Northeast Asian countries share a tumultuous history from the last century. But South Korea stands alone in that it has launched a comprehensive national investigation to take a more balanced look at its tortuous modern history and finally give voice to the many thousands of people who perished in state-sponsored political killings but whose stories have long been silenced.
In the past several years, the South Korean government's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has led an effort to dig into this grim hidden history. It has confirmed dozens of mass political killings during the Korean War—summary executions of leftists and supposed sympathizers, including women and children, who were shot and dumped into makeshift trenches, mine shafts or the sea. Grave by mass grave, investigators and victims' families have unearthed the skeletons and buried truths. No longer shackled by the repression of free speech, victims of the Communist witch-hunts by the post-war military governments in Seoul also began speaking out. The Commission investigated their cases and concluded that state interrogators used torture to extract false confessions from the victims. Its findings led courts to reopen the cases, reverse the old convictions and clear the victims' names, sometimes posthumously. But the Commission's work has also reawakened the painful memories and stoked political controversy in South Korea. It exposed the deep-running ideological divide, reminding South Koreans of the long shadow the Korean War still casts over their society.
Mr. Sang-Hun Choe, whose Pulitzer-winning journalism identified and helped spur the desire of South Koreans to revisit their recent history, has written extensively about the Commission's investigations.