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Revising history

It’s often said that history is written by the winners. That’s not exactly true; it’s written by those who rule, whether they’ve actually won a particular conflict or not.

For instance, it’s not exactly clear that the U.S. “won” the Korean War. But because the U.S.-backed regime in Seoul remained in power, an ugly period of Korean history is only now coming to light, sixty years after the fact.

Grave by mass grave, South Korea is unearthing the skeletons and buried truths of a cold-blooded slaughter from early in the Korean War, when this nation’s U.S.-backed regime killed untold thousands of leftists and hapless peasants in a summer of terror in 1950.

With U.S. military officers sometimes present, and as North Korean invaders pushed down the peninsula, the southern army and police emptied South Korean prisons, lined up detainees and shot them in the head, dumping the bodies into hastily dug trenches. Others were thrown into abandoned mines or into the sea. Women and children were among those killed. Many victims never faced charges or trial.

The mass executions — intended to keep possible southern leftists from reinforcing the northerners — were carried out over mere weeks and were largely hidden from history for a half-century. They were “the most tragic and brutal chapter of the Korean War,” said historian Kim Dong-choon, a member of a 2-year-old government commission investigating the killings.

Hundreds of sets of remains have been uncovered so far, but researchers say they are only a tiny fraction of the deaths. The commission estimates at least 100,000 people were executed, in a South Korean population of 20 million.

That estimate is based on projections from local surveys and is “very conservative,” said Kim. The true toll may be twice that or more, he told The Associated Press.

It’s depressing to learn that the country of one’s birth was party to an atrocity of this type, but it wasn’t the first or the last — ask the native Americans or the Vietnamese.

It’s not my intent to bash the United States. I love this country and I still believe in the ideals our flag represents. More often than not we, the people, live up to those ideals.

But let’s not delude ourselves into believing that the power-brokers who run the country share them.

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