The president and the old miserFormer President Chun Doo Hwan was a protege of his army senior and long-serving predecessor, Park Chung Hee. He and his military regime worshipped what Park had sought to do and accomplished through the power he attained from a military coup. Park’s rags-to-riches transformation of the country and his industrialization campaign were the role model for Chun and his peers in the military.
Park encouraged and supported his followers at the military academy. Chun was a captain when Park conducted a military coup on May 16, 1961, and he marshaled students at the academy to demonstrate in support of Park. He was appointed secretary to the commander of the Supreme Council for Reconstruction under Park.
Chun later talked about his relationship with Park: “While he was the commander of the Supreme Council for the ad-hoc government, President Park advised me to run for legislative office. I turned the offer down. I told him he would have to have a loyal man in the army, too. I believe the president approved of me from then onward. He called me to the presidential office once or twice a year. I remember having a meal the first lady personally made for me.”
Park kept Chun near to power. He moved up the echelon of command, holding positions like commander of the 30th Regiment of the Capital Defense Command and deputy chief of the Presidential Security Service to finally reach the top job in the latter command.
Chun became a ringleader of a private military club called Hanahoe. The group’s members, who were mostly members of Chun’s class at the academy, faced collective discharge in 1973 because of their association with a scandalous incident in which Yoon Pil-yong, commander of Capital Defense, and several other generals were charged with plotting a coup. But Park saved Chun, and Chun became an even more devout supporter of Park.
The Chun regime took pride in the fact that it executed Park’s assassin, Kim Jae-kyu, chief of the intelligence agency, and his accomplices as well. They did so to protect and uphold the Park legacy against those who claimed that Kim was a heroic democracy activist who killed a dictator.
The people of the Chun administration until now defend their motives for the coup and voice resentment toward President Park Geun-hye, Park Chung Hee’s daughter, who has come down hard on Chun and his family.
But President Park has “painful” memories of the days under Chun’s rule. In the collection of her interviews published in 1990 and a memoir in 2007, she recalled a “government-led” slander campaign against her father as soon as she left the Blue House.
“It was hurtful how people lied, suspected, accused and distorted in order to win points with their new power,” she said.
Her language, though carefully chosen, suggests the depth of the betrayal and anger she felt during those days.
In the early stages, the “Fifth Republic” of Chun tried to differentiate itself from the earlier military regime, but the people in the lower parts of the hierarchy carried out their jobs too zealously. Park was under surveillance at all times. She could not even hold a public memorial for her father during the Chun administration. She instead mourned for her parents in a family memorial service with her siblings at home.
In July 1998, President Kim Dae-jung invited former first ladies and presidents - Choi Kyu-hah, Chun Doo Hwan, Roh Tae-woo and Kim Young-sam - to the presidential residence. Chun spoke first to thank his host. He walked around the Blue House alone after the meal. It was the first time he had been treated respectfully since his retirement 10 years earlier, and it came from a man who had been sentenced to death by a military tribunal under Chun’s rule.
He and his family have finally given in after resisting a massive fine for conspiracy, corruption and other misdeeds in office. They agreed to pay off the remaining 167.2 billion won ($127 million) of the fine. Chun no longer voices the audacity he had when he made a public statement near his home before being led off to prosecutors in December 1995, nor the humor he showed when he walked out of prison after a special pardon in December 1997.
Chun is now a fragile old man of 82 years. He has few people left on his side. A special law authorized prosecutors and tax collectors to confiscate his assets - and it was easily passed - underscoring his poor and lonely situation. He had resisted with all his might to protect his wealth. His shameful greed tarnished and stigmatized what accomplishments his government had.
President Park has been consistent in doing what she believes in. Her conviction and consistency shines in North Korean policy. She also endorsed a raid and seizure of Chun’s assets to resolve what previous administrations had failed to do. She is relatively free of bribery and corruption scandals. It is a unique strength that none of her predecessors had.
While visiting Vietnam, Park paid her respects to the tomb of Ho Chi Minh to put to rest the Vietnam of her father’s era. She was closing off historical chapters with style and a future-oriented mindset. Chun surrendered his wealth too late. He has generated too much waste and noise by dragging his feet. Society, now mature, should leave him alone.
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Park Bo-gyoon