‘Political Soldier’ Chun Doo-hwan. Democracy was delayed as much as the time when he, a military dictator, came to the fore in modern Korean history. In order to seize power, Chun did not choose any means such as a coup d’état or massacre of citizens. Even so, he never apologized for his mistakes until his death. Of the 220.5 billion won in fines, 95.6 billion won also died unpaid. Paradoxically, the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement and the deaths of the martyrs Park Jong-cheol and Lee Han-yeol, which he caused, remained as events that marked the progress of democratization in Korea.
Jeon was born on January 18, 1931 in Naecheon-ri, Yulgok-myeon, Hapcheon-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do. After graduating from Daegu Technical High School, his life as a political soldier began in 1951 when he entered the 11th class of the Military Academy. In 1959, he married Lee Soon-ja, the daughter of former President Park Chung-hee and Lee Kyu-dong, a second-generation classmate.
In 1961, while serving as an instructor at the Student Military Education Center at Seoul National University, when the 5/16 military coup occurred, Jeon led the march to support the coup d’etat by juniors in the 6th. With this opportunity, Park Chung-hee caught the eye of then-President Park Chung-hee, and he gradually moved closer to the center of power through important posts such as secretary of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, head of the personnel department of the Central Intelligence Agency, and assistant chief of the Presidential Security Office. In 1979, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the National Armed Forces.
In 1964, the military private organization Hanahoe, led by the Jeon clan, served as the bodyguard of the Park Chung-hee military regime. Hanahoe, which was led by former President Roh Tae-woo and the 11th six dynasties, played a key role in taking power after Park Chung-hee disappeared in the October 26 incident in 1979. Jeon, who was in charge of the investigation of the October 26 incident as the head of the Joint Investigation Headquarters of the Martial Law Command, arrested Jeong Seung-hwa, then the martial law commander at the time of the 12/12 coup, and took control of the military with Hanahoe as the center. On May 17, 1980, the then-President Choi Gyu-ha was threatened and the emergency declaration was extended to the whole country. The next day, paratroopers were sent in to bloody suppress the May 18 Democratization Movement, leaving a huge scar in Korean modern history.
After that, Chun established the National Security Emergency Response Committee and took control of state affairs, and eventually became the 11th president on September 1, 1980. It was elected through the ‘gymnasium election’ of the National Assembly of the Unification Juche established by the Yushin Constitution. After enacting a new seven-year single-term constitution in October of that year, in March of the following year, he was elected as the 12th president through an indirect election by the presidential electoral college as a member of the Democratic Justice Party.
During his presidency, Chun suppressed the media through media consolidation and press guidelines, and suppressed citizens who demanded democratization. In the name of realizing social justice, the Samcheong Education University was established to suppress human rights. They collected money from entrepreneurs to create a huge slush fund. Seoul hosted the Asian Games and Summer Olympics, lifted the night-time ban, and adopted policies such as autonomy of haircuts and clothes at school, but it is evaluated as part of the socialization symbolized by the 3S (sports, screen, sex).
In January 1987, at the end of his term of office, Seoul National University student Park Jong-cheol was tortured and murdered, saying that he died after being hit and killed. This led to the uprising in June. Chun tried to extend the 5th ballpark with the April 13 constitutional measure, but due to nationwide protests, on June 29 of that year, Roh Tae-woo, the then-president of the Democratic Party, announced that he would accept the direct constitutional amendment. He retired from office in February of the following year.
After leaving office, Mr. Chun was held accountable for his mistakes. Roh Tae-woo, a friend and comrade in the coup d’état, became president, but in the midst of the so-and-so dynasty, the voices of corruption in the 5th Republic and the fact-finding investigation on the 5/18 grew louder in the National Assembly. In November 1988, he published ‘A Word to the People’ and left for Baekdamsa Temple with his wife. In December 1989, he stood at the National Assembly witness stand. However, he did not acknowledge his responsibility.
After Kim Young-sam took office, the two former presidents, Jeon and Roh, were brought to the courts for the dissolution of the Hana Council and the liquidation of the past. In December 1995, Jeon, who went down to his hometown of Hapcheon after announcing an ‘alley statement’ stating that he would not cooperate with the prosecution’s investigation, was arrested and indicted on charges of rebellion-purpose murder and rebellion. Chun was sentenced to death in the first trial, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in the second trial. In April 1997, the Supreme Court confirmed life imprisonment and a fine of 220.5 billion won. Shortly after the 1997 presidential election in December 1997, when candidate Kim Dae-jung won, former President Kim Young-sam pardoned Jeon and Roh, and they were released after two years of detention.
Chun never apologized for the mistakes he had made. The memoir published in 2017 also defined May 18 as a “riot”. Even the first firing order was not accepted. He also refused to pay the fine, stating that his total assets were only 290,000 won. This contrasts with former President Roh Tae-woo, who also committed a coup.
In his memoirs, Jeon insisted that Father Jovio’s testimony that he witnessed a helicopter shooting at the time of May 18 was false. Father Cho’s family sued Jeon for defamation of lions. Jeon, who appeared in court again after 22 years in 2019, was sentenced to 8 months in prison and 2 years of probation at the first trial in November last year, and an appeal trial is ongoing. Chun was diagnosed with multiple myelogenous cysts, a type of blood cancer, in August, and it is reported that his condition has rapidly worsened recently. In the end, Jeon passed away without a legal judgment.