226. Letter From the Ambassador in Korea (Dowling) to the Director of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs (Parsons)1
Dear Howard: In my telegram 1080 of June 21,2 reporting General Lemnitzer’s and my conversation with President Rhee in compliance with the Department’s 892 of June 19,3 I refrained (in agreement with Lemnitzer) from reporting two comments by the old gentleman. The first of these was injected into the conversation as Lemnitzer was first speaking of the decision to bring in modern weapons; President Rhee queried “what good are they unless we have the right to use them?” The second, which came later in the conversation, was an invitation to General Lemnitzer to join him in a “march North,” with the suggestion that he was ready to approach Washington with such a demand.
Both Lemnitzer and I felt that to report these remarks in our telegrams on the conversation would lead to misunderstandings on the part of many in Washington not fully familiar with the situation here. President Rhee was, of course, emotionally stirred by the news of the U.S. decision, and I have observed that he is inclined to exaggerated statements on such occasions. As a matter of fact, his comments [Page 462] were made in a half-joking manner, and when Lemnitzer, in connection with his second comment, said—in the same jocular vein—“Don’t upset the apple cart, Mr. President,” he rejoined that of course he was only voicing a personal wish, but he nevertheless believed it the only right action.
All in all, I was satisfied with the conversation, except in one particular. In his presentation of the U.S. decision and proposed actions, Lemnitzer referred only in general terms—and not too emphatically—to the reduction in ROK Army forces, and made no effective reply to President Rhee’s remark that the ROK forces could only be reduced after unification of the country.
The conversation then drifted off (as conversations with him have a way of doing these days) into a discussion of the need for additional merchant vessels, and President Rhee spent some little time in reminding us that when Korea obtained the CIMAVIs, he was blocked by ECA personnel here, as well as the pro-Japanese State Department, in his efforts to get 10,000 ton ships. This led to an attempt by me to rebut his allegations of pro-Japanese sentiments in the Department, as I feel it unwise, particularly in the presence of other U.S. officials, to allow him to get away with these outrageous statements. As the conversation was breaking up—Mrs. Rhee had summoned us to lunch—I asked for two minutes and attempted—as reported in my telegram—to sum up our proposed actions and the supporting arguments and to make it clear that the measures in support of the ROK Army were dependent upon a reduction in strength. The discussion ended with President Rhee again saying that a reduction could not be carried through at this time, and my insisting that it would be necessary because of the high cost of modern arms and equipment.
Fortunately, I had prepared a “talking paper,” which I thought might serve as an informal record of our remarks, and in anticipation that the point on reduction of ROK Army strength might not be adequately stressed, and I was able to leave this with President Rhee. He should, therefore, be in no doubt on this point.
I fear that we may have some little difficulty with the ROKs on this matter, but I feel that we must stand firm. To give in on this would mean storing up grave trouble for ourselves on both economic and military aid programs in the coming year.
With best wishes,