Anticommunism as regime legitimisation strategy in South Korea in the 1960s

Autumn 2020

Since its founding in 1948, South Korea existed on the forefront of the Cold War divide between the two rival blocs. The ‘communist threat’ was never far from the South Korean leaders’ minds, yet it was not until the 1960s that anti-communism was turned into a strategy for regime legitimisation. In 1961, as a result of a coup d’état, a military regime came to power. Its first and most important goal was to legitimise itself both domestically and internationally. General Park Chung-hee, the leader of the military junta, chose anticommunism as part of his strategy. It was deployed to convince the US of the new regime’s commitment to defending the country against any possible threat; to prevent American military and economic withdrawal from Korea, and to justify the intensive drive for rapid economic development, for which the general later became renowned. This article argues that South Korean anticommunism in the early 1960s was a complex and conscious strategy aimed at establishing the foundations for the new military regime and ensuring its continued survival. Based on Park Chung-hee’s speeches and books and the available archival sources, the article illustrates the way in which anticommunism was presented and how it was used as part of the regime’s legitimising strategy.

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