Chon Du-hwan


December 3, 2021

Chon Du-hwan (January 18, 1931 - November 23, 2021) was a South Korean soldier and politician. He was president of South Korea from 1980-1988, but as a dictator he has ruled the country since 1979, when he carried out a military coup. He graduated from the Korean Military Academy in 1951–1955. Many of his classmates at the time later helped him gain power in a military coup (they were associated in the secret military club Hanahoe). In 1961, he strongly supported Pak Jong-hui, who seized power in a military coup and began to rule the country as a dictator. This ensured him a rapid rise and work in Pak's vicinity. In 1963 he began working in the secret service as a personnel director. In the years 1970-1971 he fought in the Vietnam War. In 1979, during the great unrest in the country, Pak Jong-hui was assassinated by the head of the secret service. Chon was tasked with investigating the assassination, but it was never clearly brought into the case, which sparked speculation that Chon was involved in the assassination. According to Article 48 of the Constitution, Prime Minister Choy Kyuha, who won the presidential election in December 1979 and became regular president, took Pak's place. However, Chon soon began to conspire against him with a group of army commanders. Gradually, he gained more and more influence. He has ruled the country since he had Chief of Staff Jong Seng-hwa arrested on charges of involvement in the assassination of Park. Chö tried to satisfy Chon's desire for power by appointing him head of the secret service in April 1980. As early as May, however, Chon declared martial law, officially justified by the alleged intrusion of North Korean agents, and assumed all executive powers. He brutally suppressed the outbreaking student protests, notably the Gwangju massacre, where soldiers killed 987 protesters. Chö then resigned and Chon was elected president in September 1980. The United States was initially reluctant to recognize its government, but did so after a promise that South Korea would not develop missiles with a range of more than 180 kilometers. This agreement was later revoked and Korea could produce missiles with a range of 300 km. There is also speculation that Chon gained American support by canceling the secret atomic bomb program. Chon promised to leave the presidency after seven years, and the Koreans expected democratization changes after that period. In 1987, however, Chon introduced his successor, Ro Te-ua, and announced that he should be elected by indirect suffrage. This triggered a wave of protests, especially from students. Ro successfully calmed the resistance movement by presenting a comprehensive reform program and promising that the presidential election would be free. He also complied and won the subsequent election. Chon maintained some influence for some time, but in South Korean society the taboos of his dictatorship crimes gradually fell, especially in 1979. In 1996, Chon was eventually brought to justice and sentenced to death, especially for the Gwangju massacre. However, he received clemency from President Kim Jong-sam.


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