It was 3:30 a.m. when the Jeeps and trucks loaded with soldiers began rolling into Seoul. At the Han River bridge, six confused military police guards made the mistake of resisting and were shot on the spot. Columns of marines and paratroopers raced unopposed to the center of the city, surrounding government buildings, blocking intersections and firing into the air to frighten the populace.
One squad headed straight for the Bando Hotel to arrest Manhattan-educated Premier John M. Chang, whom the army expected to find asleep in his eighth-floor suite. But Chang and his family had slipped away a few minutes before, were already safely hidden at a friend's house. When dawn came, the coup was complete. Seoul seemed almost normal but for the heavy guards at every intersection and the orders blaring over the radio from the headquarters of peppery little Lieut. General Chang Do Yung, 38, chief of staff of the 600,000-man ROK army, who now declared himself "chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee." Proclaiming martial law, General Chang ordered the Cabinet arrested, halted all civil air flights, banned political parties, forbade meetings and decreed censorship for the newspapers.I have to admit, before reading these articles, I'd had no idea who Chang was, though the press seemed to have a good idea of what was going on:
The revolutionary committee's first communique pledged to "oppose Communism as its primary objective . . . root out corruption . . . solve the misery of the masses . . . transfer power to new and conscientious politicians as soon as our mission has been completed, and return to our original duties."
Was General Chang the new boss? The man who planned the coup was not Chang but his powerful colleague on the junta, Major General Pak Chung Hi, 44. Reportedly, Pak's representatives went to Chang, told him that if he did not come to lead the coup, "we will have to kill you." Even as the uprising got under way, General Chang rushed off to see [US General] Magruder; for most of the first day, it was not certain whether Chang would lead the revolt or quell it.An article a week later described the progress of the new rulers:
A week after their military revolt, South Korea's generals were full of puritanical zeal. Khaki-clad troops with rifles patrolled the streets of Seoul, arresting jaywalkers and hauling prostitutes off to the cells. Caught dancing in a nightclub, 45 hapless young men and women were herded before stern military judges and sentenced to terms of up to a year in jail; when the police ran out of handcuffs, they lashed the prisoners together with ropes. To keep people at home nights, the authorities arrested 10,000 for violating the nightly curfew—including those who had to leave after dark for medical care. "Under martial law," snapped an officer, "you shouldn't get sick."
A month after the coup came this report:
Some 1,380 village headmen, soldiers and policemen were dismissed for keeping concubines. Three thousand government officials were fired for draft dodging. More than 10,000 known gangsters have been arrested and put to work in mines and road projects. Expense accounts have been abolished for government officials, who have been warned that arriving even five minutes late for work can mean instant dismissal. Gone are the high-powered smugglers' launches that once thronged Korea's harbors. Gone, too, are the "terrible tots" who extorted money from passing women by threatening to smear dirty hands on their dresses.Hmm. The 'terrible tots' would be a great scam outside wedding halls. The gangsters forced to work in mines sounds vaguely similar to the Samcheong camps Chun Doo-hwan ran after his coup. At any rate, Park finally 'came out' a few weeks later:
Last week, after only a month and a half, South Korea's military revolution was already devouring its own offspring. Out went Junta Boss Lieut. General Chang Do Yung, front man for the new regime. In came Major General Pak Chung Hi, Chang's former "deputy" and the real strongman behind the May coup.In August an article appeared about Korea's muzzled press, telling us that "The junta wasted no time in swooping down on the rampant press, quickly outlawed 76 newspapers and 305 agencies, imprisoned 200 bogus newsmen" (sounds like Chun Doo-hwan again). The funniest quote of this whole series of articles comes from a 'leading editor': "We have a country boy running Korea now. He's not sophisticated. There's no sense in getting him sore."
Ostensibly, General Chang quit of his own free will. In fact, his retirement had been hastened by a truckload of Pak's troops, who swooped onto General Chang's home in the predawn hours and hustled the startled victim off to Seoul's capitol building. Getting the point, General Chang called an emergency cabinet meeting and made his announcement. Then, with three other members of the junta, the hapless general vanished from sight, presumably to take up residence in sprawling Mapo prison. [General Chang was actually put under house arrest, then later sent to Seodaemun prison].
Announcing a new law providing penalties up to death for Communist collaborators, the junta arrested former Premier John Chang and seven of his Democratic Party Cabinet ministers who were in his Cabinet before the May 16 coup, labeling them "proCommunist plotters." Although John Chang is a Catholic and a well-known antiCommunist, Pak accused him of "helping antistate, pro-Communist activity" by contributing the sum of $770 to a South Korean relief society. [Chang was kept under house arrest for six months after the coup and released just before Park's November visit to Washington.]
An article in November described South Korea's transformation under the junta:
The transformation is being pressed by an unending blizzard of decrees. The junta's latest is an order to bars, cabarets and nightclubs to install lighting bright enough to discourage any hanky-panky between male and female customers. [...]Interesting that a generation later, similar ideas about frugality would surface during the economic crisis in 1997. Too bad they didn't stick with the ban on wooden chopsticks...
[T]he junta is doggedly unsentimental. Engagement rings and dowries are out. Funeral services may no longer be pompous, lengthy and expensive as in the past, but should be brisk, cheap and austere; among other things, the custom of bowing three times before the funeral altar will be streamlined down to a single bow. Newly forbidden is the use of wooden, disposable chopsticks in Korea's 11,676 restaurants and teahouses—the government wants to conserve the country's dwindling timber reserves; instead, the use and reuse of plastic chopsticks is urged.
October was proclaimed "The New Life Month"; at principal Seoul intersections loudspeakers alternated martial "reconstruction music" with sermonizings ("Hello, beloved people of our city, we would like to offer you some advice on our New Life"). South Korea's 200,000 civil servants have been pledged not only to live "model lives of austerity and respectability" but also to wear austerity suits, if they are men, austerity dresses, if they are women.
Though the article credits the junta for some good changes ("Seoul's normally dirty streets are now perceptibly cleaner, the once chaotic traffic is almost miraculously smooth") it criticizes things like the huge fines placed on prosperous businesses ("In one district of Pusan alone, 400 shops have closed") and the "junta-imposed embargo on virtually all imports" ("Coke and U.S. cigarettes are out, and domestic "reconstruction cigarettes" now lead the field"), though it states that
The import restrictions are theoretically necessary to redress South Korea's chronically unfavorable trade balance ; before the coup the country imported ten times as much as it exported. But the ban on imports has also denied shopkeepers the wares they need to stay in business, and backward domestic industry is incapable of filling the void.If you combine the austerity measures with redressing the trade balance, you begin to move into the territory of Park's measures to attain self-sufficiency in rice production, which is described here.
We're also finally given a number regarding those who have broken all the new laws:
Since the junta's takeover, some 40,000 people have been arrested, and though most have been released, the police remain capricious. Recently, when a Korean professor invited some of his students out for dinner at a restaurant, cops arrested him. The charge: illegal assembly.The ultimate punishment was carried out in December, when five people were executed at Seodaemun Prison (though if you go there today, you would think that only the Japanese did such things there). In January 1962, former Army Chief of Staff General Chang Do Yung, convinced at gunpoint to become the public face of the coup plotters before being arrested six weeks later, was put on trial and sentenced to death. This was later commuted to life in prison, and then in May 1962, before the first anniversary of the coup, he was freed.
As mentioned before, Park had restricted imports, so he wasn't very pleased with smugglers, especially those bringing in luxury items in a time of imposed austerity. Thus, as a March, 1962
article quotes him, "The sight of luxury goods arouses wanton desires in the mind of the people. Burn them."
Condemned to the fire were all contraband cosmetics, ornaments. Hong Kong brocade, alligator-skin handbags, Swiss watches, radios, phonographs and records, foreign-made suitings. American shirts and neckties, Japanese toys, imported liquor, American cigarettes and tobacco, imported cooking oils and seasonings—more than 200 items in all. [...] In the campaign against smugglers, twelve so far have been sentenced to death.The story of Han Pil Kook, a smuggler who was hanged in April, is related here. On a happier note, like Chang Do Yung, 13000 prisoners were pardoned on the first anniversary of his coup.
By August 1962, according to Time, things began to slide back to the old ways (partly because the old ways made a lot more money).
Also interesting is the reaction of the US to the coup (and the use of troops under UN command to carry it out).
Almost as soon as the sound of the junta's guns rattled Seoul's windows, [General Carter Magruder and ambassardor Marshall Green] were out of bed and drafting public statements condemning the revolt and backing the government of Premier Chang. Neither waited to consult Washington. General Magruder urged that Korean armed forces chiefs "use their authority and influence to see that control is immediately turned back to the lawful governmental authorities.'' Added Diplomat Green: "I wish to make it emphatically clear that the United States supports the constitutional government."Green and Magruder would soon find themselves having sided with the loser, much to the US government's chagrin. Eager to push the junta to become more democratic, they were not helped by retired U.S. General James A. Van Fleet, "the father of the ROK army," who visited Seoul in July 1961 and, despite the stance of the US government, stated that the coup was "The finest thing that has happened to Korea in a thousand years." The article ends with the sigh of an embassy aide: "He could have better helped both Americans and Koreans here by remaining silent."
Presumably the only person in this photo not to die from a
bullet to the head would be that cameraman ...
Park Chung-hee would visit the US in November of 1961 and find the US government slowly beginning to accept him.
The Kennedy Administration has little fondness for Park's military junta, which has dissolved the legislature, curbed freedom of the press, and taken an estimated 40,000 political prisoners (most of whom have been released). But with Communist pressure mounting in Asia, the U.S. badly needs a stable government in South Korea. Without U.S. support, General Park's government would soon topple—and the alternative might be far worse. Said one U.S. official: "What we don't want is a never-ending stream of coups and colonels in South Korea."Korea has seen only one coup since that time (or two - was Kim Je-gyu's assassination of Park a coup?). What's interesting is that the Park family photo below, taken near the end of his presidency, contains almost all of the main players in both incidents - Kim's assassination of Park on October 26 1979, and Chun Doo-hwan's takeover of the armed forces on December 12 of that year. The only person missing is Kim Je-gyu, head of the KCIA. In the front row we have the family - Geun-hye, Geun-young, Dad, and Ji-man, as well as Chung (Jeong) Seung-hwa (army chief of staff); in the back row is Chun Doo-whan (head of Defense Security Command), Cha Ji-cheol (Blue House security chief), and Kim Gye-won (Blue house chief secretary).
It's interesting that the students, who had set in motion the events that overthrew Syngman Rhee's dictatorship, were quiet during Park's coup in 1961. I suppose it helped that Park took over the government from the beginning and kept a fearsome profile backed by military power. Chun's coup was a quieter affair, in which he took over the armed forces and then began to amass more power, heading both Defense Security Command (military intelligence) and then the KCIA. Veteran activists, who had stood against Park's rule and who were allowed back on campuses after his death, organized students and made clear what Chun was doing, and eventually held large protests off campus in Seoul for the first time in 5 years, giving Chun the excuse he needed to follow in Park's footsteps and take over the government, which he did by extending martial law on May 17th, 1980. Again, the students were quieted by the show of military force, despite the existence of plans to meet in certain public areas in the event of martial law. In Seoul, these plans were never followed. In Kwangju, they were.
None of his family was present the night he died, though everyone else, other then Chun, was. Chung was in a separate part of the compound, and had been supposed to dine separately with Kim Je-gyu that night before the dinner with Park was announced, so Kim entertained Chung separately. Kim killed Park and Cha, though left Kim Kye-won unharmed. The latter would eventually reveal that Kim Je-gyu was the killer, and at the cabinet meeting when prime minister Choi Gyu-hwa was made president, Chun Doo-hwan would be chosen to investigate the assassination. When it became clear that Chun was too ambitious, army chief of staff Chung decided to reassign him; Chun found out and decided to use Chung's unexplained presence at the compound the night of the assassination as an excuse to remove him from power and so the 12.12 coup came to be. If that's all too confusing, watching The Presidents Last Bang would likely help, as might this post about the 12.12 coup and Choi Gyu-hwa's presidency.
More photos of Park Chung-hee and his reign can be found here.