More from Kim Jong-pil

Kim Jong-pil

We’ve praised Kim Jong-pil’s wholly absorbing and sadly overlooked memoirs in the JoongAng Ilbo before.

Today’s chapter, covering Kim’s detention in the aftermath of Chun Doo-hwan’s seizure of power, is another humdinger.

As you read this, bear in mind that as a KCIA bigwig, all of this action is taking place inside a facility that he himself had used to imprison and question (and, regrettably, it must be presumed, to “question”) suspect individuals in the past.

Interrogations at the Army Security Command, which doesn’t exist anymore, were usually done on people accused of spying for North Korea. Sometimes they were directly ordered by the president. On the night of May 17, 1980, a high wall surrounded the security command when I was taken there. People on the outside were not supposed to be able to look in.

As armed soldiers with M16 rifles pushed me through the door, I realized this was the direct handiwork of Chun Doo Hwan, who took over the military. “A usurpation of power in which the leader of a majority party is being arrested without any due process is taking place,” I thought to myself. “Chun must be behind all of this.”

As I was dragged from my home, I thought about the night of May 16, 1961, the day of the revolution [coup]. At the time, no one in the revolutionary force had any fear because we put our lives on the line for the revolution. As my days behind bars went by, many thoughts filled my mind. I vowed to keep my integrity as a former prime minister, a senior member of the military and as a person who had risked his life for a revolution for Korea. I thought about the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was sent into exile on a distant island after his defeat in the battle of Waterloo.

During his exile on Saint Helena, an island in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa, a governor attempted to humiliate him. Napoleon warned him that he wouldn’t live long if he tried that again. Napoleon’s determination to maintain his integrity inspired me in confinement.

The room I was taken to was on the second floor. I later learned it was the biggest room in the building. From one window, I could see the Han River. The questioning began a day after I arrived. An interrogator showed me a list of my assets and asked how I managed to accumulate them. Their intention was to accuse me of corruption.

I told my interrogator, “Hey, I carried out the May 16 revolution and was the head of the intelligence agency and prime minister. I know you have to do what you are told to do by your chain of command. You don’t really need to ask anything of me. Do what you are told to do. All I have to do is sign some papers at the end of the day, right?”


Read the rest here. It’s worth it for the third-to-last paragraph alone. (Also: check out the awesome retro newspaper front page that uses both hanja and hangeul in its headlines.)


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