740.00119 Control (Japan)/9–1545

The Political Adviser in Korea ( Benninghoff ) to the Secretary of State

No. 1

Sir: I have the honor to submit a brief analysis of conditions in Korea as seen by this headquarters one week after the first landings by American forces were made at Chemulpo. This analysis is substantially the same as that sent by Lieutenant General John R. Hodge, Commanding the United States Army Forces in Korea (USAFIK), to General Douglas MacArthur.70

On the face the Japanese have accepted the terms of surrender. In the area of occupation they have appeared to cooperate in withdrawing and disarming. However, reports are received from southern Korea indicating that they are looting and intimidating the Koreans and otherwise behaving in characteristic fashion. The Koreans do not understand that our occupation is only piecemeal and that USAFIK does not have enough troops to spread over the entire area. Extensive long-range patrols will start as soon as transportation can be arranged, but unless the Japanese forces are sent to Japan soon it will be necessary to put them in concentration camps.

Southern Korea can best be described as a powder keg ready to explode at the application of a spark. It was recently discovered that from the beginning the Korean translation of the term “in due course” in the Cairo Declaration has been the equivalent of “in a few days” or “very soon”, and well-educated Koreans expressed surprise when the difference was pointed out to them. Hence the Koreans did not understand why they were not given complete independence soon after the arrival of American troops. There is great disappointment that immediate independence and sweeping out of the Japanese did not eventuate.

Although the hatred of the Koreans for the Japanese is unbelievably bitter, it is not thought that they will resort to violence as long as American troops are in surveillance.

The removal of Japanese officials is desirable from the public opinion standpoint but difficult to bring about for some time. They can be relieved in name but must be made to continue work. There are no qualified Koreans for other than the low-ranking positions, either in government or in public utilities and communications. Furthermore, such Koreans as have achieved high rank under the Japanese are considered pro-Japanese and are hated almost as much as their masters. The two most difficult problems at present are: The Koreans continue [Page 1050] to be subject to Japanese orders, and conditions in the police department and among the rank and file of the police are bad. It is believed that the removal of the Governor General and the Director of the Police Bureau, both Japanese, accompanied by wholesale replacements of police personnel in the Seoul area will mollify irate Koreans even though the government itself is not strengthened thereby.

There are an unknown number of political parties and groups in Korea, many of which have mushroomed since the Japanese surrender was announced. The long period of oppression and the difficulty of underground activity have prevented the formation of clear-cut political groups. On September 12, General Hodge spoke to representatives of political groups on the basis of two persons from each group. More than twelve hundred attended the meeting. All groups seem to have the common ideas of seizing Japanese property, ejecting the Japanese from Korea, and achieving immediate independence. Beyond this they have few ideas.

Almost all Koreans have been on a prolonged holiday since August 15. To them independence apparently means freedom from work; no thought is given to the future, “the Lord will provide”. There has been no show of industry in this area since our arrival and no interest in returning to normal pursuits. General Hodge and others have constantly stressed the necessity for Koreans to stay on the job and to build up their own country, but they find it difficult to reconcile this idea with the fact that the Japanese still own or control most business and industrial establishments. Korea is completely ripe for agitators.

The most encouraging single factor in the political situation is the presence in Seoul of several hundred conservatives among the older and better educated Koreans. Although many of them have served with the Japanese, that stigma ought eventually to disappear. Such persons favor the return of the “Provisional Government” and although they may not constitute a majority they are probably the largest single group.

The monetary system is still a questionmark. The few investigators available to USAFIK are endeavoring to ascertain conditions and present indications are that inflation is underway and may not be controllable. The circulation of Bank of Chosen notes increased from about 3.5 billion yen in March to 7.5 billion yen on September 12. The result has been that wages and prices have skyrocketed beyond immediate control. Labor costs about thirty yen a day, and other prices are similarly high. Although USAFIK was directed to peg prices at the August 15 level, this will be difficult to accomplish and will only strengthen the already well-established black market.

Except in a few instances the Soviets have respected the 38 degree boundary. However, they have not respected the rights of individuals, [Page 1051] either Japanese or Korean, and constant reports of indiscriminate rape, pillage and looting are received from all areas occupied by Soviet forces. There is little doubt that Soviet agents are spreading their political thought throughout southern Korea, and several parades and demonstration in Seoul have admittedly been communist-inspired. Communists advocate the seizure now of Japanese properties and may be a threat to law and order. It is probable that well-trained agitators are attempting to bring about chaos in our area so as to cause the Koreans to repudiate the United States in favor of Soviet “freedom” and control. Southern Korea is a fertile ground for such activities because USAFIK lacks sufficient troops to expand its area of control rapidly.

Contact has been established between USAFIK and Russian headquarters to the north through the Soviet Consul General here, who never left his post or was interned. No understandings have been reached but definite information may be available soon.

The splitting of Korea into two parts for occupation by armed forces of nations having widely divergent political philosophies, with no common command, is an impossible situation. Southern Korea contains the capital city, which is the center of communications. It also has most of the cereal crops. Northern Korea has most of the coal as well as the sources of electric power.

There are two critical shortages in our area: coal and food cereals. Coal is short because communications to the north have been cut; negotiations on the subject with the Russians have the highest priority. Cereals are short because of large shipments of last year’s crop to Japan. This situation should ameliorate when the new and good crop is harvested at the end of October. Food distribution is difficult because the railways are not functioning properly and motor transportation is lacking. USAFIK is doing everything possible to repair Japanese Army transportation facilities to assist in the distribution of food.

In addition to the voluntarily unemployed, as described above, there are thousands of Koreans out of work because of the collapse of Japanese war industries. Manufacturing is at a standstill because of the lack of raw materials, and there is no immediate prospect of converting from a war to a peace footing. This problem, to which is added the release by the Japanese Army of many Koreans utilized by them, will become increasingly difficult as winter approaches.

General Hodge feels that stable conditions cannot be established in Korea until the Japanese Army has been removed to Japan. Demobilization in Korea is impossible, and the army will have to be kept in formed bodies and removed to Japan as soon as its disarming is completed. It cannot be effectively controlled unless put into concentration camps, where it would have to be fed and housed by USAFIK. [Page 1052] USAFIK has requested permission to move the Japanese Army through Fusan at the earliest practicable date.

USAFIK is operating under two great difficulties, neither of which can be corrected at this end. The first is that this headquarters has no information in regard to the future policy of the United States or its allies as to the future of Korea. What is going to happen to the nation and what will be the solution of the now almost complete division of the country into two parts? What will be our general policies beyond immediate military necessity? The second difficulty is that USAFIK is in small strength, and has too few competent military government and other officers that it can operate only in a limited area and with little overall effect. There is urgent need for expansion of areas of control, and although small groups could venture with safety into any part of the country, their presence would be so disturbing that police and governmental functions might break down while the Americans would not have sufficient personnel to take over the control of the area. It is essential that the entire force designated for the occupation of Korea be sent here as soon as possible.

A reconnaissance party will leave for Fusan tonight, for a stay of a few days, and arrangements are being made to send a force to Saishu (Quelpart) Island in a few days to disarm the 60,000 Japanese troops there.

The newspaper correspondents covering Korea as a group have behaved badly. They arrived by air after our landing, most of them from Japan with no knowledge of the local situation and without orientation took advantage of the American uniform to run rampant over the area, committing acts of personal misbehavior. There is reason to believe that by open sympathies with Korean radicals some of them have incited Korean group leaders to greater efforts at agitation for overthrow of everything and to have the Koreans take over all functions immediately. Before they got any glimmer of conditions as they existed, they were highly critical of all policies of the nation, of General Headquarters and of this headquarters relating to the occupation. This latter condition is now rectifying itself slowly as they begin to see the picture. One group arrived by air one afternoon, filed stories that evening and left the next morning, feeling that they knew all about the Korean occupation.

General Hodge has made the following recommendations to General MacArthur:

“It is recommended that:

A control group on an international policy level be established at Keijo for the purpose of establishing and announcing international policies concerning the political and economic future of Korea. This group must function on the ground to be worthwhile and effective.
Pending consummation of recommendation a., I be given definite instructions as to policy with respect to the future of Korea or that [Page 1053] Washington officials empowered to speak of the future be added to my staff. Recommendation along this line has also been forwarded by my State Department representative.
Every effort be made to get high-powered officers for my staff who are experienced in governmental affairs and who know orientals.
Consideration be given to returning the Chungking Government in exile to Korea as a provisional government under Allied sponsorship to act as figureheads during occupation and until Korean people stabilize to where there can be an election.
The door be opened to American business men who can and will help reestablish Korean business and industry and assist in effecting transfer of Japanese property to Koreans.
Early establishment of a new monetary policy abandoning the use of any currency that has formerly been used by the Japanese.
Future policy for Korea include removal of all Japanese nationals from the area.
International trade be reestablished at an early date.”

With reference to recommendations “a” and “b” I should like to call the attention of the Department to the extremely great difficulties under which this headquarters is operating, and to request the urgent transmission of policy directives which will guide USAFIK in its relations with the Russians and in its treatment of the serious political, social and economic problems which continue to mount from day to day.

Respectfully yours,

H. Merrell Benninghoff
  1. On September 13.