99 years ago today, South Korean strongman and father of today’s president Park Chung-hee was born.
Born the seventh, and youngest, child of a fallen scholar-official (Yangban) family in the years of Japanese colonialism, Park had dreams of leadership and military exploits from a young age. While attending a progressive “new-style” school, he became class captain and figured out how to get his classmates to “submit unconditionally to whatever I said.”
Interested in war heroes and military history, including that of Japan, he quickly developed the dream of becoming a soldier. When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, with the Japanese pushing south of Beijing and taking Tianjin and Shanghai, Park enrolled in Japanese military academy. Upon graduating as one of the best students, he was made a lieutenant in the Manchukuo Imperial Army in 1944 and served Japan in its last gasps of World War II. Though forced out of the military upon returning to Korea, he got back in when North Korea invaded the South. He rose quickly, and by 1960 he found himself Chief of the Operations Staff of the South Korean Army.
That same year, the Korean public rose up in protest after years of authoritarianism by Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea, who presided over the young nation’s defense in the Korean War but didn’t open up room for democracy. With the success of the April Revolution, Rhee was forced out of office and a parliamentary system replaced him. But with the economy ailing and protests continuing to rack the country, and fearing that he would soon be retired, Park and his allies took initiative and launched a coup on May 16, 1961.