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A second-order effect of the 12/12 incident was the Kwangju Rebellion of 1980. General Chun had by now taken control of both the army and the KCIA, and while high-ranking Korean military officers continued to make political maneuvers in smoke-filled rooms, relations with the United States had more or less stabilized—although the State Department was continuing to push for the civilian government to have operational control over the military, rather than the other way around. With student demonstrations growing stronger, Chun now blamed the unrest on “North Korean clandestine activities” (Young, 97), which was a baseless claim.

In May of 1980, Chun declared complete martial law and vowed to crack down on demonstrations, which he said were controlled by “impure elements” (Young, 101). Meanwhile, Ambassador Greysteen tried to play a moderating role in order to de-escalate the situation. Riots broke out in Kwangju, and the Korean Special Warfare Command had been called in to respond. The Special Forces escalated the level of violence on the rioters and many of them ended up dead. American AWACs aircraft and Navy units were deployed to Korea, again fearing that the Kim regime would use the instability in the south to launch an invasion (Young, 103).

The Korean Special Forces units may have been trained for direct-action missions behind enemy lines, but many saw these units as being palace guards who provided coup protection to the government. “In 1980 these commanders were all close associates of Chun Doo Hwan” (Young, 104). Just a month after the suppression of the Kwangju Rebellion, the U.S. embassy staff began hearing that the Special Warfare Command was planning a counter-coup against General Chun. The coup plotters were young Special Forces officers who felt betrayed by Chun.