In 1980, as General Chun, Park’s designated successor, took power in a coup, massive protest erupted across the country. In 1980, in the City of Kwangju, hundreds, if not thousands of citizens were raped, bludgeoned, bayoneted, burned, and shot to death for protesting the Chun Regime and demanding democratic reforms. They were tarred as a “colossal rebellion instigated by the North Korean Government”. The presidential candidate, Kim Dae Jung, later to win the Nobel Peace Prize, would be charged as the mastermind of “impure elements and fixed spies” that had instigated the uprising. Concurrently, some 37,000 citizens would also be rounded up and kidnapped off the streets all over the country, placed in “re-education” camps, where they were routinely starved, tortured, beaten, and worked to death. At least 5000 were known to have died in these camps.
Even such small fry as book clubs were targeted: a year later, a group of 22 students and workers in a social science reading club were arrested for reading, among other books, E.H. Carr’s “What is History?”, a collection of lectures on historiography by a middle-of-the-road Cambridge Don. All of them were tortured for months—beaten, waterboarded, hung from poles, electrocuted; they confessed to being members of an anti-state organization. Drunken meetings in bars, New Year’s Eve parties, a business launching, all of these were classified as subversive gatherings plotting to overthrow the government.
Decades later, lives and livelihoods destroyed, various official investigatory committees and courts determined that the defendants were innocent of all charges in the above incidents. Evidentiary review shows that these cases were fabricated out of whole cloth by the South Korean intelligence agencies. In particular, in 2007 a court found the 1974 People’s Revolutionary Party defendants innocent, and ordered $63 million of reparations to the aggrieved parties.
Here is the pattern, as predictable as it is brutal: when dissent rises, “discover” an anti-state North Korean conspiracy. Apply torture, character assassination, and trial by state media until punishment ensues. Rinse off blood, and Repeat. These and countless other incidents, contrived by the Intelligence Services, using the draconian National Security Laws, were a dramatic, politically expedient theater of terror that was effective in tamping down rising tides of dissent. The proverb, “Kill a few chickens to scare the monkeys”, is applicable here; to this end, the country was turned into a noisy, busy, steaming slaughterhouse.
This is the ultimate utility of torture: it is the imprinting, broadcasting and branding of state terror into the sinew and marrow of human bodies and human relationships. Torture tears apart, severs, dissolves the ligaments, tendons, fascia of human solidarity; what remains is a wispy soup of paranoid self-protection. In the nightfall of torture, as whispers seep out of the closed chambers, the miasma of fear suffuses the streets: voices grow hushed, eyes avert or grow dull, dissent vanishes. Fascists prowl, parade, preen, bombast, consume with aplomb. Only the ghosts of the dead continue to raise their voices.