Choi wasn’t in Phong Nhi when the massacre began, only approaching the village after hearing that South Korean troops were killing civilians. He watched the violence unfold from about 300 meters away, listening to the sound of gunshots and explosions. When he returned to the village about an hour later, he found burning houses and bodies piled on top of one another.
“The U.S. forces and I entered the village and searched for survivors and they photographed [the site]. I saw my relatives’ bodies. There were two babies who were still breathing in the pile of dead bodies in the village.”
But unlike the soured relations between South Korea and Japan, the atrocities committed by South Korean troops appear to be a mere blip in bilateral ties with Vietnam, one that both governments seem happy to brush aside. The Vietnamese government has chosen not to amplify South Korea’s wartime atrocities, rarely discussing it in public. The lack of pressure from civil society, which has little space to flourish in Vietnam, and a diminishing awareness among younger generations, has also made it easier for the government to ignore the issue.“The role of Koreans in the war is less well-known among the younger generation,” Vu Minh Hoang, a faculty member in history and Vietnam studies at the Fulbright University Vietnam, told VICE World News. “To the victims and those who remember, it is of great significance, but not to the general public who is largely unaware [of it].”Today, South Korea is one of Vietnam’s largest foreign investors, and Hoang said that since the Doi Moi economic liberalization reforms of the 1980s, Hanoi has prioritized political and economic ties with South Korea, and is “willing to play down the past atrocities.”
“South Korea is used to playing the role of a victim of Japanese imperialism and North Korean aggression, so recognition of [South] Korean war crimes, especially towards the civilians of a communist enemy, is particularly jarring.”