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(Part 3) A Historical Review of Gwangju Democratization Movement: Its Development and Historical Significance
Date : 2008-10-27     Hit : 4357
(Third part - Continuation) 3. Development Procedure of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising


by Jeong Geunsig,
Department of Sociology,
Jeonnam National University


1. Introduction
2. The Background of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
3. Development Procedure of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
4. Restarting the Social Movement & the May Movement
5. Conclusion: The Significance and Prospect of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising




3. Development Procedure of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising

1) Motivational Analysis

The Gwangju Minjung Uprising traces a continuum of three events: the special forces indiscriminate submission of people from May 18 to 21 and citizens' resistance against it; the formation of a citizen's community in the midst of a national power vacuum from May 22 to 25; and the violent suppression by the army and the self-sacrifice of the Citizen's Army during May 26 and 27. Hundreds of thousands of Gwangju citizens and tens of thousands of citizens of minor cities in Jeonnam participated in this uprising.

Motive 1: Indiscriminate oppression and struggles to protect human dignity

On the night of May 17, 1980, the Emergency State Council decided to extend the martial law and dispatched the army to major cities across the country. Some political leaders like Gim Dae-jung and Gim Jong-pil were arrested, and Gim Yeongsam were held under house arrest. Several days later, Gim Dae-jung was known to have been accused of conspiracy and Gim Jong-pil of corruption. Additionally, the new military authorities issued an order of general college closure, and dispatched the army to close colleges and universities and arrest students who were still on campuses.

Six brigades of paratroopers were dispatched in Seoul and two regiments of the 7th Brigade of Paratroopers based in Igsan, Jeonbug. Regiment 33 occupied Jeonnam National University and Regiment 35 occupied Joseon University. The new military authorities had previously moved vehicles to transport soldiers in preparation of the expanded martial law on May 14. At 10:30 on the night of May 17, soldiers began to move from Igsan to Gwangju according to the dispatch order. They marched onto campuses at night and arrested, held under custody and battered students on campus. Thus did the horror start.

On the morning of May 18, students remembering the guidelines of actions in case of school closure began to gather in front of the main entrance, and the soldiers began to disperse them. Starting at 10:00, hundreds of students started protesting and the paratroopers already began indiscriminately subduing of those students. Since they battered students with their clubs, students already began to be injured. Students gathered again nearby the Gwangju Station and started street demonstrations. Their slogans were withdrawal of the martial law and the school closure order and the release of Gim Dae-jung, and also included slogans for the resignation of Jeon Duhwan, the core of the new military authorities.

As the demonstration expanded toward the downtown area, the soldiers from the 7th Paratrooper Brigade moved to Suchang Elementary School in the afternoon and again began indiscriminate repression with the order Forward! The terrifying drama of murder and injury started. The paratroopers mercilessly beat the demonstrators, chased after them to the end, and bound them. Some people were attacked with daggers and become blood-covered; numerous people were seriously wounded. Additionally, the new military authorities decided to dispatch the 11th Paratrooper Brigade into Gwangju; they arrived in Gwangju on the night of the 18th and at dawn the next day. Demonstrations on the first day lasted until 8:00 p.m., and the Local Martial Law Headquarters for Jeonnam and Jeonbug extended the curfew from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. the next day. In the daily record of the martial law enforcement of the 2nd Army Corps, 405 people were arrested and 68 of them were injured; 12 of them were seriously wounded. The real situation was much more terrifying and tragic.

The first demonstration started both in Seoul and Gwangju because the guidelines of actions in preparation of the school closure were similar nationwide; demonstrations in Seoul were dispersed without much conflict, whereas those in Gwangju developed into large-scale resistance. Why did the new military authorities' reactive measure against political democratization of May 18, 1980, grow to such a large-scale resistance only in Gwangju? Two hypotheses were suggested as the answers to this question--the military authorities strategically chose Gwangju or the paratroopers used excessive force insubding demonstrations. The former still is a hypothesis without clear evidence; however, since the military authorities' action was so closely related with the removal of Gim Dae-jung, the biggest obstacle to their power acquisition, people believe that the military authorities deliberately chose Gwangju, the strongest support base for Gim. The hypothesis of excessive force assumes that the indiscriminate subdual by the martial army resulted in the resistance, and this hypothesis has been the most supported ever since the Uprising. It is certain that the manner of subdual by the martial army was more inhumane and violent than in any other place.

Demonstrations in Gwangju began to expand from the 19th. Demonstrators, gathered on Geumnam Street, increased to the level of thousands, and they protested against the cruel oppression of the previous day. Before noon, a clash occurred between citizens and 1,140 paratroopers from the 11th Paratrooper Brigade, newly dispatched to subdue the demonstrations. Paratroopers carried out bloody action on young and old, men and women as if they had been enjoying a 'Splendid Vacation', the code name of the military actions. Citizens' demonstrations turned aggressive starting on the afternoon of the 19th. The main constituents of the demonstrators were now changed from students to citizens, and all downtown hospitals began to be filled with the injured. What made the state worse was the attitude of the press reports. Citizens became enraged at the fact that the cruel suppression was not mentioned at all, and their protests against such biased reports intermingled with their protests against the cruel suppression.

Before the situation got worse after demonstrations on the 19th, the new military authorities had already decided, to increase the size of the army to another three brigades, and the additional dispatch arrived in Gwangju by train during the dawn of the 20th. So, from the 20th, the suppression forces consisted of about 3,400 special force paratroopers from the 7th, 11th and 3rd Paratrooper Brigades. Soldiers of Division 31, which is the division based locally in Gwangju, and other soldiers from the Military Education Headquarters made up these forces. The special force paratroopers maintained their independent line of command and led bloody suppression; though Division 31 also participated in subdual, their intensity of attack was weaker than that of the special force.

On May 20, citizen protests were already of a different character in terms of their character. During the afternoon, more than 100,000 citizens gathered onto Geumnam Street and the Fighters' Bulletin was distributed, and cruel violence and protests against it happened across the city. The biggest demonstration on that day was the vehicle protest of about 200 vehicles. The protesting march started at Mudeung Stadium and entered Geumnam Street at about 7:00 p.m., and pressed onto the suppression army. This demonstration sharply expresses the shift of the demonstration from the previous ones which used bare fists and stones, to ones necessitating heavy equipment and weaponry and represents full-scale participation of the labor class. Demonstrations on that day showed the tendency of demonstrators' pressing onto the suppression army. As citizens' protests grew wilder against the evening newscast at 8:00, they set both the MBC and KBS buildings on fire. Demonstrations were even more enraged, and the army opened fire in front of Gwangju Station at about 11:00 p.m., resulting in deaths. They opened fire in front of the Gwangju Tax Office and Joseon University. Demonstrations continued until daybreak of the 21st. At 1:00 a.m. demonstrators rushed to the Tax Office and destroyed articles there and set the building on fire. It was an expression of resistance to the state.

During daybreak of the 21st, two corpses appeared among the procession of demonstrators. Demonstration was then changed to a struggle of life and death. Citizens covered the dead bodies with the national flag, carried them in a cart and marched downtown following the cart. The bodies covered with the national flag encouraged citizens' fighting spirit, and at the same time, signified that the citizens' struggle was not against the system itself but against the regime. At 10:00 in the morning, about 100,000 citizens gathered in front of the Provincial Hall again and they began to arm themselves with basic articles. Merchants around market places provided the demonstrators with food and protest materials. Citizens acquired many vehicles from the garage of the Asia Motors factory.

The Martial Law Headquarters announced The Statement on the Gwangju Incident and criticized it as an incident stirred up by impure agents and spies, and emphasized their right of self-protection. At 10:00 a.m., bullets were distributed to the suppression army in front of the Provincial Hall. At last, at 1:00 p.m. on the 21st, the army fired on the demonstrating public in front of the Provincial Hall. Geumnam Streets turned to the sea of blood. At least 54 died and about 500 were injured there. The yearnings for a peaceful settlement of the matter were thus shattered, and armed citizen resistance incited. At about 2:30 p.m., carbine rifles got into the hands of citizens from police stations and army reserve armories in the Naju area. Citizens voluntarily armed themselves with guns from police stations in Hwasun, Jangseong, Yeonggwang and Damyang and dynamites from Hwasun minery. They called themselves, The Citizen Army. The Citizen Army fired back at the martial army starting at 3:20 p.m., pushing the situation to the phase of street fights. Of course, the Citizen Army could not kill the martial army, but their fire had a symbolic meaning. In spite of this, citizens' armament and the formation of the Citizen Army functioned as a major threat to the martial army. Most of the city, except for the Gwangju Penitentiary and its neighborhood, was recovered from the hands of the martial army. It was on the one hand the martial army's tactical retreat, but on the other the liberation from the state power through all the citizens' struggle. Though the martial army acted on the action concept of Tactical Retreat - Gwangju Seal-off - Internal Disturbance - Final Suppression, citizens achieved their liberation to a limited extent.

Motive 2: The Expulsion of the Martial Army and the Formation of Citizen Community

The second motive of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising is the period from May 22 to 25 during which 'liberation' or a community was formed. It was formed by the victory of the citizen struggle and the tactical retreat of the martial army. The key topics for the discussion on this period are the revolutionary leadership in Gwangju, citizens' capability of producing community order, popular mobilization under a state of absolute fear, and negotiations between citizen representatives and the martial army, etc.

During this second period, citizens faced the treatment of the dead, blood donation for the injured, and restructuring the Citizen Army. The Citizen Army placed the control room with the headquarters in the Provincial Hall and began ordering the downtown area. The martial army sealed off Gwangju by blocking seven major inlets to Gwangju with tanks and armored vehicles. In the meantime, the martial army crossfired at each other because of confusion in the command line, resulting in increased victims, and several innocent civilians who had nothing to do with the demonstrations were murdered in the outskirts of the city.

The first meeting for settlement was held at the Nam-dong Catholic Church on May 22, and following this meeting, 'the Committee for the Settlement of May 18' was organized in front of the Provincial Hall at about 12:30 p.m. A protesting rally then followed the organization of the settlement committee, discussed guidelines of actions and then announced citizens' requests to the government. At the same time, they resolved the psychological discomfort in an absolutely isolated state. At about 9:00 p.m. 'the Student Committee for Settlement' was organized, comprised of a burial department, publicity department, vehicle control department and weaponry recollection department, and carried out civilian service.

At 10:00 a.m. on May 23, about 50,000 citizens flocked in front of the Provincial Hall. Dead bodies were accepted into Sangmu Hall in front of the Provincial Hall. The key controversy about that time was the matter of returning weapons. There was a division between one group for recollection of weapons to prevent further bloody clashes and the other against the recollection, saying that citizens should continue armaments until a full negotiation was reached. This division was repeated even in the settlement committee. Those who spoke for the recollection of weapons within the settlement committee were expelled or dismissed, and those who favored negotiation also retreated a step within the student committee

On May 24, the hard-line student committee made requests to the government--an apology for having defined citizens as rioters, the burial of the dead in the name of citizens, release of the arrested, and compensation for damages. Though the moderate stand within the Local Administration of Martial Law was not the mainstream of the new military authorities, it temporarily encouraged the negotiation group in the student committee. In the meantime, the martial army continued psychological operation for internal disturbance and finally carried out the poisoned needle incident in the morning of May 25, through which they attempted to separate the uprising leadership or the Citizen Army from general citizens. During this period, citizens had already created a community by taking care of the dead and the injured, providing of conveniences for the Citizen Army, and monitoring those who attempted internal disturbances. The uprising leadership and the Citizen Army consisted of 300 to 400 people, and their meals were largely provided by citizens' voluntary cooperation.

The citizen community was isolated by martial army's seal-off on the one hand, yet faced the prospect of army invasion at any moment on the other. Even in that situation, there were changes in citizen leadership around the matter of negotiations with the martial army. At last, the uprising leadership that decided to fight to the end was created the night of May 25.
Motive 3: Self-sacrifice and Resurrection

The third event began on May 26 when the martial army reentered Gwangju at daybreak on the 27th. At this time the army suppressed the Uprising headquarters and seized Gwangju again through military force. Because of this incident, the Gwangju Minjung Uprising has been inscribed into history.

At 5:00 a.m. on May 26, the martial army entered Gwangju from Nongseong-dong with tanks leading the way. Previous negotiations ended fruitlessly. Upon hearing this news ,some members of the Settlement Committee rushed to the area, , and they resisted reentrance even at the risk of their lives. They were about to appeal for negotiations and peaceful resolution of the situation. Many people referred to their efforts as the march of death.

On the night of May 26, the headquarters in the Provincial Hall knew that the martial army's entrance was at hand: they sent some people back to their homes and prepared themselves for the final fight. Some left the Provincial Hall themselves. The Uprising headquarters that remained to the last contained about 150 people and 80 of them knew how to handle guns. They were dispatched among the Provincial Hall, YMCA and YWCA buildings and other major buildings, and chose the 'strategy of defending until the end In this strategy and chose to be killed by the suppression army. They thus hoped to reveal how savage the suppression army and the new military authorities were, and to win a victory in history (Martin Bradley, 1997). They dreamed of a long-term, persistent, and global struggle by using the media to turn the tables on their murderers by letting civilian deaths be known to the world through international reporters; eventually this strategy turned out to be successful. Women in the Uprising headquarters announced the news of the martial army's reentrance at the time of the special force paratroopers' attack, ensuring the last memory of this tragic end.

At 3:00 a.m. on May 27, the martial army designated one local unit in the 11th Regiment of the 3rd Paratrooper Brigade and ordered the unit to enter the Provincial Hall. The army placed the 7th Paratrooper Brigade in Gwangju Park and the 11th Paratrooper Brigade in major buildings in the downtown area, and these paratroopers either arrested or killed the resisting Citizen Army and the members of the Uprising headquarters. At about 5:00 in the morning, the Citizen Army, who had been resisting in major buildings were completely subdued. The special force who acquired control of the Provincial Hall immediately withdrew after turning the Provincial Hall over to Division 20 forces.

Though there were controversies as to the leaders of the march of death and the isolated defence to the last--whether they were the laboring class, minjung or citizens--in the course of discussing how to define the character of these uprisings, equally important to consider are the historical lessons and ideology represented in the Gwangju Uprising. The so-called 'spirit of Gwangju' did not derived from a specific factor that foregrounded a certain action, instead it should be considered comprehensively in all courses of struggle for human lives, as has been witnessed in all three factors discussed so far.

During the first phase, citizens showed stern rejection of the army and courageous struggle, risking their lives against the situation in which their minimal human dignity was negated and they were treated like animals through the merciless violence of the martial army. In this phase, the so-called 'army of the people' betrayed the people for its own ends by carrying out an indiscriminate massacre of children, the elderly, and women and through merciless suppression with their clubs, swords, and the collective fire of their guns. This in fact gave legitimacy to the general citizens' resistance and self-defence with weapons, and at last brought forth the retreat of the martial army. Thus Gwangju achieved liberation from illegitimate national violence. To put it in a more positive way, the Gwangju citizens showed that resistance against the illegitimate national violence was a unique way to preserve human dignity.

During the second phase, Gwangju clearly showed the trust in the human capability of maintaining order without being controlled by national powers. In the midst of complete physical and psychological isolation, Gwangju citizens actualized a community using a consensus, discussion and the participation of all classes. The community experience achieved during that period was an ideal that seemed unprecedented and not likely to be repeated in human history. In spite of this, Gwangju could not find colleagues from other regions with whom they could share the liberation that they had attained after their struggles. After isolating Gwangju, the army began to systematically distort the truth of Gwangju by using cold war ideology and regionalism. There was a choking psychological battle between the martial army and the Citizen Army behind the shaping of this absolute community, or the ideal citizen community. The psychological weapon that the martial army used was a double character used first to isolate the uprising leadership from the general citizens and also used to isolate Gwangju from people of other regions. This isolation resulted of giving the false impression that Gwangju and the Jonla region was where rioters lived, or the region with a radical anti-government trend.

During the third phase, the Gwangju Uprising showed that collective heroes in Korea still existed who could sacrifice themselves, not compromising their convictions on the victory of democracy and the progress of history even though they knew of their impending deaths. Against the suppression operation at dawn of May 27, a part of the Citizen Army protected the symbolic space of the Provincial Hall with their lives. What should be emphasized here is that their deaths were the 'self' sacrifices of their own choice. They were the prophets who knew that 'Gwangju' and the Korean democracy would live eternally through their deaths. Through their self-sacrifices, the spirit of Gwangju could afford a self-completing structure and the Gwangju Minjung Uprising could provide a new start for a social movement targeting democratization in Korea and overcoming the divided state.

The three phases of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising are not isolated and dispersed ones, but instead were organically related to one another and developed. In these three phases, the collective psyche of Gwangju walked on the path of dialectic self-development that consisted of rage against beastlike suppression, the sense of liberation and fear about the near future, and sacrifice for an eternal future.

2) Several Issues of the Gwangju Uprising

May 18 and Locality

The most fundamental question that appeared in historical retrospection after the Gwangju Minjung Uprising concluded was: Why Gwangju? To put it in a more concrete way, why did 'the spring in Gwangju' continue to become 'the Gwangju Uprising' while 'the spring in Seoul' did not continue to become 'the Seoul Uprising'? Going a step further, how could the Busan-Masan region, where they had already experienced massive citizen activation in 1979, not be connected to any uprising in the May of 1980? The question of Why Gwangju? is at the same time a question of Why were other regions except for Gwangju silent? This questioning inevitably gave birth to the hypothesis of the military authorities' choice of Gwangju. That is, the new military authorities, after they had secured power within the army, encouraged student demonstrations to a certain degree and drove them to social chaos to create an opportunity to demonstrate the army's power. The army chose Gwangju because it could be connected to the politician Gim Dae-jung and would allow the military regime to portray themselves as the victims. They also considered anti-communism ideology and the effects of regionalism as well. This hypothesis has certain validity as a kind of conspiracy theory, but has no empirical evidence, while at the same time having the limitation of overlooking the subjective role of the citizens.

The question of Why Gwangju? is, besides martial law proclamation and cruel suppression, also the question of urban condition that allow the development of a massive uprising. Why was the massive citizens' resistance possible in Gwangju? First, Gwangju had the strongest politico-psychological association with Gim Dae-jung, the key figure of the political group whom the new military authorities arrested the night of May 17. As Gim Dae-jung started full-scale political activities in the spring of 1980 after long political restriction under the Yusin system, reformatory citizens, laborers and farmers developed great expectations and, in terms of regional support, the expectation from the Honam people was being greatly multiplied. Of course, the regional chasm was not so strong as after the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. The emotional association between Gim Dae-jung and the Honam people was well developed because of the regional imbalance in the course of industrialization, the presidential election in 1972, and the subsequent kidnapping of Gim Daejung. Second, in the phase of the democratization movement in the spring of 1980, Gwangju was where, the democratization movement was the strongest together with Seoul; when external forces tried to extinguish it, Gwangju had a very great possibility of resisting this pressure.

The democratization movement had already gained speed as early as the spring of 1980. In the Grand Rally for Democratization on May 16, students were discussing guidelines of actions in preparation of the government's order of school closure. This was the same in Seoul as well. But the actual result progressed differently. So, another, different character should be mentioned in comparison with the situation in Seoul. Third, Gwangju was a city with the Provincial Hall and Geumnam Street in the center. The symbolic space for major political gatherings or demonstration was the Provincial Hall Square, and this was leaned through history. Fourth, though Gwangju had a population of 800,000 at that time, it was a very homogeneous town in terms of the composition of residents' hometowns because industrialization had been relatively slow and almost no population influx from other regions than Jeonnam had happened. This homogeneous composition increased the possibility of a collective response to any interference of external power. However, though these secondary factors also functioned, the most fundamental reason why a massive uprising could take place in Gwangju was the beast-like and indiscriminate suppression by the martial army, who totally negated human dignity.

It is even harder to answer the question of why other regions were relatively silent. The communication network in Korean society in May 1980, consisted of formal state-controlled media, and the alternative media, which was in weak condition. Colleges and society were strictly separated and just a little information began to flow from colleges to society; the great majority of people were simply internalized their submission, a by-product of the Yusin system. The military plan to prevent the Gwangju uprising from escalating to other regions, the imposition of sanctions on the media, politico-psychological attempts to portray the Gwangju Minjung Uprising as an irrational act instigated by dangerous elements of the society, and most of all, strict control by direct use of intelligence and suppressive organizations--all these elements prevented resistance in other regions.

Main Body and Leadership

One of the issues of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising is the character of those who participated in it. It is closely related to the question of how to define the incident. Whether to define the main body of the uprising as citizens or minjung has been a persistent topic of discussion. The perspective which considers citizens to be the main body does not have bourgeois in the context of class but emphasizes the communal character over a certain class. The perspective which considers minjung as the main body has two different positions: One position views minjung as a class reality and analyzes the occupational composition of those arrested and accused, then develops its logic in such a way that the labor or loafer class occupied the majority. The other more nominative position tries to define minjung as a historical reality in attempting to overcome a divided state, rather than as an empirical class reality.

To discuss civilian leadership or the minjung's power as evidenced in the Gwangju Uprising, it is also necessary for us to analyze the group which claimed and propagandized the inevitability of an uprising, the group which virtually armed citizens and fought, and the organization that tries to 'settle' the 'incident' as it increased.

At the initial stage of the Gwangju Uprising, a certain group recognized the real situation, clearly suggested that fighting back was the only way, and carried out propagandizing activities in the face of inhumane suppression and massacre. They were members of the Deulbul Night School, members of Jeonnam National University's 'Voice of the University' and members of Gwangdae ('a clown'), which was a cultural movement team. They joined together and played a major role in leading the Uprising by publishing the Fighters' Bulletin and other publications. The Fighters' Bulletin defined the inevitability and method of a citizens' armed uprising. At the same time, these people organized leadership while leading the citizens' protesting rallies during the so-called liberation period.

The problem of 'settlement' appeared and organizations for this purpose were formed during the second motivational period of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising, the martial army's retreat and the shaping of the community. Though the concept of settlement was derived from an understanding that the phenomenon under development was 'a tremendous incident beyond expectation' and that additional sacrifices should never be allowed, it also indicated the authority structure of relevant and existing groups in the local community. On the one hand, they functioned as leadership and on the other hand, they initiated negotiations with the army. Their direction began to influence greatly the course of the uprising. 'Settlement' could include submission, compromise, and victory, but unilateral submission or victory was essentially impossible. Because the uprising leadership or the citizen leadership had to 'settle' the situation after terrible sacrifices had already been made at the initial stage of the uprising, it was literally important to them what to compromise and under what condition. Since three settlement committees were organized and incorporation during the Gwangju Minjung Uprising, we need to pay attention to the shaping and roles of these groups.

The settlement committees at the initial level were the Nam-dong Catholic Church-based settlement committee and the Provincial Hall-based settlement committee. The first group was mainly comprised of priests and professors and acted with the idea of 'preventing the incident from getting any worse'. The latter was organized on May 22 under the initiative of the Deputy Governor and its 15 members were priests, lawyers, and business leaders. They tried to effect a settlement by suggesting to the martial army the restriction of martial army operation prior to settlement, the release of all arrested, admission of excessive force by the army, no retaliation afterward, exemption from responsibility, compensation for the dead, and citizens' disarmament on the acceptance of these requests. The chief of the local administration of martial law personally admitted to excessive suppression and suggested acceptance of the requests through cooperation from higher authorities.

This negotiation plan was reported to the protesting rally of May 22 and citizens agreed on the prevention of a bloody clash and ordering maintenance, but they disagreed as to the matter of weapon recollection. The recollection of weapons began and conflict arose in the group, resisting the recollection and trying to maintain armament. Because of this, the May 18 Settlement Committee were reorganized with student influx on May 23.

Yet another settlement committee was 'the Student Settlement Committee'. It was organized over the disappointment at the May 18 Settle Committee's activities on May 22, and it was also divided into those who favored the recollection of weapons and those who favored further fighting. After the protest rally on May 24, those who favored further fighting joined the Citizens Army to form the Student-Citizen Settlement Committee and led the uprising. Some researchers call their function a temporary revolutionary power. Responsibilities were divided into planning, communication, publicization and rally and the group appointed coordinators for each function. At the same time, the student settlement committee formed an organization responsible for leading and controlling the activities of the Citizens Army, called for the participation of the major people of civil authority, and prepared for the final situation. The leadership at the final stage of the Gwangju Uprising consisted of the Citizen Army, some representatives of student groups, and some activists from the minjung class; the character definitely changed from 'settlement' to 'fight'. This Citizen-Student Committee for Fighting cosisted of the chairman and his aides, spokesman, chief of the control room, planning office, publicization department, investigation department, supply department and public services office.

The leadership of the Gwangju Uprising is largely divided by age into the older generation, who were also called the 6.3 generation, the upper leadership of the out-of-house opposition leaders, and the middle leadership, with Nogdu Bookstore at its center, also called the generation of the Democratic Association of Youth and Students. If the former was closed in relation to the settlement committee at the initial stage, the latter acted as the key members of the Citizen-Student Committee for Fighting.

One point to be mentioned with regard to the organization of minjung leadership at the time of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising is that with the expansion of martial law on May 17, 1980, a considerable number of important figures were included in the list of the arrested and/or they hid themselves to avoid arrest. Their hiding away is related to the leadership vacuum at the initial stage of the Minjung Uprising, as well as the effect of the Namminjeon incident in the late 1970s. Those who had been arrested at this latter incident were student activists who had just preceded the student group which led the student council of Jeonnam National University in 1980. They could also become very combative in a revolutionary situation. The fact that these people were under custody gave covert influence to the formation of leadership at the time of the Minjung Uprising.

Civilian Mobilization: Protesting Rallies

After the retreat of the martial army, the city outskirts were sealed off by the army, and citizens were isolated from the mass media including telephone service and communication. In the meantime, people formed an isolated community which held citizens' protesting rallies every day to confirm the citizen association and discussed the matters of negotiation with the martial army and the fighting strategy. This protesting rally was held every day from May 22 to 25. These rallies showed how people managed their insecurity in an isolated situation. Aside from a few conscious groups, the citizens mobilization occurred by voluntary participation, and the networks of small group friendships or of neighborhoods working with little operation of labor unions or any social organizations.

The protesting rallies were an expression of the identity of those who participated in the uprising as well. The participators defined for themselves the reason for their struggle and their self-identity. Collective acts were apt to take certain ritual characteristics, the national flag was always used and the national anthem was always sung.

Many people noticed that during this period, although national power was absent, no criminal acts were performed and that citizens helped one another and created an autonomous order. A local artist expressed the situation at that time as the community of grand unity. Choe Jong-un named it an absolute community and Gim Song-gug explained it as the manifestation of human nature's power to form a society.

The Citizen Army

The armament of the main body of the Gwangju Uprising was for self-defense and was symbolic. For the first time since the Korean War in the 1950s, a full-scale armed struggle appeared in the Gwangju Uprising. But this armed struggle was mostly for self-defense instead of being aggressive. Citizens called the armed people 'the Citizen Army'.They obtained carbines from nearby police stations or the army reserve armory, and they also acquired armed vehicles and all kinds of vehicles from the Asia Motors' factory. The machine gun that the Citizen Army placed on top of the Provincial Hall was especially threatening. The most threatening weapons were the explosives acquired from the Hwasun minery. But these explosives were previously discovered by the army who removed the detonators.

The violence of the armed citizens was managed systematically. Those who participated in the armed force had relatively bigger minjung character because they belonged to the lower social classes or were young students. Though citizens acquired lots of carbines, the number of those who actually functioned as a member of the citizens army was in the hundreds, not so big a number. Since many of the Citizens Army had guns in their hands for the first time, basic education about guns were given by an army reserve member who had previously acquired military knowledge. The people were divided into several units and the minimum set of regulations were effective on them. There also was a functional distinction--there was an attack team.

Recognition of the Divided State in the Course of the Uprising

In comparing the time of the Gwangju Uprising and after the most remarkable difference was found in the understanding of the U.S. and, a step further the reconsideration of the divided Korean peninsula. The nature of American interference with the Third World was presented in Lee Yong-hi's logic of transient ages in the 1970s, and the concept of 'the divided age' began to be used in the fields of history and social science in the late 1970s. But an understanding of the U.S. or North Korea was not publicly expressed yet. The perception in the inner world was obviously distinguished from its social expression. In the course of the uprising, when Gwangju citizens knew that a U.S. carrier had come to a Korean harbour, they did not know whether it came to restrain North Korea, if it came to support the military authorities, or if it came to restrain them. Citizens at that time had mixed images of the U.S.--one image was as an advocate of democracy based on the Carter administration's human rights policy and the other image was as a controlling third party ever since the Korean War. Of course, some wall newspapers appeared which described the U.S. as the protector of democracy; the uprising leadership treated foreign reporters in a friendly manner because they needed to publicize the savage suppression by the new military authorities during the uprising.

In the course of the uprising, the public was most anxious that their actions not be defined as anti-governmental. In other words, they wanted to emphasize that their uprising was not instigated by propaganda or manipulation by external forces but was an inevitable struggle for the restoration of democracy and the protection of human dignity, and that they were conscientious citizens. These claims are supported by the fact that citizens were always defined as 'patriotic citizens' in all kinds of propaganda materials during the uprising and that the national flag was used in the spotlight at the grand rally for democratization before the uprising, in the protesting rallies during the uprising, and in the course of treating the dead bodies. These rituals and behavior patterns were responses to the psychological tactics and the poisoned needle operation of the new military authorities, but at the same time they were everyday wisdoms responding to anti-communism ideology that had been used for decades by the ruling block. In the divided state, when minjung intuitively deduced the situation before their eyes was a matter of survival, they learned how to use those kinds of systematic symbols.

After the Gwangju Uprising, the social movement groups began to openly criticize the U.S. One must have reservations, however, in interpreting this change as a new understanding of the U.S., because social movement groups considered taking U.S. citizens hostage during the uprising. What is clear is that anit-american sentiment became public after the Gwangju Uprising. This behavior occurred because they found out that the U.S. recognized the military authorities who suppressed the Gwangju Uprising. The claim that the U.S. supported the military regime did have a basis.



Continuation...

1. Introduction
2. The Background of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
3. Development Procedure of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
4. Restarting the Social Movement & the May Movement
5. Conclusion: The Significance and Prospect of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising


Source: http://gshin.chonnam.ac.kr/cnu518/index.html
Rights: Chonnam National University May 18 Institute/Prof. Gyonggu Shin (http://gshin.chonnam.ac.kr) ( ggshin@chonnam.ac.kr)
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