Gwangju Uprising 1980
May 21, 2007
I’m in the city of Gwangju now, going around to some of the sites that were prominent in the May 1980 rebellion. These news reports, not surprisingly, don’t have the slightest idea what was actually going on, except CBS kinda (second of three), probably because they had a reporter there.
I’ll post more soon at the other blog, but for now: they were far from “riots,” but rather a popular uprising against thuggish, brutal paratroopers (untrained for crowd control) who put down student-led, peaceful protests against (another) coup — put down by clubbing and bayoneting, sometimes to death, of anyone of university age unlucky enough to have been on the streets. Many of the deaths happened down alleys, by small squads of soldiers.
After the paratroopers’ rampage, the citizens fought back defensively and drove the them out. Then, for about five days, the people of Gwangju created a commune — with citizens committees (complete with predictable and ultimately tragic factionalism), a “people’s army” (every able-bodied Korean man serves in the military, so there was no lack of training or discipline) and kimbap buffets — in the blockaded city.
Eventually, the military brought everything they had down on the city. Most of the citizens gave up before the final assault, but a handful of the last and most idealistic students (leaders of one of the factions) refused to surrender and were killed as they tried to hold out in a government building.
There are a lot of controversies, but they were hardly, as the news reports had it “Armed young men under no apparent organization” and “rioters”.
I just stumbled on this trailer (click on it for a bigger version at Youtube) for a film called “Magnificent Vacation”, the code name for the Paratroopers’ assault on the city. It would have been impossible for this film to have been made until around 10 years ago, thanks to these two former presidents. Tried, convicted, and eventually pardoned over their roles in Gwangju.