"Korea is a major responsibility which we [Americans] as a world power have voluntarily assumed. . . . We have committed here some of our most excruciating errors.... Opinion polls show that 64 out of every 100 Koreans dislike us." Mark Gayn in New York Star, November, 1947.
The American zone of South Korea was called a "police state" by Roger Baldwin, chief of the American Civil Liberties Union, who visited Korea by special invitation of General Douglas MacArthur, and - after this one indignant outburst - kept silent about the place.
"The United States now has a puppet state in South Korea. Elections held under a 'protecting umbrella' of U. S. troops have put a discredited rightist, Dr. Syngman Rhee, in power.... This probably marks the birth of a new civil war in which American forces are likely to be heavily involved." Israel Epstein in Gazette and Daily, York, Pa., June 8, 1948.
"It gives most Americans a start to realize that we are rapidly losing the cold war in Korea.... Many of the facts have been obscured by congenital American optimism. . . . Others have been suppressed by censorship and bad news reporting." Maxwell S. Stewart in The Nation, May 22, 1948.
IN DAYS TO COME, Korea will continue to supply headlines. Yet there is little public knowledge about the country and most of the headlines distort rather than reveal the facts.
On the basis of accounts by the above writers, I condense the following background:
Korea is a country of 85,000 square miles and close to 30,000,000 people. It is mostly a land of farmers. What large industries the Japanese built in twenty-five years of control and exploitation are largely in the north.
In February, 1945, when the USSR agreed at Yalta to join the Allies in the war on Japan, it was decided to divide Korea into two zones for purposes of military action. The Russians took the north, the Americans the south. The following July, at Potsdam, the 38th parallel was chosen as the "great divide."
Korea was a victim of Japanese aggression, not an enemy. We would come as liberators, not as conquerors. The military occupation was to end within a year of victory, followed by about five years of civilian trusteeship in which all the Big Four Powers, America, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and China, should help Korea to her feet.
That was the plan. The reality proved otherwise. The growing cold war against the Soviet Union made Korea also a base. The two zones solidified into two areas of military occupation. Friction continues to grow.
When American troops landed in South Korea, September 7, 1945, thousands of Koreans danced and cheered and shouted: "Mansai," or "Live a Thousand Years." Within six months surly Koreans were demanding how soon the Americans would go home. Within a year great uprisings took place in eighty cities and in hundreds of farming villages against the "police state" that the American armed forces kept in power.
When the Americans landed in Korea, the Koreans had already a de facto government. A "People's Republic" had been declared a day earlier by a congress of Koreans themselves. General John R. Hodge, commander of the U. S. armed forces, dissolved this "People's Republic," and drove most of its members underground. Two days after landing, Hodge announced to the Koreans - who had waited a quarter of a century for liberation-that Japanese officials would temporarily continue to run Korea. Korean delegations waiting to greet Americans were fired on - by Japanese police!
The Russians pursued an opposite policy. They recognized the "People's Committees" that the Americans were suppressing. They encouraged Korean initiative when it took the form of ousting the Japanese-appointed puppets, dividing the landlords' lands, and nationalizing the Japanese-owned industry as the "property of the Korean people." They especially looked with favor on what they called "mass organizations," - farmers' unions, labor unions, women's associations and unions of youth. The Russian zone in the north fairly blossomed with such organizations energetically building their country after their own desire.
From time to time the Americans and Russians held conferences to determine Korea's future. Nothing came of these talks but increasing bitterness for two years. The Americans insisted on including pro-Japanese quislings and returned exiles in the provisional government. The Russians refused. The Russians insisted on including representatives of the trade unions, the farmers' union and other similar organizations. The USA would not hear of this.
The talks finally failed both locally in Korea, and directly between Secretary of State George C. Marshall and Soviet Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov. Then the USSR proposed that both Soviet and American troops leave Korea, permitting the Koreans to run their own show. The United States refused, fearing that the ideas and methods of North Korea would prevail. It used its United Nations majority to form an international commission to observe elections in Korea. The Russians boycotted this commission and the elections took place in the American zone alone.
The United Nations Commission was of two minds about holding this election. All the members opposed the establishment oŁ a "national government" in South Korea, lest it "harden and perpetuate the existing division." The Commission insisted that fundamental reforms were needed in South Korea before an honest election could be held. It produced a mass of evidence on the denial of civil rights in that area. The report was delivered to the "Little Assembly," a part of the United Nations whose exact legal status has never been clear, and whose power to act on the matter was questionable. However, on the insistence of the United States, the "Little Assembly" acted, and ordered that Korean elections be held unilaterally in the American zone.
The Americans had underestimated the Korean passion for unity and independence. Much to American surprise, two out of three of South Korea's outstanding conservative leaders - the very men whom Americans had picked to run the zone-denounced the elections as a device for partitioning the country. Kimm Kiu-sic, chairman of the South Korean Interim Legislative Assembly - a post for which he had been handpicked by the Americans - resigned his position in protest, and accepted an invitation from the Koreans of the Soviet zone to come and confer. Kim Koo, leader of the right-wing terrorists, also boycotted the elections, and went to the northern conference instead. So did the representatives of fifty-seven different political parties and social organizations of South Korea.
The elections were held in South Korea in May, 1948 in the midst of police terrorism and political murders, and revolts and uprisings on the left. Right-wing terrorists destroyed newspaper offices and even attacked the YMCA. Instead of suppressing the "Youth Corps" for its acts of lawlessness the American military authorities used 25,000 of its members, armed with lead-tipped clubs, to supervise the election.
Meanwhile a "National Unity Conference" was held at Pyongyang, in North Korea, on April 22, 1948. It was attended not only by delegates from North Korea, but by 240 delegates from fifty-seven organizations of South Korea. This "Unity Conference" declared itself irrevocably opposed to the holding of separate elections in South Korea and the setting up of a separate government there. It declared that Korea could be unified by the Korean people on the following basis:
1) Withdrawal of the two occupation armies.
2) Organization of a provisional government by a national political conference.
3) Adoption of a national constitution and formation of a united national government by representatives elected through a national election.
The two right wing leaders from the south who attended this unity conference - Kim Koo and Kimm Kiu-sic, had no difficulty in getting the reassurance they wanted from the North Koreans that private capitalism would be permitted. They agreed on a plank which rejected "private monopolies" but recognized private "property rights." They agreed also to permit no dictatorship but establish a "democratic government."
It is on this basis that the "Supreme National Assembly "elected on August 25th by the Korean people, has started to function in the North, while Syngman Rhee holds power in the American Zone.
So much for the general situation in Korea, attested by many witnesses.
Next: 2. In the Soviet Zone