Wednesday, January 05, 2005


2005 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Kwanjgu Uprising in South Korea in 1980. The uprising, triggered by the proclamation of martial law and the massacre of several hundred pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets of Kwangju, marked a turning point in Korean history and in the relations between the United States and South Korea. To many Koreans, the US response to the uprising - silence and then the embrace of the dictators responsible - showed the true face of American policy towards their country. That was shocking in part because the American leaders at that time, including President Jimmy Carter and his Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Richard Holbrooke, were publicly committed to the support of democracy. When it came to choosing between democracy and US security interests, however, the choice was easy.

To understand the current circumstances on the Korean peninsula, its important to remember what happened 25 years ago. In 1996 I obtained more than 3,000 pages of declassified documents on US policy in Korea at that time under the Freedom of Information Act. To read about the true story of what happened in Kwangju and afterwards, please go to this website,, where my original articles (which appeared in Korea's Sisa Journal and the US Journal of Commerce) are stored, along with long excerpts from the documents themselves. In Korea, justice was finally served: the military strongmen responsible for the Kwangju massacre - Chun Doo Hwan and Noh Tae Woo - were tried and convicted for murder and treason. With the exception of former US ambassador Donald Gregg, no American official has accepted responsibility for the long US support to military dictators in South Korea.

For further reading, check out Lee Jay Lee's diary of the events in Kwangju. Its an amazing tale, told by someone who played a direct role in the uprising and was imprisoned for several years afterwards - and then, after democratization, became an economic official first for the provincial government in South Cholla and later for the national government of Kim Dae Jung. Kwangju Diary: Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness of the Age, is available from