Chun Doo-hwan, South Korea’s most maligned ex-military dictator, dies at 90

While his father Chun Sang-woo ran away from debt collectors and Japanese police officers (after knocking one of them off a cliff), his mother Kim Jeom-mun had high expectations of Doo-hwan, one of their four sons. When a Buddhist fortune teller predicted that her three protruding front teeth would block the boy’s path to future fame, she rushed into her kitchen and ripped it out with pliers, according to “Chun Doo-hwan: Man of Destiny,” according to an authorized biography published his coup.

After graduating from vocational school, Doo-hwan quit college because he could not pay tuition fees. Instead, he joined the Korea Military Academy, where he trained boxing and headed their soccer team as a goalkeeper. (As president, he called the head coach of the South Korean national soccer team in the middle of the game to dictate the game strategy.)

General Chun was head of the military’s intelligence command in late 1979 when Mr. Park was murdered during a drinking party by the director of the KCIA, his espionage agency. Mr. Chun and his army friends – mostly officers like Mr. Roh, who came from his home province in southeast South Korea – arrested their chief and martial law commander, the army chief of staff, General Jeong Seung-hwa, and moved their troops to Seoul to contest his largely bloodless coup complete.

“It was a filthy rebellion that served no other purpose than satisfying Chun Doo-hwan’s personal greed,” General Jeong said later. He said Mr. Chun’s cronies whipped and waterboards him to force a false admission that he was involved in Mr. Park’s murder.

Mr. Chun placed the country under martial law, closed parliament and universities, and imprisoned prominent dissidents, including two main opposition leaders, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung. In May 1980, people in Gwangju, the political home of Kim Dae-jung, rose in protest and shouted: “Down with Chun Doo-hwan!”

Troops moved in, wielded batons and bayonets, and opened fire. Some protesters armed themselves with weapons stolen from police stations. According to official figures, the raid cost at least 191 lives, including 26 soldiers and police officers. The victims’ families said the death toll was much higher.

Mr. Chun’s military junta later sentenced Kim Dae-jung to death on false charges of instigating the Gwangju uprising at the behest of North Korea.


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