[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]A reflection on May 18In an excerpt of a Hankyoreh editorial of May 18 published in the JoongAng Daily, several questions were raised about the Gwangju uprising and U.S. involvement.
Operational command authority dates back to the outset of the Korean conflict. In the wake of the Mutual Defense Treaty of October 1953, the two governments signed in November 1954 a memorandum of understanding. In 1961, this document was revised to pertain only to control authority over armed forces to defend against an external communist invasion. On Nov. 7, 1978, the Combined Command set up a structure in which the U.S. began to turn over authority to South Korea in a whole range of activities including patrols and troop readiness.
Maj. Gen. Chun Doo Hwan moved in with overwhelming force, causing thousands of casualties in Gwangju. “The bloody suppression of the Gwangju uprising may be said to have cowed the people of South Korea,” the Encyclopedia Americana says, “into sullen acceptance of Chun’s dictatorship.”
Presidential candidate Roh Tae-woo, “an accomplice in the events of 1979-1980” (again, according to the encyclopedia), on June 29, 1987, announced that the ruling Democratic Republican Party would support the abolition of the Electoral College.
At that time travel agents around the world were booking tours to Seoul for the 1988 Summer Olympics, and, with the world looking on, Chun was forced to refrain from “a Gwangju-style response” to demands from his critics that his successors be elected by direct vote of the people. In 1993, Chun was sentenced to life imprisonment, while Roh received a 17-year sentence. Former dissident Kim Dae-jung won the December 1997 presidential election.
by Prof. Richard Thompson