1981: Not Kim Dae-jung, South Korean president and Nobel laureate

Add comment January 24th, 2018 Headsman

South Korea’s dictator reluctantly commuted the death sentence of democracy activist Kim Dae-jung on January 24, 1981 … a gesture that would eventually enabled Kim to return the same favor to the dictator.

A farmer’s son who became a wealthy businessman and a charismatic orator, the Catholic Kim had been a fixture of the political opposition since the 1960s which was a dangerous profession. In his address accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for 2000, Kim reflected that

five times I faced near death at the hands of dictators. Six years I spent in prison, and 40 years I lived under house arrest or in exile and under constant surveillance. I could not have endured the hardship without the support of my people and the encouragement of fellow democrats around the world. The strength also came from deep personal beliefs.

I have lived, and continue to live, in the belief that God is always with me. I know this from experience. In August of 1973, while exiled in Japan, I was kidnapped from my hotel room in Tokyo by intelligence agents of the then military government of South Korea. The news of the incident startled the world. The agents took me to their boat at anchor along the seashore. They tied me up, blinded me and stuffed my mouth. Just when they were about to throw me overboard, Jesus Christ appeared before me with such clarity. I clung to him and begged him to save me. At that very moment, an airplane came down from the sky to rescue me from the moment of death.

His life on that occasion was saved by the aggressive intervention of U.S. ambassador Philip Habib.

South Korean politics went on tilt after the ruler who nearly had Kim “disappeared” in 1973 was himself bizarrely assassinated by the country’s intelligence chief in late 1979. Emboldened democracy movements raced into the ensuing power vacuum, roiling cities and universities and culminating in May 1980 when a popular uprising in Kim’s native Jeolla was crushed with hundreds of deaths, bringing martial law in its wake. This was the Kwangju or Gwangju Rising (and/or -Massacre), and it led to Kim’s condemnation for sedition.


Kim Dae-jung in the front row of prisoners on trial after Kwangju.

The U.S. Carter administration, and (from November of 1980) the transition team for the incoming Reagan administration, worked strenuously behind the scenes to effect a commutation;* hanging Kim, Reagan foreign policy advisor Richard Allen warned a Korean intelligence delegation, “would be like a bolt of lightning out of the heavens that will strike you.”

The dictator Chun Doo-hwan eventually traded Kim’s life — he’d be sent into exile in the United States under the pretext of going abroad for medical treatment — for an official visit in the first weeks of the incoming president. Reasoning that

Kim’s execution would inflict long-term damage on Chun’s rule, which by this time had stabilized … On January 24, 1981, Chun commuted Kim’s death sentence to life imprisonment and lifted martial law. On February 3, Reagan warmly welcomed Chun to the White House for a summit meeting. He was the second foreign head of state Reagan met after his inauguration. This meeting was important in enhancing the legitimacy of Chun’s leadership both at home and abroad.

-Chae-Jin Lee, A Troubled Peace

Kim returned to South Korea in 1985 as a closely-monitored opposition figure and re-entered politics, repeatedly seeking election to the presidency — which he finally won in 1997, earning not only executive power but the rare opportunity to repay Chun Doo-hwan’s bygone act of grace.

Earlier in 1997, Chun had been convicted by the post-dictatorship courts on a number of capital charges relating to his reign in the 1980s, and himself sentenced to die. President-elect Kim coordinated with his predecessor Kim Young-sam to have Chun’s sentence commuted during the transition.

“In all ages, in all places, he who lives a righteous life dedicated to his people and humanity may not be victorious, may meet a gruesome end in his lifetime, but will be triumphant and honored in history; he who wins by injustice may dominate the present day, but history will always judge him to be a shameful loser. There can be no exception.”

-Kim

* For period context, recall that in April of 1979 the Pakistani military government had hanged the former prime minister, over Washington’s objections.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Korea,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Politicians,Power,South Korea,The Worm Turns,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

1980: Kim Jaegyu, intelligence chief

3 comments May 24th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1980, the former intelligence chief of South Korea was hanged for assassinating President Park Chung-hee.*

In this surreal affair — known after its date as the “10.26 incident” in South Korea — the head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency popped the autocratic head of state during a private dinner party at a secret KCIA compound.

He then returned to another dinner party at the compound and, without disclosing what he had done, reported an “accident” and started dropping suggestions to a general that this might be an opportune moment to arrange martial law. Instead, the two repaired to a bunker. There, several hours’ confused wind-gauging by a hastily assembled cross-section of the country’s power brokers (not knowing their own chief spook had pulled the trigger) gave illustration to the Ovid maxim that “treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? If it prosper, none dare call it treason.”

Only two participants, Kim Chae Kyu and Kim Kye Won, had witnessed the assassination, and neither disclosed the killer … Without an explanation from these two, the others present were left to speculate whether the killings were truly accidental, organized by North Koreans, or perpetrated as part of a South Korean conspiracy, large or small. They could not rule out the possibility that some among them … were part of a plot. Without knowing the balance of power, both civilian ministers and military officers worried about making a wrong move … (Source)

The truth, eventually, would out. But the reason for this shocking internecine turn by a supposed confidante of the president? The murder was too well-planned to square with initial reports of an argument gone out of control. It seems a coup, but if so, our assassin disastrously — almost delusionally — miscalculated the post-Park lay of the land. Maybe we have to entertain the defendant’s own far-out claim to have struck against the authoritarian concentration of presidential power.

I shot the heart of Yusin Constitution like a beast. I did that for democracy of this country. Nothing more nothing less.

The controversial 2005 flick The President’s Last Bang offers a darkly comic look at the twisted mise en scene in the intelligence compound that fateful 10.26 … and doesn’t find a lot of participants worth admiring.

Whatever its cause, South Korea’s unanticipated transition was a wobbly one. Even as the spymaster who had set it in motion was hanged this date with some of his conspiring security men, successor dictator Chun Dwoo-hwan was crushing a student uprising in Gwangju.**

* Park had survived previous assassination attempts, often authored by North Korea — including one that slew his wife in 1974.

** This uprising resulted in a death sentence against future South Korean president Kim Dae-jung — obviously not carried out. Under Kim’s administration years later, Chun was himself condemned to die for the massacre; Kim returned the gesture of clemency.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Infamous,Korea,Mass Executions,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Politicians,Popular Culture,Soldiers,South Korea

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Calendar

September 2019
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!