General Park Chung-Hee

 

circa 1965: Korean army officer, political leader and assassinated president, Chung Hee Park, wearing a jacket and tie. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)Circa 1965: President, dictator, and political figure of South Korea Park Chung-Hee

 

Park Chung-Hee was born in 1917 during a period where Korea was under Japanese occupation.  Park originally graduated from college with a teaching degree, but decided to enlist in the Japanese army during the initial outbreak of war during World War II. Park served during the most infamous period of Japanese imperial expansion, and quickly rose through the ranks. When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Park joined the Korean Police and later the military, but was discharged in 1948 under “serious” circumstances.

After the temporary 38th parallel was established between North Korea and South Korea, Park was sentenced to death because of allegations that he was a communist. Although he was a member of the South Korean Workers Party, and sympathized with communist demands, he was not aligned with them. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the South Korean Army reinstated him and installed him as brigadier general, By 1957, Park commanded the entire Second army of South Korea. In 1960, South Korea’s first president Syngman Rhee was forced from power by a student uprising. Rhee had increased his power and was an increasingly despotic ruler. In the ensuing power vacuum, General Park  seized control of the democratic government and established the Supreme Council, with him in leadership.

In 1963 the Supreme Council passed several acts which barred any civilians from political participation if they were connected with any previous regime. The Council also gave the president new constitutional powers. The student and civilian protests forced the puppet President to resign. Elections were supposed to restore democratic rule, but General Park resigned from the military and ran as a candidate. He easily won the election.

President Park’s first two terms are called the Third Republic of South Korea. From 1963-1971 South Korea recovered remarkably from the Korean War.  During his terms, Park emphasized the growth of industrial conglomerates and increased international trade. In a widely protested act, Park normalized relations with Japan in return for loans and war reparations. President Park also strengthened ties with the US and supported their efforts military in the Vietnam War. Japan and the US were central to asserting Korea as an active international power. Between 1966-1969 relations with North Korea deteriorated and were marked by attempts to assassinate President Park by Kim il-Sung. In 1969, Park threatened the legislature to allow him to run for a third term, which would prove disastrous.

Park Chung Hee’s last term faced increasing protests because of his greater autocracy. In 1971, Park dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution. In 1975 also made any criticisms of the government illegal and punishable by imprisonment. His decrees resulted in two protests which were quickly crushed by armed troops. President Park’s rule was so negative that an assassination attempt occurred, which ultimately killed his wife. When President Park ran unopposed in 1978, student protests continued to rock the country.

In 1979, President Park’s rule was violently brought to an end. The director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) shot Park Chung Hee and his bodyguards inside his residence. Although his motivation was never reported, the director put an end to the increasingly despotic regime of Park Chung Hee.