[Viewpoint] Revolutionary results ... at a price

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[Viewpoint] Revolutionary results ... at a price

The historical timeline of the modern era evolved with revolutions. Many societies have replaced feudalism through rebellions and revolutionary movements in order to advance into modernity.

The 1649 Puritan Revolution in Great Britain, the 1776 American Revolution, the 1789 French Revolution, the 1911 Xinhai Revolution in China, the October 1917 Revolution in Russia and the 1918 German Revolution are some of the turning points in history books that closed chapters on monarchial rule and opened new ones on republics.

The heroes behind the historical transition have been the populace. The classic grass-roots revolution paved the way for new types of governing power in these societies.

But in periphery societies, military officials used civil wars or revolution to change the course of history. There are five top-down revolutions that forced common people into the historical event: the 1867 Meiji Restoration in Japan, the 1922 revolution led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk that founded the Republic of Turkey, the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, the 1968 revolt by General Velasco in Peru and the May 15, 1961 coup d’etat by Park Chung Hee. Though they resorted to military means, subsequent governments helped to modernize or reinvent their nations.

In the 1867-68 period of the Meiji era, the oligarchic samurai rulers led by Saigo Takamori overthrew the Tokugawa Shogunate to create a new order and restore the imperial rule. Meiji leaders implemented broad economic and military reforms to strengthen the nation. They employed Western-style democratic legislative bodies and political systems as well as capitalist economic principles and industrialization, while modernizing military and tax systems.

As a result, Japan modernized about 80 years ahead of similar reforms by the first South Korean government under President Syngman Rhee.

About the time Japan completed Meiji modernization, Ataturk was born in Turkey. The army officer dreamed of replacing the Ottoman Empire with a modern secular nation-state. After World War I, he led his remaining troops and raised an independence movement. He defeated the allied powers and declared a new Turkish Republic. As the first president, he carried out radical reforms to bring about fundamental changes in the country, earning the title of “Father of Turkey.”

Velasco led a coup d’etat against the centrist government in 1968 to build a “nationalist” government that would stand up to the United States and attempt to give justice to the working class and the poor by nationalizing industries, expropriating properties of American and other multinational companies and diversifying land ownership by redistributing property to farmers.

General-turned-President Park most resembles Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led the Free Officers Movement which overthrew the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. The two shared a similar background: born to poor families and raised to be career military officers.

Nasser beat Park by nine years in raising a coup d’etat. His rebellion not only overthrew King Farouk, but also erased monarchy and diminished the aristocracy through sweeping agrarian and economic reforms.

Four years after the revolution, Nasser was elected president. Park was elected president two years after he raised a coup d’etat. Both ruled for 18 years, as long as they lived.

Two years after the coup d’etat, Nasser published “Egypt’s Liberation: The Philosophy of the Revolution.” Two years after the Korean revolution, Park Chung Hee wrote “The Country, the Revolution and I.”

Park remains a controversial figure in liberal and left-wing circles, seen as someone who sabotaged the Constitution. His achievements in modernization and economic development are often neglected. Critics have discounted the positive aspects revolution.

For the heroes of top-down revolutions, military uprisings were a means to an end. Without a coup d’etat and dictatorial leadership, Park could not have reformed or modernized the country at the pace he did. Korea leaped from poverty to the ranks of industrialized nations because it inevitably was led by an authoritarian regime during a period that required authority and direction.

Bloodshed often accompanies revolutions and, in Western societies, the elite class was frequently victimized. The May 16 Revolution was bloodless. Park, however, enabled prolonged despotism by tampering with the constitution in the name of the October Restoration.

Park’s cruel dictatorship for the sake of development cost lives and pained numerous people. They were the ones trampled in Korea’s historic march toward prosperity.


*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin
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