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Observations about Park Chung-hee

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By Richard Pennington

Having visited former President Park Chung-hee's birthplace in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province and the Park Chung-hee Presidential Library and Museum in Seoul twice, and having read Lee Chong-sik's biography of him along with a mountain of other material, I would like to proffer my views on this man ― the most significant figure in modern Korean history. He is loved by some and loathed by others, but forgotten by none.

Park staged a military coup in 1961 and installed himself as the country's de facto ruler, taking over from a government that had long been in disarray. Octogenarian Syngman Rhee, president since 1948, seemed to have no vision and no plan, and even if he did he could not get things done. His successor, Yun Bo-seon, was hamstrung by political infighting, and thus Park ― "a short man but whose visage indicated 'I mean business'" ― took control.

President John Kennedy reluctantly acknowledged Park's new regime, but many Americans wondered why nearly a decade after the conclusion of the Korean War the Republic of Korea (ROK) government was being run by a military dictator. He instituted a curfew that lasted 26 years, for crying out loud.

Park jailed numerous people without trial, used torture freely and dismissed the National Assembly whenever it was insufficiently........

© The Korea Times

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