South Korea's military onslaught against civilian protest may bring superficial order after the current uprising, but the degree of public outrage means that genuine steps away from repression must be taken to prevent recurring turmoil.
Such steps had appeared to be intended before students began to demonstrate for faster action, with thousands of other citizens joining in as new repressive measures were laid down. Indeed, it seemed that part of the government's problem had been a kind of public relations failure to match actual liberalizing intentions with persuasive public evidence of them. A glimmer of hope was encouraged when the government at first eschewed a harsh confrontational stance and asked for calm in a cooperative effort to meet national economic and other challenges. In response, the students called off some planned demonstrations.
Then came the military raids, the arrests of hundreds including Kim Dae Jung, celebrated for his opposition to the dictatorial Park Chung Hee regime. Full martial law took the place of somewhat limited martial law. The civilian government fell. It looked as if those in control lacked even the intentions to turn decisively away from Park-style repression.
It was well that the United States, which has often been forbearing in response to its ally's internal lapses, let its dismay be known. Secretary of State Muskie said he was "deeply concerned" about South Korea "moving away from liberalization policies which I think are essential to its long-term political health."
South Korea's rulers now are challenged to leave no doubt of adherence to the form and substance of those liberalization policies. The promised revision of the Park-engineered Constitution must go forward. The promised elections must be definitely scheduled. The martial law must be lifted. The political prisoners must be freed.
These may be easier things for outsiders to say than for harried authorities to accomplish. Indeed, Koreans are not united in what they want from government. The older Confucianist generation in the villages seems more conditioned to acceptance of authoritarian rule than the Westernized younger generation in the cities.
Yet the kind of enduring stability that South Korea needs for restored economy and continued development is not likely to be achieved through the force of authoritarianism. It requires the full intellectual and moral as well as physical energies of an enlightened people. To be fully released, these need the free atmosphere of thought which, alas, has been so darkly clouded in South Korea once again.