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182. Letter From the Ambassador to Korea (Porter) to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy)1

Dear Bill:

I think there are several lessons we should draw from events of the past month. We have tended to be pleased about economic progress in South Korea over the past few years, and our satisfaction at this has to some degree obscured the fact that we have concurrently been nourishing a tiger, which is becoming difficult to restrain and confine: It looks to me now as though Park’s desire to go north is not much less acute than his adversary’s intention, some day, to move south. As you know we had a difficulty with Syngman Rhee, too, at one point, back about 1954, when he thought the moment had come; but since that year we have gradually allowed ourselves to ignore the implications of our military aid policy in this country.
It is as clear as day that both sides are now preparing to have quite a slapping match during the coming Spring and Summer. Let’s hope we can keep it at that level, though the effect of a major humiliation for one or the other in the form of a successful assassination or demolition will be hard to contain. In such event, we here know whom we will go for and, while we do not have from you yet any comment on useful restraints to impose on our friends, you may be sure that we will use everything that seems necessary in the circumstances.
The moment of danger in these matters comes, not a week or ten days later, but during the twenty-four to forty-eight hours immediately following the incident, when the elements of humiliation, face, criticism and anger prevail. One may ask for a special envoy later, but the immediate problem is to apply and maintain restraint. The purpose of the envoy, as I saw it, was to get across to Park, from President Johnson himself, that there was no likelihood of our following them into blind, emotion-packed reprisals, and of course, I wanted to subject someone with ready access to our President to the kind of gut reaction that I was encountering. It was not difficult for Vance to evoke from Park, who was only too cooperative in this sense, all that was needed to enable him to carry home a clear personal account of the danger. Vance [Page 393]is a cool, practical person, and it was a pleasure for both Bonesteel and me to work with him.
The immediate aftermath of the Vance visit has been a lessening of tension. The President vented his spleen, a special envoy was sent by President Johnson, $100 million more were in the kitty, and Park feels secure in the knowledge that he is probably right—the NK’s will try again, perhaps even while they diddle us with the Pueblo affair. The President is not churning up press or public the way he was a couple of weeks ago, but he is not letting them forget, either, that he has warned the United States that our policies will encourage Kim Il Sung to believe that more activity can be safely carried on. While he and the Government have allowed things to simmer down, please understand that there is no fundamental change in their outlook or their intentions. The military chiefs closely imitate the President’s attitude, but there is much muttering and rumbling at the middle levels. The exercise now for the Bureau, if I may say so, is to think out ways and means of transforming the tiger from one which would take over the northern jungle, to one which would defend his own den, and I would begin with fuel and ammunition supplies while giving special attention to the type of hardware flowing into this country.2 One of the remarkable things about Korea, something closely connected with American sentimentality, is that it is almost impossible to control, or even be consulted about, great quantities of aid that flow into the country.
Then there is the Pueblo palaver, which causes as much disquiet among allies for its ineffectiveness, as it does in our consciences for its humiliating character. It is a curious thing that while we permit ourselves to be the victims of a policy of provocation-short-of-war, we do not use the same tactics against those who strike the first blow. It is becoming clear that the short-of-war formula is a masterful one, which can slowly but surely erode such prestige as we have. In the modern world, we are caught between the power of nuclear weapons, which world opinion forbids us to use, and the art of guerrilla warfare in which we are uninstructed. Our conventional arms cannot, as I think many now see somewhat more clearly, prevail over the latter. And where conventional air-sea (as distinct from land) arms could be used [Page 394]in limited, appropriate fashion to discourage those who harass us, this is ruled out by the belief at home that our people, lulled by creature comforts, will prefer no-reaction-at-any-cost. And our people will prefer that, I think, until events make clear that it is their children who will pay the piper. No sensible person would advocate general war in retaliation for a Pueblo, but it is clear that measures short of war could evoke, if not immediate satisfaction in this specific case, some caution on the part of our adversaries that in future might spare us similar experience.
I hope the Bureau was better informed about the location of Pueblo than I was. Certainly, even I, with my limited technical knowledge and perhaps limited political understanding, would have promptly moved such a vessel out of waters contiguous to NK after the Blue House raid. I will go so far as to say that technical knowledge of the field in which they were working would have led me vehemently to question the need for putting them into such waters in the first place. The moral here is quite clear: We should be told what is floating around, or over, or through, our areas of responsibility. We just might have something to contribute which could save us a deal of trouble. I went over this rather thoroughly with Cy Vance, and I think the message has been delivered.
I will spare you lengthy comment on Viet-Nam this month. There is no pleasure at all in assessing correctly that melancholy situation. But brace yourself, because more is coming. Too few seem to grasp that, to an enemy whose environment is the night, more men mean more compounds and therefore more big targets to hit. Sam’s appointment as D.A.3 is something Saigon needs in its present state of mind. He will be wrestling with a many-headed hydra, but it is an all-absorbing task, like none other in the Service. Undoubtedly he will be there during a very trying period, and I and all the others wish him Godspeed and success.
I hope to begin traveling toward the end of March, as I want to look over the anti-infiltration measures being taken along the coastline. As you may know, the problem is always to see what one wants to see, rather than what our friends want to show. But I think we’ll manage.
As I consider the problem of restraining the ROKG, I wonder whether I should invoke the assistance of Moon Myung, Founder and High Reverend of the Unification Church, into which he intends to absorb all other Christian churches, under his own spiritual guidance. (I hope he gives the Pope a job.)
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The other day, Moon organized a mass wedding of members of his congregation—247 couples—at Citizen’s Hall. Announcing from the stage that they should all consider themselves married, he then forbade them to engage in “love acts” for 40 days! When asked by reporters the reason for this “inhuman restraint,” Moon declared that it was necessary “because Christ prayed in the desert for 40 days and that’s THAT!”

If I could only determine whether Moon’s edict was obeyed (I have some doubts about it, myself) we might find a government post where he could exercise his ability to restrain their desire to go north—a much easier task than the one he set himself on the wedding day, I think!


  1. Source: Department of State, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Ambassadors’ Private Correspondence, 1967–1968. Secret. Attached to a March 4 memorandum from Bundy to Rusk, indicating Bundy sent a copy to Katzenbach, Berger, Brown, and the Korea Country Director.
  2. In a March 4 memorandum transmitting this letter to Rusk, Bundy doubted the United States could control such deliveries “to exert any leverage on South Korean retaliatory impulses,” but added that he would discuss the matter with the Department of Defense and others. (Ibid.) In late March the Department of State considered transferring ground ammunition worth as much as $100 million to Korean forces, but Porter opposed that action and advocated periodically supplying the Koreans with limited amounts of ammunition. (Telegram 138433 to Seoul, March 29, and telegram 5410 from Seoul, April 1; both in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 19–8 US–KOR
  3. Samuel D. Berger was appointed Deputy Ambassador to Vietnam.