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

By Davis, Stephen F., Jr. | Naval War College Review, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

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


Davis, Stephen F., Jr., Naval War College Review


Bateman, Robert L. No Gun Ri: A Military History of the Korean War Incident. Mechanicsburg, Penna.: Stackpole, 2002. 288pp. $22.95

On 11 January 2001, Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced that in June 1950, U.S. soldiers "killed or injured an unconfirmed number of Korean refugees . . . in the vicinity of No Gun Ri." This announcement preceded the release of an investigation convened in response to an Associated Press article that documented the massacre of hundreds of Korean civilians by U.S. soldiers under orders. The article eventually earned a Pulitzer Prize for the Associated Press and thrust the story to front-page news.

For nearly fifty years, the No Gun Ri incident languished in the backwaters of military history. Despite understandable Korean interest, few American researchers delved into this difficult period until early 1999, when AP correspondents Charles Hanley and Martha Mendoza uncovered a "smoking gun," a confessed U.S. Army massacre participant, and broke the story to a readership anxious to hear about U.S. wartime atrocities.

The truth is not so simple, however. According to Bateman, the AP was working with inconsistent or incorrect information and knew their version was questionable before the article was published. Concurrent with the Army's investigation into the incident, Bateman (an experienced infantry officer himself) examined what transpired at No Gun Ri and tried to resolve the discrepancies between what he knew of 7th Cavalry history, the soldiers who were there, and the details of the AP story. From his investigation and his subsequent writings, Bateman has captured important aspects of the military reality of that time, the frustrations associated with presenting unimpeachable history about a fifty-year-old event, and the dangers of a free press run amok.

Bateman's treatise is divided into two major sections: first, a soldier's review of the tactical situation at the end of July 1950 and the military record of the events at No Gun Ri; and second, a less relevant examination of the Associated Press's publication of the original story.

The military analysis is generally solid and clearly backed by an infantry soldier's appreciation for the life-and-death challenges that faced young men of the 7th Cavalry in the early days of the war. Bateman relies on U.S. primary sources, extensive interviews, and reconnaissance photographs to debunk many "facts" reported by the AP and a group of former Korean refugees who are now parties to a four-hundred-million-dollar lawsuit against the U.S. government. Unfortunately, Bateman also draws a number of conclusions (e.g., that communist sympathizers fired at U.S. soldiers from inside a group of civilian refugees) that are supported only by circumstantial evidence. Interestingly, he chose not to refer to Korean primary sources, citing translation challenges and tainted testimony, and used only sources available on this side of the Pacific. …

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