13. Telegram From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State1

1593. Ref: Embtel 1589.2

Following are details of President’s Pak’s meeting with General Howze and me afternoon June 3 (see reftel).
Pak said:
Govt has up to today been patient and lenient in treating with student demonstrations; student aim now is to bring govt down.
Today’s demonstrations had turned into rioting with police stations destroyed, govt trucks and jeeps seized and a police armory broken into. Police had suffered many casualties. (During meeting report came in that a policeman had been killed by students.)
President of Seoul National University, main source of student activity, today sent message to President through Vice Speaker Na Yong-kyun (opposition) that he had info 65 students and a number of professors encouraging demonstrators were Communists. He had been afraid to pass this info but was doing so in view of today’s rioting.
President had summoned PriMin, other Cabinet members concerned, Chiefs of Armed Services, and members National Security Council to special meeting this afternoon, which came to conclusion that martial law required. It would be imposed tonight, and he requested General Howze to release 6th and 28th divisions.
Martial law would be confined to Seoul initially, but might have to be extended to other areas depending on how situation developed. In that case more troops might be required.
In response my request for details of martial law, Pak said:
All schools down to primary would be closed at outset, and would be reopened gradually as situation permitted.
Manipulators of students would be investigated and indicted by prosecutor general.
Press censorship would be established.
Civil cases would be tried by civil courts. More important cases by military courts.
General Min Ki-sik would be martial law commander.
He could not say how long martial law would be kept on. He hoped not too long.
I said National Assembly now in adjournment, but could be convened by members. Assembly would want to debate martial law [Page 27] decision. In view divisions in Assembly govt action might face heavy criticism in Assembly adding confusion to situation. Pak said DRP leaders had met today and pledged full support of this action. I asked if this was DRP assemblymen or party action. He said party leaders which include some assemblymen.
I said we recognized situation had become serious as result today’s rioting but martial law was no solution to basic problems. What further measures did President contemplate to deal with student and public grievances. Pak said immediate problem was to deal with rioting and he had not given consideration to further aspects of problem.
I said we of course hoped that law and order would be quickly restored under martial law, but in light of April 1960 experience there was danger of massive students and popular action in streets. Should this be case it would create for U.S. Government a very serious problem of supporting his government face of general public disapproval. He said he recognized this, but if faced with uncontrollable popular opposition he would have to resign.
I said would it not be better to try to head off this possibility by announcing measures that would meet popular grievances. He repeated this must wait until law and order was restored. I then said “Mr. President, I know how painful this subject is but the situation is serious, and it is important that we speak frankly. Since March 23 at least a dozen Korean leaders, who support you, have told me that if martial law is invoked, you and your government will be in serious danger unless Kim Chong-pil is removed. I want to make clear that I am not saying he should be removed, but this is what some of your most loyal supporters are saying.”
Pak replied that he was aware that KCP “has lost the confidence of many people, including some in the armed forces and in the party.” He then recounted events of May 31–June 2: his meeting with KCP on May 31 to discuss resignation; KCP’s resignation June 1; the danger of conflict in DRP if he did resign; the meeting with DRP leaders June 1 where only one voice, Chang Kyong-sun, supported resignation; Pak unsure what decision to make and decided to leave it to the DRP party convention this summer. He said as I knew from previous conversation with him, he believes KCP should resign as Chairman of DRP, but not until this summer after ROK-Japan settlement made. I did not pursue the matter except to say that public animus was directed at KCP and not Pak.
General Howze then referred to Pak’s request to release two divisions and said he prepared do so with my concurrence.3 I agreed. [Page 28] General Howze then compared current situation with April 1960, when he was in Korea, saying at that time there was universal hostility to fraudulently elected govt; this not the case now. However, Korean military forces were close to people and reflected their views and feelings. In April 1960 martial law people cheered arrival of armed forces. Gen Howze was not sure this would be the case this time. It would be unfortunate if people came to think that govt required presence of armed forces in order stay in power.
General Howze was assured that tanks would not be brought into Seoul and that live ammunition would be held by regimental commanders. Pak said armed forces would not fire except with his express authority.
I then said question will arise as to whether US Govt approved or disapproved martial law. I wanted make clear that President had not asked for our approval but asked for release of troops. I wished his govt could avoid any statement that implied our approval or agreement. This action was taken by ROK Govt in its sovereign capacity. President agreed.
I then repeated points we had made so there would be no misunderstanding.
We agreed situation was serious.
Invocation of martial law was decision of Korean Govt.
We agreed to release of troops at Korean Govt’s request.
Martial law would not solve basic problems.
We hoped President would consider what measures might be announced to deal with popular grievances. In this connection that Kim Chong-p’il must be removed along with martial law had been expressed to me by Korean leaders who supported President.
President, Kim Chong-O and Min Defense said they understood clearly the views we had expressed.4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–8 KOR S. Confidential; Immediate; Limdis. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD, and Tokyo and passed to the White House.
  2. In telegram 1589 from Seoul, June 3, Berger provided a brief overview of his meeting with Pak. (Ibid.)
  3. Howze’s report on this meeting was transmitted in telegram 60432 from CINCUNC, Seoul, June 3. (Ibid.) The ROK divisions released from UNC operational control were the 6th and the 28th.
  4. The Department of State approved of the positions taken by Howze and Berger in this meeting and commented that the United States wanted to prevent repression and further disorders in Korea while urging the government to implement reforms to address grievances. (Telegram 1109 to Seoul, June 3; ibid.)