Park Chung-hee (Korean: 박정희/朴正熙; Born: November 14th 1917 in 107 Park Chunghee Avenue/Park Chunghee-ro, Sangmo-dong 171-beonji, Gumi, Northern Gyeongsang Province – Assassinated: October 26th 1979 in Gungjeong-dong Presidential Safe House, Seoul Jongno-gu) was a South Korean president and military general who led South Korea from 1961 until his assassination in 1979. Park seized power through a military coup d'état that overthrew the Korean Second Republic in 1961 and ruled as a military strongman at the head of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction until his election and inauguration as the President of the Korean Third Republic in 1963. In 1972, Park declared martial law and recast the constitution into a highly authoritarian document, ushering in the Korean Fourth Republic. After surviving several assassination attempts, including two operations associated with North Korea, Park was eventually assassinated on October 26th 1979 by Kim Jae-gyu, the chief of his own security services. He had led South Korea for 18 years.
Born into a poor Yangban family of Goryeong Park Clan (고령 박씨/高靈朴氏), originated from Goryeong County, Northern Gyeongsang Province at a time when Korea was under Japanese rule, Park originally served with the Japanese collaborationist Manchukuo Imperial Army and listed in Korea's Wanted Chinilpa List. He was recognized as a talented officer and selected for service with the Imperial Japanese Army's elite Kwantung Army group during World War II. After the war, Park entered the service of the Republic of Korea Army. Over the course of the Korean War, he rose to the rank of brigadier general in 1953. In 1960, he became Chief of the Operations Staff of the ROK Army. A year later, in 1961, Park led the group of officers who orchestrated the coup that ushered in nearly three decades of military rule in South Korea.
Park led the Miracle on the Han River until 1979, a period of rapid economic growth in South Korea. However, his authoritarian rule saw numerous human rights abuses. Opinion is thus split regarding his legacy between those who credit Park for his reforms and those who condemn his authoritarian way of ruling the country (especially after 1971). Older generations who spent their adulthood during Park's rule tend to credit Park for building the economic foundation of the country and protecting the country from North Korea, as well as leading Korea to economic and global prominence. Although Park was listed as one of the top ten "Asians of the Century" by Time magazine in 1999, the newer generations of Koreans and those who fought for democratization tend to believe his authoritarian rule was unjustified, and that he hindered South Korea's transition to democracy. He is also believed to be one of the main causes of regionalism which is a serious problem in Korea today.
Park was the youngest of five brothers and two sisters in a poor Yangban family. As a youth, he won admission to a teaching school in Daegu and worked as a teacher in Mungyeong after graduating with a teaching degree. During this time, he adopted the Japanese name Takagi Masao (高木正雄). Following the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the ambitious Park decided to enter the Changchun Military Academy of the Manchukuo Imperial Army. He graduated top of his class in 1942 and was recognized as a talented officer by his Japanese instructors, who recommended him for further studies at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in Japan. After graduating third in the class of 1944, Park was commissioned as a lieutenant in Japan's elite Kwantung Army, and served during the final stages of World War II.
Park returned to Korea after the war and enrolled at the Korea Military Academy. He graduated in 1946 with the rank of captain and became an officer in the constabulary army under the United States Army Military Government in South Korea. The newly established South Korean government, under the leadership of Syngman Rhee, arrested Park in November 1948 on charges that he led a communist cell in the Korean constabulary during Yeosu-Suncheon Rebellion. Park was subsequently sentenced to death by a military court, but his sentence was commuted by Rhee at the urging of several high-ranking Korean military officers. While Park had been a member of the South Korean Workers Party, the allegations concerning his involvement in a military cell were never substantiated. After the Korean War began, Park returned to active service as a major in the South Korean Army. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in September 1950 and to colonel in April 1951. As a colonel, Park commanded the II and III Artillery Corps during the war. Park became the deputy director of the Army Headquarters Intelligence Bureau in 1952. By the time the war had ended in 1953, Park had risen to become a brigadier general. After the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, Park was selected for six-months training at Fort Sill in the United States.
After returning to Korea, Park rose rapidly in the military hierarchy. He commanded the 5th and 7th Divisions of the South Korean army before his promotion to major general in 1958. Park was then appointed Chief of Staff of the First Army and made the head of the Korean 1st and 6th District Command, which gave him responsibility for the defense of Seoul. In 1960, Park became Chief of the Operations Staff of the South Korean Army and the deputy commander of the Second Army. As such, he was one of the most powerful and influential figures in the military.
On 25 April 1960, Syngman Rhee, the authoritarian inaugural President of South Korea, was forced out of office and into exile following the April 19 Movement, a student-led uprising. A new democratic government took office on 13 August 1960. However, this was a short-lived period of parliamentary rule in South Korea. Yoon Bo-seon was a figurehead president, with the real power vested in Prime Minister Chang Myon. Problems arose immediately because neither man could command loyalty from any majority of the Democratic Party or reach agreement on the composition of the cabinet. Prime Minister Chang attempted to hold the tenuous coalition together by reshuffling cabinet positions three times within five months.
Meanwhile the new government was caught between an economy that was suffering from a decade of mismanagement and corruption under the Rhee presidency and the students who had instigated Rhee's ousting. Protesters regularly filled the streets making numerous and wide-ranging demands for political and economic reforms. Law and order could not be maintained because the police, long an instrument of the Rhee government, were demoralized and had been completely discredited by the public. Continued factional wrangling caused the public to turn away from the ruling Democratic Party.
Against this backdrop of social instability and division, Major General Park, who was then the Director General of ROK Army Operations, formed the Military Revolutionary Committee. It led a military coup on 16 May 1961 which was nominally led by Army Chief of Staff Chang Do-yong after his defection on the day it started. The military takeover rendered powerless the democratically elected government of President Yoon ending the Second Republic.
Initially, a new administration was formed from among those military officers who supported Park. The reformist military Supreme Council for National Reconstruction was nominally led by General Chang. But following Chang's arrest in July 1961, Park took overall control of the council. The coup was largely welcomed by a general populace exhausted by political chaos. Although Prime Minister Chang resisted the coup efforts, President Yun sided with the military and persuaded the United States Eighth Army and the commanders of various ROK army units not to interfere with the new government. Soon after the coup, Park was promoted to Lieutenant General.
On 19 June 1961 military council created the Korean Central Intelligence Agency in order to prevent counter-coups and to suppress all potential enemies, both foreign and domestic. Along with being given investigative powers, the KCIA was also given the authority to arrest and detain anyone suspected of wrongdoing or harboring anti-government sentiments. The KCIA would extend its power to economic and foreign affairs under its first director, retired Colonel Kim Jong-pil; a relative of Park and one of the original planners of the coup.
President Yoon remained in office, giving the military regime legitimacy. But after Yoon resigned on 24 March 1962, Lt. General Park, who remained chairman of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, consolidated his power by becoming acting president; he was also promoted to full general. Park agreed to restore civilian rule following pressure from the Kennedy administration.
In 1963, he was elected president in his own right as the candidate of the newly created Democratic Republican Party. He narrowly defeated former President Yoon, the candidate of the Civil Rule Party, by just over 156,000 votes—a margin of 1.5 percent. Park would be re-elected president in 1967, defeating Yoon with somewhat less difficulty.
In June 1965 Park signed a treaty normalizing relations with Japan which included payment of reparations and the making of soft-loans from Japan and led to increased trade and investment between South Korea and Japan. In July 1966 South Korea and the United States signed a Status of Forces Agreement establishing a more equal relationship between the two countries. With its growing economic strength and the security guarantee of the United States, the threat of a conventional invasion from North Korea seemed increasingly remote. Following the escalation of the Vietnam War with the deployment of ground combat troops in March 1965, South Korea sent the Capital Division and the 2nd Marine Brigade to South Vietnam in September 1965, followed by the White Horse Division in September 1966. Throughout the 1960s, Park made speeches in which he blamed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and the British Empire generally for Japan's takeover of Korea.
At the request of the United States, Park sent approximately 320,000 South Korean troops to fight alongside the United States and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War; a commitment second only to that of the United States. The stated reasons for this were to help maintain good relations with the United States, prevent the further advance of communism in East Asia and to enhance the Republic's international standing. In January 1965, on the day when a bill mandating a major deployment passed the National Assembly (with 106 votes for and 11 against), Park announced that it was "time for South Korea to wean itself from a passive position of receiving help or suffering intervention, and to assume a proactive role of taking responsibility on major international issues."
Although primarily to strengthen the military alliance with the United States, there were also financial incentives for South Korea's participation in the war. South Korean military personnel were paid by the United States federal government and their salaries were remitted directly to the South Korean government. Park was eager to send South Korean troops to Vietnam and vigorously campaigned to extend the war. In return for troop commitments, South Korea received tens of billions of dollars in grants, loans, subsidies, technology transfers, and preferential markets, all provided by the Johnson and Nixon administrations.
Park oversaw transitional changes between the two Koreas from conflict to consolidation. Beginning in October 1964, North Korea increased the infiltration of its intelligence-gatherers and propagandists into the South. More than 30 South Korean soldiers and at least 10 civilians had been killed in clashes with North Korean infiltrators by October 1966.
In October 1966, Park ordered the ROK Army to stage a retaliatory attack without seeking the approval of General Charles Bonesteel. This action, which was in retaliation for ongoing South Korean losses, caused tension between Park's government and the U.S. command in Korea, which wished to avoid violations of the armistice.
Between 1966 and 1969 the clashes escalated as Park's armed forces were involved in firefights along the Korean DMZ. The fighting, sometimes referred to as the Second Korean War, was related to a speech given by Kim Il-sung on 5 October 1966 in which the North Korean leader challenged the legitimacy of the 1953 Armistice Agreement. Kim stated that irregular warfare could now succeed in a way conventional warfare could not because the South Korean military was now involved with the ever-growing Vietnam War. He believed Park's administration could be undermined if armed provocation by North Korea was directed against U.S. troops. This would force America to reconsider its worldwide commitments. Any splits would give the North an opportunity to incite an insurgency in the South against Park.
On 21 January 1968, the 31-man Unit 124 of North Korean People's Army special forces commandos attempted to assassinate Park and nearly succeeded. They were stopped just 800 metres from the Blue House by a police patrol. A fire fight broke out and all but two of the North Koreans were killed or captured. In response to the assassination attempt, Park organized the Unit 684. This group was intended to assassinate Kim Il-Sung but was disbanded in 1971.
Despite the hostility, negotiations were conducted between the North and South regarding reunification. On 4 July 1972 both countries released a joint statement specifying that reunification must be achieved internally with no reliance on external forces or outside interference, that the process must be achieved peacefully without the use of military force, and that all parties must promote national unity as a united people over any differences of ideological and political systems. The United States Department of State was not happy with these proposals and, following Park's assassination in 1979, they were quietly buried.
On 15 August 1974, Park was delivering a speech in the National Theater in Seoul at the ceremony to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the ending of colonial rule when a man named Mun Se-gwang fired a gun at Park from the front row. The would-be assassin, who was a Japanese-born North Korean sympathizer, missed Park but a stray bullet struck his wife Yuk Young-soo (who died later in the day) and others on the stage. Park continued his speech as his dying wife was carried off the stage. Mun was hanged in Seoul prison four months later. On the first anniversary of his wife's death, Park wrote in his diary "I felt as though I had lost everything in the world. All things became a burden and I lost my courage and will. A year has passed since then. And during that year I have cried alone in secret too many times to count."
Park is credited with playing a pivotal role in the development of South Korea's tiger economy by shifting its focus to export-oriented industrialization. When he came to power in 1961, South Korea's per capita income was only US$72.00. North Korea was the greater economic and military power on the peninsula due to the North's legacy of high industrialization such as the power and chemical plants, and also the large amounts of economic, technical and financial aid it received from other communist bloc countries such as the Soviet Union, East Germany and China. South Korean industry saw remarkable development under Park's leadership. Government-corporate cooperation on expanding South Korean exports helped lead to the growth of some South Korean companies into today's giant Korean financial conglomerates, the chaebols.
Park had promised after taking office for his second term in 1967 that in accordance with the 1963 Constitution, which limited the president to two consecutive terms, he would step down in 1971. However, soon after his 1967 victory, the Democratic Republican-dominated National Assembly successfully pushed through an amendment allowing the incumbent president—himself—to run for three consecutive terms.
In 1971, Park won another close election against his rival, Kim Dae-jung. He then declared a state of emergency shortly after being sworn in "based on the dangerous realities of the international situation". In October 1972, Park dissolved the legislature and suspended the 1963 constitution in a self-coup. Work then began on drafting a new constitution. Park had drawn inspiration for his self-coup from Ferdinand Marcos, President of the Philippines, who had orchestrated a similar coup a few weeks earlier.
The so-called Yushin Constitution was approved in a heavily-rigged plebiscite in November 1972. Meaning "rejuvenation" or "renewal" (as well as "restoration" in some contexts), scholars see the term's usage as Park alluding to himself as a self-perpetuating and highly-autocratic leader (an "imperial president").
The new Yushin constitution was a severely authoritarian document. It transferred the presidential election process to an electoral college named the National Conference for Unification. It also dramatically expanded the president's powers. Notably, he was given sweeping powers to rule by decree and suspend constitutional freedoms. The presidential term was increased from four to six years, with no limits on re-election. For all intents and purposes, Park's presidency was now a legal dictatorship. In the elections of 1972 and 1978 he was elected unopposed.
Although the growth of the South Korean economy had secured a high level of support for Park's presidency in the 1960s, that support began to fade after economic growth started slowing in the early 1970s. Many South Koreans were becoming unhappy with his autocratic rule, his security services and the restrictions placed on personal freedoms. As Park had legitimised his administration using the provisions laid down in the state of emergency laws dating back to the Korean War, he had failed to address the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the press. Furthermore his security service, the KCIA, retained broad powers of arrest and detention; many of Park's opponents were held without trial and frequently tortured. Eventually demonstrations against the Yushin system erupted throughout the country as Park’s level of unpopularity began to rise.
These demonstrations came to a decisive moment on 16 October 1979, when a student group calling for the end of dictatorship and the Yushin system began at Busan National University. The action, which was part of the "Pu-Ma" struggle (named for the Pusan and Masan areas), soon moved into the streets of the city where students and riot police fought all day. By the evening, up to 50,000 people had gathered in front of Busan city hall. Over the next two days several public offices were attacked and around 400 protesters were arrested. On 18 October, Park's government declared martial law in Busan. On the same day protests spread to Kyungnam University in Masan. Up to 10,000 people, mostly students and workers, joined the demonstrations against Park's Yushin System. Violence quickly escalated with attacks being launched at police stations and city offices of the ruling party. By night fall a city-wide curfew was put into place in Masan.
On 26 October 1979, Park was shot dead by Kim Jae-gyu, the director of the KCIA, after a banquet at a safehouse in Gungjeong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul. Kim also killed Park's chief bodyguard. Other KCIA officers then went to other parts of the building shooting dead a further four presidential guards. Kim and his group were later arrested by soldiers under South Korea's Army Chief of Staff. They were then tortured and later executed. The entire episode is usually considered either a spontaneous act of passion by an individual or as part of a pre-arranged attempted coup by the intelligence service. Kim claimed that Park was an obstacle to democracy and that his act was one of patriotism.
Park, who was said to be a devout Buddhist, was afforded the first South Korean state funeral on November 1 in Seoul, during which an estimated two million mourners lined the procession route to watch the ceremony. He was buried with full military honors at the National Cemetery. Kim Jae-gyu, whose motive for murdering Park remains unclear, was executed by hanging on 24 May 1980.
Park Chung-hee remains a controversial figure in South Korea. A large number of South Koreans, especially those from Park's native Yeongnam region, consider Park to be one of the greatest leaders in the country's history and thus continue to hold Park in high regard in great part due to the industrial and economic growth experienced by South Korea under his regime. He is often credited as being one of the main influences responsible for bringing economic growth and development to South Korea. Park has been recognized and respected by many South Koreans as his country's most efficient leader who is credited for making South Korea what it is today in economic terms. However, Park is also regarded as a highly repressive ruler and dictator who restricted personal freedoms and was isolated from his people.
There were also many economic feats established during Park's regime, including the Gyeongbu Expressway, POSCO, the famous Five-Year Plans of South Korea, and the New Community Movement. However, these economic establishments are also considered as a result of exploitation. His daughter Park Geun-hye was elected the chairperson of the conservative Grand National Party in 2004. She was elected as South Korea's 11th and first female president in 2012 and sworn in later in February 2013.
On October 24, 2007, following an internal inquiry, South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) admitted that its precursor, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), undertook the kidnapping of opposition leader and future President Kim Dae-jung, saying it had at least tacit backing from then-leader Park Chung-hee.