Only three U.S. soldiers recollected the massacre the next day, but Bateman uses morning reports to prove that none were there. He fingers Edward Daily as perpetrator of the hoax, documenting how this fake war hero was a mechanic who did not join the 2nd Battalion until 1951.

Bateman skillfully uses photos, forensics, and numbers to make his case, but he often is overly detailed and tutorial. His conviction that the AP "chose to present only the information that fit its thesis" (p. 198) and win the Pulitzer Prize fuels the controlled anger that energizes this account. An "antimilitary editorial environment" (p. 170), he claims, led to false charges that U.S. soldiers had received orders to fire on civilians. Publicly confronted with the truth, the AP refused to admit guilt because doing so "might impinge upon the quality of its reporting or damage its reputation" (p. 167). Bateman portrays American soldiers as victims who "did not know of the brutal and bloody repression that the South Korean army and national police had waged against these same villagers . . . for years before the arrival of the U.S. Army" (p. 66). His judgment that "the shootings at No Gun Ri were the inevitable by-product of poor training, poor communication, and inadequate readiness for war" (p. xiii) ignores, however, the role that racism and condescension played in motivating the misbehavior of U.S. soldiers in this "different kind of war" (p. 83).

 

James I. Matray
California State University at Chico
Chico, California

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