Shame on You, Yale School of Management

The Korean usually steers clear from discussing too much Korean politics in this blog, because Korean politics requires too much advanced knowledge to fully understand. But this particular issue does not, and it actually involves an American entity as well -- specifically, Yale University School of Management.

First of all, a short history lesson is in order for those who are unfamiliar with the main subject of this story -- former South Korean president Chun Doo-Hwan. A concise description of Chun would be: a dictator who killed a lot of people. Because Korea emerged into the world's consciousness relatively recently as a prosperous democracy, this part of modern Korean history involving Chun Doo-Hwan and other dictators tends to be generally ignored. But until late 1980s (and arguably until early 1990s,) South Korea was a fascist dictatorship sponsored by the United States, just like the way U.S. has sponsored other dictatorships in the Middle East and Latin America during the Cold War. (Generally, that part of the U.S. history has also been blissfully ignored.)

Chun Doo-Hwan
Chun came to power illegitimately, through a good old-fashioned military coup d'etat. The previous dictator Park Chung-Hee was assassinated in October 1979, and there was a small hope that South Korea could transition into a true democracy. However, within two months after the assassination, Chun stormed Seoul's military bases and essentially held the interim president, Choi Kyu-Ha, as hostage. 

In May 1980, Chun declared martial law, on the fabricated pretext that North Korea was preparing to attack South Korea. The martial law prompted nationwide protests demanding democracy, the largest of which was in the city of Gwangju with 200,000 protesters. On May 18, 1980, the massacre began in Gwangju. The paratroopers fired at the citizens of Gwangju indiscriminately, killing not only protesters but also women and children. In response, the citizens of Gwangju raided the local armory, armed themselves and barricaded the provincial capitol building. For a little more than a week, Gwangju became a war zone, as the paratroopers cut off access to the city and lay siege to it. Finally, on May 27, the paratroopers re-captured the capitol, killed the resisting civilian militia, and quelled the protest. Over 600 people died as a result of this violent suppression.

Streets of Gwangju in May 1980
In August 1980, Chun ran for the president unopposed, in a sham election held in a gymnasium in which only the small "electoral college" could vote. (The "electoral college" voted by applauding rather than casting ballots.) In the same time period, to suppress any potential dissidence, Chun opened up a North Korea-style gulag in which nearly 40,000 people, arrested without a warrant, were sent to hard labor. 57 of those prisoners would die from disease and beating.

Chun's reign would end in 1987, when another massive wave of democratization protests, sparked by the death of a student protester who died while being tortured by the police. After Korea democratized, Chun was put on trial in 1997 and was sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, Chun was found to have amassed 1 trillion won (i.e. approximately $1.2 billion, in 1987 dollars) -- which was nearly 1% of the entire South Korean GDP in 1987 -- in his private slush fund during his reign. (Chun claimed that he could not pay back the slush fund because his total worth was a checking account with 290,000 won in it. This claim would be funny if it was not so disgusting.) Chun was released from prison in 1998, based on a historic pardon in the spirit of national reconciliation, granted by then-president Kim Dae-Jung.

Chun Doo-Hwan is unquestionably the worst president/ruler that South Korea has ever had. Even the former Korean dictators who sought lifetime presidency -- Rhee Syngman and Park Chung-Hee -- did not order the soldiers to fire indiscriminately into peacefully protesting citizens, nor did they operate a gulag. Under Chun, with respect to political freedom, South Korea came the closest to being indistinguishable with North Korea.

So what did the students of Yale School of Management do with Chun Doo-Hwan? Did they make him a case study of dictatorship? Did they denounce Chun's massacre of democracy-demanding citizens? No -- they visited Chun and took a group photo, grinning like idiots.

More after the jump.

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Seriously, this actually happened. 27 Yale MBA students, led by Yale School of Management professor Jiwoong Shin, met with former president Chun Doo-Hwan at Chun’s house for two hours on March 14. The entire meeting was recorded and televised. Reportedly, the meeting happened because Shin is good friends with Chun’s son.

And sure enough, Chun used the rare public appearance as a chance to rewrite history. Probably the most amazing thing that Chun said was in response to question that asked the greatest regret during his presidency: ”I just happened to become the president while I was investigating the sudden death of the previous president. If I had a plan to become the president, I would have done a better job.”

If you were listening, the man was saying he never wanted to be the president. He took over the military,  promoted himself to a four star general, shut down the National Assembly, had the soldiers review the next day's newspapers before they were printed, killed 600 people, and held a sham election by a joke of an electoral college, by accident.

It gets better. Chun noted that he was the president for seven years, and originally planned to have two seven-year terms as the president. But a desire to serve as an example for his successors (and not, say, the overwhelming public demonstrations) compelled Chun to serve only a single term. Chun also said there was a risk that he would run a “military-style democracy” because of his military background, but was able to run an “American-style democracy” thanks to his America-educated advisors.

The Korean is not even mad at Chun anymore. It is absurd to expect that a mass murderer would not lie. Those graduate students from Yale School of Management, however -- that's a different story. I cannot mince words here: what they did was moronic. By visiting Chun, they validated a mass murdering dictator and gave him a chance to rewrite history. They approved the typically fascist justification to dictatorship, that economic development and external threats excused the destruction of civil liberties. This is deeply insulting to all those who fought and died for South Korea's democracy.

Think, people. Please, think. You are supposed to be the smart ones.

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