Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Chun Doo Hwan (1931–)

Republic of Korea Army general and president of the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea) from 1980 to 1988. Born in Hapchon near Taegu on 18 January 1931, Chun Doo Hwan graduated from the Korea Military Academy in 1955, the first regular four-year class in the academy's history. He rose through the ranks of the army, achieved the rank of major general, and became commander of the Military Security Command in February 1979. In October 1979 he was appointed head of the official investigation into ROK President Park Chung Hee's assassination that occurred on 26 October 1979. Chun used the position as a platform to seize control of the ROK government. With the aid of his loyalists, he seized control of the ROK armed forces on 12 December 1979 in a bloody nighttime coup that ousted his senior officers.

On 17 May 1980, Chun's new military declared martial law. The following day, mass demonstrations were staged in Kwangju to protest the imposition of martial law and especially the arrest of Kim Dae Jung, the perennial South Korean opposition leader. The street demonstrations nearly escalated into a full-fledged armed revolt. Chun's military swiftly and brutally suppressed the Kwangju uprising. In August 1980, he completed his junta by declaring himself president.

Chun sought to divert public attention from his repressive rule with proposals for a summit meeting with Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) leader Kim Il Sung. The North Korean government responded by attempting to assassinate Chun when he visited Rangoon, Burma, in October 1983. Toward the end of Chun's reign, South Koreans were demanding an end to military rule. June 1987 witnessed the downfall of Chun and the effective end of military-backed authoritarianism. On 29 June 1987, Roh Tae Woo, handpicked by Chun to be his successor, announced, with Chun's agreement, that he would accept a new constitution with a provision for direct presidential election. Under it, Roh was elected president on 16 December 1987, and the era of democratization began. In 1995, Chun was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison for the 1979 military mutiny, the 1980 Kwangju massacre, and corruption in office. He was freed under a special amnesty in December 1997.

Jinwung Kim


Further Reading
Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. Revised and updated ed. New York: Basic Books, 2002.
 

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