Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



In the Fall of 1999, the Associated Press reported a story of an alleged massacre of Korean civilians, conducted by U.S. troops at the beginning of the Korean War in the hamlet of No Gun Ri. The story had an incendiary effect, both in the United States and abroad. The story of an incident from half-a-century ago caused many to reexamine the conduct of American forces in that war, the current security arrangements in East Asia, the U.S.-R.O.K. relationship, and the wisdom and ability of modem Americans to investigate, evaluate, and judge historical events from our current historical and cultural perspective.

International law has developed a detailed body of law dealing with war crimes through the Nuremberg Charter and the Geneva Conventions. Prosecution of war criminals by International Tribunals has been nearly non-existent since the end of the Second World War. International law appears to eliminate the defense of "superior orders," but U.S. military law is not so clear. It seems highly doubtful that the United States would allow an international body to determine the fates of any accused in this incident.

This note seeks to investigate the tangle of U.S. military law, International law, and political calculations that must be considered in developing a solution to the No Gun Ri Massacre. It also reviews the evidence and the on-going investigations as they currently stand. Finally, it offers suggestions for what the government should do if and when it determines that the situation has moved from mere allegations to verifiable facts.