218. Telegram From the Commander in Chief, United Nations Command (Magruder) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Lemnitzer)0

From General Magruder. My personal summary of the situation after the first twenty four hours is set forth below.

The Prime Minister continues to remain in hiding and does not reveal himself to us. He does not have a reputation for personal courage.

The strength behind the military coup is still unclear but appears to be growing. Only a few troops have moved into Seoul, probably about 3600. They have been essentially unopposed. More have not been needed so we cannot be sure whether more are available. The troops actually available and those reported to be available come from Korean reserve and corps artillery units under the operational control of the US I Corps Group.

A US Army CIC poll of casual bystanders along the streets indicates an average for each ten questioned of four in favor of the uprising, two in favor but consider timing too early, and four opposed.

I am not fully confident in the loyalty of the Chang Myun government of any of the chiefs of staff. Chairman of JCS Kim Chong Oh appears to be neutral with some leaning toward loyalty but exercises little influence. Kim Shin, Lee Sung Ho and Kim Sung Eun appear to be neutral.

Chang Do Young has represented himself as loyal but claimed that he did not take decisive action because he wished to avoid bloodshed. There is much to indicate he is two faced. He is in a state of mental depression which makes it particularly hard to analyze his actions. He is unwilling to bring troops even to the outskirts of Seoul. He had at least some previous knowledge of the uprising. In the propaganda of the insurgents he was cited as the head of the Revolutionary Committee. He said he was not but he was unwilling to deny it publicly. He has now accepted this position for the purpose (so he states) of securing authority to move the insurgent troops out of Seoul.

President Yun Po Sun while giving lip service to the constitution initially, appeared to consider a coup as an acceptable method of getting rid of his political opponent Chang Myun and establishing a new kind of government. He still probably wants to replace Chang Myun and seems [Page 459] to be seeking most legally correct way of achieving this. Both President Yun and Chairman of the House of Councillors George Paik oppose bringing in troops to suppress the uprising.

I have not seen the MND who is confined in the City Hall by the insurgents but Chang Do Young stated he urged no troops be brought in to quell the uprising lest there be bloodshed.

In summary all the powerful men in and around the Seoul government appear to have had knowledge of the plan for the coup and at least have not opposed it. The people appear to be divided for and against but they do not appear to be sufficiently concerned at this time to take any active part.

The basic purpose of the uprising appears to be the elimination of the Chang Myun government and probably the elimination of the cabinet responsive system. There has been no evidence of anti-American or pro-Communist feeling. The actual leader is Major General Pak Chong Hui, a forceful officer tainted in the past with Communism and who was convicted by the Rhee government as a Communist. Subsequently he collaborated with the ROK in eliminating some Communists. Since that time he has a reputation of being anti-Communist. There appear to be no known Communists among the other members of the coup group nor are there any who are known to be anti-American. It must be realized that if the coup is permitted to be successful, Pak, whose real loyalty remains to be determined, may emerge as the most powerful man in Korea.

The insurgents have possession of the radio stations and have a censorship on the press. They are broadcasting propaganda and suppressing everything unfavorable to their cause. Given time, this may convert many individuals who up to now have been neutral into supporters of the uprising.

On the advice of General Lee Han Lim in order to help hold the First ROK Army in line and in an effort to stop all the neutrals from going over to the insurgents I have broadcast my support of the constitutionally elected government as has Chargé d’Affaires Marshall Green. This appears to have had some effect but it can not be expected to endure indefinitely. However, at minimum, it will emphasize need to return to civilian, legally constituted government as soon as possible.

We are seeking to undermine the uprising by pressing the responsible commanders, from whose commands came the insurgent troops now in Seoul, to endeavor to get their troops to return to their duty. Success appears probable with the Marine Battalion. It appears improbable with the artillery battalion of the VI ROK Corps. Other troops are still in doubt.

General Chang, in his presumably new position as Martial Law Commander, states that he will order the insurgent troops out of Seoul. If [Page 460] they go under these circumstances it will presumably be with some assurance that the Chang Myun government will be replaced although the insurgents have not made known whatever demands they have. The replacement of the Chang Myun government is the publicly stated reason for the uprising.

Lee Han Lim and his First ROK Army are the force which can probably suppress the uprising by bringing to Seoul such an overwhelming force as to make it hopeless for the insurgents to fight. General Lee states that his troops, with few exceptions, will do as they are ordered. He has four Divisions now in reserve alerted. I believe he would accept and carry out instructions if they were given by Chang Myun to suppress the uprising. I believe he would accept and carry out such instructions if given by me. The longer the above action is delayed the less likely is the prospect of success.

I have hoped that Chang Myun would reveal his whereabouts last night but it is now 0900 KST and he has not yet done so. Some of his people have been contacted but none admit knowing where he is. We urged to have him get in touch with us but he has not responded.

If the Prime Minister will assert himself and direct the use of FROKA to suppress the uprising I propose to support him. Unless and until he does, I will seek to hold FROKA available for use. I do not know how long I can hold FROKA in this situation available to support Chang Myun by suppressing the uprising. The longer the Prime Minister remains in hiding the less are his chances of returning to power.

A possible course of action is for me to direct Lee Han Lim to suppress the uprising even though the President, the Chairman of the House of Councillors, the MND and the CS ROKA oppose use of the FROKA for this purpose. If I should do so and were successful we might restore a government with no one to run it and lacking popular support. Basically my mission is to protect Korea from external aggression. To this end the Korean Forces appear to be steadfast. I feel that it is also a part of my mission to protect Korea from internal subversion by the Communists. The uprising does not appear to be Communist inspired although the leader is a former Communist and any uprising against the duly elected government may react to the advantage of the Communists. Accordingly, I do not propose to direct FROKA to suppress the uprising on my own authority only.


Just as the above message was about to be dispatched, I received Lemnitzer’s message of 16 May.1 This message confirms my intention not to direct FROKA, on my own authority, to suppress the uprising. It [Page 461] puts me in some doubt as to the degree of support I should give the Prime Minister if he comes out of hiding. I visualize the support I would propose to give as my personally urging Lee Han Lim and all other officers of the ROK Military Forces to comply with the orders of the Prime Minister if the prospects of success are favorable.

If the above line of action is not acceptable request further guidance.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Korea, Cables, 1/20/61-5/17/61. Secret. Repeated to CINCPAC and to the Department of State as UK 70316CC. (Department of State, Central Files, 795B.00/5-1761)
  2. Document 214.