Report to the President on China–Korea, September 1947, Submitted by Lieutenant General A. C. Wedemeyer 11

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Appendix “E” to Part III—Korea, Political 12

résumé of united states policy toward korea

The first treaty between the United States and Korea, signed in 1882, provided that if other powers dealt unjustly or oppressively with either Government, the other would exert its good offices to bring about an “amicable agreement.” During the early period of United States-Korean relations the United States considered Korea as an independent state for the purposes of fulfilling treaty obligations, although that nation was actually under Chinese suzerainty. Prior to the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, when efforts were made to gain the support of the United States to avert war, the United States took the position that, while it stood for peace, it would do nothing which might cause it to assume responsibility for settlement of the dispute. Under the treaty ending the war, China relinquished suzerainty over Korea, which was in turn assumed by Japan. Therefore, the United States continued its policy of non-interference in Korean internal affairs and in 1899 denied a Korean request for American initiative in obtaining from the powers an agreement guaranteeing Korea’s integrity. At the [Page 797] time of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05, President Theodore Roosevelt stated that the United States could not intervene to preserve Korean integrity since the Koreans were unable “to strike one blow in their own defense.” When Japan forced the Korean Emperor to agree to Japanese control of the administration of Korean affairs, the Emperor appealed to the United States, under the good offices clause of the United States-Korean Treaty of 1882 but his appeal was denied. Nor did the United States protest Japanese formal annexation of Korea in 1910. Thus, with little or no effort on the part of the United States to oppose such a development, Korea passed from the suzerainty of China to that of Japan and thence to the status of a Japanese colony. Efforts of Korean exiles to introduce Korea’s case at the Paris Peace Conference and at the Washington Conference of 1921–22 were rebuffed, but these exiles continued their efforts to further the cause of Korean independence, some of them in the United States. With the outbreak of World War II, the question of Korean independence was revived and Korean exiles in the United States and China began to agitate for Korean independence and official recognition. At the Cairo Conference in 1943, agreement was reached by the participating powers, later adhered to by the Soviet Union, that Korea would become independent “in due course.” This phrase caused great resentment among the Koreans who felt that they should be given immediate independence upon the defeat of Japan. This resentment was increased when the decision was reached at the Moscow Conference in December 1945 that Korea would be placed under a Four-Power Trusteeship (the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, and China) for a period of up to five years. A tentative agreement in this regard had previously been reached between the United States and the Soviet Union, and when the end of the war was imminent agreement was reached between the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and China that Soviet forces accept the Japanese surrender in Korea north of the 38° North parallel, while the American forces would accept such surrender south of that line. This arbitrary line, originally serving as a marker of military responsibility, soon became a complete barrier to free movement between North and South Korea. It has resulted in separation of the country into two parts, an economically unstable division which has seriously blocked efforts to establish a unified Korea.

current political situation

The major political problem in Korea is that of carrying out the Moscow Agreement of December 1945 for the formation of a Provisional Korean Government. The United States-Soviet Joint Commission, established in accordance with that Agreement, held its first [Page 798] meeting in [on] March 8 [20], 1946, but finally adjourned on May 28, 1946, without having reached an agreement looking toward the implementation of the Moscow Agreement regarding Korea. The failure of the Joint Commission arose from the unwillingness of the Soviet Delegation to agree to consultation with the Commission of all Korean groups, as provided for in the Moscow Agreement, to assist in the formation of the Provisional Korean Government. Soviet motives have been to eliminate the majority of the rightist groups in the American-occupied zone of Korea from consultation and subsequently from participation in the new government. Had the Soviet Delegation been successful the result would have been a Communist-dominated government in Korea. Soviet objections to consultation with these rightist groups have been based on the latter’s openly expressed opposition to trusteeship. The American Delegation has taken the stand that criticism of trusteeship did not disqualify Korean groups from participation in consultation, since to do so would deprive a considerable section of the Korean people of an opportunity to be heard in regard to the formation of the Provisional Korean Government. An exchange of notes between the Secretary of State and the Soviet Foreign Minister in April and May 1947 resulted in a resumption of the meetings of the Joint Commission on May 21, 1947, under a formula which provided for consultation by all Korean groups which were prepared to sign a declaration that they would not, after such signing, “foment or instigate active opposition” to the work of the Joint Commission or to the fulfillment of the Moscow Agreement. After repeated sessions of the Joint Commission a deadlock was again reached in July, the Soviet Delegation returning to its position of the previous year and the American Delegation insisting upon the implementation of the formula set forth in the Marshall–Molotov letters, which guaranteed wide-scale participation of Korean democratic parties and social organizations in consultation and freedom of expression of opinion by all Koreans. Further meetings of the Commission having produced no results, Secretary Marshall addressed another note to Foreign Minister Molotov on August 12 requesting that the Commission submit by August 21, 1947, a joint status report or that each Delegation submit separate reports. No reply having been received to this note and the Soviet Delegation refusing to participate in a joint report, the American Delegation on August 20 transmitted a unilateral report to Washington. Since the receipt of this report, the Secretary of State has addressed identical notes to China, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union proposing a Four Power Conference for a settlement of the Korean situation. China and the United Kingdom have indicated their willingness to participate in such a conference. The Soviet Union has declined.

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Internally, the Korean problem has been complicated by the Soviet establishment of a Communist state in North Korea and by its encouragement of the activities of Communist and Communist-dominated organizations in South Korea hostile to the United States. The activities of extreme rightist groups in South Korea, under Doctor Syngman Rhee and Kim Koo, who have openly declared their hostility to the trusteeship provisions of the Moscow Agreement, have served further to embarrass the American authorities. The rightist groups are probably the best organized parties in South Korea. They command a majority of the Korean Interim Legislative Assembly and, if elections were held under present conditions, would gain control of any government established in South Korea by such elections. The American authorities in South Korea are endeavoring to turn over to the Koreans as rapidly as possible administrative responsibility in the various departments of the United States Military Government, have organized a half-elected and half-appointed Korean Interim Legislative Assembly, and in general are striving to carry out a policy of “Koreanization” of government in South Korea.

military government directive and steps taken to implement same

The Directive under which the United States Military Government now operates in Korea sets forth three basic United States objectives: (1) To establish an independent and sovereign Korea, free from all foreign domination and eligible for membership in the United Nations (2) to insure that the National Government so established shall be a democratic government fully representative of the freely expressed will of the Korean people; and (3) to assist the Koreans in establishing the sound economy and adequate educational system necessary for an independent democratic state. The Directive points out that the policy of the United States in regard to Korea, in accordance with the Moscow Agreement, contemplates the establishment of a Provisional Korean Government to assist the United States-Soviet Joint Commission in preparing Korea for self-government, the creation of some form of trusteeship for Korea under the United States, the United Kingdom, China and the Soviet Union for a period of up to five years and the complete independence of Korea at the earliest possible moment, with subsequent membership in the United Nations. The Directive goes on to state that the American occupation of South Korea is for the purpose of facilitating the attainment of the basic American objectives in Korea and shall continue as long as it contributes to that end.

As a result of Soviet obstruction and tactics designed to eliminate the majority of the rightist groups from participation in the new government to be established for all of Korea, the American military authorities [Page 800] in South Korea have been unable to proceed with the initial steps required for the establishment of a Provisional Korean Government. As required by the Directive, the American authorities have made considerable progress in utilizing qualified Koreans in posts in local and provincial administration and in the administration of the United States zone as a whole. American personnel remains in the provincial administrations only in an advisory capacity and all administrative posts are filled by Koreans. In the over-all administration of South Korea, all Government departments are now headed by Korean officials and Americans are utilized only in an advisory capacity, although important controversial matters may be referred either to the United States Military Governor or the Commanding General of the United States Occupation Forces for final decision. American military personnel in the Military Government are being replaced as rapidly as possible by American civilians. A Korean Interim Legislative Assembly was established in December 1946, half of its membership being selected by the United States Commanding General from a list of Koreans recommended by Korean groups and half being elected as representatives of the various provinces and municipalities. Presently under consideration by this Assembly is a program for land reform in South Korea and the Assembly has recently adopted a general election law providing for election of officials to an Interim South Korean Government according to certain stipulated rules and regulations. In accordance with the Directive, the United States military authorities have permitted full freedom of expression to all political groups, except in those cases when the activities of certain Communist-dominated groups were clearly prejudicial to the security of American military occupation. Korean rightist youth corps organizations and the Korean National Police have in some cases employed intimidation and violence to prevent full freedom of expression and of legal political activity.

In seeking to attain the cultural objectives set forth in the Directive, the United States occupational authorities have caused funds to be set aside for training courses in industry and agriculture, have encouraged the establishment of teacher training schools and of summer and winter institutes for the re-education of teachers and have in general devoted their efforts to the restoration of schools, the enforcement of new system of education and expansion of school facilities. They have also encouraged the formation of various committees for the purpose of democratizing the Korean educational administration. The implementation of these programs has been handicapped by lack of funds. Culturally, as well as politically, efforts have been made to carry out a process of “Koreanization” looking toward a free and independent Korea.

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It should be pointed out that the Directive itself necessarily allows latitude of interpretation and execution and that the American authorities in Korea have functioned within the framework of that Directive. For example, failure of the American authorities to remove Korean collaborators, and thus Japanese influence and methods, from the Korean National Police can be justified, in part, by the lack of qualified Korean personnel and by the necessity of maintaining law and order vital to the American occupation. Also, the failure to implement the badly needed land reform program has been due to the desire to await the unification of North and South Korea, at which time a Provisional Korean Government would be in a position to carry out a uniform program of this kind for the entire nation. Now that unification appears to be a matter for the indefinite future, plans are being made to carry out such a program at the earliest possible moment.

obstructions to realization of united states objectives

The chief obstructions to the realization of United States objectives in Korea have been the division of that country by the 38° North parallel barrier and the lack of Soviet cooperation in carrying out the provisions of the Moscow Agreement regarding Korea. Behind the 38° North parallel the Soviet Union has established a Democratic Front Government modelled along Soviet lines and has eliminated all political parties of a non-Communist character. North Korean Communist groups have thus been able to encourage and assist the activities of the Democratic Front and other Communist-dominated leftist groups in South Korea hostile to the United States by the infiltration of agents from North Korea into the American zone of occupation. The Soviet refusal in the United States-Soviet Joint Commission to consult with all Korean political and social organizations, as the first step in the formation of a Provisional Korean Government, has so far made it impossible to realize American objectives in Korea—the establishment of a self-governing, sovereign Korea independent of foreign control and fully representative of the freely expressed will of the Korean people.

Other obstructions to the realization of American objectives in Korea have come from sources within the United States zone of occupation:

Extreme rightist groups under Dr. Syngman Rhee and Kim Koo have done much to block American efforts to implement the Moscow Agreement by adopting not only a non-cooperative but even an obstructive attitude. These groups, aided by their youth corps organizations employing terroristic tactics, have used methods of intimidation to restrict the political activity of middle-of-the-road and non-Communist [Page 802] leftist groups; they have acted to prevent the participation in governmental administration of moderate Koreans of influence and ability who might otherwise have made a contribution to the development of Korea.
Similarly, extreme leftist groups have endeavored to foment hostility to the United States and opposition to the attainment of American objectives in Korea. Such groups have been particularly active among Korean peasants in opposing the rice collection program instituted by the United States Military Government for the purpose of ensuring sufficient food for the urban areas.
Another obstacle to the attainment of American objectives has been the activities of the Korean National Police, which have been the chief object of criticism by all Koreans except the extreme rightists. The latter and their youth corps work closely with the Police. Criticism has been directed chiefly at the presence in positions of influence and control in the National Police of Koreans formerly employed in the Japanese police system and at the fact that approximately 80 percent of the officers in the present police organization were former Japanese police employees. Korean resentment arises from the feeling that liberation has not removed from the scene this hated symbol of Japanese oppression, from the continued employment of Japanese methods of brutality and torture, and from the arbitrary arrests of innocent Koreans frequently accompanied by extortion. This resentment is often transferred to the United States Military Government and American prestige suffers as a result. So long as there is no reform of the present police system and police brutality and partisanship continue, there seems to be little hope that a government can be established fully representative of the freely expressed will of the Korean people in South Korea. The American military authorities are handicapped in their efforts to take effective steps in this direction by the necessity of maintaining a Korean police force which will deal effectively with subversive elements hostile to the United States, as a measure vital to the security of the United States occupation, and by the lack of trained Korean personnel to replace former Japanese-employed Korean police officers. The present activities of the Korean National Police, however, are believed to be increasing the shift of Korean political thinking to the left and this situation has an important effect both on the attainment of American objectives in Korea and on the prestige of the United States.

implication of withdrawal of all united states assistance or continuing present united states policy

The American occupation forces in Korea could not remain in that country if all assistance to South Korea were stopped, since the cessation of all aid would lead to an early economic breakdown and to the [Page 803] outbreak of riots and disorder throughout the United States zone of occupation. The withdrawal of American military forces from Korea would, in turn, result in the occupation of South Korea either by Soviet troops, or, as seems more likely, by the Korean military units trained under Soviet auspices in North Korea. The end result would be the creation of a Soviet satellite Communist regime in all of Korea. A withdrawal of all American assistance with these results would cost the United States an immense loss in moral prestige among the peoples of Asia; it would probably have serious repercussions in Japan and would more easily permit the infiltration of Communist agents into that country; and it would gain for the Soviet Union prestige in Asia which would be particularly important in the peripheral areas bordering the Soviet Union, thus creating opportunities for further Soviet expansion among nations in close proximity to the Soviet Union.

Present American policy provides that, in view of the failure of the United States-Soviet Joint Commission to succeed in implementing the provisions of the Moscow Agreement regarding Korea, the matter be referred to the Four Powers for solution. It also provides that the matter be referred to the General Assembly of the United Nations in the event of the failure of the Four Powers to solve the Korean problem. This indicates that the United States will continue to seek, by consultation with the powers concerned, a solution of the problem, but a failure to reach an agreement on Korea in the United Nations will require that the United States make a decision regarding its future course in Korea: whether it shall withdraw or whether it shall organize a South Korean Government and under what conditions and whether it shall give economic and military aid to such a government.

A continuation of present American policies will serve to give notice to the Soviet Union and to other nations in the Far East that the United States will not abandon Korea in the face of Soviet intransigence and that the United States will continue to insist upon the fulfillment of the Moscow Agreement regarding Korea.

A continuation of present American policies will serve to deny to the Soviet Union direct or indirect control of all of Korea and prevent her free use of the entire nation as a military base of operations, including the ice-free ports in South Korea.

  1. Dated September 19; for text, except sections on Korea, see Department of State, United States Relations With China (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1949), pp. 764–814. This includes General Wedemeyer’s memorandum of September 19 to President Truman and the President’s directive, of July 9, pp. 764 and 774. For sections on Korea, except for certain deletions, see Committee Print entitled “Report to the President Submitted by Lt. Gen. A. C. Wedemeyer, September 1947: Korea” (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1951), printed for the Committee on Armed Services of the U. S. Senate at the time of the 1951 hearings. The deletions in this text (except in Appendix “E”, here printed) are as follows: Part III (Korea, political): “The terrorist activities of extreme rightists, who have strongly opposed trusteeship, have continually obstructed the efforts of United States authorities.” Part IV (conclusions, Korea): “The terrorist and obstructive activities of extreme rightist groups are further aggravating this situation.” Appendix “H” to Part III (Korea, military): “The Japanese influence remaining in this [National Police] force is a constant thorn in the side of the Korean people.”
  2. Printed without deletions.