Friday, June 11, 2010

Park Chung-hee's "act of terrorism" and other tales of saving Kim Dae-jung

I stumbled onto this article while looking up information about former US Ambassador to Korea Philip Habib. It's written by Donald A. Ranard, and tells the story of how his father, Donald L. Ranard, a Korea specialist at the State Department, and Ambassador Habib saved Kim Dae-jung's life in 1973 after the KCIA kidnapped him from Japan. As Kim related, he was on a boat in the East Sea with weights tied to his legs when the US intervened; Ranard clarifies this by noting that it was the actions of Habib and his father, a critic of US Korea policy, that saved him. Both "were... old Korea hands who had served as political counselors in the embassy in Seoul in the 1950s and 1960s," and knew that there was no time to ask Washington for instructions, and that "they were unlikely to get the kind of strong and unequivocal response needed to save Kim’s life."
In Seoul, Habib gathered the senior embassy and military staff. “I know how things work here,’’ he told them. “They’re going to wait 24 hours, and if we don’t say anything, Kim will be killed.’’ After the CIA station chief ascertained that the KCIA was indeed the culprit, Habib told his staff to contact every Korean of importance they knew. If they weren’t in their offices, he said, go to their homes. If it was the middle of the night, that was better still - then they would know the United States meant business. [...]

Habib himself met with the prime minister, Park’s number two, and told him straight: If Kim doesn’t come back alive, you are in deep trouble, although “trouble’’ was not the word that Habib, known for his scatological flair, used.

In Washington, my father worked on a statement with his deputy, Wes Kriebel. The wording would be critical. [...] Together, my father and Kriebel worked out the statement. In unusually strong language, it said the United States “deplored’’ the abduction, calling it “an act of terrorism.’’ Washington had a high regard for Kim and a great interest in his security. The statement invited Kim to the United States and called for his “imminent release.’’ There was no reference to the communist threat from the north or any of the other coded phrases that would tell Seoul, in essence: “We don’t like what you’ve done, but we’re not going to do anything about it.’’
Somehow I doubt such actions would be described as an "act of terrorism" today, and it's certainly strong language for an ally, though as the article notes (read the entire thing), Ranard may have released that statement by bypassing the state department's top tier.

This photo (originally posted here) was taken after his release:

Kim Dae-jung faced death again at the hands of Chun Doo-hwan, who blamed him for the Kwangju Uprising (even though he had been arrested before it took place):

He was again saved by diplomatic action by the U.S., and in return for Chun Doo-hwan commuting Kim's death sentence and eventually allowing him to leave Korea for the U.S., the U.S. would allow Chun to visit the White House.

I just stumbled across this interview with Richard Allen, former national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan, who talks about his role in saving Kim Dae-jung's life (the second time).
Initially, Chun wanted a weaker punishment in exchange for attendance at Reagan's presidential inauguration, Allen said. "That was when I knew I had gained the upper hand,'' he said. "Because it was a silly, ignorant mistake.'' Traditionally, no heads of state have ever attended the inauguration of the U.S. president because it is strictly a private affair, Allen said. The security advisor compromised, instead offering that Chun could be received at the White House.

At first, Chun wanted Kim to still serve life in prison, an offer that was "unacceptable'' to Allen and Reagan. He later lowered the charge again to exile, which was officially labeled as "going abroad for medical treatment,'' according to Allen.
This behind the scenes dealing was not known at the time, and the Korean public saw instead only scenes like these:

Chun in the White House.

Chun with an incredibly goofy smile on his face.

Chun with Ambassador Gleysteen.

Then-ambassador William Gleysteen's book Massive Entanglement, Marginal Influence also spends a great deal of time discussing the deal with Chun to save Kim Dae-jung's life. Gleysteen complained about the timing of Chun's visit to the U.S., and the fact that Reagan dispensed with the planned criticism of Chun's regime and instead celebrated their anti-communist alliance.

In one of the more interesting stories of the diplomatic wrangling involved in saving Kim before Reagan took office, Chun told Gleysteen that there were those in the military whose support he needed who wanted Kim dead, and that it would be much easier for him to save Kim in the face of those who wanted him dead if the U.S. refrained from criticizing a guilty verdict at his trial (not too difficult - the U.S. hadn't been publicly criticizing Chun anyways, and Horace Underwood wrote that the "strong undercurrent of anti-American feeling" at the time was "compounded... by platitudinous statements for U.S. domestic and world consumption, which, when transferred back here, come out endorsing the status quo.") In Washington, however, Secretary of State Muskie wanted to publicly condemn Kim's death sentence (perhaps to appease domestic supporters of human rights), which Gleysteen tried to explain would be counterproductive. In the end, Muskie met with Richard Allen, and asked that "Allen join him in a public denunciation. Allen declined after consulting the president-elect."

The Times article details Allen's response to criticism of Chun's visit:
"(His) was an official visit; it was nothing more than that. It was not a state visit nor was he given a state dinner or any other trappings,'' he said. "I made sure of that.''

Other criticisms were based on the belief that Chun was the first foreign head of state to visit the White House during the Reagan administration, granting him a sort of special recognition. Allen arranged the meetings, however, so that Chun would not be the first, but the second visitor, following the prime minister of Jamaica.
Something I didn't know was that even Kim Dae-jung had apparently been unaware of the deal made to save his life [Update - this is considered highly unlikely; see below]:
The secretive nature of the exchange for Kim's life prevented the truth from being leaked, which led to Kim openly criticizing Reagan for "coddling dictators,'' such as Chun.

"So some years later, not even having met Kim Dae-jung in the first place, it occurred to me on one of my many visits to Korea that I should go to see him and straighten him out,'' Allen said. The former security advisor made a trip to Yeouido to meet Kim and his political party, to speak with him personally on the matter. After the details were relayed, Allen said the former president asked, surprised, if the story was true.
After reconfirming, Allen was asked to visit his office the next day and the story was told publicly to the press.

"He sat next to me and was really straightforward,'' Allen said. "I really admire that kind of courage. Instead of perpetuating a myth, he obviously wanted to destroy it.''
Not that the myth of U.S. involvement in Kwangju has gone away, of course. It's necessary to separate the U.S. actions (or lack thereof) during the Uprising (taking into account that Chun controlled the newspapers and actively tried to paint the U.S. as sharing responsibility for Kwangju) from the U.S. response to Chun post-Kwangju, which seemed (and was in many ways) supportive of Chun, as this cable suggests:

More is said about this here, and it's worth noting Gleysteen's assertion that the missionaries could "not be counted on for support", especially considering that Mark Peterson wrote about a meeting between US citizens in Korea and the embassy in 1980 where Horace G. Underwood warned that “Chun is wrapping himself in the American flag. If the United States doesn’t do something about it, it will have ‘hell to pay’ in the future.”

The future was not long in coming. On December 9, 1980 the US Information Service in Kwangju was firebombed, starting a tradition of attacking symbolic targets of US influence and power.

1982: Busan American Information Center arson
1985 5.23-25: USIS in Seoul occupied by 73 students demanding US apology for Kwangju
1985 11.4: 14 students occupy US Chamber of Commerce in Seoul

The US Chamber of Commerce was last attacked by activists in 2002.

As for Kim Dae-jung, he spent three years in the U.S. before returning to Korea in 1985. It was only at some point after his return that he was finally able to visit the Mangwol-dong cemetery, where those killed during the Kwangju uprising were originally buried.

While anti-Americanism in Korea reached its peak in 1989, another spike occurred in 2002, at a time when Kim was president. While I've looked at the events of 2002 before (here and here), I'll leave further comment on it for another day.


Dol1956 said...

Nice article.
I have a few first hand points. According to President Kim's wife the U.S. was actually able to find the boat with Kim Dae-jung on it and buzzed it to also warn the KCIA kidnappers that they had been discovered. This may have been referenced in a book or two but I currently do not have access to my library and so can not provide the cited references.
The 1980 USIS fire bombing in Gwangju represented two meanings. One true anti-Americanism because of 518 and the lack of US response and secondly because the dissidents knew that the US Embassy had been feed false information by the American head of the USIS during the initial stages of the uprising. The citation for this is my personnel involvement in the Gwangju Uprising and later dissemination of information to Korean dissidents.
Finally, I find it hard to believe that Kim Dae-jung did not know of the deal that was done to save his life. As an American in Korea at the time and then actively involved in the Korean Democracy and human rights movement after I return to the US in late 1981 I can tell you that immediately upon the initial sentencing of Kim Dae-jung a massive letter writing campaign was launched in the US to save his life. I also know of multiple people in the US who went to talk to their congressmen concerning Kim Dae-jung. This was something that was known in Korea especially among the dissidents. I also know that Kim Dae-jung's wife knew that there were active discussions with Chun for his life. I also met Kim here in the states after he was forced into exile, and told him of the great pressure that the American people had placed upon their government to obtain his freedom. So that part of the story is a little hard to believe. David Dolinger

matt said...

Thanks for the comment - it's nice to get a first-hand view of the campaign to save Kim's life. I'd heard tell of the KCIA's boat being buzzed by the U.S., but haven't found confirmation of it.

I'd be curious to hear more about USIS and the false information given to the embassy. Here's Linda Lewis's take on it (page one and two). Were peace corps members in any kind of regular contact with USIS in Kwangju?

Dol1956 said...

During my three years in Korea, I myself stayed away from the USIS based upon conversations with Korean friends. The common opinion among my Korean student friends was that the USIS was a front for the CIA. That they provided information to the KCIA as to whom was visiting and what they were reading and asking questions about. I waked back in to Gwangju on Wednesday the 21st and was able to meet up with Tim Warnberg and two other Peace Corps volunteers that afternoon. On Thursday the 22nd we called the Peace Corps office in Seoul to notify them as to the specifics as to what was going on. This was after walking parts of the city in the morning, visiting a number of hospitals and starting our initial translating services for the foreign correspondents. We called in the late morning or early afternoon. The Peace Corps office (i.e. Country Director Meyers) did not want to hear what we had to say. He kept turning the conversation back to us leaving Gwangju immediately because we were in danger. We keep saying that we were fine and that we were not going to leave. That based upon what we had witnessed that it was important for us to stay and make sure that our Korean friends were safe. We also kept pushing back as to our eye witness descriptions as to what we had seen. We were finally told that the embassy knew all about what was happening and did not need to know what we had seen. Meyers final admitted that they were getting the majority of their information from the Director of the USIS, David Miller. We were then also told that he was in hiding. I was also asked to go to his house, that we would be able to get in as their was a housekeeper present and that there we would be able to us a secure phone to call the Peace Corps office in Seoul again as well as David Miller.
Luckily, Tim knew where Miller’s house was. We walked there and found no one home and the gate doors all locked. So we decided to break in. We had been told to go there and to us the secure phone. We were able to break in through a window. We called Seoul as we were told, They again tried to convince us to leave immediately by walking out. We again refused. We were finally given the phone number to be able to reach David Miller. We called. He actually answered. He told us that he was in hiding on the outskirts of the city and that he was not going outside at all. He said that he had gone in to hiding on Monday May 19th. That the reports that he was providing to the embassy were all based upon second hand information. The family that he was in hiding with were periodically going out to observe what was happening.
After talking to David Miller we left his house and headed back towards the Provincial Office Building. Just up the street from the burned out MBC building we used a public telephone to call the Peace Corps office. We individually told Meyers that we refused to leave Gwangju and we felt safe. We also asked that our eye witness information be provided to the embassy.

Dol1956 said...

On Sunday, if I remember the day correctly, one of own members left Gwangju. He was carrying with him a document intended for the US Embassy documented what we had observed and done up until the 23rd. I do not know if that document ever made it to the Embassy, but I do know that Meyers saw it. It was used as the bases for him writing my resignation form the Peace Corps.
When the event was over and we were forced to go to Seoul by the Peace Corps. We asked to meet with the Ambassador or any high level Embassy official so that we could provide them with our eye witness accounts of the Gwangju Uprising. We were told by Meyers that the embassy did not need to talk to us that they had all of the information that they needed. We asked if that was based upon David Millers information even though he was in hiding the whole time. We got no response. We finally walked over to the US Embassy, threw the front gate, by passed the normal first floor area and went to a stairway that lead to the second floor. At the security desk (a very nice US marine) stopped us and asked us what we wanted. We explained and he made a call. In around five minutes we were meet by a suit. Who asked us what we wanted. We told him who we were and that we would like to provide a written account of what we saw during the Uprising and that we would also like to discuss this with a high level official. We were flatly told that they knew more about what happened in Gwangju than we did and that no one was free to talk to us. We did force him to take our written account.

matt said...

Fascinating. One wonders how the Embassy knew more about what happening than you. In Martha Huntley's article in the book Contentious Kwangju, she notes that the missionaries were able to call the nearby US air base and through the base were able to talk to the embassy.

I have a lot of questions I could ask, but one popped into my head just now: Can you tell me who the foreigner in this photo is? And how many other Peace Corps members were with you in Kwangju?

Dol1956 said...

That is Tim Warnberg. He lived in Gwangju and work out of the Chonnam University Hospital. There where four of us; myself, Tim, Judi Chamberlin and Paul Courtright. One other Peace Corps volunteer Julie Pickering was on the outskirts of the city. She didn't know that we were there and had done what the Peace Corps had told her to do which was to stay in hiding with her Korean family.
My true belief, based upon the experience, living in Korea and have to deal with the US Embassy is that the US Embassy want Chun to take full control and to solidify his power. Maybe this is not what they thought was going to happen, they still wanted Chun in power. The Embassy at that time and for a number of years afterward were strictly worried about American companies in Korea. Chun would be friendly to American companies. In fact it was told to us by an Embassy employee that that was their only concern in Korea. Human rights did not matter, what matter was a stable government that was US business friendly. Why was it stated in 1979, that the Koreans were not ready for democracy/

matt said...

Thanks for confirming that the photo was of Tim Warnberg. I'd always assumed it was him. This article, while having clear enough biases, is well researched and makes the case that the main concern the US Gov't had regarding Korea (post-kwangju) was to make Korea appealing to US businesses.

Were PCVs in other parts of Cheollanam-do ordered to leave (like in Mokpo)? I'm assuming that's where William Amos, the author of 'Seed of Joy', was (I remember you mentioned once he based parts of the novel on your experiences in Kwangju).

matt said...

Oh, and was there actually a PCV who was sent home for "taking part" in the Busan/Masan uprising, as related in the book?

Dol1956 said...

The other Peace Corps volunteers in Chollanam Do, if they were not already in Seoul (a retraining had been scheduled for a number of the different groups) were ordered to stay in their towns and to stay in doors and out of sight. Obviously, David Miller had related information that he felt threatened and that Americans might be targeted. What everyone at the time failed to understand was that the Koreans and the Korean dissidents differentiated Americans from the American government. The feelings were ALWAYS anti-American government and the Koreans knew that we did not represent the American government in the same way that someone like Miller did. Just by learning the language we were treated differently and I still am when I travel back to Korea.
Bill used some writer's creativity in having a volunteer involved in the Pusan/Masan demonstrations and that volunteer subsequently being forced to go home. It is actually based upon what happened to me after Gwangju. Myers wrote my letter of resignation and forced me in to signing it. I was then strongly urged to get on the first flight home. Both Myers and the Embassy stated that one, they could no longer guarantee my safety, i.e. the KCIA could pick me up at anytime and the could do nothing about it in my defense and two, they had received treats to my life. At that point I was no longer afraid and in fact invited to happen, I told them that they were full of it that the Korean people would not harm me and that if the Korean government did it would help ignite resistance in Korea. I called their bluff and they did nothing. I was able to get a new passport in Korea and was able to get a two year visa also in Korea to stay and work. I luckily went to the visa office at lunch time when there was only one clerk present and you could tell that he was nervous when I walk in. He was going to have to speak English!!! when I spoke to him in Korean he was so happy. He quickly gave me my visa never looking to see if I was black listed. He was just so happy to be able to speak Korean.