163. Letter From the Acting Director of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs (Parsons) to the Counselor of Embassy in Korea (Strom)1

Dear Carl: We in NA have all read your despatch No. 432 of June 29,2 with great interest and understand that Mr. Robertson has read it as well. Our thinking is that the despatch is of great value in clarifying the Korean problem. We sincerely hope that the Embassy and the OEC can use your despatch as a point of departure for making specific suggestions regarding positive action which the United States Government can take to bring about a better and more hopeful situation in Korea. The prevailing attitude in Washington, particularly within the Department of State, with regard to the United States posture and courses of action in Korea can best be described as one of puzzlement: we cannot indefinitely maintain our present posture in Korea, but what else can we do that really makes sense? We in NA are repeatedly having the finger pointed at us to come up with positive proposals. I can assure you that help from your quarters will be highly welcomed.

I should like to make a few specific comments about your despatch:

Your description of the situation in Korea, and particularly of the Korean Government and the way it operates would probably [Page 298] need to be revised only slightly to fit the situation in a great many other countries with which the United States has close working relations.
It appears to us that one of the most significant factors in our difficulties in moving ahead in Korea is the point which you make at the bottom of page 3, where you say “Korea does not have the heritage of a working economic system”. This is complicated for the United States in trying to work with the Koreans to think through the necessary stages of development planning, since there is little in history which bears on the problem in question. South Korea as an independent political and economic entity is new in the history of Korea. Consequently, it is not possible to depend to any great extent upon past events in arriving at conclusions with respect to the most logical future course. It seems to us that it is this phenomenon as much as any other that precludes the Korean officials themselves from being very helpful, even with the best of working relationships between the United States and the Republic of Korea, in providing ideas of maximum usefulness to the United States in our own planning.
At the bottom of page 4 you say that “the potential danger, however, remains and it increases day by day as President Rhee and his Government fail to offer believable national goals, and to put forward a positive, imaginative program to promote general welfare”. Although we agree that President Rhee and the Korean Government have devoted their attention to other matters and have not furnished a positive program in this connection we think it may be too much to expect, in any case, that Rhee and his Government could really accomplish this task for the reasons spelled out in the immediately preceding paragraph.3 It is on this very point where the greater knowledge of economics, politics and managerial requirements on the part of Americans should prove most helpful in working with the Koreans to blueprint jointly the kind of goals which are most needed in the situation. To date we have been so fully occupied with the problems of reconstruction and day-to-day exacerbations in our relations with the Koreans that we have not been able to turn our energies in sufficient quantities to the matter of helping the Koreans to develop national goals. It seems to us that the Korean people possess an element of strength, which enabled them to maintain their ethnic identity during many centuries of foreign hegemony and to stand firm against the Communists and which can be expected to serve as [Page 299] the drive required to bring about changes in the Korean political, economic and social picture that would permit the growth needed to move toward more self-sufficiency in the present situation. We hope that your continued search, supplemented by our own work, will bring forth the necessary programs for utilizing this strength which should be turned to good use in helping to solve the Korean problem.

We are in need of all the constructive ideas that can be produced. Accordingly, we hope that your 432 is merely one in a series of helpful and constructive appraisals and recommendations dealing with US-ROK relations.

Sincerely yours,

Howard L. Parsons4

P.S. Noel is away for a few days. We discussed this letter and the wording in it thoroughly before he left. So it’s really a joint product.

  1. Source: Department of State, NA Files: Lot 58 D 643, KP–3.1 U.S.-Korea Political 1955–1956. Secret; Official–Informal.
  2. Summarized in Document 161.
  3. In the cited paragraph in despatch 432, Korean social problems are viewed as a natural consequence of the domination of the Korean peninsula by China and Japan during recent centuries. As a result, Strom felt, “The Koreans so far have not been able to construct a cultural or ideological base elastic or durable enough to survive the prodigious upheavals they have suffered.”
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.