Memorandum by the Ambassador at Large, Philip C. Jessup 2
I had several conversations with President Rhee,3 first when we called to pay our respects on the afternoon of our arrival, second after we dined with him that same evening, third when we called on him officially in his office the next morning, and finally when we called to say goodbye the evening before our departure. The following notes cover the general views which he expressed.
His primary emphasis was upon the communist menace in Korea and in the world. So far as the Korean situation is concerned, he pointed out over and over again as do many of the other Koreans the fact that they are fighting the guerrilla bands throughout South Korea as well as meeting border forays along the 38th Parallel. Several times he made the statement that they were prepared to fight to the death. With obvious reference to his pleas for further military aid and probably in defense of his domestic security measures, he kept stressing the fact that the infiltrating communists were killing large numbers of people in the area all of the time. He says that he keeps telling the Koreans in the north what their attitude is toward resistance. In one of the first talks he explained that they would have a much better strategic defense line if their forces moved into North Korea and he expressed confidence that they could defeat northern opposition. Subsequently, he was careful to add that they were not planning to embark on any conquest. The general tone of his statements, however, lends credence to the belief that he has not objected when the Southern Korean forces along the 38th Parallel have from time to time taken the initiative. In regard to the military assistance they desire, he stressed the familiar pleas for planes, ships and tanks. My conversation with [Page 2]General Roberts4 and with other officers of KMAG as well as with the Korean Minister of Defense5 and Korean officers all make out a good case for the need for at least a few aircraft and antiaircraft guns. General Roberts said that, while he would like very much to have a few light tanks, these were low on his priority list.
President Rhee branched out into a consideration of the world menace of communism and spoke very strongly about the British policy of recognizing the Chinese communist government.6 He can not understand how they could make such a decision and thinks they will be unsuccessful in getting any advantage from it. I explained to him that, whether one considered it wise or not, one must take into consideration as a political fact the attitude not only of the British but of many other governments which do not regard recognition as related to approval and who do not see the same significance in recognition that the President sees in it. The President went on to argue the necessity of the United States defending the free world. He expressed great appreciation for American help to Korea and his especially warm feelings toward Ambassador Muccio. It seems to me clear that the relations between the Ambassador and the President are excellent. The Ambassador talks with him very frankly and the President takes it in very good part. I tried to stress in all my talks with the President the need for his close cooperation with the Ambassador and the ECA staff. It was interesting that on the occasion of our first call on the President, Mrs. Rhee immediately began a political conversation with special emphasis on the need for developing Korean trade. She is evidently well informed. She discussed the possibilities of their developing their exports in tobacco and such specialities as glassware of the Czech type. She said that they had had some recent inquiries about the possibility of their taking up the former Czech glass markets, but the Korean plants are not now adequate and lack the capital for development.
When we called on the President in his office in the morning (January 13) I began by referring to the problem of inflation as one of the most vital ones which Korea needed to solve. The Ambassador added certain specific points. The President was obviously on the defensive on this point and merely stated that he would bring it under control. When we called on him to say goodbye (January 14) I said that I hoped that by the time I returned to Washington we would have reports from Ambassador Muccio that in cooperation with his Mission all of the major problems confronting Korea would have moved forward [Page 3]to a solution. The President immediately mentioned the question of inflation and said that he was going to take active steps to control it. In the same connection, he said that he had discussed this matter and other financial questions with his Cabinet that day. He told them that some of the banks must be sold since it was unsatisfactory to force Koreans always to turn to the Government when they needed capital. He spoke also of orders which he had issued for the sale of rice from Government stores. Without explaining why the Government had held its large stores of rice for so long, he noted that private speculators had been hoarding and that this had resulted in an increase in the rice price. This he would meet by putting Government rice on the market. The profiteers would be unable to meet this Government competition.
At our morning session (January 13) with the President, he spoke also of his desire that a Pacific Pact should be concluded.7 He referred to his conversations with Chiang Kai-shek8 and said they had both agreed that the initiative should be left to Quirino.9 He felt that Australia and New Zealand would be interested, but that the leadership must be taken by the United States. I reminded him that we had made clear our position of sympathetic interest in any development of a regional arrangement but noted that all successful regional arrangements such as those in the Americas, in Western Europe and in the North Atlantic community developed in response to a local regional sense of solidarity. This could not be imposed from outside. With this the President agreed. However, during my last conversation with him (January 14) he again stressed his hope that the Pacific Pact could be concluded.
He talked a good deal about their relations with Japan. He is much interested in increasing trade relations. He and Mr. Sebald10 exchanged views on this question. He asked me to tell President Truman how much they needed a Naval and Air Mission here. He expressed the greatest admiration and gratitude for Mr. Hoffman’s11 interest and asked me to convey this message to him.
My general impression is that there is no question about the dominance of the President in the whole picture. Ambassador Muccio reports [Page 4]that there is really no one who really dares stand up against him, although Mr. Shin Ik Hi, Chairman of the National Assembly, has shown a good deal of independence. This independence was illustrated by a conversation I had with him at dinner on Friday night12 in which he told Dr. Bunce13 and me that under no circumstances could they allow the elections to be postponed, that they must be held in May as scheduled since this was the whole basis for democratic development.
Prime Minister 14
When Ambassador Muccio, Mr. Sebald and I called on the Prime Minister Thursday morning,15 he began his conversation by a speech about Formosa which both Mr. Sebald and I thought was very significant. It is of course clear that all of the Koreans were disturbed by the President’s recent statement on Formosa16 and still hope that we may do something to help the Nationalists there. One of the most frequent questions asked me was whether I was still planning to go to Taiwan.17 The Prime Minister then went on to say that their two greatest problems are inflation and control of the guerrillas. Ambassador Muccio interposed that they were doing quite well in their campaign against the guerrillas but not so well on inflation. Both from General Lin,18 as a military man, and from other Korean officials and our own KMAG, I got quite a complete picture of the operations against the guerrillas. Some of these still infiltrate across the 38th Parallel, many along the very rugged terrain in the eastern part of the country. However, our officers think that their road blocks and controls have largely cut down this avenue of infiltration. This is driving the communists to intensify their efforts to smuggle in men and arms by sea. The Korean lack of coast guard patrol craft makes it very difficult to control this. They have however captured a sufficient number of smugglers and smuggling vessels including plans and instructions to give them a clear picture of the pattern. Small groups of trained communists are sent through the country to organize guerrilla bands [Page 5]which begin operating when they number anywhere from 20 to a couple hundred men. The operations against these bands have been very successful and many of the bands have been completely exterminated. This is accomplished, however, only by devoting to the campaigns overwhelming superiority. This means tying up considerable numbers of troops in this work. General Roberts is now organizing some of the national police in units which will operate as constabulary and relieve the demands on the regular army. I gather that the Koreans are adequately trained and equipped for this type of operation.
In our visit to the 38th Parallel in the Uijongbu area, one was impressed with the smartness of the Korean troops in drill. We noted particularly the crews training in handling anti-tank guns (of which they have only six) also rifle squads and their few batteries. The northern artillery is heavier than theirs and outranges them by at least a thousand yards. General Roberts stressed the fact that five or ten bombers could come over and be absolutely unopposed and probably disrupt South Korea by the panic which would result from a raid on Seoul. Up at the line, the officers stressed the need for more anti-tank guns since the North has a good many light tanks. They have antipersonnel land mines in the South and their combat engineers are well trained in demolition of bridges, etc., in case of an enemy attack. Both observation and all reports would indicate that the morale of the Southern Korean troops is high. I was interested in talking, however, with some of the Korean officers to find that they had no tendency to play down their fellow countrymen to the north pointing out that they were not only in greater strength and armed with superior weapons but were equally good fighters. They did agree that their own morale was better. The defensive positions laid out near the 38th Parallel have been arranged in collaboration with KMAG but the extensive trenches which were dug by civilian Korean labor are considered by our people to be quite useless. The day we were there they were sharply outlined by strips of snow and would seem to afford admirable targets to the enemy. At the most advanced post about a thousand yards from the Parallel they produced for our benefit a boy 24 years old who was said to have been captured after he came in. They said he had been trained in a special school in the North to assassinate the Southern Korean governmental leaders. He was one of a group being sent in for this purpose. The Minister of Defense and other Korean officers interrogated him in our presence, but the translation seemed to cover very little of what was said in Korean. It was hard to tell whether the whole affair was a plant or was genuine.[Page 6]
There seems to me a general realization in Korean government circles of the necessity of solving some of their principal economic problems. The impression of our mission which was borne out by conversations with the Koreans is that they are quite ready to make decisions in principle and to agree to proposals which we make, but action to implement the decisions simply is not taken. For instance, the adoption of the further legislation on the land reform was carried through successfully but the implementation has been held up.19 Ambassador Muccio told me that this was clearly due to the opposition of the landlord group while the Koreans, especially the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, insisted that it was due merely to the difficulties in setting up the administrative machinery. As another example, they planned boldly for the building of new cement plants while they are not operating any where near capacity the plants they already have. This industry, incidentally, is of particular importance because of its relation to the program for construction of dams to increase their hydro-electric power. The rice crop has been a bumper one for two years and the farmers are quite prosperous. The only exception has been the area around Seoul where this year they have been suffering from drought. The briefings by the members of the mission give more details on some of these points.
Riding on the train to and from the 38th Parallel, I talked at some length with Mr. Chang Kyung Keun, Vice Minister of Home Affairs. His English is not very good and when he found it convenient he was unable to understand what I said. I discussed with him the national security law which is the basis of much of the criticism of the “police state” aspects of the Korean Government.20 He told me that the President had suspended the enforcement of the law pending the adoption of certain amendments particularly in regard to eliminating the ex post facto feature. Ambassador Muccio had told me that the President had not vetoed the law but had allowed it to take effect without his signature. The picture I got even from the Deputy Minister’s statements was one in which any one could be arrested on the ground that he was pro-communist. He is tried by a special court composed of four judges but there is no appeal from the decision of this court. [Page 7]If he should argue that the security law under which he is being tried was unconstitutional, this question could go up to the Supreme Court only if the judges themselves decided to refer it. The accused is allowed to have counsel and, if he is unable to get counsel, the court will designate someone. In discussing with him the arrest of the 15 members of the National Assembly, he was very evasive.21 He told me there were only 7 instead of the actual 14 or 15 who were arrested. He claimed that they would not be convicted unless it were proved that they were acting under orders of a foreign power. He endeavored to maintain the thesis that no one would be prosecuted because he merely held views in opposition to the government. Ambassador Muccio doubts very much if they could prove the foreign instructions and pointed out to me that when Rhee arrested this group of National Assemblymen he wrote a letter indicating that he had perhaps 20 more on his list whom he would not arrest at this time. It was a clear threat over the heads of the Assembly. The Deputy Minister also insisted, in response to my questions, that newspaper editors were perfectly free to sponsor views hostile to the government just so long as they were not under the orders of a foreign power or the communist party. He was unable to explain why in some of these cases the advocacy of the withdrawal of the American forces seemed to him such clear proof of communist orders since this opinion concided with the action decided upon by the United States Government. On the question of police administration, he insisted that centralization of authority was necessary until they succeeded in licking the problem of communist guerrillas. He was unable to explain, however, why even the local police charged with traffic control and the ordinary petty crimes needed to be under national rather than local authority. Although he argued that some of the police were under the authority of the provincial governments, he admitted they were actually responsible to the central national police administration. He was quite ready to agree with my little lecture on the vital necessity of reconciling provisions for the freedom of the individual with provisions for the protection of the national safety, but it was quite apparent that their thinking is dominated by the idea of centralized authority which they now justify on the ground that they are engaged in such active operations against the communist guerrillas. He insisted, however, that legally the peacetime rather than wartime system of justice operated.
- Mr. Jessup visited the Republic of Korea from January 11 to January 14 as part of a 3-month fact-finding trip to the Far East on behalf of Secretary of State Dean Acheson. For further information on Mr. Jessup’s visit to Korea, see despatch no. 103, January 28, from Seoul, p. 18.↩
- Syngman Rhee, President of the Republic of Korea.↩
- Brig. Gen. William L. Roberts, Chief of the U.S. Military Advisory Group to the Republic of Korea.↩
- Sihn Sung Mo.↩
- The U.K. Government extended recognition to the Government of the People’s Republic of China on January 6, 1950.↩
- For documentation concerning the proposed Pacific Pact, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vii, Part 2, pp. 1115 ff.; ibid., 1950, vol. vi, pp. 1 ff.↩
- For the text of a joint statement issued by President Rhee and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, former President of the Republic of China, at the conclusion of their talks on August 8, 1949, see ibid., 1949, vol. vii, Part 2, p. 1184.↩
- President Elpidio Quirino of the Republic of the Philippines had met with Chiang Kai-shek in July 1949 prior to the latter’s meeting with President Rhee; for related documentation, see ibid., pp. 1151 ff.↩
- William J. Sebald, Acting U.S. Political Adviser to the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, Japan, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, accompanied Mr. Jessup to Korea.↩
- Paul G. Hoffman, Administrator of the Economic Cooperation Administration.↩
- January 13.↩
- Arthur G. Bunce, chief of the ECA Mission in Korea.↩
- Lee Bum Suk.↩
- January 12.↩
- In the statement under reference, issued on January 5, 1950, President Truman had said that the United States would not provide military aid or advice to the Chinese forces on Formosa; for the text, see American Foreign Policy, 1950–1955: Basic Documents (Department of State publication 6446), vol. ii, p. 2448.↩
- Mr. Jessup proceeded to Taiwan on January 15 following a visit to Okinawa after his departure from Korea; for documentation on his talks with officials of the Republic of China, see vol. vi, pp. 256 ff.↩
- A marginal notation in the source text indicated that the reference to General “Lin” may have been incorrect.↩
- Concerning this question, see the memorandum, dated December 16, 1949, from Assistant Secretary of State Butterworth to Secretary of State Acheson in Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vii, Part 2, p. 1110, and also U.N. document A/1881, p. 49.↩
- For the views of the United Nations Commission on Korea concerning the application of the National Security Act during this period, see U.N. document A/1350, p. 25.↩
- For information on the arrest of the members of the National Assembly in 1949 and their trial in 1950, see U.N. document A/1350, p. 22.↩