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SYNGMAN RHEE AND THE WITHDRAWAL OF U.S. TROOPS

 

PREFACE

 

           Having recently acquired a more complete knowledge of the various types of literary papers and their general purposes, I have also developed a better understanding of my own limitations and those of others. I have always been disappointed by the poor quality of the writing in most history books and it was this very thing that helped me to gravitate towards my current interest in literature. Painfully aware of the boredom that can be created by a dreary chronological recounting of a series of events I always try to avoid falling into the same monotonous trap. Unfortunately, some events lend themselves to no other type of recounting. Time and resource constrictions, always being a concern, further contribute to the problem.

           Although I hoped to avoid drearily summarizing the facts, I fear I was not so successful. I can only hope that my introduction and conclusion, which are composed of the kind opinion writing I am so fond of, compensate for the body of the text.

           I have also tried to do away with as many names as possible since the average high school student (my theoretical target audience) finds nothing so imposing as a page full of names and dates.

CONTENTS

 

INTRODUCTION................................................1

RHEE RETURNS.................................................3

RHEE AS PRESIDENT........................................4

A CHANGE OF POLICY.....................................6

CONCLUSION...................................................11

BIBLIOGRAPHY...............................................13

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

           The sudden end of World War II brought about by the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan left the Korean peninsula in disarray; the vanquished Japanese, relieved that the war was finally over, were looking for a place to surrender while the US and its allies, as was customary of the times, were scrambling to divide up the axis remains. In a series of hastily drawn up agreements the US and USSR each decided to occupy half of Korea and used the thirty eighth parallel as a dividing line of convenience. There were also ongoing talks about a period of multiple nation trusteeship for Korea but those plans eventually were scrapped leaving the US military, with a group of United Nations observers and officials, as the only force to occupy the southern half of the Korean peninsula. The USSR occupied the northern half and within a short time effectively blocked off the thirty eighth parallel divide making travel between the two halves virtually impossible.

           In the ensuing governmental vacuum left in the south by the departed Japanese, the US military command in Korea had to run the country as other arms of the military were managing the restructuring of Japan, but with considerably less manpower, money and equipment. The initial plan to rush into the southern half of Korea at wars end was initiated by the US State Department in an effort to increase US influence in Asia; the decision was not particularly popular with the military who was suffering from worldwide manpower shortages while trying to maintain order and helping rebuild much of Europe and parts of Asia. This desire by the State Department to control parts of Asia and the Militarys reluctance to spread itself too thin caused a power struggle in Washington DC that lasted for several years. For the first few years the State Department had the upper hand and was able to keep the Military in Korea, but in 1947 budget cuts for the Military and Koreas reduction in strategic importance turned the tables and the Military began to make progress towards their goal of a complete withdrawal.

           A series of government studies on the Korean question eventually led to the drafting of document NSC-8 (National Security Counsel) on April 2 1948, which provided for the establishment of an independent Korean government, withdrawal of US troops by the end of 1948 and an economic aid package to help the struggling economy.

 

 

 

 

RHEE RETURNS

 

           After Syngman Rhees return to Korea in October 1945 the question of Koreas future was still an unsolved issue in the United Nations, the US State Department and in the Soviet occupied northern part of the Korean peninsula. Hundreds of political factions, many of which criticized Rhee for his close ties with the US military, had spread throughout the US occupied south and were demanding  immediate independence rather than the trusteeship program the US was trying to drum up support for.       

           Rhee, the political figure most popular with the people, at first enjoyed nominal backing of the US command but as time progressed his popularity with the US military faded. As the discussions over the plan for Koreas future continued so did tensions between the military and Rhee increase, finally reaching a boiling point in the end of 1946 when Rhee made a trip to Washington DC in hopes of gaining the support of the American people for an independent Korea. After his return, his status with the occupation forces had deteriorated and by the summer of 1947 Rhee was being held virtually incommunicado by the US military who had canceled his radio addresses to the people. Finally on September 23 1947 the UN General Assembly accepted the Korean question on its agenda and by November had decided to hold a public election in Korea.[1]

 

 

RHEE AS PRESIDENT

 

           The promise of a free and independent Korea became a reality after the resolution to hold elections was adopted and the UN formed a Temporary Commission on Korea that observed and monitored the election of a Korean national assembly held on March 31, 1948.[2] Realizing the vulnerability of a new country with next to no army, Syngman Rhee asked for the retention of US troops until a Korean national defense force of sufficient size could be formed. On July 5 1948 Rhee wrote to friends saying that he was aware of the armys plans to withdraw from Korea in the next sixty to ninety days and sincerely hoped they would give Korea time to organize a defense force, after that time they can withdraw as they please. Though the names of the friends Rhee wrote to were never disclosed; considering the number of high level friends Rhees had in the US Government it seems likely his letter had some impact on the request for a delay in withdrawing US troops which came just five days later. The request itself asked for a delay of one month on the grounds that the Korean government was not formed yet and the military government was needed to maintain order. Interestingly it was made by Lt.General Hodge the US commander in Korea, a man whom Rhee had been at odds with for some time and had even denounced as helping the communists during his visit to the US. The withdrawal was now set to begin September 15 1948 and was to be completed by January 15 1949.

           The second request for a delay in the withdrawal came on August 12 1948, just three days before the Republic of Korea was officially established by the UN and Syngman Rhee was inaugurated as president. Sitting next to President Rhee at the inauguration ceremony was General Douglas MacArthur who told Rhee during the preliminary observances If Korea should ever be attacked by the communists, I will defend it as I would California.[3] The request was forwarded by US authorities in Korea in hopes of securing official recognition of the South Korean Government by the United Nations General Assembly[4] before withdrawing the troops.

           In October of the same year a massive communist uprising in the city of Yosu in the southern part of Korea was a strong sign to the US Ambassador-designate John J. Muccio that the poorly trained and under-manned Korean police force was not up to the task at hand and prompted him to request a further delay of two months.

 

 

A CHANGE OF POLICY

 

           Realizing the weakness of his national defenses and the inevitability of a US pullout Rhee began a campaign to extract a promise for military aid prior to the total withdrawal of troops. On November 2 1948 he requested training and equipment for an additional fifty thousand men[5] with the promise that US troops would not be needed once Koreas National Defense Army was up to the task of defending against an attack from the North. At about the same time he petitioned the UN for assistance in delaying the withdrawal of US troops.

           As the date for withdrawal drew near and the UN General assembly had not taken up the question of recognizing the Republic of Korea, the State Department asked for and got another delay for the withdrawal plans. Whether Rhees appeals had any impact on the outcome is not known, but on November 15 MacArthur was instructed to retain a large contingent of soldiers in Korea until the State Department authorized the continuation of the withdrawal schedule. At about the same time, Muccio requested a further delay on the grounds that the new Korean government was unstable and its security forces weak.

           On November 19 1948, President Rhee appealed to President Truman stating that the defense forces of Korea were not prepared to deal with the threat of an invasion from the North and that military aid and equipment were needed to bolster its forces. The Korean Foreign Minister sent a similar appeal on November 27 informing the US that the Korean National Assembly had passed a resolution requesting postponement of the withdrawal of  US troops until Koreas defense forces were prepared to conduct national defense.[6]        

           On December 12 1948 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution recognizing the South Korean Government as the only official government on the peninsula and called for the withdrawal of all US occupying forces within ninety days. Official UN recognition of the Republic of Korea put a damper on the State Departments ongoing plan to retain troops there but a storm of activity as the State Department tried to modify the content of NSC-8 and the military attempted to speed up the withdrawal process eventually resulted in the conclusion that the ROK defense forces were strong enough to maintain internal order and defend against the threat of the North Korean forces, and that US forces could be withdrawn without putting South Korea in peril. The new date for the withdrawal of US forces was June 30 1949.

           On April 14 1949 Muccio informed Rhee of the decision for a June withdrawal of US troops and asked for his concurrence in an effort to validate the plan. Rhee responded on April 18 in a special statement which said the ROK forces are nearing a point of self sufficiency and will be able to maintain the national defense as long as there is no attack from the North. He also pointed out that there are currently negotiations under way to confirm a date for the withdrawal of US forces.

           In a press statement by the Korean Government on May 7, President Rhee asked if the ROK could count on US military support in the event of an assault across the thirty eighth parallel. The office of Public Information, without State Department consent, publicly stated that US forces would not be withdrawn until that question was answered.[7] The State Department responded by telling Rhee that his attempts through the media to force the US to publicly pledge more military assistance would not further his cause but tended to discredit it.

           In May 1949, Muccio again informed Rhee of the impending withdrawal of the remaining fifteen thousand troops in Korea and asked for a public statement concurring with this action. Rhee countered with a request for a promise by Truman that the US will lend military aid in defending the ROK should an invasion from the North occur. The US made no promise in response to his request.

           As the first of the troops began their departure from Korea, short lived panic spread throughout the government and the populace. In a June 6 meeting Muccio informed Rhee that the troop withdrawals would be completed by the anticipated June 30 deadline. Rhee indicated he was no longer interested in the retention of US forces but instead wanted assurance of continuing military support for the ROK. The State Department issued a statement saying the pullout of US forces does not indicate a lessened interest in Korean national security but is a step towards the realization of a free independent nation in line with the December 12 1948 UN resolution recognizing the ROK. And that only through the continued support of all UN member nations can the ROK continue to be assured of security.[8]

           As the last of the political maneuverings took place the US forces continued their withdraw until June 28 when the last of the occupation army departed Korea leaving a small contingent of five hundred soldiers remaining as a training/advisory force for the new Korean military. Less than one year remained before North Korea was to invade across the thirty-eighth parallel.

          

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

           Throughout the course of events starting with the arrival of a US military occupation force and up to the eventual withdrawal of those same forces, Syngman Rhee changed his policy toward the US occupation force three different times to three different sets of challenges. During the initial US occupation Rhee was operating under both pressure from his political rivals, who claimed he could not get the support of the people were it not for the presence of the US military, and the publics growing impatience with a new occupation Army after suffering for over thirty five years of Japanese occupation. To counter these pressures he publicly called for the withdrawal of US forces thereby silencing his political critics and placating the populace.

           The second phase of Rhees policy towards the US forces in Korea came when he was inaugurated as the first President of the ROK on August 15 1948. His critics voices no longer able to threaten his ascendancy to the presidency and his new position giving him more power to mold public opinion, he reversed his earlier stand and now called for the retention of US troops until such a time as the Korean National defense Force could be brought up to strength. Undoubtedly, the looming threat of a Soviet backed North Korea which had shown its hostility by refusing to let elections be held in the North was also a factor in Rhees change of policy.

           The third stage of Rhees changing policy was inspired by the official recognition of the ROK by the UN General Assembly and the US acceptance of NSC-8 which called for the June 30 1949 pullout of all US forces from Korea. Rhee, realizing that with the UN demanding the pullout of US forces and the US military pushing for the same pullout there was no longer any hope of delaying the inevitable and so contrived to get something in return for what was bound to happen anyway. He began a publicity campaign to raise the cost of the US pullout by petitioning not only the US Government but also world opinion by claiming Koreas defense forces were not up to the task of defending against an all out North Korean attack. He further used the impending pullout as a lever to wrest more military aid from the US. Underlying his other motives was also the real fear of a North Korean attack. All the intelligence agencies in the US and the Korean intelligence network had been warning of a large buildup in the North, while the US generally ignored the reports, Rhee  couldnt afford to.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Allen, Richard C. Koreas Syngman Rhee: An Unauthorized Portrait.   Vermont, Tokyo. Charles E. Tuttle Company. 1960.

Williams, Phil. (et al). Security in Korea: War, Stalemate and Negotiation.       Boulder. Westview Press.

Oliver, Robert T. Syngman Rhee: The Man Behind the Myth. New York.       Dodd Mead and Company. 1960.

US Department of State. United States Policy Regarding Korea: 1934 -           1950. Korea. Hallym University Press. 1987.

Oliver, Robert T. Syngman Rhee Reconsidered: Recollection and Evaluation on the Centennial Anniversary of his Birth. Unpublished. 1975.

 


[1] Oliver, Robert T. Syngman Rhee: The Man Behind the Myth. New York. Dodd Mead and Company. 1960. (pg. 240).

[2] Allen, Richard C. Koreas Syngman Rhee: An Unauthorized Portrait. Vermont, Tokyo. Charles E. Tuttle company. 1960. (pg. 92).

[3] Oliver, Robert T. Syngman Rhee: The Man Behind The Myth. New York. Dodd Mead and Company. 1960. (pg. 263).

[4] Williams, Phil. (et al). Security in Korea: War, Stalemate and Negotiation. Boulder. Westview Press. (pg. 22).

[5] Williams, Phil. (et al). Security in Korea: War, Stalemate and Negotiation. Boulder. Westview Press. (pg. 22).

[6] US Department of State. United States Policy Regarding Korea: 1834 - 1950. Korea. Hallym University Press. 1987. (pg. 159 -160).

[7] US Department of State. United States Policy Regarding Korea: 1934 - 1950. Korea. Hallym University Press. 1987. (pg. 161).

[8] US Department of State. United States Policy Regarding Korea: 1934 - 1950. Korea. Hallym University Press. 1987. (pg. 164).