The bizarre account of President Park Chung Hee's assassination turned out by the martial law command evoked a mixed reaction from the South Korean on the street.
Some seemed to accept it as a true account of a terrible intrigue and tragedy. "How could they do such a cruel and horrible thing?" asked one woman shopper.
Others were doubtful and let their skepticism show with knowing smiles of disbelief. "It cleared up some of the details for me," said a college student, "but there are still some points that are unconvincing." Even a pro-government politician was skeptical. It was incredible, he said, that the former director of the Korean Central Intelligene Agency, Kim Jae Kyu, could have engineered "such a crazy plan."
In general, however, South Koreans were reluctant to reveal their innermost thoughts about the military command's version -- and for good reason. iA slip of the lip could result in arrest for rumor-mongering. The martial law authorities had issued a decree prohibiting "false" rumors about the assassination and its aftermath and launched a press campaign to instill fear in potential violators.
Almost daily, stories appeared describing the arrests of rumor-mongerers. A college student was seized for telling stories to a group of young students on a subway. A 26-year-old man was arrested for talking about the assassination in a taxicab. Not surprisingly, normally gossipy South Koreans decided to keep their views to themselves.
ACTUALLY, no one was more adept at spreading stories than the martial law command, which for a week skillfully orchestrated the retailing of its own version of what happened. The military had to contend with the awkward revelation that the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Chung Sung Hwa, was in the KCIA compound on the fatal night, having dinner about 150 feet away from the dining room where Park was shot.
It developed into a kind of battle of self-serving news leaks that would have done credit to any of Washington's bureaucracies. The military struck first by issuing a report declaring the assassination was a plot directed by Kim and carried out by him and a few close aides. The KCIA's informants countered with a report that Gen. Chung was nearby when the shooting broke out, a disclosure suggesting a wider plot with military complicity.
The military struck back, explaining to South Koreans reporters and others that while the general was nearby at the time, he was not implicated in any plot and, in fact, had actually tricked the villainous KCIA director into being arrested hours later.
THAT BECAME the final official version of the assassination and by the time it appeared the KCIA was no longer in a position to retaliate.
It had been decimated by the detention of about 80 top leaders who were questioned about possible complicity. Most of them were later released but by then the Army had seized control of the once-powerful agency.
The Army and the KCIA had long been enemies and it was with considerable relish that military officers set about taming the fearsome counterespionage apparatus.
This naturally had a demoralizing impact on KCIA agents, who once had the power to question and arrest just about any South Korean who doubted the wisdom and benevolence of President Park and his government. Army counterintelligence agents replaced many of these lowly spies who kept watch on dissidents.
THE MILITARY proved to be more rigorous censors than the KCIA. All television film shipped out of the country had to be screened. Time and Newsweek went on sale with their accounts of the assassination ripped out and the only foreign newspaper on sale in any hotel was an International Herald Tribune dated Oct. 24 two days before the killing.
Most foreign news copy flowed out by hotel telex without censorship. But one reporter discovered that his nightly file had not reached his home office and rushed to the telex room to find out why. At around 2:30 a.m., he discovered an assistant hotel manager walking around the empty lobby with the news copy in his hands.
The hotel executive informed the reporter that the Korean Telegraph Company would not permit the story to go out until the police could find time to read it sometime the next morning. Then the assistant manager asked if the reporter's copy contained any news.
The reporter changed hotels the next day.