740.00119 Control (Korea)/9–1947: Telegram

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


361. Zpol 1162. 1. The present transition period in our policy with respect to Korea and consideration on higher level of new plans, moves [Page 804] me to submit following comment, especially as the Department and SWNCC may soon be giving consideration to General Wedemeyer’s report.13 In submitting this comment, I realize that the points raised have probably been mulled over many times in War Department.

2. The Joint Commission stalemate affords opportunity to take stock of obligations and commitments with view to reorienting our Korea policy in light of present world situation. The failure of the Joint Commission after two efforts, extending over 18 months, to implement the Moscow Agreements with respect to Korea affords ample logical grounds for seeking some other solution which Department had sought in its effort to have problem considered by Four Powers concerned. The Soviets have, however, rejected that proposal and Department, in keeping with SWNCC directive No. 176/30,13a has taken the matter to the General Assembly of UN. As regards the probability of success of this new approach, I am in agreement with conclusion reached in paragraph 13 of the “discussion” in the aforementioned SWNCC directive that, due to Soviet intransigence, the result may be inconclusive.

3. In view of foregoing prognosis, SWNCC in 176/30 argues that US should proceed with positive program of establishing more or less permanent government in South Korea with grant-in-aid program, appointment of civil commissioner, et cetera. While that plan seems sound, I cannot give full concurrence without knowing answers to two questions posed in paragraph 6 below.

4. The Soviets have made it abundantly clear in the positions which they have taken in Joint Commission that they do not propose to agree to the establishment of any all-Korea Government unless it is leftist dominated and so constituted that the leftists can take over control in due course. It can be inferred therefore that they are determined to establish in Korea another satellite state. If, therefore, the United States proceeds with an all-South Korea program (assuming approach to UN fails), we must visualize the establishment of another undeclared battlefront along the 38th parallel similar to that now existing along Greek frontier and Yugoslav-Venezia-Giulia boundary. It would be foolish, wishful thinking to believe that Soviets will not avail themselves of opportunity to establish such a front. In order to control situation the United States would probably be compelled to increase its armed forces in Korea and to station along the 38th parallel more or less permanently at least 1 division of well-trained American troops, not recruits, and we should have to train and equip a South Korean Army of some considerable size.

5. And the foregoing does not exhaust all unfavorable factors under which we would have to function and operate. Our position in South [Page 805] Korea would be none too secure. The Korean masses have been subjected to semi-slavery for so long that their one cry, to be expected of a semi-emancipated people, is “independence and freedom”. Even under our mild rule they feel that our presence here keeps them from realizing all the good things they have dreamed of and do not possess and never will for many years. Also, according to our best deductions from Joint Commission and other data at least 30 per cent of the people of South Korea are leftists, following Comintern Communist leaders who would support the Soviets behind United States lines. In addition the rightists and middle-of-the-roaders are divided into at least 4 groups with numerous minor factions, fighting and quarreling among themselves with all (except few intelligent leaders who have spent most of their lives abroad) desiring that we turn the country over to them, simple-mindedly believing or hoping that the United States will continue to pour in aid and assistance without control and somehow magically protect them from the Russians with few American troops. A better milieu for Communist propaganda could not be devised. And last but not least is the economic drain upon the United States for aid and assistance which our economists estimate under most favorable circumstances (they describe it as an “intelligent estimate”) would require total of at least half billion dollars over 5-year period and that figure does not include troop maintenance. Thus our proposed South Korea program is wrought [fraught] with dangerous and costly possibilities.

6. In my opinion the most important criterion by which decision should be made whether the US should enter upon heavy undertakings in South Korea would be the carefully studied answer of United States military and political strategists, who are considering overall strategy and tactics around the Soviet perimeter from Japan and Korea to Norway and Sweden, to the question: is Korea of sufficiently vital importance [to] the United States in its relations with the Soviet Union within the foreseeable future (for the next 5 years) for the United States to undertake the risk and expense of holding South Korea? There is also a corollary question which must be answered, viz.: if it is impossible for the United States to enter into all the undertakings around the Soviet perimeter which the strategists consider vital, is South Korea one that might as safely be abandoned in favor, say, of other safeguarding measures which could be undertaken in Japan or elsewhere nearby?

7. If the answer of the strategists is that South Korea is so vital to our over-all policy of containment of the USSR that it must be held as one of our bastions of defense (or offense), then we should liquidate the Moscow Agreement with respect to Korea as quickly and gracefully [Page 806] as possible and begin [work?] upon our plans for the development of South Korea with the utmost vigor. The questions of cost, personnel, Congressional support, etc., will all have to be faced and met. There is no other safe alternative.

8. If, on the other hand, the strategists feel either that South Korea is not so vital to our defense (or offense) and other appropriate safeguarding measures can be taken or that the US should not or cannot hold South Korea as against other more important bastions that must be held, then we should “make peace with the Soviets” on this problem and get out of Korea as quickly and as gracefully as possible. This might be done by adopting with respect to Korea less firm stand against the Soviets here and on higher levels and at UN, and, by compromise bargaining in other fields, work out some arrangement whereby an all-Korean Government is created, which, when established, will be followed by simultaneous withdrawal of both US and Soviet troops. Under such arrangements, we may agree to give some aid and assistance under minimum supervision but I am certain that shortly after US and Soviet troops are withdrawn there will ensue here a state of anarchy and bloodletting, as has recently taken place in India or at least as is taking place between Communist[s] and non-Communists in China, which will give rise to a situation under which little or no aid and assistance can be given.

9. I know that there are those who will criticize this plan because the United States may lose “prestige” among Far Eastern peoples but I doubt whether that danger will arise since any plan devised for uniting Korea and for withdrawal of troops will be readily accepted by the Koreans who seem to be willing to take the risks involved. And besides, the decision of the strategists should carry much weight as an offset against the danger of loss of prestige. In any event we cannot give democracy, as we know it, to any people or cram it down their throats. History cries loudly that the fruits of democracy come forth only after long evolutionary and revolutionary processes involving the expenditure of treasure, blood and tears. Money cannot buy it; outside force and presure cannot nurture it.

10. If by chance the expert strategists disagree on the answers to the questions raised above (and that may well be the case), then we really “have a bear by the tail”. In that event, the only courses of action: (a) to press strongly and expeditiously at UN for the most favorable solution possible and, (b) failing success of that effort, decide whether to remain or get out of South Korea and proceed vigorously to implement whichever decision is reached.

11. My final observation is that whatever policy and plan are decided upon, the decision that they are “the policy and the plan” should be [Page 807] made soon and we should immediately move swiftly to implement them (as we have been doing during the past 6 weeks). Time is the essence. Two years have been lost. The Koreans are becoming restless. Communist borers are boring. Further uncertainty regarding what we do here can easily lead to bloodshed. Whatever we do will be difficult but further uncertainty is worse.14

  1. Supra.
  2. August 4, p. 738.
  3. In telegram 219, September 25, 7 p.m., to Seoul, the Department informed Mr. Jacobs that his “excellent analysis” would be of “great assistance in consideration of Korean problem here.” (740.00119 Control (Korea)/9–1947) For Mr. Kennan’s comment on September 24, see p. 814.