2014 marks the 50th anniversary of South Korean troops deploying to South Vietnam to fight alongside Americans in the Vietnam War. While the Korean government and veterans’ groups had begun planning commemorative events in honor of the hundreds of thousands who served and the 4,960 who never returned, the Vietnamese government has requested that Seoul not hold official commemorative events.
Online, Koreans were overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Vietnamese position, and expressed strong regret for a war that is most often associated in South Korea with massacres of Vietnamese civilians, Agent Orange, and a mercenary relationship with the United States. In addition, many netizens talked about how public support for the Vietnam War could undermine their own efforts to get Japan to stop honoring its colonial aggression.
Video of the celebrations when Korean troops first left for Vietnam
Article from Segye Ilbo:
South Korea is under pressure to not celebrate 50th anniversary of Korean troop deployment to Vietnam.
-Vietnam has conveyed its concerns over possible diplomatic friction between Hanoi and Seoul as South Korea weighs the effect on military morale of withholding ceremony.
The Vietnamese government has officially requested South Korea not mark the 50th anniversary of the dispatch of soldiers to Vietnam, presenting a dilemma for the nation. South Korea has recently been preparing celebrations while at the same time conducting negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement with the Southeast Asian country.
> A South Korean government official said on January 9th, “The year 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the Korean army deployment to the Vietnam War, and the preparations for a commemorative event are under way in collaboration of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (MPVA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). We recently received a request from the Vietnamese government to refrain from holding a commemoration, placing the government in a predicament.”
In its request, the Vietnamese government is reported to have referred to possible negative repercussions on economic and cultural exchanges between Hanoi and Seoul if the South Korean government proceeds in holding a celebration.
The MPVA has already established a task force in charge of holding a 50th anniversary ceremony.
From a critical perspective, South Korea’s deployment for the Vietnam War has its own downsides: War veterans suffering from defoliant after serving in the Vietnam War; Dispatched South Korean soldiers are accused of having served as mercenaries for the United State. These negative views are raising hurdles to a government-sponsored event.
Another obstacle is a South Korea-Vietnam agreement hammered out in 1992, when the two countries established diplomatic relations. Seoul concurred in the agreement to put the past behind and enhance bilateral cooperation for a future-oriented development.
As things stand, the government should take into consideration the imminent conclusion of a free trade pact with Vietnam.
Over the past 22 years, Seoul and Hanoi have witnessed the bilateral trade volume grow more than 40-fold, making Vietnam South Korea’s second largest export market following Singapore in South East Asia.
An MPVA official said, “We will draw up a celebration plan after seeing how the United States hold a ceremony for the Vietnam War, currently scheduled for April. We can put the focus of the ceremony on multiculturalism and Lai Dai Han(a Vietnamese term for a mixed ancestry person born to a South Korean father and a Vietnamese mother–including the victims of Korean soldiers–during the Vietnam War), with a view to setting the stage for the two countries to get over their bloody past and move toward a bright future.”
A group of Vietnam War veterans claim that the anniversary should spotlight the sacrifices of war veterans, raising the prospect of tension with the government.
South Korea sent eight combat units, for a total of 312,853 personnel, to the Vietnam War for eight and a half years between 1964 and 1973. 4,960 South Korean soldiers were killed and 10,962 wounded in Vietnam.
Comments from Daum:
The Vietnam War cannot be justified. Although our country sent its troops to Vietnam due to circumstances, it is appropriate to pass the anniversary quietly.
That’s not worth commemorating. As if killing people was something worthwhile.
Put yourselves in Vietnam’s shoes. Vietnam’s request is the exercise of its legitimate sovereignty.
Don’t hold a ceremony. The deployment to kill people was anything but something to be proud of. I am sorry for the Vietnamese people. I hope that we will skip the ceremony, and express our condolences.
The negative view towards South Korea’s engagement in the Vietnam War is not because of the damage caused by defoliants or serving as mercenaries. Some soldiers committed cruel acts like civilian massacres, rape and abandoning Lai Dai Han, and the miliary leaders who condoned such acts for strategic reasons remain unrepentant. It’s tragic that a country that was liberated from Japanese colonial rule sent its troops to interfere with another country’s independence war.
The growth of Vietnam makes it possible for them to raise their voice about historical issues. Now is the time for objective historical studies to be conducted about South Korea’s deployment of troops to Vietnam. If it turns out that we committed wrongdoings, we need to apologize properly. Only then can South Korea have a strong stance to Japan on historical disputes.
I support the Vietnamese government’s stance. Consider how we slammed Japan’s Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. If South Korea keeps on upholding our past, it will impose obstacles to the future partnership between the two countries. I don’t think highlighting veterans’ participation in the Vietnam War will boost military morale and honor. I think it is right to completely embrace the Vietnamese government’s request.
Comments from Naver:
If Vietnam tells you not to do it, just don’t do it. South Korea’s deployment of its troops to Vietnam was for economic reasons, not for the sake of Vietnam. It was all the more futile because South Vietnam did not end up winning the war. It is something we should be apologetic about as a nation, not something to be praised. Be responsive to Vietnam. All the more so when we demand Japan to be apologetic about their wrongdoings. We should treat others in a way that we hope they will treat us.
The anniversary event isn’t important. What’s important is the compensation for the victims. We should not offend Vietnam with some vain celebrations, and it would be more reasonable to use the event budget to treat war veterans suffering from defoliants. Interfering with another country’s civil war wasn’t something to be proud of, and commemorating it is tantamount to Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.
For our national interests, we need to refrain from marking the anniversary. Just as we got hurt by Japan, we should not hurt another country.
Actually the deployment of our troops in the Vietnam War is a shameful part of our history. Our participation in the war is not something we can boast of. The dispatched troops killed numerous Vietnamese in the name of national interest. The participation in the war allowed South Korea to get economic assistance from the United States, but this is definitely not something we can be proud of. We need to realize that the Vietnamese bear animosity against the United States and South Korea as much as they love their war hero Ho Chi Minh. I hope we will try to do something to be sincerely forgiven for what the deployed troops committed against the Vietnamese.
It’s true that our participation in the Vietnam War contributed to our economy, but many Korean soldiers and Vietnamese died or got hurt. If Vietnam doesn’t want us to mark the anniversary, I wish that the government will reduce the size of the event or hold it quietly.
How would we feel if China celebrated its participation in the Korean War?
My father is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and is recognized for his service to the nation under a special defoliant act. I completed my mandatory military service in Gangwan Province. My father said, “South Korea owed a lot to Vietnam.” I think we need to acknowledge that we committed wrongdoings and seek forgiveness from victims of the war first of all. It is up to those victims that decide on whether to forgive us or not.
I am working in Vietnam. The local young Vietnamese are considerably friendly toward South Korea, contrary to my expectations. I think it’s due to the popularity of Korean TV dramas here. However, a controversy over South Korea’s responsibility in the Vietnam War remains in the back of people’s minds. Sometimes I have a talk over drinks with some Vietnamese friends about issues like civilian massacres and Lai Dai Han. Although I don’t speak Vietnamese very well, I noticed that their perception is much worse about Lai Dai Han than about the war atrocities.