By Paman Dayal

To what extent does a dictator need to gain the support of the people he is ruling over? Does a dictator need popular support? To answer this I will compare Ferdinand Marcos, who was the dictator of the Philippines from 1965-1986, and Park Chung Hee, who was the dictator of South Korea from 1961-1979. Political scientist Albert Celoza provides an “elite-military” school of thought, by arguing that elites such as businesspeople and bureaucrats kept Marcos in power.[1] Political scientist Byung-Kook Kim belongs to a “repression” school. He argues that the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), an internal security institution, allowed Park to remain in power in South Korea. On the other hand, historian Bruce Cumings belongs to a “US imperialism” school, and he concludes that public opinion does not matter as much as US foreign policy, as it was the United States that helped Park become the leader of South Korea. Political scientist Paul Hutchcroft belongs to a combination of the “elite-military” and “US imperialism” schools, as he emphasizes the role of the US and also elites in the Philippines and South Korea. I will argue that although it seems important for a dictator to have support from people, ultimately popular support is insignificant. A combination of factors such as US foreign policy, and repression through institutions such as the military and the KCIA, play a larger role in determining whether a dictator stays in power.

Celoza argues that although the military played a role in enforcing Marcos’ rule, there are larger factors that resulted in Marcos’ regime staying in power.[2] He discusses how there was a mutual understanding between Marcos and the powerful people he associated with: “Marcos’ network of supporters wanted benefits, favors, and protection; in turn, Marcos needed their support, so the interests of Marcos and his supporters converged in order to make an authoritarian regime possible.”[3] By stating that Marcos bought support by providing elites with favours in exchange for support of his regime, Celoza concludes that Marcos measured support through the elites of society.[4] Celoza also addresses the influence of Marcos’ military, pointing out that while the military could frighten people into submission, terror alone is not enough for a dictator to stay in power.[5] Celoza emphasizes the role of the US in the Philippines as a contributing factor to the success of a dictator, stating that by supporting the US in the Vietnam War and having policies that favoured “American investment,” Marcos received military and financial support.[6] Celoza ultimately aims to establish a connection between Marcos’ regime and the US, the military, and a small group of powerful elites.

Celoza is a political science professor who teaches classes such as “Issues in World Politics and Political Ideologies.”[7] His academic interests include the study of politics and government.[8] He received a degree from the University of the Philippines, and he would have been going to school while Marcos was in power. The fact that he lived under Marcos’ dictatorship may be the reason behind his study of Marcos. His interest in governments and politics could have stemmed from his experience under a dictatorship, and resulted in Celoza wanting to understand the factors necessary for having a successful dictatorship.

Kim argues that Park Chung Hee was a political ruler who depended on the KCIA as a way to ensure control and remain in power. Park once said: “never have I thought of myself as a politician.”[9] Kim points out that Park’s strategy for staying in power included pretending as if he did not have a political agenda: “[he] had a natural instinct for power, creating new opportunities by making strategic moves a step or two ahead of others and casting them as heroes or villains in his carefully scripted political drama.”[10] Moreover, Kim notes how the KCIA’s power rose above all government institutions. Park was able to implement policies of his choosing without having to answer to anyone.[11] Kim depicts Park as a leader who was concerned about having support from people who were in the position to take his power away, as opposed to support from the masses.[12] One example of this is when Park used the KCIA to intimidate and threaten Kim Chong-p’il – who was supposed to succeed Park – and his followers, into submission.[13] Kim’s approach focuses on the idea that Park used repressive tactics such as force on people through the KCIA to avoid having to earn popular support. Kim and Celoza both note that a dictator must use force in order to maintain power.

Observers in the 1970s recognized Park’s institutional repression. Park used the KCIA “against the armed forces, Cabinet Ministers, civil servants, professors, political and religious opposition figures and ordinary citizens, to guarantee the internal security of the regime.”[14] Park was aware that he needed the submission of South Koreans to remain in power. A newspaper article written in 1976 noted: “diplomatic observers say that as the instrument chosen to enforce Park’s increasingly repressive rule, the KCIA has become more powerful and more feared.”[15] Park believed that there would not be many protests against his regime if the public feared the KCIA. This can be seen through a comment made by a Korean intellectual noting that the KCIA was the reason Park was still in power: “I doubt that this government could last a month without them…their controlling mechanisms are vital.”[16] A South Korean history professor compared living under the Park regime to communist countries and to Hitler’s Germany: “Control of protest here is tighter than many communist countries. Under the Hitler regime in the ‘30s, the German people were able to be more outspoken that we can be in Seoul today.”[17] While people from South Korea made comments to the journalist John Saar, they asked to remain unnamed. They feared Park’s regime and the KCIA. If it were discovered that South Koreans were speaking to American journalists, there would have been severe punishments for them. Park ruled through fear, and he used the KCIA as a tool to instill fear. These accounts from South Koreans show how Park was able to remain in power for eighteen years. He forced people into submission.

Cumings belongs to a “US imperialism” school as he provides an American perspective that differs from Kim’s. According to Cumings, public opinion does not matter as much as US foreign policy does in establishing who is in power. When Syngman Rhee faced opposition from the public in South Korea, the Americans allowed Rhee’s army to intervene. But when Park rose against Rhee, it was “not okay to put down a military coup that breached military discipline and the protocols of United Nations and American operational control over the Korean military.”[18] This shows how the US had a strong influence over who held power in South Korea, as the US ignored UN protocol and did what was deemed necessary for the US to remain in control.[19] It also shows how the leaders of South Korea could be viewed as puppets of the US, as the US would stop supporting a dictator when the dictator was not useful anymore.

A primary source written by former United States senator Paul Laxalt, who met with Marcos, shows the importance of US foreign policy in maintaining a dictatorship. Laxalt writes that President Reagan was concerned about Marcos’ reputation in the Philippines, “and whether President Marcos still enjoyed the support of the people.”[20] Elections were not necessary for Marcos to stay in power, as he declared martial law in 1972. Marcos used martial law as a means to establish his authoritarian rule in the Philippines, and remain in power. Laxalt states that Marcos isolated himself from the people of the Philippines as a result of no longer having elections, and by doing so he lost support.[21] The loss of support can be seen by the role that the military played in attempting to force support for Marcos, as Laxalt states that the military rigged an election in 1986 so that Marcos won, reinforcing the idea that without military intervention, Marcos would have lost.[22] Laxalt discusses how the election had been pushed onto Marcos by the US, and how the Americans had hoped that Marcos would have been removed through an honest election.[23] Laxalt’s article reinforces part of Celoza and Kim’s main argument that the military was used as a means of repression. The role of the US and the importance of the military can be seen in the case of Marcos in the Philippines. When he won the 1986 election, there were massive protests that Marcos was unable to stop because he lost support from his military.[24] Marcos received no help from the US, signaling that it no longer supported his regime, and as a result he fled to Hawaii.

Hutchcroft belongs to a combination of the “elite-military” and “US Imperialism” schools. Like Cumings, he places emphasis on American relations in both the Philippines and South Korea, noting how Marcos and Park supported the US during the Vietnam War in return for US aid. Hutchcroft shows the amount of control that the US had in South Korea as he mentions how Park’s shift to “electoral politics in 1963 was in large part due to U.S. pressure.”[25] Hutchcroft’s attention to elites in South Korea is also similar to Celoza’s argument about Marcos, as he notes that Park “knew where power and expertise lay and acted accordingly, showering Korea’s bureaucratic elite with privileges.”[26]

Bruce Cumings is a historian who focuses on areas such as “US-East Asian relations and American foreign relations.”[27] Cumings and Hutchcroft are similar in the sense that they believe that the Americans played a large role in keeping a dictator in power. Paul Hutchcroft studies Southeast Asian politics with interests in state-society relations and corruption. He is an American who moved to the Philippines during 1981, and it is “when he first lived in the Philippines [that he] witnessed mounting opposition to the rule of Ferdinand Marcos.”[28] This event influenced what he studied, as after witnessing public protests, Hutchcroft began to look into corruption and the reasoning behind unrest under Marcos’ rule. Byung-Kook Kim has a Ph.D in political science, and he teaches courses such as “Party Politics” at Korea University.[29] It is likely that Kim studied Park’s regime, and he may have even lived under Park’s dictatorship. Growing up under Park’s dictatorship would have resulted in Kim having experience with Park’s repressive regime, and maybe even the KCIA. His own experiences would have shaped his views on Park’s dictatorship.

Does a dictator truly need the support of the people? To attribute Park Chung Hee’s dictatorship solely to the United States as Cumings does is an approach that does not factor in the people who are being ruled over. US foreign policy had a large impact on dictatorships in the Philippines and South Korea, but this was not the only factor that contributed to a dictator being in power. Kim writes that Park used repressive methods as an alternative to gaining genuine support. Kim’s focus on the KCIA as an oppressive internal security organ is relevant. Without submission through force a regime would become unstable. Through a combination of Celoza’s “military-elite” school, Kim’s “repression” school, and Cumings’ “US imperialism” school, I conclude that popular support is a negligible factor in allowing a dictator to stay in power. Repression through institutions such as the KCIA and the military, and also US foreign policy, are more important. A combination of these factors uphold dictatorships. One factor alone would not be enough to support a dictatorship.

Bibliography

“Bruce Cumings.” Department of History: The University of Chicago.
https://history.uchicago.edu/directory/bruce-cumings.

“Byung-Kook Kim,” Professor at the Department of Political Science Korea University,
http://www.clubmadrid.org/en/miembro/byung_kook_kim.

Celoza, Albert. Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines: The Political Economy of
Authoritarianism
. Westport: Praeger, 1997.

Cumings, Bruce. “The Virtues, II: The Democratic Movement, 1960-Present,” Chapter
Seven of Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, updated edition. New York:
W.W. Norton, 2005, 342-403.

“Dr. Albert Celoza.” Discover PC Blog. April 10, 2014.
http://www.phoenixcollege.edu/beartracks/blogs/2014/04/dr-albert-celoza.

“Dr. Paul Hutchcroft.” Australian National University. https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/hutchcroft-pd.

Hutchcroft, Paul D. “Reflections on a Reverse Image: South Korea under Park Chung Hee and the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos.” In The Park Chung Hee Era: The Transformation of South Korea, ed. Byung-Kook Kim and Ezra F. Vogel. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011, 542-572.

Kim, Byung-Kook. “The Labyrinth of Solitude: Park and the Exercise of Presidential
Power.” In The Park Chung Hee Era: The Transformation of South Korea, ed. Byung-
Kook Kim and Ezra F. Vogel. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011, 140-
167.

Laxalt, Paul. “My Conversation With Ferdinand Marcos.” Policy Review 0, no. 37
(1986): 1-5. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1300173099?accountid=13800.

Saar, John. “S. Korean CIA: Power Grows, Fear Spreads.” The Washington Post (1974-
Current file),
May 23, 1976, A1.

[1] Albert Celoza, Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines: The Political Economy of Authoritarianism (Westport: Praeger, 1997), 3.

[2] Celoza, Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines, 2.

[3] Ibid..

[4] Ibid..

[5] Ibid..

[6] Ibid., 95.

[7] “Dr. Albert Celoza,” Discover PC Blog, April 10, 2014, http://www.phoenixcollege.edu/beartracks/blogs/2014/04/dr-albert-celoza.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Byung-Kook Kim, “The Labyrinth of Solitude: Park and the Exercise of Presidential Power”, in The Park Chung Hee Era: The Transformation of South Korea ed. Byung-Kook Kim and Ezra F. Vogel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 143.

[10] Kim, “The Labyrinth”, 141.

[11] Ibid., 144.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 145.

[14] John Saar, “S. Korean CIA: Power Grows, Fear Spreads,” The Washington Post (1974-Current file), May 23, 1976, A1.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Bruce Cumings, “The Virtues, II: The Democratic Movement, 1960-Present,” Chapter Seven of Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, updated edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005), 354.

[19] Cumings, “The Virtues,” 354.

[20] Paul Laxalt, “My Conversation With Ferdinand Marcos,” Policy Review 0, no. 37 (1986): 2, http://search.proquest.com/docview/1300173099?accountid=13800.

[21] Ibid., 2.

[22] Ibid., 4.

[23] Ibid., 4.

[24] Ibid., 5.

[25] Paul D. Hutchcroft, “Reflections on a Reverse Image: South Korea under Park Chung Hee and the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos,” in The Park Chung Hee Era, 553.

[26] Hutchcroft, “Reflections,” 554.

[27] “Bruce Cumings.” Department of History: The University of Chicago. https://history.uchicago.edu/directory/bruce-cumings.

[28] “Dr Paul Hutchcroft.” Australian National University. https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/hutchcroft-pd.

[29] “Byung-Kook Kim,” Professor at the Department of Political Science Korea University, http://www.clubmadrid.org/en/miembro/byung_kook_kim.