740.00119 Control (Korea)/11–1345

The Assistant Secretary of War ( McCloy ) to the Under Secretary of State ( Acheson )

Dear Dean: Attached is a copy of a memorandum36 initialed by Carter Vincent shown me by the Operations Division here. Having had the opportunity to hold several long conversations with General Hodge in the course of my trip, I would welcome the chance to talk [Page 1123] to you, perhaps Mr. Byrnes, and certainly to Vincent, on the Korean situation.

Vincent’s memorandum seems to me to avoid in large part the really pressing realities facing us in Korea. General Hodge’s two cables referred to in the memorandum raise two vital points. The one is the subject of communist activity. From talking with General Hodge I believe that his concern is that the communists will seize by direct means the government in our area. If this were done, it would seriously prejudice our intention to permit the people of Korea freely to choose their own form of government. There is no question but that communist action is actively and intelligently being carried out through our zone. Some of it may be classed as legitimate political activity. The rest is just direct action. It is a situation which must be faced—just how in each individual case cannot be defined now, but must be left to the good judgment of our commander there. I talked with Hodge when I was on my recent trip. Though a much less colorful figure than some others, he inspired great confidence. It would seem that the best way to approach it in the over-all is to build up on our own a reasonable and respected government or group of advisors which will be able under General Hodge to bring some order out of the political, social and economic chaos that now exists south of the 38th° parallel and so provide the basis for, at some later date, a really free and uncoerced election by the people. This leads directly to General Hodge’s second point, the use of exiled Koreans.

Hodge explained to me, and I understand your adviser out there, Benninghoff, corroborated it, that the local Koreans are most narrow, selfish and confused in their political thought. Each individual conceives himself to be the only local boy untainted by Jap collaborationism. However, apparently all, or nearly all, look with great respect and confidence on the “exiled Koreans” and wondered why, for instance, we had not brought in the “exiled government” from Chungking, Kim Koo and company, when we came in. Hodge, when he talked to me, had seen quite a bit of Dr. Rhee and had found him helpful. He was using him then in negotiations with the communist leaders. For us not to make some use, at the discretion of Hodge, of the only stabilizing individuals available to us seems peculiar when it is well known that the Soviets had two divisions of Koreans thoroughly indoctrinated in the Communist creed whom they are reported on good authority to be using in the Soviet zone and perhaps also to good advantage in our own. Should we fear some criticism of our honest efforts to bring Korea to a state where representative government has some chance of success, when at the same time the Soviets have by force of arms replaced all officials, major and minor, in cities, towns, and hamlets in their zone with ardent Korean communists, armed with [Page 1124] tommy guns and protected by the Red Army, who are, according to what little knowledge we have, governing their subjects without any free expression of the public will.

I have many thoughts on the Korean problem, but to get back to Vincent’s memorandum—does it not add up to asking us to tell Hodge that we really repose little confidence in him, that we are not prepared to let him do the few things which he, on the spot—and what a spot—feels can be useful towards achieving our aims. I believe our approach should be along different lines. Let us ask him, by all means, for more information on the communist problem and his thoughts as to how to keep it from wrecking our objectives, but let us also let him use as many exiled Koreans as he can, depending on his discretion not to go too far. First and foremost, however, let us take every action we can to expedite the solution of the impossible situation created by the complete severance of Korea into two areas between which there is absolutely no intercourse or cooperation. Let us consider too and plan what we shall do if the Soviets continue to refuse to cooperate. If they do continue to refuse and if their agents continue to act freely throughout our zone, and if we cannot set up under our jurisdiction exiled Koreans who seem to be acceptable locally, we may find out to our chagrin what Stalin meant when he agreed to the idea of a trusteeship for Korea with the delicate proviso, “if necessary.”

General Hodge has an almost impossible task. He should know at least what our evaluation is of the time it may take to better the existing situation or to set up a trusteeship system. He should know, too, as I have said, what he should be planning in the event the negotiations with the Russians come to nothing.

Sincerely yours,

John J. McCloy
  1. Dated November 7, p. 1115.