50 years after May 16, a coup planner reflects

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50 years after May 16, a coup planner reflects


Kim Jong-pil

The military coup that put Park Chung Hee in power and started Korea’s era of modernization and industrialization, which lasted for the next 18 years, took place 50 years ago today. And historians are still arguing over how far its demerits overshadowed its merits.

The coup, staged by Army major general Park and around 3,600 followers, is condemned for impeding the country’s democratization: anti-regime activists were arrested, tortured or slain by the iron-fisted Park autocracy. An uncountable number of lives were ruined.

But others call for the reinterpretation of the event, and a discussion on how it transformed Korea’s future.

Some historians say the coup was the only one among many staged across the world at the time that succeeded in pulling a country out of poverty and into rapid economic development, which was followed by a return to democracy.

Kim Jong-pil, Park’s protege and a main planner and executioner of the May 16, 1961 coup, said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo at his Sindang-dong, eastern Seoul, home on Thursday that the coup was a “revolution” based on public backing.

He said the coup inherited the spirit of the April 19 Movement - a pro-democracy uprising against then-President Syngman Rhee’s bid to extend power in 1960 - although the Park coup overthrew the administration of Chang Myun, which was set up after the April 19 Movement brought down Rhee.

Kim, who turned 85 in January and is among the few survivors of the coup, served as prime minister under Park in the 1970s.

The following are excerpts from the interview with Kim.

Q. Was the May 16 incident a revolution or coup d’etat? How do you define it?

A. People easily dismiss it as a coup. Are they saying it was a coup because that makes them feel superior (morally)? A coup is a revolt by those in the same class, and a revolution is a change in power from bottom to top based on public sentiment. In that regard, May 16 was a revolution.

Do you mean that lower-ranking officers took power?

No. I mean it was supported by the common folk. They supported it, but those in the upper class opposed it. The general public implicitly wanted the world to be reformed. That’s why (the Chang Myun government) couldn’t do anything despite widespread rumors of revolution.

The JoongAng Ilbo is leading a campaign to make Korean history a compulsory subject in school curriculum. In the campaign, it has proposed a historical reconciliation between the April 19 Movement and President Syngman Rhee.

Park Chung Hee was a chief commander in Busan when martial law was put in place during the April 19 Movement.

A joint memorial service was held on April 24, 1960 in Busan, where he read a funeral address for those slain in the movement, “With your departure, we become connected (in yearning) for freedom.”

The May 16 revolution statement said it inherited the spirit of the April 19 Movement. The April 19 Movement was a revolution, but May 16 was a coup d’etat? Isn’t that funny? I wrote the statement myself. It’s the first time I disclosed it.

It is known that you referred to military revolutions in other countries, such as Gamal Abdel Nasser’s in Egypt, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s in Turkey and the one in Burma by Ne Win. Which one gave you the strongest inspiration?

Of course it was Nasser. It had happened not long before. We closely watched the process by which Nasser became president, forcing then-President Mohammed Naguib from office.


General Park Chung Hee, center, wearing sunglasses and flanked by subordinates, appear in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, on May 16, 1961, right after he led a military coup in the early morning. This file photo became an iconic image of the day’s events. [JoongAng Ilbo]

It’s interesting to see the relationship between Nasser and Naguib.

A related episode happened (between President Park and me) long after May 16 succeeded. The Korean Central Intelligence Agency put all four walls of my home under surveillance.

I tried to bear it, but eventually I thought it was too much, so I went to the Blue House and complained to President Park.

“Am I Nasser? Why are you keeping watch over me? I am not such a person.” I tried to get the message across by mentioning Nasser that I wasn’t aiming to take his place.

You were 35-years-old at the time. Why did you act so boldly at such a young age?

I wanted to make a country in which people can live comfortably without others’ help. In 1962, I met Robert Kennedy in the U.S. It was Oct. 22, when people were fearful of a third world war because of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

President Kennedy was leading a UN Security Council meeting, and had his brother Robert, who was attorney general, meet me. I met him in his room. He pulled out a drawer from his desk, put his legs on it, and asked, looking down on me, why I came.

I stood up and said, “I am here because you asked me to come. I understand it was to ask me why we conducted a revolution (on May 16, 1961). Good question. We wanted to make the Republic of Korea a country that does not become a burden for the United States of America.”

That’s what I said, and he smiled. He put down his legs, pushed the drawer back in and took out a book he had written.

He asked how I spelled my name, wrote “JP Kim” on the book and gave it to me, asking me to forgive him. We maintained a friendly relationship until he was killed. He came to Korea twice.

Why were officers dreaming of revolution attracted to Park Chung Hee?

Because of his unbending and incorruptible mind. Generals at the time were all corrupt, but Park Chung Hee was respected by officers. He was the only one to trust. That thought was widespread. That was before I married his niece.

He was also able. A comprehensive report on the situation with the enemy (North Korea) came out in 1949, and Park, reading the report, said the North would invade us soon. The North infiltrated through the same routes he predicted six months earlier.

By Chun Young-gi [joe@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

“혁명 같은 건 대중 공감대 확보해야…그래서 첫날 새벽 방송국 장악했지”

JP가 말하는 5·16 선전·홍보의 기획

5월의 남산은 화사했다. 13일 오전 11시, 그랜드 하얏트 호텔 건너편 남산공원을 돌며 JP(김종필 전 총리)가 산책을 하고 있다. 남산 일대를 수놓은 보라·주홍·하얀 빛깔의 꽃들 사이를 걷는 김 전 총리 옆엔 외손자며느리가 동행했다. 외손자며느리는 JP가 ‘나폴레옹 보나파르트’라고 부르는 증손자를 안고 있었다. 기자는 ‘5·16 50년…JP 3700명의 레볼루션을 말하다’(본지 5월 13일자 1, 4, 5면) 인터뷰 기사가 나간 뒤 독자들의 추가적인 궁금증을 해소하기 위해 그가 운동하는 현장을 찾아갔다. 거사의 그날, JP가 혁명 공약과 취지문을 인쇄한 뒤 가장 먼저 한 일은 남산에 있는 KBS 방송국(당시 중앙방송국) 접수였다. 혁명은 선전을 통해 완성된다는 것을 JP는 꿰뚫고 있었다.

-거사는 무력을 장악하는 것으로 끝나는 게 아닌 것 같습니다.

“혁명 같은 걸 해서 제일 먼저 확보해야 하는 것은 방송국이야. 방송하는 것뿐 아니라 송신소도 장악해야 해, 그래야 왜 혁명했는지를 알릴 수 있지. 별도로 송신소 장악팀도 있었어. 대중의 공감대를 확보하는 게 일의 성패를 좌우하는 거야.”


“항공기로도 혁명 공약을 뿌렸어. 이원엽 장군이 5기생인데, 그때 대령이야, 육군 항공대장이거든 육군 항공대장이 L-19를 직접 조종하면서 혁명 공약, 취지문을 서울·대구·부산 상공에 마구 뿌렸어.”

-KBS에 진입하니 어떻던가요.

“그날 새벽 박정희 소장과 함께 갔는데, 군복 입은 사람들이 들어오니까 다들 북한 공비가 쳐들어오는 줄 알았다고 하드만.”

-박종세 아나운서가 혁명 공약을 읽었죠. 거사군 쪽에서 직접 발표하지 않은 이유가 있나요.

“처음에 박정희 소장이 읽으면 어떻겠느냐 생각도 했는데…그가 목소리가 좀 딱딱하잖아. 그래서 아나운서에게 시키는 게 듣는 사람이 안심할 수 있겠다 생각한 거지. 애청자들이 목소리만 들어도 누구나 알 정도로 박종세가 유명했잖아, 국민들이 편안하게 듣고 안심을 시키는 게 중요하다고 본 거지. 본래 전날 밤부터 어디 못 가게 하려 했는데 마침 당번이라 방송국에서 자드만. 박종세 아나운서 요즘 뭐하나 궁금하네. 처음엔 조심스럽더니 읽어 내려가면서 점차 흥분을 하는 거 같더라고. 허허.”

-방송사를 거사의 목표로 삼은 거군요.

“목표는 무슨, 그게 시작이지. 국민에게 널리 알리는 게 시작이야.”

-혁명 공약과 취지문을 총리(JP)께서 만드셨죠.


-그 안에 4·19 정신을 계승한다는 얘기가 들어 있는데 좀 이상합니다.

“부패하고 무능한 정권은 나라를 망친다. 이런 정권은 뒤집어 엎어야 한다. 그러면서 일어난 게 4·19 아닌가. 많은 시민이 환호했지. 5·16도 그런 부패·무능 정권을 확 부숴버리는 정신으로 일으킨 거야.”

-반공을 국시로 한다는 건 왜 넣었습니까.

“우리 자신이 확립할 자세를 명백히 한 거 지. 그전엔 반공이고 용공이고 없어, 뭐가 뭔지 몰라. 학생들이 전부 어깨동무하고 판문점 가서 북쪽하고 협상하자 뭐 하자 하고, 국회에 들어가선 ‘너희들이 무슨 국회의원이냐고’ 막 그래. 국회도 열지 못했어…그게 뭐 나라여.”

독자들이 궁금해 하는 또 다른 의문을 이어갔다.

-5·16 성공 뒤 군사혁명위원회 의장을 왜 박정희 소장이 아닌 장도영 참모총장이 맡게 했습니까.

“박정희 대통령이 그렇게 하라고 그랬어. 나는 반대했지만. ‘아니 장도영 장군이 무슨 관계가 있는데 그가 혁명위원회 의장을 맡느냐’고 하니까 박 소장이 눈을 감고 한참 있더니 ‘임자도 알잖아. 육군 참모총장 아닌가’ 그러는 거야. 그 한마디 속에 깊은 한이 섞여 있는 걸 알았어. 박 대통령이 마치 ‘나를 빨갱이로 모는 놈들이 있으니까 내가 지도자가 되면 혁명이 안 될지도 모른다. 현역 참모총장이면 국민이 믿어줄 것 아니가’… 그런 소리는 안 했지만, 그렇게 알아들었지. 차 한잔 마시고 ‘네 알겠습니다’ 그랬어.”

-장도영 총장이 나중에 문제가 되면 어떻게 하려고요.

“그래서 내가 7월 2일 제거했잖아. 박 대통령에겐 얘기도 하지 않고…엄청난 일을 한 거지.”

JP는 1995년 김영삼 정부가 전두환·노태우 신군부 세력의 ‘성공한 쿠데타’를 처벌하는 법을 만들 때 찬성했다. 그때 기자가 ‘본인은 쿠데타를 했으면서 왜 다른 사람의 쿠데타를 처벌하려 하느냐’고 묻자 JP는 웃으며 “내가 해봤으니까 나쁜 줄 알지”라고 묘한 답을 한 적이 있다.

-다시 혁명하라면 하겠습니까.

“이젠 못해.”

-혁명은 30대(당시 JP 35세)에 하는 건가요

"30대고 20대고 50대고 간에, 뭣 모르고 한 거지. 지금 생각하면 무서워, 아찔해. 5월 15일 일이 제대로 안 풀렸으면 그냥 총살당했어.”

-총리에겐 풍운아라는 말이 따라다니는데요.

“풍운아는 무슨…. 풍운이 바람과 구름이라는 뜻인데. 얼마 전까지 일본에선 ‘천의 바람’(千の風)이란 노래가 유행했는데 이런 구절이 있어요. 죽은 다음에 묘비를 세우지 마라/묘비에서 내 혼은 빠져 나왔다/나는 천 개의 영혼으로 우주를 날아다닐 뿐이다…. 인생이든 혁명이든 열심히 살아 남에게 다 주고 빈 껍데기로 가버리는 거지.”

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