Last ceremony apparent the 30th ceremony of the Kwangju Citizens’ Insurgence in South Korea, a cardinal accident that aggressive the Korean autonomous movement through its ultimate achievement in the backward 1980s. In Kwangju, area hundreds died in the uprising, the accident was apparent by austere commendations and the attendance of political leaders from both larboard and right, including assembly of Admiral Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s best bourgeois baton in over a decade. But the accident drew hardly a casual glance in the United States, which is South Korea’s aing ally.
The blackout is understandable, because Kwangju represents U.S. adopted action at its worst. The insurgence created the best astringent crisis in U.S.-Korean relations aback the Korean War assured in 1953 and was the better claiming anytime to the US-backed South Korean military, which had finer controlled the country aback 1961 and had fought alongside U.S. armament in Vietnam. Yet the U.S. administering of Admiral Jimmy Carter, admitting its accessible charge to animal rights and its articulate criticism of Korea’s complete government, chose the amiss ancillary and accurate that government’s accommodation to put the apostasy bottomward with baleful force.
As a journalist, I’ve been carefully complex with Kwangju aback the aboriginal canicule of the uprising. In May 1980, as a apprentice activist at the University of Oregon, I helped administer some of the aboriginal on-scene letters of the aggressive atrocities in Kwangju banned out of South Korea by Christian animal rights groups and American missionaries. Afterwards that decade, I was one of the alone journalists to appointment Kwangju and certificate what had happened there. And over the beforehand of the 1990s I acquired about 4,000 declassified abstracts that repudiated the official U.S. adventure that American admiral and generals had no captivation in the contest that led up to the rebellion.
To mark the 30th anniversary, I am absolution addition accumulation of abstracts acquired beneath my antecedent Freedom of Advice Act requests. They board nine key Accompaniment Department cables that I aboriginal acquired in 1996 but were added declassified in contempo years, and a accumulating of abstruse CIA letters on South Korea that took me over 10 years to access (they are heavily redacted, as readers will see).
Together, these abstracts augment my antecedent allegation about the U.S. role in South Korea in 1980, which I aboriginal appear in 1996. The Carter administration, anxious that the crisis in South Korea could destabilize U.S. aegis interests and possibly activate “another Iran” — a anarchy abuse a U.S. accessory — gave tacit approval to the Korean aggressive to use force to put bottomward apprentice and artisan protests, while admonishing generals not to use boundless force. Then, aback the Kwangju citizens fought aback adjoin aggressive atrocities, the aforementioned admiral accustomed the celerity of Korean troops beneath U.S. command to put bottomward the rebellion. Carter’s accomplishments helped pave the way for about eight added years of backbreaking aggressive aphorism in South Korea and triggered a beachcomber of anti-American activity throughout South Korea that persists to this day.
The new abstracts afford appreciably added ablaze on why Carter fabricated his decisions. U.S. intelligence, admitting a massive attendance in East Asia at the time, actually absent the signs that South Korea was branch adjoin political warfare in the abatement of 1979. By that time, 18 years of acute industrialization accompanying with massive repression adjoin activity organizers and apprentice dissidents had produced a burnable mix that climaxed on October 26, 1979, with the assassination of absolutist Park Chung Hee. His analgesic was the CIA arch who feared that Park was active South Korea adjoin revolution.
But months before, in an assay advantaged “The Outlook for Admiral Park and South Korea’s Dissidents,” the CIA absolved the artisan and apprentice resistance, as able-bodied as the political opposition, as alternate and bootless and clumsy to aggregation accessible accord for its demands for greater capitalism and artisan rights. Park, said the CIA, “seems actually able of application his aing anchor on ability into the 1980s.” But it warned that an bread-and-er abatement or political over-reaction could drive the action to “coalesce, and [Park] ability not accept a abundantly abysmal backlog of abutment to beforehand his political position.” Still, affairs for that were small, the agency said, because South Korea’s “active dissenters” numbered from “the hundreds to conceivably a few thousand,” in a country of 37 million. Moreover, “the boilerplate Korean allowance earner” saw apprentice beef as a “reflection of adolescence and abridgement of ‘real responsibilities,’” and was absurd to participate in agitator politics.
This assay angry out to be a colossal mistake. In October 1979, tens of bags of acceptance and workers aing in anti-Park demonstrations in the automated burghal of Pusan. The aing year in Seoul and added cities, bags added workers organized mutiny strikes and aing acceptance in circadian demonstrations adjoin Park’s successors. And in Kwangju in May 1980, about bisected a actor people, from acceptance to branch workers to cab drivers, took allotment in the armed rebellion.
The CIA’s abortion to advanced the agitation ranks alongside its disability to adumbrate the collapse of the Soviet Union as one of the top intelligence blunders in its history. The Accompaniment Department cables appearance a agnate disconnect; they accentuate how, admitting 35 years of aing ties, US admiral had actual little acquaintance with accustomed Koreans and around no compassionate of the political dynamics of a association addled from 18 years of aggressive aphorism and activity repression. That was underscored in March 1980, two months afore Chun’s accomplishment precipitated the Kwangju uprising, aback U.S. Agent William Gleysteen beatific a top abstruse appraisal to Washington.
“The allowance of a alarming disruption, such as a aggressive accomplishment or massive student/worker uprising, do not assume high,” he wrote, abacus that “the blackmail of aggressive action will abide a Damocles brand over Korea’s political development for some time.” But, he added, the “workers and others who created trouble” during the Pusan demonstrations “seem able to board to Korea’s actual difficult bread-and-er affairs by demography some abridgement in complete assets rather than demography to the streets.” Already again, a colossal absurdity resulted in a catastrophe.
For American progressives, Kwangju is not aloof an abstruse accident in the Cold War. It’s additionally an commodity assignment in the awkward adopted behavior accessible in the Autonomous Party. The key players in the Korea controlling in 1979 and 1980 were Richard Holbrooke and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Holbrooke, a abiding admired in Autonomous circles for the coveted job of secretary of State, is currently a baronial official in Hillary Clinton’s Accompaniment Department. Brzezinski, Carter’s civic aegis adviser, has won a assertive affirmation to acclaim in fashionable Washington anticipate tanks (such as the New America Foundation) for his action to the war in Iraq and his bitter appraisal of the Bush/neoconservative academy of adopted policy.
During the Korean “crisis” of 1980, both men displayed an aloof and about amazing antipathy adjoin their South Korean allies. Holbrooke and Brzezinski were active in persuading Carter — who was acutely apprehensive of the Korean aggressive — that his alone addition in South Korea was to abutment Chun over the autonomous aspirations of the Korean people. In a sense, Kwangju marks the end of U.S. Cold War administering in East Asia and a axis point in the American accord with Asia. Carter’s accommodation to aback the generals marked, to abounding South Koreans and others in Asia, a adverse and incomprehensible betrayal. Chalmers Johnson fabricated this point in his clear-sighted 2001 masterpiece Blowback, which quoted abundantly from my documents.
Just like the Soviet aishment of Hungarian ability in the summer of 1956 apparent the thuggish face of Soviet aggressive ability to the world, Johnson argued, American abetment of the aggressive absolutist Chun Doo Hwan and his supporters ripped the face off America’s declared charge to animal rights and the aphorism of law. We are still advantageous the amount for that. And alike as tensions on the Korean peninsula deepen over South Korean allegations that the North is amenable for the contempo beforehand on a argosy destroyer, it’s important to bethink why so abounding South Koreans abide alert of the United States and its amazing aggressive ascendancy in East Asia.
The Kwangju Insurgence began in mid-May 1980, aback bags of South Korean acceptance abounding the streets of Seoul and added above cities to accuse aggressive action in Korean politics. The demonstrations had started in the after-effects of the abominable assassination of Park Chung Hee. Aural six weeks, a accumulation of army commanders led by Lt. Accepted Chun Doo Hwan, the arch of aggressive intelligence, had taken ascendancy of the aggressive and were acutely captivated on abduction complete power. But, to the abruptness and alarm of the CIA and the Accompaniment Department, students, workers and action politicians accustomed to block the South Korean aggressive through artery demonstrations and complete appeals to the United States.
On May 17, afterwards accepting apprehension that Washington would not angle in the way of application troops to annihilate the protests, Chun put a stop to the growing movement for capitalism by declaring aggressive law over the complete country, sending army armament to ambit through the cities and campuses to arrest movement leaders. The crackdown was able in Seoul and added cities. But in Kwangju, a burghal in Korea’s southwestern Cholla Province acclaimed for its attrition to centralized, complete rule, acceptance connected to baffle the aggressive law edicts. On May 18, allegedly warned by their commanders that a antipathetic anarchy backed by North Korea was unfolding, Chun’s troops began a two-day binge through the city.
These troops were no accustomed army soldiers. They were Special Forces, accomplished to annihilate North Koreans during a animus war that would chase any armed battle amid North and South. In ample daylight, the paratroopers began beating, bayoneting and cutting anyone who dared to angle up to aggressive law. The troops attacked bystanders as well, block them into their homes and killing them. Horrified and angered by the accomplishments of the storm troopers, the bodies of Kwangju — the men accomplished in accoutrements because of ‘ binding stints in the army — formed a citizens’ militia and started cutting back. Afterwards two canicule of action and hand-to-hand fighting, in which dozens of bodies were dead and wounded, Chun’s Special Armament angry appendage and pulled out of the city.
In Kwangju and added adjacent towns in the Cholla region, the apostasy ushered in a ceremony of aggregate administering and aborigine adherence that some activists and historians afterwards compared to the Paris Commune of 1871. The Kwangju citizens hoped and accepted that the Carter administration, which was about committed to authoritative animal rights a centerpiece of U.S. adopted policy, would ancillary with them rather than Chun’s hated aggressive band (rumors alike flew that a U.S. aircraft carrier was one its way, with orders to admonition the city).
Back in Washington, however, these contest were beheld with abhorrence and loathing. The United States had about 40,000 action troops in South Korea, and these forward-based, nuclear-armed troops were key to the U.S. Cold War action of encircling the Soviet Union and China with aggressive bases. Aloof a few months before, Carter had agreed to about-face his 1976 attack affiance to abjure U.S. troops from Korea, afterwards astronomic burden from bourgeois assembly and the Pentagon anxious about abashing the U.S. aggressive aspect appear North Korea and East Asia.
At the aiguille of the insurgence — at a White House affair on May 22, 1980 — the Carter administering fabricated its acute decision. It would acquiesce Chun to arrange accustomed army troops beneath the U.S.-Korean aggressive command to put bottomward the rebellion, and calculating beforehand Chun adjoin “moderation.” Already the bearings was resolved, Carter’s civic aegis aggregation agreed, accustomed bread-and-er ties could move advanced — including an important $600 actor Export-Import Bank accommodation to South Korea to buy American nuclear ability accessories and engineering services.
Within hours, Chun’s troops began affective on Kwangju. A bound aggressive award had already cut off the burghal and its surrounding towns from all communications. Aggressive helicopters began aerial over the burghal advancement the Kwangju burghal army — which had taken up positions in the bigoted basic architecture in the average of the burghal — to surrender. At one point, a Kwangju citizens’ board asked the U.S. ambassador, William Gleysteen, to arbitrate seek a adjourned truce. But his appointment coldly alone the request.
In the aboriginal morning of May 27, the Korean troops from the Collective Command attempt their way into the bigoted basic and bound put an end to the resistance. The soldiers shut bottomward the Kwangju Commune and arrested hundreds of bodies who had participated. In aboriginal June, Carter’s aggregation accustomed the Eximbank loan, and South Korea went advanced with its plan to buy U.S. nuclear technology — money that went appropriate into the pockets of the behemothic U.S. corporations Westinghouse and Bechtel. By September 1980, Chun was president, and in January 1981 admission Admiral Ronald Reagan chose Chun I as the aboriginal adopted arch of accompaniment to appointment the White House. U.S.-Korean ties were restored, and a crisis averted.
But not for the bodies of South Korea. Chun’s takeover began eight added years of aggressive rule. It additionally sparked a movement for capitalism that lasted throughout the 1980s, culminating in 1987 with huge demonstrations in Seoul and added cities that drew millions of bodies into the streets for weeks on end. In 1997, the movement accomplished an acme aback Kim Dae Jung, the longtime agitator baton (and a Kwangju native) was adopted admiral of South Korea. One of the demands of the movement was to seek amends for the military’s accomplishments in Kwangju. In 1996, the administering of above action affair baton Kim Young Sam accustomed and bedevilled Chun and his co-conspirators for their crimes in Kwangju. Kim Dae Jung commuted their sentences aloft demography office.
I aboriginal appear about my declassified cables in The Journal of Commerce, timing my commodity to accompany with the aboriginal day of Chun Doo Hwan’s trial. The documents, mostly from the Accompaniment Department, showed that — adverse to official statements that the United States accustomed to arrest the Korean aggressive — Carter’s top admiral assured the Korean generals that they would not argue his affairs to use aggressive troops adjoin pro-democracy demonstrations in the canicule afore his May 17 coup.
Documents I acquired from the Defense Intelligence Agency burst the official U.S. adventure on the deployment of the Special Forces. For years, the U.S. government had captivated that it had no ability of Chun’s decisions to use these forces. But the DIA cables showed otherwise: U.S. admiral were acquainted continued afore Kwangju that the Korean aggressive was planning to use Special Armament adjoin caught apprentice and artisan protests. Those allegation were acute because two brigades of those Special Armament were afterwards captivated amenable for the killing in Kwangju.
My belief were a awareness in South Korea. The day afterwards they were appear in February 1996, apprentice demonstrations took abode in advanced of the U.S. Admiral in Seoul and in abounding added cities; for canicule they were advanced folio news. But The New York Times, whose agency arch in Tokyo at the time was Nicholas Kristof (who afterwards won a Pulitzer for his advantage of China’s Tiananmen Square massacre) actually abandoned the cables, as did The Los Angeles Times.
I was afterwards told by reporters from both affidavit that U.S. admiral admiral in Tokyo and Seoul a their editors that there was “nothing new” in the cables; they accurately followed that egoistic (and actually false) admonition and never already mentioned the new information. As a result, the U.S. media and U.S. policymakers never captivated the acquaint from the characterless abstracts (to its credit, The Washington Post ran a adventure about them, but it appeared canicule afterwards abundance and didn’t beforehand the adventure at all).
Over the years, I gradually acquired added documentation. But until now, I had never accounting about the new documents. A few years ago, with the admonition of the Civic Aegis Archives, I acquired 10 Accompaniment Department abstracts that had ahead been appear but heavily redacted. Then, afterwards an 11-year appeals process, the CIA appear to me several Top Abstruse letters — “finished intelligence,” it calls them — accounting in 1979, aloof as the crisis began unfolding. The abstracts are acquaint actuality in PDF anatomy so they can be apprehend by historians, journalists, and U.S. and Korean citizens absorbed in the accuracy about this incident. I will briefly analysis them now.
Two of the Accompaniment Department abstracts call the aboriginal affairs amid the Carter administration, led by then-Secretary of Accompaniment Cyrus Vance, and the Korean government afterward Park’s assassination.
They appearance the admeasurement of the ataxia aural the Korean government at the time, which was not hasty aback Park was a absolutist who had complete ability over the country. And they accentuate how the Korean authorities, from the alpha of the crisis, accustomed to bottle the cachet quo (“no political reprisals adjoin those who accept formed for Admiral Park”) while acquainted the abysmal accessible annoyance with Park’s rule. They additionally starkly allegorize South Korea’s complete assurance on U.S. aggressive support, goodwill, and bread-and-er abetment (it’s beauteous to apprehend the adopted abbot of a absolute country accept aboveboard that one of bristles key sectors “in our political system” is “the access of the United States”).
These affairs accustomed what would become U.S. and Korean action over the aing six months. As I wrote in my aboriginal articles, Holbrooke and Gleysteen led an accomplishment to admonition Korean authorities beforehand political adherence while counseling the action — who, Gleysteen admits in one cable, would “win decisively” an open, fair acclamation — to “moderate” their demands for an end to aggressive aphorism and accessible presidential elections. As Secretary Vance common to the Korean adopted minister, “In any contacts that we accept with the opposition, we will be accurate to admonition moderation.” He added: “We will be accurate not to appoint in accessible criticism” of the government.
It’s additionally cogent that Vance, alike in his affairs with South Korea’s acting president, mentioned the awaiting $600 actor U.S. Export Import Bank deal. This loan, which accustomed the Korean government to buy US nuclear technology, was accustomed aloof one ceremony afterwards Kwangju. It’s awful to see bartering business accord addition into a affair amid a US Secretary of Accompaniment and a Korean president. The nuclear deal, Vance told the president, “would accept a abstracted effect.”
Two added abstracts altercate the U.S. acknowledgment to the “12/12 affair” in 1979.
In December 1979, Chun Doo Hwan breached the U.S.-Korea collective command anatomy by unilaterally acclimation Korean troops attention the DMZ to arrest the aggressive law commanders in Seoul. The declassified cables about this accident back the abysmal U.S. dejection about Chun’s actions, with edgeless statements from Holbrooke to the Korean agent in Washington (“mutual assurance has been actively damaged”). But admitting the austere U.S. apropos about the aperture of the command structure, Holbrooke and the blow of the administering agreed to abide bashful on the accountable as continued as Chun maintained his affiance not to appropriate complete ability — which of beforehand he did.
In one document, Gleysteen is appreciably aboveboard about how Chun was aggravating to grab power. The general, he says, “may try to extend his string-pulling role from the aggressive to the complete government and society.” Yet in May, alone weeks later, Gleysteen agreed with Chun on the call of application aggressive force to annihilate peaceful anti-government demonstrations area the primary appeal was that Chun get out of the government. Gleysteeen additionally said in this cable that not alone would the action affair win an acclamation — but that if that achievability were to unfold, the aggressive “would move to anticipate it in beforehand or an acclamation or by accomplishment afterwards the election.” Essentially, that’s what Chun did in May aback he arrested Kim Dae Jung and added dissidents, and shut bottomward parliament.
Two added abstracts accommodate the abounding summaries of two acute affairs Gleysteen captivated with Chun and the Blue House (the Korean adaptation of the White House) a ceremony afore Chun’s crackdown in May 1980. They are cogent because they appearance that Gleysteen (and accordingly the blow of the Carter government) knew the admeasurement of the advancing crackdown — “more than 12,000 action badge had been broadcast throughout Seoul.” But it additionally conveys far added than antecedent cables how anxious Gleysteen and aggregation were about abeyant abandon and arrests. Admitting those concerns, however, the United States was still anecdotic action leaders as “unhelpful,” and Gleysteen promised to “talk sense” to Kim Dae Jung and his adolescent agitator Kim Young Sam, both of whom got swept up in the crackdown.
The final cable, accounting by Gleysteen in June 1980 afterwards addition allocution at the Blue House, provides the aboriginal official acceptance of the ascent anti-Americanism in South Korea. Significantly, however, Gleysteen’s primary affair was not acceptance but “anti-American action aural the regime.” In his meeting, Gleysteen was told in beforehand of the massive purges (in business, activity and academia) agitated out by Chun during the summer of 1980. “The aggressive authorities were not yet annoyed that they had apple-pie the political arena adequately,” he says in one air-conditioned statement, but the Blue House “was assured the anaplasty would not be agitated to extremes.”
Despite this knowledge, the Carter administering remained bashful about these accomplishments — aloof as it was about Kwangju. There can be no stronger affidavit of the U.S. abetment in this apologetic affiliate in American diplomacy. And unfortunately, the acquaint not abstruse in Kwangju accept been again in too abounding places area the United States has assured that its cardinal bread-and-er and aggressive interests outweigh the accent of animal rights — from Baghdad to Kabul to Jakarta.
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