Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. John Z. Williams of the Division of Northeast Asian Affairs


In reply to questions asked by Mr. Saltzman1 and the others,2 General Helmick3 expressed the following opinions:

Providing the Command in Korea is requested to act soon, plans could be completed and elections initiated in a subdivision of south Korea prior to March 31. This would also necessitate amending the SKILA election law which requires an 80-day period between the announcement and the holding of elections. The General felt there would be no difficulty in this respect. By moving election teams (observers, security guard, etc.) from one subdivision (perhaps four in all) to another, elections could be completed in the whole of south Korea within one month. A 70% rightist dominated return can be expected, with those elected recognizing Syngman Rhee as their leader. In the probable event that Communist dominated leftists do not participate, Rhee dominated elements would control practically 100% of the votes. Moderate, or middle of the road elements would make a poor showing. Rhee has become increasingly irrational and any “government” he might head could be expected to reflect this instability.

With continuing U.S. aid, although on a diminishing scale from that now provided, south Korea could attain a marginal self-sufficiency, with perhaps an $18 million annual deficiency, within five years. A unified Korea would have potential self-sufficiency within a shorter period, although with the rising birthrate, it could never attain a high standard of living. There are virtually no Koreans with the technical training and experience required to take advantage of Korea’s resources, and effect tan improvement over its present rice economy status.

Upon the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces and the cessation of present supplies of coal from Japan, as well as food, oil, gasoline, etc. from the U.S., the transportation system of south Korea would cease to function within a week or ten days. Within two months, south Korea would be reduced to a “bull cart” economy. Some nine million non-food producers would face starvation.

With respect to troop withdrawal, General Helmick said that it would be extremely helpful for planning purposes, and for effecting an orderly turnover to Koreans, if Washington could supply definite [Page 1093] directives, including dates. The General readily agreed that the difficulty in this respect rested with assessing unknown factors such as Soviet and Korean reaction to moves we might anticipate making. The General confirmed the thought that after elections had taken place many activities and responsibilities now borne by U.S. personnel could be transferred to Koreans. Also, he felt such action may not arouse as much suspicion of imminent withdrawal as similar steps might if taken now. The General also stated that it would be extremely helpful in planning and effecting a withdrawal, if it were known in advance that a substantial Mission could remain and be attached to the Embassy to phase out post-withdrawal responsibilities.

Earlier in the discussion, the General stated that the U.S. Command is doing everything possible to facilitate the work of the U.N. Commission. He agreed that it is to the interest of the U.S. that demands made by the Commission should be met even though, in some instances, they may appear somewhat unnecessary or embarrassing.

  1. Brig. Gen. Charles E. Saltzman, Assistant Secretary of State for Occupied Areas.
  2. Nine others, including the Director and Deputy Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs (Butterworth and Penfield).
  3. Maj. Gen. Charles G. Helmick, Deputy Military Governor of South Korea.