[FOUNTAIN]A coup isn’t always a military matter

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[FOUNTAIN]A coup isn’t always a military matter

On January 5, 1982, the nighttime curfew in Korea was lifted for the first time since the country’s liberation from Japan 37 years before. The justification for the curfew, which lasted from midnight to 4 a.m., had been the need to maintain security and public peace. The authorities believed that those who worked at night were rebellious elements in society. But the Chun Doo Hwan administration decided that lifting the curfew would not interfere with public order, and would, rather, be a boon to the economy. Reportedly, the government also thought that having a curfew in place would undermine the country’s image as host of the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Olympics.
But there is another interpretation of the decision to lift the curfew. Some argue that the administration did so to prevent the possibility of future military coups. (Because Mr. Chun himself had come to power in a coup, this theory goes, he was extremely worried about another one.) Such coups require the covert movement of troops at night, and with no curfew, it would be hard to keep such troop movements secret. Using much the same reasoning, people say it would be hard to carry out a coup today because of the prevalence of mobile phones.
Coup d’etat literally means “blow to the state.” A coup is the unlawful act of overthrowing the government by a small group of persons in positions of authority. The French term is widely used because the classic examples can be found in French history, that of Napoleon Bonaparte being the best known.
When the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke out in 1998, then-U.S. president Bill Clinton privately called it a coup d’etat, according to the Drudge Report, an online media site that led the attack on Mr. Clinton.
The disclosure of Mr. Clinton’s improper relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, a White House intern, led to Mr. Clinton’s impeachment, which the Democratic Party called a coup attempt by the Republicans. I would have thought that only in Korea, which has experienced real military coups, would criticism of a leader or disclosure of a scandal be considered an attempt at a coup d’etat.


by Lee Se-jung

The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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