1950: Col. Choi Chang-Shik, military engineer

On this date in 1950, an unfortunate military engineer was shot by the South Korean government for trying to obey his orders.

As North Korea overran South Korea in the opening months of the Korean War, it put the government in Seoul to flight. A predictably chaotic situation attended South Korea’s evacuation of its capital in the summer of 1950, with Korean and American agents frantically destroying anything of potential value to the invading army.

Among the things mooted for destruction were the bridges crossing the Han River south of Seoul, and in the confusion of the evacuation, some bridges were indeed blown early on June 28 — killing hundreds of civilians and soldiers who were trying to escape over them.

All hands on this unpleasant affair quickly scrubbed themselves clean; James Hausman, the (underappreciated*) American military advisor who was instrumental in creating the South Korean military, denied it but seems to have given the order by way of his Korean collaborator Chae Byong-deok.

Choi, the luckless military engineer who carried out the operation, was left holding the bag and drew a death sentence for gross misconduct on September 15, the same date the Americans counterattacked by landing at Inchon.

After the 1961 coup led by Park Chung-hee — a gentleman we’ve met in these pages — Choi’s conviction was reversed upon an appeal from his widow.

[I]n accordance with operational orders from a superior officer. Choi tried to stop people and cars approaching the bridge by firing over people’s heads and delaying the explosion for forty minutes. His behavior was according to military behavior.

* See “Captain James H. Hausman and the Formation of the Korean Army, 1945-1950,” Armed Forces & Society, Summer 1997, Vol. 23, Issue 4.