On That Day 40 Years Ago: What Happened in Gwangju?
On That Day 40 Years Ago: What Happened in Gwangju?
  • Lee Min-ook repotrer
  • 승인 2020.06.08 18:02
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 Forty years ago, on 18 May 1980, there was a massive uprising in Gwangju against Jeon Doo-hwan's dictatorship. The new military, led by Jeon Doo-hwan, expanded emergency martial law nationwide on 17 May 1980 in the name of stabilizing the nation. On 18 May, the next day, students of Chonnam National University protested strongly in Gwangju, and the military indiscriminately suppressed students and citizens who tried to dissuade them from using violence. When the news was made public, angry students in Gwangju resisted by chanting slogans such as "Withdraw the emergency martial law" and "Jeon Doo-hwan, step away." However, the military wanted to prevent such resistance with indiscriminate suppression, which soon became the starting point of the 18 May Democratic Uprising.


 Gwangju citizens began to resist more aggressively. On Geumnam Road, protesters consisting of bus, truck, and taxi drivers, used vehicles to resist. As citizen resistance grew, the military began to suppress them more violently through tear gas, armored vehicles, and helicopters, which eventually led to opening fire on citizens. By the 20th, the forces completely blocked Gwangju, isolating Gwangju citizens. Faced with a rear car carrying two bodies at Gwangju Station, citizens protested at the Jeollanam-do Provincial Government, where martial law army was stationed, but bullets were directed at them. That was because the military ordered a mass firing.


 After the mass firing of the army resulted in a large number of casualties, Gwangju citizens were armed to protect themselves and organized a "citizen army" to confront the government. Through fierce fighting, the civilian army eventually took control of the provincial government and set up a joint memorial altar in Sangmugwan in front of the provincial government, cleaned the city, and reorganized the civilian army to maintain security. Meanwhile, the military retreated, sealed off Gwangju, and ambushed at the point of entry before firing on citizens, resulting in many casualties. The brief standoff was then broken at dawn on 27 May, when more than 25,000 martial law soldiers entered the city. They entered the Jeollanamdo Provincial Government, which had been occupied by the civilian army. Then they launched a general offensive.


 Nevertheless, the civilian army fought to the end though the military ultimately repressed them. Finally, the 10-day fierce uprising in Gwangju came to an end.


 Then what about other regions during the tragedy in Gwangju? We were taught in history class that other regions were not aware of such a situation at the time because of the New Military's oppression of the press and that Gwangju was wholly cut off from the outside world. In an interview with a man who lived in Daegu in 1980, he said, "We didn't even realize that there was the 18 May Democratic Uprising at that time." "At that time, there was a student demonstration in Daegu, but it was a resistance to the Jeon Doo-hwan regime, not influenced by the 18 May Democratic Movement." Also, according to the article released at that time, media in other regions only reported that the North Koreans in Gwangju caused riots and that the military successfully suppressed the rioters. In other words, there was no mention of the nature of the 18 May Democratic Uprising and the process of suppression.


 We could see from these data that the army, led by Jeon Doo-hwan at the time, prevented the media from leaking information, and in other regions, the media distorted the 18 May Democratic Uprising as a riot by North Korea and reduced and covered up the damage of citizens during the crackdown. Forty years later, many facts have been revealed about the 18 May Democratic Uprising. Still, only a weak punishment was imposed on former President Jeon Doo-hwan, who was in charge during the 18 May Democratic Uprising. In 1996, Jeon Doo-hwan was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Roh Tae-woo was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but they both were pardoned two years later. This means that the level of punishment demanded by the people has not yet been met. Also, various controversies such as helicopter shooting, have yet to be clarified. In the future, we will have to investigate and analyze many testimonies and materials to find out the truth and damage of this case and make it known widely.

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