15. Telegram From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State 1
1620. Pass White House, OSD, JCS, CIA. Ref: Embtel 1619 rptd Tokyo 704 CINCPAC 677 USUN 67.2
- General Howze and I called on President Pak to ask how he viewed developments since martial law invoked and what was outlook.
- He said next two or three days would be critical. Most university students had been sent home. He expected they would try to stir up trouble in the country. But if situation remained quiet, outlook would be favorable. He gave us numbers of “troublemakers” arrested in various categories which I am reporting separately.3 He then mentioned the several measures taken to remove popular grievances which he hoped would help stabilize situation: National reconstruction movement abolished; DRP Secretariat and staff cut back; legislation to be drafted to provide for publication of contributions to party funds; and Kim Chong-p’il resignation as Chairman DRP. In a few days five hundred corrupt govt officials would be removed.
- I said Gen Howze and I not only wished have his view of situation, but also wished tell him of disturbing reports which had come to us in last three days. Essence these reports was that some people were thinking in terms of maintaining martial law indefinitely because this was only way to govern Korea. Under martial law press and other criticism could be curbed, critics arrested, Assembly abolished if necessary, and it would then even be possible to settle with Japan. I asked President to comment on these reports.
- He said it impossible govern Korea under martial law and hoped it could be lifted soon. At same time he has worried as to what would happen when martial law lifted. If this meant more rioting, resumption (sic) irresponsible Assembly criticism, continuing Assembly sabotage of govt administration by requiring continuous appearance [Page 32] of Ministers in Assembly, and unrestrained press criticism, it would only lead to renewed rioting and martial law would have to be invoked again. He had to confess he was worried; he hoped martial law could be lifted soon. When Assembly met June 10 he expected it would vote for lifting martial law, but this did not seem a solution and he could not say when it would be possible.
- To this evasive remark, I said I could not understand why he could not govern. He was elected as President. He had vast powers under the new constitution. His party with 110 of 175 [seats] had an easy majority in Assembly. Why could they not organize the work of the Assembly? Why could he not govern constitutionally? As for those [garble] spoke of martial law as the only solution, I could tell him that it would not be acceptable to the Korean people, to the Korean armed forces, or to Korea’s friends abroad, including the US. We were committed to constitutional govt in Korea and were not prepared to support unconstitutional measures.
- He said he agreed it was impossible to govern by force or by martial law. The trouble was that the public had lost confidence and trust in his govt.
- I interrupted at this point and said General Howze wished to say something about yesterday’s incident involving paratroopers breaking into Donga Ilbo newspaper office (in which they threatened to sabotage printing press). Gen Howze said he was deeply disturbed by this second incident involving special forces. This was a political act and it was apparent these troops were not properly disciplined. Washington authorities would take a serious view of this second incident. We were not prepared to use MAP funds to support undisciplined troops which threaten orderly processes. Pak said he had ordered an investigation of the matter. Gen Howze said that the troops should be withdrawn from capital security command and returned to their normal garrison.
I picked up thread of my part of conversation by saying I agreed basic problem was public distrust his govt and would be impossible stabilize situation or govern normally until confidence restored. I said I had been in Korea nearly three years. USG had done its utmost to be sympathetic to his problems and to help him both in days of military govt, during critical times last year, and since election.
I would now speak in way I had never done before. Most of his problems during past three years came from activities of Kim Chong-pil. He had been a disturbing and divisive force and his controversial activities had so occupied and distracted everyone’s energies and attentions that the govt had never got down to its real job which is to govern the country. I reminded Pak of his frequent mention to me many difficulties KCP has caused him.
- Present situation was terribly serious and once again KCP was the source of most of President Pak’s trouble. He had once and for all to free himself of KCP so that he could restore people’s confidence and get down to business of governing.
- Freeing himself of a problem which had plagued and distracted him for so long was only way I could see to save objectives for which he had worked so hard for three years, his govt and constitutionalism. It would be a decisive move that would restore public confidence in him. It would bring back those who had been alienated in the last two years and enable him to broaden the basis of his support.
- General Howze interjected at this point and said the armed forces were loyal to Pak but in a critical situation would not support KCP. This division in their loyalties could become a serious problem. General Howze seriously doubted in the circumstances that the armed forces would shoot civilians to keep KCP in office. He said KCP speaks of himself as though he were running Korea. It was essential that Pak assert it is he who is President and responsible for country, not KCP.
- Pak asked if it were possible to arrange for KCP to go to US for study. I said we had made such arrangements in other cases for the President and could do so again. I suggested KCP should take his family and plan to stay for one or two years so as to give President freedom to govern and chance to stabilize situation without ever- present worry of KCP’s imminent return. I stressed importance of an early departure.
- Pak said he would speak to KCP tonight “and try to persuade him” to remove himself. I said it was in the interest of the country, Pak, constitution, and even KCP himself that he leave as quickly as possible. If he left soon there was a chance of internal stability and unity, a chance to reestablish Pak as a popular leader of the country, and a chance for a Japanese settlement. If he stayed I saw nothing but continuing trouble ahead.
- As we got up to go I said casually that ten minutes before coming to Blue House I had been given a report that a list of Assemblymen slated for arrest was being prepared, which included a large number of anti-KCP members of the Assembly as well as some opposition leaders. I asked if he knew anything of this. He said he did not. I said he and [I] had been caught by surprise several times by actions taken here over the last three years which we knew nothing about. I hoped this was not going to be repeated. He said with a smile that such arrests would require his signature. I smiled back and said if such arrests occurred there would be real trouble in Korea and we could not remain silent.
- Comment: I have no certainty that Pak will follow the lead we have given him. We are letting our position be known to key govt and [Page 34] military leaders on whom Pak relies and who will reinforce our advice to him. KCP remains capable of desperate action but may very probably come to realize balance of forces is strongly against him. In that case he will go quietly. If so we will need to cooperate in making possible one or two years of study in US for KCP and possibly one or more of his associates.
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–8 KOR S. Secret; Immediate;Limdis. Repeated to Tokyo,CINCPAC, and USUN; passed to the White House,OSD, JCS, and CIA.↩
- Telegram 1619 from Seoul, June 6, discussed the situation surrounding Kim Chong-pil and his supporters in the wake of Kim’s resignation as chairman of the DRP and potential options available to Pak to handle increased tensions and restore his authority. (Ibid., POL 15–1 KOR S) Although relinquishing his position as party chair, Kim retained his membership within the party as well as his seat in the National Assembly.↩
- In telegram 1624 from Seoul, June 8, Berger reported that Pak indicated a “total of 1344 civilians and 523 students had been arrested” and an additional 191 students were being sought. The telegram also contained detailed information about those arrests. (Ibid., POL 29 KOR S)↩