Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
McCONVILLE: The military coup took place not long after that, with Choi Kyu-hah asserting himself. Then when they reared up against this military coup and then were put down by the generals, that was Chun Doo-hwan, and that kept coming back up all of the time and ultimately after the fall of Park Chung-hee, Choi Kyu-hah was arrested and subsequently spent that time in a monastery and so forth, lost a great deal of whatever personal wealth he may have amassed, and Chun Doo-hwan ultimately came to somewhat similar fate. But that was all coming to a boil during particularly the latter part of that period, so politically it was a pretty extraordinary period as well. Economically Korea was an enormous success story. At the same time, they were having these political tensions. Again, it tends to lend a lot of support to the argument that ultimately if you have open economic arrangements and begin to succeed economically in at least a modern market-oriented international economic arena, these will increasingly bring pressures to open up politically. First of all, you begin to develop more and more diverse centers of power within your political body as your economy continues to expand and economic power becomes more and more significant and becomes more dispersed. As people begin to succeed more economically, they become more and more concerned with political liberty and feeling more disposed to press for political openness. It certainly happened in Korea; it happened in Taiwan. Whether it will always happen everywhere, I suppose, is an open question. Again, you can argue - certainly Park Chung-hee, in taking over Korea in '62 — the Koreans whom I talked to who remember that period, maybe because I talked to so many who were in economic backgrounds - most of them thought back on that short period between Syngman Rhee and the military coup by Park Chung-hee as sort of total chaos in Korea. They looked on that as totally an abhorrent period of time.
Q: Korea was really considered the bottom of the...
McCONVILLE: Yes, they were economically, but during the period after Syngman Rhee had been overthrown and before Park did the military coup, it was just total chaos. The politicians who tried to run Korea during that period of time had been totally incompetent. In fact, there was no sort of culture that supported a democratic sort of organized society in Korea at that time. Park Chung-hee, for all of his harshness and so forth, never amassed any great amount of personal wealth. He seemed to be a man who was really driven by a mission to modernize Korea. He lived pretty modestly. He could be very harsh with political foes, but he seemed truly to be driven primarily by what he considered to be his role to modernize Korea. He had always spoken that at some point then time would come to turn over political power, but like so many autocrats who do this, they find it more and more difficult to give up that political power, and he was never able to do it until it was crumbling beneath him and he was assassinated by some of his own.