161. Memorandum From the Officer in Charge of Korean Affairs (Nes) to the Deputy Director of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs (Parsons)1


  • Despatch 432 from Seoul2

I believe you will wish to read this advance copy of Carl Strom’s “swan song”3 written in collaboration with the Chiefs of the Political and Economic sections, the PAO, and Don MacDonald.4

The despatch summarizes our commitment in Korea and the consequences of failure to meet our responsibilities. Korea is characterized as “a nation adrift, whose people are disillusioned and uninspired”. The Communist danger, it is pointed out, remains as a potential danger which “increases day by day as President Rhee and his Government fail to offer believable national goals …”.5

In discussing President Rhee’s role a number of weaknesses in his policies are exposed and it is said that he “thus far seems to be ignorant of, or has failed to understand, the public dissatisfaction manifested in the election”.6 “In sum, President Rhee’s role in domestic affairs since 1948 has achieved the short-range goal of preserving order, but he has not furnished the country the constructive leadership necessary for the development of a viable society and therefore for the achievement of American objectives in Korea”.

In conclusion, the despatch states “we must continue to support President Rhee while he lives,” but must also demonstrate to him the “overriding importance of a constructive national program”. We must recognize that in addition to being an expression of popular dissatisfaction the May election was “also a major political overturn” which could lead to the Opposition’s inheriting power. Continued support of the ROK military as a stabilizing force in domestic affairs is required.

There is little new in the despatch and it does not show us any clear way out of our Korean dilemma, but it does point up, as did the Prochnow report,7 the urgent need for a reappraisal.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.95/6–2956. Secret. Drafted by Barbis and Nes.
  2. Dated June 29. (Ibid.)
  3. Chargé Strom left Korea after Ambassador Dowling presented his credentials on July 14. Strom was subsequently appointed Ambassador to Cambodia in October.
  4. Donald S. MacDonald, Second Secretary of Embassy in Korea.
  5. Ellipsis in the source text.
  6. See Document 146.
  7. See Document 155.