Bodo League massacre

Deaths 60,000–200,000
Location South Korea
Died Unknown
Date Summer of 1950 (72 years ago) (1950)
Criminal penalty Unknown


The Bodo League massacre (Korean보도연맹 학살사건; Hanja保導聯盟虐殺事件) was a massacre and war crime against communists and suspected sympathizers (many of whom were civilians who had no connection with communism or communists) that occurred in the summer of 1950 during the Korean War. Estimates of the death toll vary. Historians and experts on the Korean War estimate that the full total ranges from at least 60,000–110,000 (Kim Dong-choon) to 200,000 (Park Myung-lim).

The massacre was falsely blamed on the communists led by Kim Il Sung by the South Korean government. The South Korean government made efforts to conceal the massacre for four decades. Survivors were forbidden by the government from revealing it, under suspicion of being communist sympathizers; public revelation carried with it the threat of torture and death. During the 1990s and onwards, several corpses were excavated from mass graves, resulting in public awareness of the massacre.

Bodo League

National Bodo League members identity card

South Korean President Syngman Rhee had about 300,000 suspected communist sympathizers or his political opponents enrolled in an official "re-education" movement known as the National Bodo League (or National Rehabilitation and Guidance League, National Guard Alliance, National Guidance Alliance, Gukmin Bodo Yeonmaeng, 국민보도연맹, 國民保導聯盟) on the pretext of protecting them from execution. The Bodo League was created by Korean jurists who had collaborated with the Japanese.: 96  Non-communist sympathizers and others were also forced into the Bodo League to fill enlistment quotas.

In June 1949, the South Korean government accused independence activists of being members of the Bodo League. In 1950, just before the outbreak of the Korean War, the first president of South Korea, Syngman Rhee, had about 20,000 alleged communists imprisoned.


Prisoners lie on the ground before execution by South Korean troops near Daejon, South Korea, July 1950. Photo by U.S. Army Maj. Abbott.
South Korean soldiers walk among bodies of South Korean political prisoners shot near Daejon, South Korea, July 1950. Photo by U.S. Army Major Abbott.

Under the leadership of Kim Il-sung, the Korean People's Army attacked from the north on 25 June 1950, starting the Korean War. According to Kim Mansik, who was a military police superior officer, President Syngman Rhee ordered the execution of people related to either the Bodo League or the South Korean Workers Party on 27 June 1950. The first massacre was started one day later in Hoengseong, Gangwon-do on 28 June. Retreating South Korean forces and anti-communist groups executed the alleged communist prisoners, along with many of the Bodo League members. The executions were performed without any trials or sentencing. Kim Tae Sun, the chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police, admitted to personally executing at least 12 "communists and suspected communists" after the outbreak of the war. When Seoul was recaptured in late September 1950, an estimated 30,000 South Koreans were summarily deemed collaborators with the North Koreans and shot by ROK forces.: 98  At least one US lieutenant colonel is known to have approved the executions at the request of a South Korean regimental commander. Lt. Col. Rollins S. Emmerich, after initially stalling and disapproving, told the South Korean regimental commander Kim Chong-won that he could kill a large number of political prisoners in Busan if the North Korean troops approached so that they would not fall into enemy hands. A mass execution of 3,400 South Koreans did indeed take place near Busan that summer.: 97 

United States official documents show that American officers witnessed and photographed the massacre. In another, United States official documents show that John J. Muccio, then United States Ambassador to South Korea, made recommendations to South Korean President Rhee Syngman and Defense Minister Shin Sung-mo that the executions be stopped. American witnesses also reported the scene of the execution of a girl who appeared to be 12 or 13 years old. The massacre was also reported to both Washington and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who described it as an "internal matter".: 98  According to one witness, 40 victims had their backs broken with rifle butts and were shot later. Victims in seaside villages were tied together and thrown into the sea to drown.: 97  Retired South Korean Adm. Nam Sang-hui confessed that he authorized 200 victims' bodies to be thrown into the sea, saying, "There was no time for trials for them."

There were also British and Australian witnesses. Great Britain raised this issue with the U.S. at a diplomatic level, causing Dean Rusk, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, to inform the British that U.S. commanders were doing "everything they can to curb such atrocities". During the massacre, the British protected their allies and saved some citizens. The Associated Press conducted extensive archival research and found documents classified "secret" and "filed away" by the Pentagon and State Department in Washington, that had indicated the US commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur made no attempts to curb the summary mass killings.


After the UN offensive in which South Korea recovered its occupied territories, the police and militia groups executed suspected North Korean sympathizers. In October 1950, the Goyang Geumjeong Cave massacre occurred. In December, British troops saved civilians lined up to be shot by South Korean officers and seized one execution site outside Seoul to prevent further massacres. On 4 January 1951, the Ganghwa massacre was committed by South Korean police, who killed 139 civilians in an effort to prevent their collaboration with the North Koreans. According to a South Korean report, South Korea and the U.S. "aided right-wing civil organizations, such as the Ganghwa Self-defense Forces, by providing combat equipment and supplies.": 74–75 

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

In 2008, trenches containing the bodies of children were discovered in Daejeon, South Korea, and other sites.[failed verification] South Korea's Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented testimonies of those still alive and who took part in the executions, including former Daejeon prison guard Lee Joon-young.

Besides photographs of the execution trench sites, the National Archives in Washington D.C. released declassified photographs of U.S. soldiers at execution sites including Daejeon, confirming American military knowledge.