A statue commemorating the massacre of Vietnamese civilians by South Korean mercenaries during the American war in Vietnam will be unveiled on Wednesday at a press conference hosted by the Korean-Vietnamese Peace Foundation.
The statue, named ‘Vietnam Pieta,’ is the work of married couple Kim Seo Kyung and Kim Eun Sung, the same artists who created the statue of a young girl symbolizing the ‘comfort women’ who were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War.
The name ‘Vietnam Pieta’ echoes the famous 15th-century marble sculpture “Pietà” (Pity) by Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus Christ. The Vietnamese name of the statue is ‘Loi Ru Cuoi Cung’ (The Last Lullaby).
The statue takes the form of a mother embracing a little child, whose eyes are closed and whose hands are slightly clenched against his body, as if protecting him from the outside world.
Cast in bronze, the 150kg sculpture is 70cm wide and 150cm high, resting on a granite base weighing 450kg.
The Committee for the Establishment of a Korean-Vietnamese Peace Foundation plans to use the statue as the model to cast memorials which will be erected in both Vietnam and South Korea in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Korean troops’ massacre of villages in central Vietnam during the war.
The foundation is currently calling for public donations to raise money for the casting of the memorials.
The inspiration for the statue came from stories about innocent Vietnamese children who had been slaughtered in the war that the two artists heard about during their visits to the Southeast Asian country.
“On our visit to Vietnam, we saw countless images of forgotten babies who were massacred, and they became thorns that pierced our eyes. We wanted to record and to console the children who were killed without even knowing why and to convey our remorse and regret,” the couple were quoted by Seoul-based newspaper The Hankyoreh (The Korean Nation) as saying.
According to the artists, ‘Vietnam Pieta’ is a tribute to those who were killed in the massacres, especially young children, and carries a message of apology and repentance of the South Korean people.
A total of 320,000 South Korean troops were sent to Vietnam during the war years of 1965 to 1973, according to The Hankyoreh.
An investigation by the current affairs weekly Hankyoreh 21 and figures from the 1980s from the Vietnamese side’s war crime investigation commission calculated the number of civilians killed by the Korean Tiger division in Tay Vinh Village, located in the south-central Vietnamese province of Binh Dinh, at 1,004 between January and February 1966.
Another 357 were murdered by the Blue Dragon division in Dien Ban Village, situated in the central province of Quang Nam, between January and February 1968, according to the same statistics.
The ‘Vietnam Pieta’ statue by South Korean artists Kim Seo Kyung and Kim Eun Sung. Photo: The Korean-Vietnamese Peace Foundation
South Koreans speak out to demand justice for Vietnamese war victims
The Committee for the Establishment of a Korean-Vietnamese Peace Foundation announced that an event would be held at the Francesco Education Center in Seoul on April 27 to pray for peace between Vietnam and South Korea on the occasion of Vietnam’s Reunification Day (April 30).
The theme of the event is expressed through its slogan, “For an apology to Vietnam, for the righteousness of future generations, for peace across Asia!”
Answering Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper's questions, Kwon Hyun Woo, secretary of the Committee for the Establishment of a Korean-Vietnamese Peace Foundation, said the committee would deliver a statement at the event demanding historical responsibility from the South Korean government for war crimes committed by its army during the war in Vietnam.
These crimes had been ignored for a long time after the war until they were unveiled by the South Korean media in the early 2000s through narratives of Korean veterans who fought in Vietnam.
Since then, many peace-loving individuals and organizations in South Korea have called for an official apology to the Vietnamese people, as well as holding fundraising campaigns to compensate for war damages, especially in places where massacres had occurred such as the central provinces of Phu Yen, Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai, and Quang Nam.
“South Korean society is different now. Even conservative newspapers have started to mention the war in Vietnam, so it is very much possible that there will be moves [made by the South Korean government] to address the issue,” Kwon said.
Established on September 14, 2015, the Korean-Vietnamese Peace Foundation initially consisted of 68 South Korean notables and intellectuals who shared a common vision of building a peace-driven organization through experience drawn from the war in Vietnam.
The foundation’s activities include efforts to heal the scars of war experienced by both nations; educate on peace for future generations through an accurate outlook of history; study, publish, and archive documents on the war; promote peace, reconciliation, and cooperation through bilateral exchange programs; bring to light the truth about the war; and support war victims.
The foundation’s president Prof. Roh Hwa Wook visited Vietnam in February to apologize to Vietnamese civilians who lost their lives in the massacres and attracted much public attention.
Speaking on the responsibility of South Korea for the war in Vietnam, Prof. Roh underscored, “As the relations between Vietnam and South Korea get better and better, I think we can no longer postpone our repentance for what we did in the war in Vietnam.”