Walden Korea/43FAU holds its first Jeju 4.3 Massacre commemoration
At Harvard Faculty Club and New York Academy
The journey of a thousand miles does begin with a single step. Today, that step was taken. For the first time on American soil (to the best of my knowledge), an event was held to bring awareness to a dark chapter in history: the Jeju Island Massacres.
The site where countless words of learning have been spoken for hundreds of years, Harvard University was the perfect backdrop for the words that began to bring light to the travesty of the Jeju Island Massacre seventy years ago. The Jeju April 3 Victims Memorial Ceremony was held at the Harvard Faculty Club on April 1st. The list of local speakers carried weight, but with humility and empathy: Professor David McCann of Harvard University, Professor Edward Baker of Harvard University, Professor Sung-Yoon Lee of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, Ms. Suyeon Yang, Chairwoman of the Jeju 4.3 Memorial and Families Association of the U.S.
Each speaker held a brush to paint together a moving yet troubling portrait. Professor Baker began by showing that the United States bears culpability in this terrible chapter of Korean history. A history not long ago, yet so easily forgotten. Next, Dr. McCann spoke of the terrible pain of the victims as embedded through literature. But to know the victims' pain is only one part of the picture. Who could do such a thing? Who had the authority to carry out such a killing?
Dr. Lee, a renowned expert on U.S.-Korea relations, was direct and effective, calling on President Joe Biden to pay his respects at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park, a beautiful 88-acre sanctuary on Jeju Island that commemorates the victims of this great tragedy.
Professor Lee reminded Biden that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in 2016. The Jeju Massacre victims should not remain invisible to the world any longer.
Suyeon Yang then brought vivid colors to the portrait. This isn' t just some event in the annals of history for her. It's personal. Ms. Yang shared how her father lost his own father and two ofhis brothers-her uncles-in this horrific massacre. In particular, she shared how this critical part of Korean history has long been suppressed by the state.
Speakers joining from South Korea via recorded videos included: Doh-ol Kim Young-ok, Im-jong Oh, Chairman of the Jeju 4.3 Free Families Association, Oh Kwang-hyeon, Chairman of the 4.3 Bereaved Family of Japan, Koh Hee-beom, Chairman of the 4·3 Peace Foundation, Heo Young-sun, Director of the 4·3 Research Institute, Oh Young-hoon, Member of the N ationalAssembly, and Professor Taek-Kwang Lee at Kyunghee University.
Together they brought depth to the canvas, helping us understand the stark realities of what happened and how the painful past impacts the world today shocking realities of how power, ideology, and human nature can result in horrific outcomes.
The event was a combination of commemoration and short lectures hosted by Walden Korea, an academic and cultural platform, and the Jeju 4.3 Memorial and Families Association of the U.S. It brought together graduate students from both Tufts and Harvard, as well as researchers and those interested in Korean history, shedding a light on the gaps in knowledge of the complex history. It was a light that would never have been seen under the cover of silence and darkness.
The Salpuri dancer Kang Eun-Ju and Mr. Sungyoon Park
Further raising awareness on American soil, eight days later, on April 9th, a commemoration was held at the New York Academy in Bayside, New York. The service began with a screening of Jiseul: Unfinished Years 2, a film by director Oh Meuk depicting the story of Jeju 4.3. Ms. Yang followed with words that brought to light both facts and emotions.
A memorial poem, Poet Heo Young-sun's, "Before the Law;' was recited passionately by Jennifer Eun Joo Kim. The Salpuri dancer Kang Eun-Ju's moving dance was an appropriate finale to the commemoration of such a dark yet critical chapter in Korean history. Mr. Sungyoon Park artfully presided over the event as the master of ceremony. Due to Covid-19, only pre-registered people could attend in person. Many others participated online via Zoom.
Though only a first step, these two events are a critical first step in unveiling the truth and seeking reconciliation. There is no truth without awareness, and no awareness without effort. And no justice without the truth. Both Walden Korea and The Jeju 4.3 Memorial and Families Association will continue to raise awareness on the tragic events of the Jeju Island Massacre and shed light on this very dark chapter. ■