Matthews files, lot 53 D 413: Telegram

The Commander in Chief, United Nations Command (Clark) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff


CX 61134. It is considered timely to rept to you the curr facts and circumstances relating to mvmt of the ROK Govt to Seoul. Part 1 of this msg summarizes the salient points set forth in ref A which reflected the sit as of the end of Aug 52. Part 2 presents dev since that date.

Ref: A. My msg C 54344 dtd 28 Aug 52.1 B. Msg AmEmb Pusan nr 300710 Jan (DIP 365) to Secy of State.2

[Page 730]

Part 1. As indicated in my msg, ref A, while the mvmt of the ROK Govt back to Seoul would have provided Pres Rhee with a psychological and polit victory and dmstd to the Communists confidence of our ability to repel any further aggression north of the capital city, there was basically important mil, orgnl, civ affairs and econ considerations against such mvmt. The principal considerations were: There was not any prospect of an armistice in the near future and the Communist forces in Korea were capable of launching a major attack with very little warning. The reestab of the polit capital in Seoul would increase the possibility that Seoul might become a mil objective of any future Communist attack. Furthermore the return of thousands of former Seoul residents would clog the roads and slow down mil mvmts, which might prove crucial in the event of a major Communist offensive. From a civ affairs pnt of view, comms between KCOMZ and the ROK Govt would become more difficult and the Eighth Army would tend to become involved in functions in this sphere which would have nullified my decision to relieve the CG Eighth Army from civ, polit and econ affairs matters which I desired to be the responsibility of CG KCOMZ. Financially, it was est that the reestab of Seoul as the capital would cost many millions of dollars. Such a project would require the use of UNKRA funds and there was opposition of the UNKRA Advisory Committee to the use of such funds for the rehab of ROK Govt bldgs. In addition, elements of Eighth Army Hqs and Fifth Air Force Hqs probably would have to be located elsewhere. The expenditure of large amts for these proposals was considered unjustified under the circumstances. The foregoing was the sit in Aug 52.

Part 2. During Sept and Oct the agitation for the return to Seoul died down somewhat. In fact, early in Sept, I was informed that, based upon the opinions of Amb Muccio, Pri Min Chang, and Pres Advisor Vice-cour, there was no evidence that ROK officials were planning to reoccupy Seoul in the imm future. By the middle of Nov, rumors revived and we were informed that the mvmt was underway, in spite of the denial of certain govt officials, and would continue until completed. Pres Rhee has spent most of his time in Seoul since his inauguration last Aug and it has become clear that he will continue his residence there indefinitely. Consequently, high ROK officials have spent much of their time in Seoul. This has made it increasingly difficult for the dip representatives at Pusan to transact their normal business as ref B indicates. In the past few mos, thousands of Koreans have reentered Seoul, and I attribute this largely to the fact that Pres Rhee has maintained his residence there and has carried on some govt functions from Seoul.

[Page 731]

The mvmt of the ROK Govt back to Seoul has thus been intensified by actual devs and has also continued to be agitated by Korean officials as well as the Korean press since my msg cited in ref A above. The view expressed in this msg which motivated me to use my influence to delay the mvmt has not only remained substantially unchanged but has rather been strengthened. I have tried to discourage the restoration of Seoul as capital by not approving rehab projects in Seoul and I have also turned down rqsts to turn fac such as comm and utilities which are not aval, for instance an expanded telephone switchboard. Similarly, repeated rqsts for trans by mil acft for ROK officials from Pusan to Seoul were refused on the grounds of lack of aval of trans. Such action has not precluded, however, assistance to projects of normal rehab and repairs of damaged bldgs, now under way.

From mil pnt of view I continue to regard the mvmt with concern. The proximity of Seoul to the front line might cause it again to become the objective of any new Communist offensive. The mvmt of the ROK Govt and of all agencies associated therewith might even provoke such attack. On previous occasion, Communist offensive action has forced evac of Seoul with attendant confusion and destruction of govt functions. Even during the curr pd of a relative stalemate, where mvmt is confined to our own troops, a large influx of civ pers into the combat zone places an additional burden upon the combat comdr, such as problems involving security, tfc control, civ affairs matters, and reduction of shelter otherwise aval to troops. We have successfully organized to relieve the Eighth Army of noncombat activities by dividing Korea into two zones, combat and comm, for the express purpose of giving the combat comdr greater freedom of action and an area in which to maneuver. A govt move to Seoul with the nec ensuing transfer into the Eighth Army area of part of KCOMZ activities would undo a large part of the benefits achieved by the creation of KCOMZ as the agency in charge of civ, polit and econ affairs. In addition, the restoration of Seoul as capital would nec the mvmt into the combat zone of the various dip missions in addition to offices of UNCACK, UNCURK, UNKRA and the Combined Econ Board.

I will continue to recm strongly against the mvmt of ROK Govt to Seoul at this time.

Your full spt of my psn is rqstd.

  1. Not printed.
  2. In this cable, sent to the Department of State as telegram 934 from Pusan, Jan. 28, 1953, Briggs reported the gist of a conversation with the British Minister to Korea on the problem of conducting diplomatic business in Pusan when Rhee spent most of his time in Seoul. The British Minister told Briggs that his government was considering moving its Legation to Seoul; Briggs reiterated the reasons for U.S. opposition to the return to Seoul movement. (601.0095/1–2853)