11. Editorial Note

Conversations with several Korean officials on May 23 and May 24, 1964, reinforced Ambassador Berger’s view that a serious crisis was rapidly evolving within the Republic of Korea and threatening the existence of the government of President Pak. (Telegram 1534 from Seoul, May 24; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–8 KOR S) The Ambassador reported that the “situation in Korea has again reached a peak of uncertainty, unrest and disarray,” and described the current mood as being the “most grave and fraught with difficulty since the May 16, 1961 coup.” The effects of the increasingly strong attacks from the political opposition intended to bring about the collapse of the government as well as the escalating threat posed by continuous student demonstrations were compounded by a paratrooper action suspected of being deliberately provoked by extremist supporters of Kim Chong-pil with President Pak’s tacit approval. (Telegram 1532 from Seoul, May 24; ibid., POL 2 KOR S)

The paratrooper incident occurred on May 21 when 13 armed men wearing army airborne unit uniforms stormed the court house where student demonstrators were being detained and processed. They also forcibly entered the home of the judge handling the cases and demanded he order the arrest of all students in custody. (Telegram 1519 from Seoul, May 21; ibid., POL 23–8 KOR S) Eight of the paratroopers were subsequently arrested, but Army Chief of Staff General Min hinted that a similar action could occur, if demonstrations continued. (Telegram 1526 from Seoul, May 22; ibid.)