National Geographic : 1975 Sep
-Korea's traditional lament of lovers part ing, sad but deeply satisfying. I'd never seen youngsters more unrestrainedly happy. Then one morning I saw the riot police. They came in green buses, in green fatigues, with black helmets and wire-mesh visors, gas masks, and clubs. They were increasingly in evidence because quite a few Koreans did indeed consider themselves oppressed. Rights Suppressed for Public Good? The background, in brief, was this. President Park, who had ascended to pow er through a military coup in 1961, promul gated a new constitution in 1972; it allowed him to "suspend the freedom and rights of the people"; it also removed limitations on the number of terms he may serve. Subsequently he issued emergency measures making any criticism of the new constitution a crime. President Park called all this necessary to strengthen the country, to face the worldwide economic recession and increasing agitation from North Korea. At the parade on Armed Forces Day I heard him declare: "We will be able to prevent freedom from being taken away only when we are armed with the wisdom of temporarily sacrificing or voluntarily restricting some aspects of free dom for the sake of a greater, more compre hensive freedom." At that very moment scores of university students were serving jail sentences, after courts-martial. So were several Christian clergymen, including a Catholic bishop con victed of aiding Communist subversion. In Seoul thousands of students, as well as militant Protestant and Catholic clergy and laymen, waxed eager to stage demonstra tions-to urge the freeing of those prisoners, and repeal of the new constitution. And that's where the riot police came in. "Remember, we have 37 colleges and uni versities in the city, that's nearly 120,000 stu dents, and the majority probably are passive," said a professor of history. "So are many of the Christians, who represent only 10 percent of the population. Perhaps half of those would sympathize with demonstrations. "But militant students were instrumental in bringing down President Syngman Rhee in 1960. Christians agitated against the Japanese colonialists as early as 1919. Both groups have political and social importance beyond their numbers. So there'll be conflict." There was, and what I saw of it still seems to spill out of my notebooks: * Demonstration at Sookmyung Women's University. Five hundred girls wearing silver snowflake pins-the school symbol, meaning pure and bright-try marching into the street, but riot police shove them back. * Visit to the National Assembly. It has 73 elected members from President Park's party, and another 73 chosen by him; 57 were elected from the opposition party. An opposition member blasts government corruption, and the arrests of students; his party colleagues murmur Chalhaesso, Well done! A Park-selected member speaks: "Don't tinker with the constitution. Didn't the nation wide referendum in 1972 vote 90 percent yes? Forget those troublemakers in jail; they broke the law! Let's raise the pay of the police." Prime Minister Kim Jong Pil also rises, says students should stick to their studies, clergymen to the saving of souls. * Catholic prayer meeting at the cathedral in Myong-dong. Banners say "Give back human rights"; a priest intones "Jesus knew when He helped the people that He'd wind up on the Cross, but He persevered." A woman reads a statement over a microphone, about her im prisoned husband being tortured with elec tricity. She chokes up. * Korea University. All quiet. Students threw rocks at riot police yesterday and were doused with tear gas. The campus is closed. * Visit with opposition party leader Kim Young Sam (page 399). He says 95 percent of the people would support a rewriting of the constitution, but they're too intimidated to say so; he'll persevere, no matter what. * Protestant prayer meeting at the Christian Building. A Presbyterian minister cites Saint Paul jailed for following his beliefs, but an earthquake broke his chains! I see men taking notes; some are from newspapers. I am told that others are from Chungang Chongbo-bu, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency- Hooded like a medieval warrior, one of 5,400 workers at the Pohang Iron and Steel works wears an asbestos shield against searing heat from molten iron. The ten-plant complex, built with 137 million dollars in foreign loans, plus 31 million dollars in Japanese war reparations, is a world leader in per-ton profits. South Korea: What Next?