December 17, 1963 – October 26, 1979
|Preceded by||Yun Po-sun|
|Succeeded by||Choi Kyu-ha|
|Born||September 30, 1917
Gumi-si, North Gyeongsang, Japanese-ruled Korea (now South Korea)
|Died||October 26, 1979 (aged 62)
Seoul, South Korea
|Political party||Democratic Republican|
|Service/branch||Manchukuo Imperial Army
Korean Liberation Army
Republic of Korea Army
|Rank||ROK Army General|
|Revised Romanization||Bak Jeonghui|
Park Chung-hee (September 30, 1917 – October 26, 1979) was a Republic of Korea Army general and the leader of South Korea (the Republic of Korea) from 1961 to 1979. He has been criticized for his authoritarian way of ruling the country (especially after 1971), but is also credited with the industrialization of the Republic of Korea through export-led growth. His rule was ended by his assassination in 1979. He was named one of the top 100 Asians of the Century by Time magazine (1999).
Park was born in Gyeongsangbuk-do Kumi during the Japanese occupation. His father was Park Seong-bin (age 46 at the time) and his mother was Baek Nam-hui (age 45). His eldest brother was Park Dong-hee (age 22); second brother was Park Mu-hee (age 19); eldest sister was Park Gwi-hee (age 15); third brother was Park Sang-hee (age 11); fourth brother was Park Han-saeng (age 7); and his youngest sister was Park Jae-hee (age 5).
Park came from an undistinguished local branch of the Goryeong Park clan.
Park won admission to the Daegu Teacher's Gymnasium, which was a favored high school for prospective primary teachers. He entered on April 8, 1932 and graduated on March 25, 1937, after five years of study. His formative years coincided with the Japanese invasion of China, starting with the Manchurian incident in 1931 and culminating in the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Park went on to teach for several years in Mungyeong, where the primary school has been preserved as a museum.
In April 1940, Park enrolled in the Manchukuo Imperial Army Academy, and on completing his studies with top marks in 1942, was selected for officer training at the Army Staff College in Japan. After graduating third in his class, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 8th Infantry Division of the Manchukuo Army, and served during the final stages of World War II. At the time he used the Japanese name "Okamoto Minoru". After the war, he went on to serve in the military of the Republic of South Korea but was expelled in 1948 when it was discovered that he had participated in a communist cell organized within the South Korean army. During the Korean War he rejoined the military and became an expert at logistics. He received a year of special training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He rose steadily through the ranks, eventually reaching the rank of general.
Syngman Rhee, the first president of the Republic of Korea, was forced out of office on April 26, 1960 as an aftermath of the April 19 Movement, a student-led uprising. A new government took office on August 13. This was a short-lived period of parliamentary rule in Republic of Korea with a figurehead president, Yun Bo-seon; the real power was vested in Prime Minister Chang Myon.
Yun and Chang did not command the respect of the majority of the Democratic Party. They could not agree on the composition of the cabinet and Chang attempted to hold the tenuous coalition together by reshuffling cabinet positions three times within five months.
Meanwhile, the new government was caught between an economy that was suffering from a decade of mismanagement and corruption by the Rhee presidency and the students who had led to Rhee's ouster. The students regularly filled the streets, making numerous and wide-ranging demands for political and economic reforms. Law and order could not be maintained because the police, long an instrument of the Rhee government, were demoralized and had been completely discredited by the public. Continued factional wrangling caused the public to turn away from the party.
Park then led a military coup (called the 5.16 coup d'état) on May 16, 1961, a coup largely welcomed by a general populace exhausted by political chaos. Although Prime Minister Chang resisted the coup efforts, President Yun sided with the junta and persuaded the United States Eighth Army and the commanders of various South Korean army units not to interfere with the new rulers. Soon, Park Chung-hee was promoted to Lieutenant General.
The Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) was created on June 19, 1961 to prevent a countercoup and to suppress all potential enemies, domestic and international. It was to have not only investigative power, but also the power to arrest and detain anyone suspected of wrongdoing or harboring antijunta sentiments. The KCIA extended its power to economic and foreign affairs under its first director, Colonel (retired) Kim Jong-pil, a relative of Park and one of the original planners of the coup.
President Yun remained in office to provide legitimacy to the regime, but resigned on March 24, 1962. Park then became Acting President as well as chairman of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction and was promoted to full general. Following pressure from the Kennedy administration in the United States, Park finally relented and agreed to restore civilian rule. He narrowly won the 1963 election as the candidate of the newly-created Democratic Republican Party over Yun, candidate of the Civil Rule Party. He was re-elected in 1967, again defeating Yun by a narrow margin.
Park is generally credited as playing a pivotal role in the development of South Korea's economy by shifting its focus to export-oriented industrialization. When he came to power in 1961, South Korean per capita income was only USD 72, and North Korea was a greater economic and military power on the peninsula due to large amounts of economic, technical and financial aid, which came from the Soviet Union and other communist bloc countries such as East Germany and Poland.
Park's leadership saw a remarkable development of industries and rise in the standard of living of average South Korean citizens during his presidency. Many still question Park's judgment, however, as his 1965 normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan had been extremely unpopular and resulted in widespread unrest as memories from Japan's 36-year colonization of Korea proved vivid. However, by normalizing relations with Japan, Park allowed Japanese capital & technology to flow into the country. These aids and loans—although criticized by many Koreans to be too meager for the 36 years of occupation by Imperial Japan—along with American aid, helped to restore the depleted capital of South Korea. Nonetheless, it must be noted that with North Korea's economy at the time being bigger and more vibrant than that of South Korea, Park did not have many options or much time to negotiate for more fitting reparations and apologies. This issue still plagues Japan and South Korea's relationship today.
Park clamped down on personal freedoms under the provisions of a state of emergency dating to the Korean War. Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the press were often curtailed. The KCIA retained broad powers of arrest and detention, and opponents were frequently tortured.
The electoral system was also heavily rigged in favor of Park's Democratic Republican Party, which routinely won large majorities in the National Assembly. Opposition parties and leaders were subjected to varying degrees of official harassment. Park was reelected in 1967 against Yoon.
The Constitution of 1963 limited the president to two consecutive terms, and Park had promised after being sworn in for his second term that he would leave office in 1971. However, with the assistance of the KCIA, Park's allies in the legislature succeeded in amending the Constitution to allow the current president—himself—to run for three consecutive terms. In 1971, Park won another close election, this time over Kim Dae-jung.
Just after being sworn in for his third term, Park declared a state of emergency "based on the dangerous realities of the international situation." In October 1972, he dissolved Parliament and suspended the Constitution. In December, a new constitution, the Yusin Constitution, was approved in a heavily rigged plebiscite after a vigorous campaign on its behalf by the heavily-censored press. It borrowed the word "Yusin" (維新) from the Meiji Restoration (Meiji Ishin; 明治維新) of Imperial Japan. He drew inspiration for his self-coup from Ferdinand Marcos' similar move a few weeks earlier.
The new document dramatically increased Park's power. It transferred the election of the president to an electoral college, the National Conference for Unification. The presidential term was increased to six years, with no limits on reelection. In effect, the constitution converted Park's presidency into a legal dictatorship. Park was re-elected in 1972 and 1978 with no opposition.
The growth of the South Korean economy secured a level of support for the Park Chung-hee presidency in the 1960s, but that support started to fade after economic growth started slowing and because of the authoritarian measures taken by Park. By the late 1970s, demonstrations against the Yushin system erupted throughout the country indicating Park’s rising level of unpopularity.
A demonstration that hurt Park’s popularity was the “Pu-Ma struggle.” On October 16, 1979, student demonstrations calling for the end of dictatorship and the Yushin system began at Busan National University and moved into the streets of the city. Students and the riot police fought all day, and by the evening, 50,000 people had gathered in front of the city hall. After several public offices were attacked and around 400 protesters were arrested, the government declared martial law in Busan on October 18. On October 18, the protests spread to Masan. Students from Kyungnam University in Masan also participated in protests, which spread and resulted in 10,000 mostly students and workers joining the struggle against the Yushin System. They began attacking the police station and city offices of the ruling party, and a city-wide curfew was put into place.
The rising unrest in the public contributed to the sense of urgency in the government, and hence, to Park Chung-hee’s assassination.
At the request of the United States, Park Chung-hee sent approximately 320,000 South Korean troops to fight alongside the United States and South Vietnam in the Vietnam War. Park wanted to strengthen the military alliance with the United States. But there were also financial incentives for South Korea's participation in the war. Soldiers were paid by the United States government and their salaries were remitted directly to the South Korean government. Park was eager to send troops and vigorously campaigned to extend the war. In return for troop commitments, South Korea received tens of billions of dollars in grants, loans, subsidies, technology transfers, and preferential markets, all provided by the Johnson and Nixon administrations.
Some South Korean soldiers committed war crimes during the Vietnam War and as commander of the Korean Armed Forces, Park has often been accused and held responsible..
On January 19, 1968, an armed North Korean guerrilla unit under the Revolutionary Party for Reunification attempted to assassinate Park and nearly succeeded. They were spotted by four South Korean civilians out cutting wood. After spending several hours trying to indoctrinate the civilians about the benefits of communism, the guerrillas let the civilians free with a stern warning not to notify the police. However, the civilians informed the police that very night.
The guerrillas entered Seoul in two- and three-man cells on January 20 and noticed the increased security measures that had been implemented throughout the city. Realising their original plan had little chance of success, the team leader improvised a new plan. Changing into ROK Army uniforms of the local 26th Infantry Division, complete with the correct unit insignia, which they had brought with them, they formed up and prepared to march the last mile to the Blue House, posing as ROK Army soldiers returning from a counter guerrilla patrol. The unit marched toward the Blue House, passing several National Police and ROK Army units en route. Approximately 800 meters from the Blue House, a police contingent finally halted the unit and began to question them. The nervous North Koreans fumbled their replies, and when one suspicious policeman drew his pistol, a commando shot him. A melee then ensued in which two infiltrators died. The rest of the North Koreans scattered and began racing for the DMZ.
For the next several days, South Korean and American soldiers and police cooperated in a massive manhunt. Three infiltrators were pursued and killed in the Seoul area, while 25 others were eventually hunted down and killed in various firefights, with one infiltrator being captured. Only two of the thirty-one North Koreans could not be accounted for. During the course of this assassination attempt, South Korean casualties totaled sixty-eight killed and sixty-six wounded—mainly army and police but also about two dozen civilians. Three Americans also died and three were wounded in attempts to block the escaping infiltrators. Of thirty North-Korean commandos, all but Kim Shin-Jo were killed.
Three days later, January 23, the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea.
In response to the assassination attempt, the South Korean government reportedly organized the ill-fated Unit 684. This group was intended to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, but was disbanded in 1971.
On August 15, 1974, Park was delivering a speech in the National Theater during a ceremony to celebrate the nation's deliverance from Japanese colonial domination 29 years before, when North Korean agent Mun Se-gwang fired a gun at Park from the front row. The bullets missed the president, but a stray bullet struck his wife Yuk Young-soo, who died later in the day, and one choir girl. Park continued his speech as his dying wife was carried off of the stage.
On October 26, 1979, Park was shot by Kim Jaegyu, the director of the KCIA. Kim claimed that Park was an obstacle to democracy and that his act was one of patriotism. After Kim shot the president to death and the leader of his guards, his agents quickly killed four more of the presidential bodyguards before the group was apprehended. The entire episode is usually either considered a spontaneous act of passion by an individual or as part of a pre-arranged attempted coup by the intelligence service.
The events surrounding Park's assassination inspired the 2005 black comedy 그때 그사람들/"Geuddae geusaramdeul" (English title: The President's Last Bang) by Korean director Im Sang-soo.
It is alleged by supporters that despite his dictatorial rule and the high growth that occurred during his years in power, Park did not engage in corruption and led a simple life. Detractors allege he was simply a brutal dictator and only brought about high growth through military control over labor.
Being a complex man as a policy maker, many Koreans continue to hold Park in high regard in great part due to the industrial and economic growth experienced by South Korea under his presidency. There are also many on the left who condemn Park for the brutality of his dictatorship and for his service to the Japanese army during World War II. Today, Park's critics deplore the widespread human rights abuses in South Korea during his rule. Thousands were arrested and imprisoned for many years merely for criticizing Park in workplaces or bars. A culture of corruption was prevalent too; bribery was common, and often powerful figures in Park's administration confiscated private businesses and other properties. One of the most notorious cases of Park's alleged abuses is the allegation that he ordered that a political rival, Kim Dae-jung (who became the president of the Republic of Korea in the late 1990s) be killed (see Kidnapping of Kim Dae-jung).
His daughter Park Geun-hye was elected the chairman of the conservative Grand National Party in 2004. She has resigned her post in order to prepare a presidential bid for the upcoming election. However, she lost her bid to her intra-party rival, Lee Myung Bak.
|President of South Korea