The Chargé in Korea (Drumright) to the Secretary of State
613. Embtel 605, May 1. Mrs. Rhee telephoned Noble1 before nine a. m. this morning saying President was sick in bed but would like see him at once. Prior to leaving office Noble discussed with me question of reported police changes. On arrival at residence Noble was met by Mrs. Rhee, who said President decided issue public statement about changes in police force, but she was fearful he might include some unfortunate remarks and had persuaded him to talk with Noble first. Noble went to President’s bedroom, where he found President in bed apparently suffering from grippe.
President first gave long background account of situation. He said he considered party fights and factionalism greatest weakness of Koreans politically and fights between factions in US before liberation had done more harm than even Japs had done. Therefore, when he returned to Korea he was determined party politics should be avoided. He had tried to organize a coalition of all national elements in National Society for rapid realization for Korean independence, in which all groups and factions would work together for common cause. In this he had failed. Meanwhile there had developed Democratic National Party and he had maintained friendly relations with it. Indeed most of his good friends had been members. In consequence he had frequently been attacked by foreign correspondents as being a reactionary since DNP was conservative party of Korea. He had to admit, however, that DNP had attracted most of competent and able men in South Korea, wealthy men, local leaders, men of education and leadership. He found DNP would have been willing and in fact was desirous he should be party leader, but DNP wished to monopolize all political power in Korea. Since he did not believe in party politics he would [Page 60]not accept party position. After assuming Presidency he offered Finance Minister’s post to Kim Sung Soo, DNP leader, but Kim had set down as condition of acceptance appointment of majority of DNP members to Cabinet and control of Government by DNP. This he had refused and Kim Sung Soo did not enter Cabinet. Nevertheless he had made extensive use of DNP members in government, including several Cabinet Ministers. In addition, Defense Minister Sihn Sung Mo, in whom President put great confidence, worked closely with DNP. In fact, President had appointed Kim Kyo Suk Home Minister upon Sihn’s recommendation.
Rhee told Noble that without his own knowledge or even suspicion, Kim Kyo Suk had proceeded to develop DNP party machine through police chiefs who were members of or attached to DNP. He said this had come to his attention at time of struggle over constitutional amendment when numerous persons had come in from country to complain police were supporting DNP political leaders only and used their power against persons not supporting DNP. He said about fifty members of National Assembly also had called and presented similar charges. He had then called in Kim Kyo Suk and asked him about these charges. Kim had said it was necessary to organize police in order to keep Communists and moderates from being successful in elections and so obtain control of government. President said he considered this meant Kim had actually organized police to advance fortunes of DNP. He had therefore demanded Kim’s resignation and had appointed present Home Minister Paek who had no connections with DNP.
After assumption of office, President had directed Paek to make complete shift of police chiefs before election so there could be free elections. He said, each police chief would have developed his own organization in his own district, but a new police chief coming in would not be able to take over that organization or have time to develop a new organization in which police influence could be used on behalf of one group of candidates.
Noble replied that whatever facts were, general public impression among Koreans and foreigners was new Home Minister was now engaged in establishing his own police machine in order control elections on behalf of candidates he supported. President’s objection this not so, Noble said President had to face not only facts as he knew them but general opinion which even though not based on facts would have very powerful influence. Rhee said he understood this but he was determined there should be free elections and he intended proceed with his program of shifting every police chief to a new district. He continued although there might be suspicion of motives at present time, nevertheless when elections were held everyone would see results had [Page 61]been beneficial in making free elections possible instead of having police power utilized on behalf of one party.
Noble then said Home Minister had in addition effected dismissal of several senior police officers and this would not appear to be preparation for free elections but elmination of officers who might be in way of setting up of new political machine by Home Minister. President, seemingly concerned, said he had not been told any had been dismissed and wanted to know who they were. Noble replied he would obtain names. President requested he do so, saying if Home Minister had dismissed police chiefs, he would fire Home Minister.
President then said in view of public concern over issue, especially that of foreigners, he wished to make public statement and requested Noble’s advice. Noble rejoined there no point in making statement unless it contained all essential facts, specifically who was being transferred, from which post to what post and why, and who was being discharged and why. President then said he would like Noble to talk with AP correspondent and that he had greatly appreciated latter’s handling of matter yesterday. Noble rejoined it would seem well to take up matter with correspondent when all facts were available.
Noble stressed current shifts were having bad effect on police morale. Noble then urged that regardless of merits of President’s position, because of harmful effect upon public opinion, especially foreign opinion, projected changes be delayed until after election. In reply President indicated he intended go ahead because he wanted free elections. President then asked Noble what was purpose of my projected call this afternoon. Noble replied I was greatly concerned about police changes and wished discuss them with President. He then told Noble he would be glad to see me if I felt I must come this afternoon, but since Noble could now give his views to me, and since he was ill, he hoped I would find it convenient to call another day.
After careful consideration of President’s position, I asked Noble to call on President late this afternoon with information about dismissed police and at same time convey to him following facts:
“State that I fully sympathize with his desire that the elections shall be conducted in a free, honest and impartial manner. Inform the President that as a friend and as a supporter of Korea, I earnestly venture to hope that he will consider long and carefully the repercussions and reactions which may be brought about by any wholesale changes in the police chiefs at this time. Say that I have long felt that the police organization needs a thorough overhauling and appropriate training in order to enhance its efficiency and make it more popular with the Korean people, but that I am of the view that such reforms should be undertaken only after thorough study which would have to be after the elections.[Page 62]
“Inform the President that in my view any wholesale or complete shifting of police chiefs at this time will unquestionably expose him to charges of endeavoring to control or rig the elections. Say that in any opinion this will be the general interpretation given such an action not only by people of the friendly nations but by the Korean people, as well. Point out that the repercussions are incalculable. Inform the President it is my feeling that the reaction in US quarters, official and unofficial, is almost certain to be adverse, no matter what explanation may be given for the police changes. Bearing in mind that the US Government suggested an early election, inform the President that this matter could conceivably affect US policy toward Korea, including the voting this very week on the ECA appropriation in the US Senate.2
“Say that if the President is convinced of the validity of the charges made against Mr. Kim Kyo Suk, it would have been more convincing if the police changes had been initiated immediately following Kim’s removal from office. Say that no amount of explanation more than two months after the appointment of Kim’s successor and within thirty days of the holding of the elections is likely to be convincing to impartial persons.
“Inform the President that I share the views which you expressed to him this morning. Say that I am reporting fully by urgent cable to my government”.
I fear if notwithstanding our strong advice Rhee goes through with plan to effect wholesale police changes, rift between him and DNP will be seriously widened and existing Cabinet will dissolve, in which case a crisis may ensue. Results of Noble’s latest interview will be telegraphed as soon as available.
- Harold J. Noble, Attaché at the American Embassy in Seoul.↩
- On May 5, the U.S. Senate approved the legislation calling for an authorization of $100 million to the Republic of Korea in fiscal year 1951; this authorization was enacted into law on June 5, 1950 (see 64 Stat. 202). On September 6, 1950, an appropriation of $90 million for economic assistance to Korea was approved (see 64 Stat. 758).↩