Brief History US Sabotage of Korean Peace and Reunification

April 4, 2013

The U.S. decision to artificially divide an ancient homogenous Korea upon the surrender of the Japanese, August 15, 1945, and the subsequent U.S.-directed reign of terror, 1945-1948, that led directly to the war of national independence against western imperialist intervention, 1948-1950, and then, consequently, the hot war, 1950-1953, to be followed by extensive periods of military dictatorships until 1997 supported by the U.S. government, surely must rank as one of the cruelest tragedies of the Twentieth Century. This is virtually unknown history in the West, and today’s issues relating to Korea cannot be understood without knowing this diabolical assault on the Korean soul.


U.S. Intentions and Actions Dividing Korea, 1943-1945

Within months of Pearl Harbor, in early 1942, U.S. State Department planners began to express concern in the event there was to be Soviet involvement in the war against the Japanese in Manchuria and Korea. They feared that the Russians would bring with them the fearless Korean guerrillas who had been passionately fighting the Japanese in Manchuria in their efforts to recover their homeland. The first formal international statement supporting Korean independence was proclaimed in November 1943 when the U.S. (Franklin D. Roosevelt), Great Britain (Winston Churchill), and China (Chiang Kai-shek) issued the Cairo (Egypt) Declaration, in which Korea was to receive independence “in due course” following the expected ultimate unconditional surrender of the Japanese. This arrogance over Korea’s future existed despite the fact that Korea was the oldest victim of Japanese expansion. Fearing a Russian puppet regime in Korea once the Japanese were defeated, something confidentially presumed, this “conclusion” became the critical factor in planning for Korea. In March 1944, the U.S. State Department recommended “the employment of technically qualified Japanese in Korean economic life … during the period of military government.” (emphasis added) Given the extent of nearly forty years of Japanese domination and the humiliating subservient role forced on the Koreans, this secretly planned postwar U.S. military government in Korea amounted to preservation of Japanese imperialism and an unlawful, cruel violation of Korean sovereignty.

At the February 4-11, 1945 Yalta “Big Three” Conference, held at Yalta, a city in southern Ukraine on the Black Sea, President Roosevelt, without consulting the Koreans, suggested to Stalin and Churchill that Korea be placed under joint trusteeship prior to being granted its independence at the conclusion of World War II, once Japan surrendered. However, the most important agreement achieved at Yalta was the Soviet’s promise to enter the Pacific war theatre three months after the anticipated surrender of Germany, thereby relieving the U.S. of further casualties in defeating the Japanese in Manchuria, China, Korea, and Japan itself. This secret agreement by the USSR to enter the war against Japan was promised in return for possession of S. Sakhalin (island off the east coast of USSR just north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido), the Kurile Islands (extending northeast from the Japanese island of Hokkaido to the USSR peninsula of Kamchatka between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean), and an occupation zone in Korea if the U.S. insisted on joint trusteeship.

Harry Truman had only succeeded to the Presidency on April 12, 1945, upon the death of President Roosevelt, only 2 months after the Yalta conference. Germany surrendered on May 7, starting the 3 month clock to the promised entrance of the Soviet Army to hopefully finish off the Japanese in Asia. The strategic decision to wait for resolution of the Manhattan Project (development of the top secret Atomic bomb) came to dominate much of secret U.S. policy making beginning in mid-May. Truman, only having been briefed of the existence of the new weapon project once taking the Presidency in April, and as a newcomer to international diplomacy, was believed to have dreaded his upcoming meeting with Stalin and Churchill at Potsdam, near Berlin, in northeastern Germany. The advance agenda of Potsdam was to discuss challenges arising out of the collapse of Nazi Germany and the disposition of eastern Europe vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. Not surprisingly he delayed the conference. However, it is significant to note that Truman finally scheduled the confernece to immediately follow the critical test of the secret Bomb, to occur July 16 at Alamogordo, 120 miles southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The test’s success exceeded expectations and immediately provided the U.S. with unprecedented confidence in all of its post-test negotiations. Potsdam began on July 17 and concluded on August 2. Previously, the U.S. had virtually accepted the fact that once the Japanese were defeated with Soviet assistance, the Soviets would occupy and control the future of the Korean Peninsula. However, with the success of the new, most powerful, weapon ever developed, U.S. diplomacy was radically altered, and U.S. arrogance could prevail with minimal need to compromise.

On August 8, exactly three months after the German surrender, Russian troops entered Manchuria, as they had earlier promised, overwhelming Japanese forces there. On August 12 they entered northern Korea, further ousting Japanese forces, thereby assuring no more U.S. casualties. This significant Soviet involvement now made it impossible for the U.S. to exclude the USSR in a post-war Korean settlement. On August 11 (three days after the entrance of the Soviet troops in the Japanese arena and, as it turned out, only four days before the imminent surrender of Japan), President Truman ordered two colonels in his Department of War to hurriedly identify a supposedly temporary line dividing Korea into two zones. The 37th and 38th parallels were discussed in a quick 30-minute meeting by two young colonels, one being Oxford-educated Dean Rusk (later to be Secretary of State under President’s Kennedy and Johnson during the early Vietnam War years), at the newly constructed headquarters of the then U.S. War Department, the 34 acre Pentagon building in Arlington, VA. The decision on the 38th parallel, no surprise, created a division that placed approximately 21 million rural people, sixty-five percent of the country’s population, and the historic capital city of Seoul in the United States zone. Nine million people and the more industrial sectors, with fifty-five percent of the land base, were to be in the Soviet zone. The question was whether Stalin would accept the 38th parallel rather than the 37th, the latter of which would have included the historic capital of Seoul in the anticipated Soviet zone.

This decision establishing the 38th parallel, publicly proclaimed on August 15 as “General Order No. One,” occurred without prior consultation with other countries, including the Soviet Union. This public proclamation occurred on the same day that Japan announced its intentions to surrender. No one was sure how Stalin would respond to this limit on the August Soviet military advances in Korea. To everyone’s surprise, Stalin accepted the division without comment or challenge. The division of Korea had begun, even before Japan announced its surrender. Later, Dean G. Acheson, Secretary of State (1949-53), a lawyer trained at both Yale and Harvard, described the 38th Parallel as no more than “a surveyor’s line.” But to the Koreans it was the equivalent of an egregious assault on their historic soul and aspirations for genuine independence. Order Number One determined that the Japanese were to transfer power immediately from their authority to specified occupation forces, and to prevent local “Left” populations from taking control.

The U.S. was to take the southern zone; the already present Soviet troops were to remain temporarily in the northern one, with the aim of repatriating all Japanese in their respective sectors. The U.S. immediately created the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK), which was the sole legal authority south of the 38th Parallel, and it remained so until the Republic of Korea was formally established on August 15, 1948, exactly three years later. Tragically, Western plans for a post-war division of Korea were proceeding without the prior knowledge or consent of the Korean people.

Ironically, on the very same day of the Japanese surrender and U.S proclamation of General Order Number One, August 15, 1945, the Korean people, the majority seriously impoverished, openly celebrated their liberation after forty years of miserable Japanese occupation. The Koreans immediately formed The Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence (CKPI). By August 28, all Korean provinces on the entire Peninsula had established local peoples’ democratic committees and, on September 6, delegates from throughout Korea, north and south, gathered in Seoul to create the Korean People’s Republic (KPR). The people of Korea were confident they would now be able to build their own society, resuming control over their sovereignty which had been effectively suspended since the Japanese had taken over their foreign and military affairs in 1905 prior to formal full annexation in 1910. At that exciting moment in their lives on September 6, 1945, the Korean people could not have imagined that they were about to become victims of an even more tragic and cruel injustice, this time inflicted upon them by a Western nation, the United States of America, rather than by one of their historic Asian nemesises.

Japan presented its formal surrender on September 2 to five-star (a newly established rank at the time) General Douglas MacArthur aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay. MacArthur was named commander of the Allied powers in Japan and directed the subsequent occupation that included Korea as well.

On September 7, the very next day after the excited creation of the KPR, General Douglas MacArthur, as commander of the victorious Allied powers in the Pacific, formally issued a proclamation addressed “To the People of Korea,” announcing that forces under his command “will today occupy the territory of Korea south of 38 degrees north latitude.” The very first advance party of U.S. units, the 17th Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division, actually began arriving at Inchon on September 5th, two days before MacArthur’s occupation declaration. The bulk of the U.S. occupation forces began unloading from twenty-one Navy ships (including five destroyers) on September 8 through the port at Inchon under the command of Lieutenant General John Reed Hodge. Hundreds of black-coated armed Japanese police on horseback, still under the direction of Japanese Governor-General Abe Nobuyuki, kept Korean crowds away from the disembarking U.S. soldiers. On the morning of September 9, the U.S. troops marched into Seoul, again protected by Japanese troops lining the streets, ushering the high-ranking officers into their new quarters at the Choson Hotel. And on September 9, General Hodge announced that Abe, the Japanese Governor-General would continue to function with all his Japanese and Korean personnel.

Hodge had become known for his aggressive warfare in battles at Guadalcanal, Leyte, Bougainville, and the “last battle” at Okinawa, earning him the reputation as “the Patton of the Pacific.” Patton had been nicknamed “old blood and guts” for his tank actions in World War I, and his later exploits during War II in Italy, North Africa, and France and Germany.

Within a few weeks there were 25,000 troops and members of “civil service teams” in country. Ultimately the number of U.S. troops in southern Korea reached 72,000. Though the Koreans were officially characterized as a “semi-friendly, liberated” people, General Hodge, nonetheless, regrettably instructed his own officers that Korea “was an enemy of the United States…subject to the provisions and the terms of the surrender.” Quickly, tragically, and ironically, the Korean people, citizens of the victim-nation, had become enemies, while the defeated Japanese, who had been the illegal aggressors, served as occupiers with and friends of the United States. Korea was inflicted with the very occupation originally intended for Japan. Japan was subsequently built up by the U.S. in the post-war period, while Korea was subjected to brutal occupation. Japan remains to this day the U.S. forward military base affording protection and intelligence for its “interests” in the Asia-Pacific region.

This was due to strategic evaluations made by the U.S. of projected post-war plans of its wartime Soviet ally but who in fact were held with fear and mistrust by the West since the Bolshevik revolution first articulated its socialist philosophies in 1917. The provisions of such occupation, including ordinances issued by the Military Governor of Korea, were to be enforced by a “Military Occupation Court.” On September 12, West Point Graduate and artillery expert Major General Archibald V. Arnold, was named U.S. Military Governor to replace Japanese Governor-General Abe, though most of the existing administrative and police personnel were retained.

Arnold was later replaced as U.S. Military Governor by Major General William F. Dean, a highly decorated World War II veteran of battles in France, Germany and Austria. Interestingly, when the ‘hot’ war started in June 1950, Dean became the commander of the U.S. 24th Division and was captured on August 25 in Taejon, being the highest ranking U.S. officer ever captured by the North Koreans and imprisoned as a POW for 37 and-a-half months.

From that fateful day on September 8, 1945, to the present, a period of now 56 years — a long, painful 660 months — U.S. military forces (currently numbering 37,000 positioned at 100 installations), have maintained a continuous occupation in the south, supporting de facto U.S. domination of the political, rhetorical, economic and military life of a needlessly divided Korea. This overwhelming U.S. role, often brutal in nature and, until recently, supporting repressive policies of dictatorial puppets, continues to be the single greatest obstacle to peace, because of its interference with inevitable reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Until 1994, all of the hundreds of thousands of South Korean defense forces operated legally under direct U.S. command. Even today, although integrated into the Combined Forces Command (CFC), when the U.S. military commander in Korea deems there is a war situation, these forces automatically revert to direct U.S. control.

The well documented but little publicly known historical record of the United States in Korea is nothing short of demonic and shameless: from the brutal U.S. formal occupation (1945-48); to steadfast support of the tyrannical rule of U.S. puppet, Syngman Rhee, before, during, and after the hot Korean War (1948-1960), under the rhetorical propaganda of a Korean “democracy”; to U.S. dominance in Korea from 1960 to the present, most of the time during which the Korean people have been forced to labor under iron fist military dictators while the U.S. State Department often reported to the U.S. population the existence of “democratic reforms” there.

The United States direct involvement in Korea beginning in August 1945 provides us the earliest example of U.S. Cold War behavior. When examined carefully, it reveals a great deal about the nature of her national psyche as it is expressed in corresponding misguided political and vicious military policies, as well as the kind of unrestrained terror that was to be in store for its victims. Fear of communism — a national, and Western, mental illness of paranoia — caused a ferocious fury of violence to be directed at undeserving “Third World” peoples, as the monolithic spread of communism, itself grossly exaggerated, was regularly confused with genuine national self-determination (democratic) movements striving for independence from Western, colonial forces.

The United States’ ability to crush the popular movement (of “communists” as they were incorrectly labeled by U.S./Rhee political and military leaders) in Korea was an important test of the success or failure of the “containment” policy articulated in 1948 by George Kennan, director of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Staff (PPS). Publishing a then top-secret document (PPS 23, February 24, 1948), Kennan laid out an honest assessment of the need for a successful U.S. imperial policy:

“…we have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population…In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task…is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security…We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction…We should cease to talk about vague and — for the Far East — unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

The U.S./Puppet Rhee Repression Machinery Created 

The U.S. understood that if it was to assert Western-style, capitalist control in Korea it had to defeat, then eliminate, the broad-based popular, democratic KPR. Instead of repatriating Japanese as mandated, the U.S. military government (USAMGIK), manned by nearly 2,000 U.S. officers, most of whom were unable to speak or understand the Korean language, quickly recruited them and their Korean collaborators to continue administrative functions. More important, and egregiously, the U.S. military government revived the feared Japanese colonial police force, the Korean National Police (KNP). About 85 percent of the Koreans who had served in the Japanese colonial police force were quickly employed by the U.S. to man the KNP. Other collaborators were recruited into the Korean Constabulary created in December 1945 by the commander of the U.S. forces in Korea, General John R. Hodge. Secret protocols, later revealed, gave the U.S. operational control of the South Korean police and all of its armed forces from August 15, 1945 to June 30, 1949. Additionally, many Japanese and Korean collaborators who had been correspondingly purged, often brutally as well, by Russian forces and the new popular Korean committees in the north, became core members of powerful paramilitary groups like the Korean National Youth (KNY) and the Northwest Youth League (NWY) in the south which would work in concert with the “official” U.S./Rhee security forces.

This was happening despite the fact that the U.S. government knew full well of Korean desires in 1945 for independence. General John Reed Hodge, commander of the XXIV Corps of the United States Tenth Army, became Commanding General of the US Armed Forces in Korea because his forces could be moved quickly to Korea after Japan’s August 15 surrender. While in Okinawa, Japan, the XXIV Corps possessed a thorough study entitled, “Joint Army-Navy Intelligence Study of Korea.” This report described the strong desires of the Koreans for their independence, and that they preferred a cumbersome autonomous transition to the danger and dread of continued control by “some successor to Japan.” The study described the extent of the 40 year Japanese rule and its collusion with an aristocratic Korean minority, reiterating that the majority of tenant-farmers were terribly oppressed. Nonetheless, the U.S. had no intention to grant the Koreans their historical legal and cultural rights to independence. And a subsequent U.S. survey of Korean attitudes disclosed that nearly three quarters of the population clearly wanted a socialist, rather than a capitalist, system. Furthermore, early reports revealed that their socialist leanings were quite independent of any directives from the Soviet Union, and were cooperative with but not under the thumb of northern Korea communists.

The U.S. hurriedly organized wealthy conservative Koreans representing the traditional land-owning elite and, on September 16, convened the Korean Democratic Party (KDP). According to XXIV Corps intelligence, the U.S. had quickly identified “several hundered conservatives” among the older and more educated Koreans who had served the Japanese who could serve as the nucleus for the rapidly convened KDP. These were the Koreans who had grown wealthy as a result of years of collaboration with their Japanese colonizers. Preston Goodfellow, former Deputy Director of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) who had a background in U.S. Army intelligence and clandestine warfare, was an acquaintance with Syngman Rhee living in the United States, and quickly made arrangements to import the seventy-year-old expatriate politician to Korea. Apparently Rhee had in some way cooperated with OSS in Washington, D.C. during World War II. On October 16, 1945, Rhee was flown to Korea from the U.S. on General Douglas MacArthur’s personal plane.

At the conclusion of World War II, Goodfellow was director of a mysterious “Overseas Reconstruction Corporation” which probably served as an intelligence front. In that capacity he became involved in Asian tungsten deals with the World Commerce Corporation, a postwar company established by heads of Allied intelligence operations, including William J. (“Wild Bill”) Donovan, the founding director of the OSS and Goodfellow’s immediate boss when he was gathering intelligence during the war. Tungsten was and is one of the most treasured strategic metals used in making hardened tank armor and anti-tank shells tipped with tungsten carbide. Only the more recent discovery of depleted uranium (DU 238) as an even more effective, but extraordinarily dangerous, armor plating and piercing shell has tungsten been replaced in this function. By early 1949 Goodfellow had become Syngman Rhee’s principal U.S. advisor and was a key agent for Korean-American business deals, and likely intelligence operations, involving both the U.S. and Nationalist China prior to the success of the Communists over the Nationalists. In 1954 Goodfellow was working with the former head of propaganda operations for the OSS in importing tungsten for the U.S. which at the time was desperate to maintain its military stockpile.

Rhee had been born in 1876 in Hwanghae Province, south of Pyonyang, into a struggling, though upper class family in the Yi dynasty. While attending a Methodist middle school in Seoul he repudiated Buddhism and Confucianism in favor of Christianity. However, he was vigorously opposed to the Japanese presence in Korea. He was arrested by Japanese police authorities and was sent to prison for several years. After release he had left for the United States in 1905, and was apparently able to arrange a meeting with outgoing Secretary of State John Hay in urging Theodore Roosevelt to protect Korean independence as the President was mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. He apparently was also able to meet with Roosevelt at his summer home at Oyster Bay, Long Island, at the very same time that Roosevelt’s Secretary of War Taft was meeting with Japan’s Katsura to consummate an agreement to Japan’s control over Korea if Japan honored the U.S. control over the Philippines. Rhee was rudely rebuffed. Rhee remained in the United States and received degrees from George Washington University (1907), an M.A. from Harvard (1908), and an alleged Ph.D. from Princeton (1910) where he claimed to have studied under Professor Woodrow Wilson. He is credited to being the first Korean to receive a doctorate from a U.S. university, even though it is not at all certain that he received such degree. He returned briefly to Korea in 1910 to work for the Seoul YMCA as a teacher and evangelist, but returned to the U.S. in 1912 where he remained, part of the time in Hawaii, other times in Washington and New York, until Goodfellow brought him back to Korea on MacArthur’s plane thirty-three years later with his wealthy Austrian wife whom he had met on a 1932 trip to Europe. To his credit an anti-Japanese colonialist, he had at one point been the leader of a Korean Provisional Government in exile, but was expelled in 1925 for embezzlement. Now Rhee, a Methodist, would quickly become the U.S. puppet leader in Buddhist and Confucianist Korea, just as Diem, a Catholic who had been temporarily living in New Jersey, was to be in Buddhist Vietnam nearly ten years later in the continuation of a tragic Asian policy in which the U.S. continued to confuse national movements for self-determination with monolithic communism. When he returned to Korea in 1945 few Koreans or U.S. Americans knew much about him since he had been in exile in the U.S. for a total of nearly forty years.

Now, with its Korean police state forces beefed up and a Korean political puppet it could herald as the new democratic leader of a South Korea, the U.S. Military Government could begin its systematic purge of all opposition forces. On October 20, at the Welcoming Ceremony for the Occupation, Rhee made it clear he was not intending to unify the country. Rhee denounced Russia and the North and refused to work with the KPR that had been democratically created on September 6. Rhee quickly embraced the pro-Japanese Koreans already working with the U.S. military government, while denouncing the more numerous anti-Japanese advocates on the Left. On December 12, 1945, the USAMGIK, working closely with Syngman Rhee, outlawed the KPR and all its related local, provincial and national democratic peoples’ organizations and activities. The various unions had joined forces in November under the National Council of Korean Labor Unions (NCKLU), affiliated with the KPR, but their activities were soon prohibited. All labor strikes were forbidden; most union activities were considered traitorous. Women’s organizations, youth groups, and other elements of the popular movement were targeted as well. In September 1946, disgruntled workers declared a daring strike that by October spread throughout South Korea. The USAMGIK declared martial law. By December, the combination of KNP forces, the Constabulary (called the National Defence Forces by Koreans, later to become the Republic of Korea Army or ROKA), and right-wing paramilitary units, supplemented by U.S. military forces and intelligence as needed, had forcefully contained the insurrection in all provinces. More than 1,000 Koreans had been killed with more than 30,000 jailed. Regional and local leaders of the popular movement were either dead, in prison, or had gone underground. 

Korean Division Becomes “Legal” 

Seventy-three-year-old Rhee was elected President on May 10, 1948, an election boycotted by virtually all Koreans except the conservative, elite KDP and Rhee’s own right-wing political groups. Rhee legally took office as President on August 15, and the Republic Of Korea (ROK) was formally declared. In response, three-and-a-half weeks later (on September 9, 1948), the people of the north begrudgingly created their own separate government, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), with Kim Il Sung as its Premier. Korea was now clearly, and tragically, split in two. Kim Il Sung had survived being a guerrilla fighter against the Japanese occupation in both China and Korea since 1932 when he was twenty years old. Kim was thirty-three when he returned to Pyongyang in October 1945 to begin the hoped-for era of rebuilding Korea free of foreign domination, and thirty-six when he became North Korea’s first premier on September 9, 1948.

Meanwhile, the Russian forces that had occupied the north since August 1945 withdrew on schedule in December 1948, leaving only a small number of advisors behind. After the ROK was offically proclaimed in August 1948, the U.S. State Department argued to delay the expected withdrawal of U.S. combat troops until June 30, 1949. This provided Rhee with additional benefits from U.S. combat support against his civilian and guerrilla opposition. These forces were finally withdrawn at the end of June 1949, replaced by a 500-man Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG), headed by Brigadier General William L. Roberts.

Meanwhile, in September 1949, following the withdrawal of the majority of U.S. troops, Rhee’s anxiety increased about the lingering guerrilla war and the growing strength of the DPRK’s air forces, even though the Russian military had withdrawn from the North in 1948. He wanted to begin building his own air force, alleviating his nervous dependency upon the United States air forces. U.S. military and political leaders were opposed to granting aircraft to Rhee whose eagerness to invade the North they believed could cause a needless provocation with the North. Also secretary of State Acheson had denied the same request from Chiang Kai-Shek for his Nationalist forces fighting the Chinese Communists. Pastor Goodfellow was supporting his friend Rhee’s request for air forces for the ROK. Rhee found additional sympathetic support from Goodfellow’s friend, General Claire Chennault, who founded the Civil Air Transport (CAT) after World War II, the “Flying Tiger” air force, subsequently controlled by the CIA.

CAT had been flying mercenaries and supplies for China’s Kuomintang (KMT) forces who by late 1949 were sequestered in Burma in the wake of the Communist victory. All of the CAT planes had by then been safely moved to Formosa. In August 1949 Chiang Kai-Shek visited Rhee seeking an airbase in Korea that could assist the Nationalists in their continued campaign against the Chinese communists. Rhee in turn invited Chennault to Korea in November 1949 to present plans for developing a Korean air force along with the necessary secure bases. However, not until the Korean hot war started did the U.S. brass authorize the forty CAT planes relocated to six CIA training stations in Japan and Korea to fly transport, bombing and intelligence missions against Chinese installations along the coast, as well as serving the U.S./ United Nations campaigns against North Koreans. The nearly bankrupt airline, despite CIA funds, had a new lease on life, and was given the job of running the Korean National Airline as well.

The Systematic Elimination of Civilian Dissent 

Both U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson and George Kennan, Asian specialist at the U.S. State Department, made it clear in 1949 that the ability of the “democratically elected” Syngman Rhee to suppress the internal threats to his regime was very important for the success of our containment (of “communism”) policy. The “guerrillas” had to be quickly eliminated so that the world could clearly witness Korea’s successful handling of the “communist threat.” The stakes were high in Korea for the U.S., and the West in general, and the U.S. wanted to make sure that their puppet Rhee would prevail, no matter the cost to the Korean people or to their aspirations for a reunified country. Goodfellow had briefed Rhee at the end of 1948, referencing his conversations with Acheson about Korea, that the guerrillas had to be “cleaned out quickly…everyone is watching how Korea handles the communist threat.” This helps explain the large role the U.S. military played in suppressing any and all resistance to the Rhee regime: advisers with all Korean army and police units, use of spotter planes to ferret out guerrillas, daily briefings of counterinsurgency units, interrogation and torture of prisoners, regular intelligence briefings, use of transport planes carrying armed troops and supplies, and even the occasional use of U.S. combat forces.

The Rhee/U.S. forces escalated their ruthless campaign of cleansing the south of dissidents, identifying as a suspected “communist” anyone who opposed the Rhee regime, whether openly or quietly. In fact, most participants or believers in the popular movement in the south were socialists and unaffiliated with outside “communist” organizations. As the repression intensified, however, alliances with popular movements in the north, including communist organizations, increased. The Cheju Island insurgency was crushed by August 1949 with 30,000 to 60,000 Koreans murdered and nearly 300 villages destroyed, but on the mainland, guerrilla warfare continued in most provinces until 1950-51. In the eyes of the commander of U.S. military forces in Korea, General Hodge, and new “President” Syngman Rhee, virtually any Korean not a publicly professed rightist was considered a “communist” traitor. Therefore massive numbers of farmers, villagers and urban residents were systematically rounded up in rural areas, villages and cities from throughout South Korea. Captives were regularly tortured to extract names of others. Thousands were imprisoned, and even more thousands forced to dig mass graves before being ordered into them and shot by fellow Koreans, often under the watch of U.S. officers. Estimates of civilians murdered under the pretext of killing “communists” during the era of legal U.S. occupation (August 15, 1945-August 15, 1948) and the succeeding extended period until June 30, 1949 when U.S. combat troops were finally withdrawn, often are in the 500,000 range, with the lowest figure being 100,000, the highest being 800,000.

Political prisoners under U.S. occupation increased from 17,000 in southern Korea at the time Rhee was brought from the United States in October 1945, to over 21,000 by December 1947. By mid-1949, there were 30,000 alleged “communists” in Rhee’s jails, and an estimated 70,000 in so-called “guidance camps” used as overflow prisons. By December 1949 as many as 1,000 people a day were being rounded up, tortured, and imprisoned. Meanwhile numerous others were being murdered summarily after torture, not even having the “privilege” of being thrown in prison. Agents had penetrated every organization, every student group, every cafe, and every workplace seeking any evidence of publicly expressed dissent and contempt for the Rhee regime. And even though the bulk of U.S. troops had departed, officials from the U.S. embassy and with the remaining 500 man U.S. Military Advisory Group knew and was complicit in this reign of terror.

A 1948 CIA personality profile analysis of Rhee, apparently the first ever prepared on a foreign leader by the relatively new CIA, concluded: “The danger exists…that Rhee’s inflated ego may lead him into action disastrous or at least highly embarrassing to the new Korean Government and to the interests of the U.S.” It is certainly true that the U.S. was worried about Rhee provoking a military attack against the North across the 17th Parallel. But a bloodbath within the South, exterminating or imprisoning virtually the entire popular movement, which at one time clearly represented the vast majority of Korean citizens, was of no concern to the U.S. In fact, it supported and directed much of it! Though at times the U.S. government privately censured Rhee and his military and Korean National Police units, U.S. officials consistently publicly praised the “free and democratic” Republic of Korea (ROK).

This sordid record of U.S. policy and its consequent behavior in Korea between 1945-50 served as a “training” model to be subsequently emulated, “refined” and at times varied to suit the situation. For example, following the 1965 CIA coup in Indonesia replacing the unacceptable (to the U.S. government) “Neutralist” President Sukarno with military strongman Suharto, systematic identification and elimination for several years of those perceived as sympathetic with Sukarno or who were thought to be “communist” led to the murders of anywhere from 500,000 to one million. The Phoenix program in South Vietnam sought to eliminate the Viet Cong civilian infrastructure from 1967-72, with estimates of those killed and/or captured reaching nearly 70,000. U.S. support for the counterrevolutionary government in El Salvador and its associated death squads from 1980 to 1994 led to the murders of 75,000 people, and displacement of more than a million. In revolutionary Nicaragua, U.S. created counterrevolutionary terrorists called Contras that marauded from 1982-90 through the countryside, destroying villages and assassinating those identified as supportive of the revolutionary government. More than 75,000 Nicaraguas were murdered or severely maimed.

There are many other examples, as well, perhaps six or seven dozen, where the use of military and security forces have used (and continue to use) terrorism under the aegis of fighting terrorism, more than not with U.S. support and direction, to preserve an ideology that supports the way of life for the elite and privileged at the expense of the poor majority. But with the possible exception of the barbaric purge in Indonesia from 1965-1967, which murdered anywhere from 500,000 to one million, the systematic elimination of the popular movement in Korea directed by the U.S./Rhee regime from 1945-50 continues to rank as the most aggrieved of all victim-nations during the so-called Cold War.

Meanwhile, and ironically, the period 1945-50 was experienced by most U.S. Americans as being among the most pleasant in their history. Basking in military victory from World War II, feeling invincible with possession and further development of the most powerful and technologically sophisticated military weaponry ever known to humankind, the people of the United States through their plutocratic government and capitalist economics were to rule the world. They would perceive as a threat virtually any alternative political-economic idea and prevent it from taking hold. “Manifest Destiny” began its truly global march to everywhere. 

U.S. Decides To Announce Beginning of Hot War 

The hot war apparently began at Ongjin very near the 38th Parallel in western Korea about 3 or 4 a.m. on June 25 (Korean time), 1950. This was in the same general area where heavy fighting had erupted at Kaesong in early May 1949, when battles, apparently started by six infantry companies from the south, lasted four days, taking the lives of 400 North Korean and 22 South Korean soldiers. According to U.S. and South Korean officials, nearly 100 civilians were also killed in Kaesong. Subsequent heavy fighting occurred in June on the remote Onjin Peninsula on the west coast above Seoul, and in August when forces from the north attacked the ROKA occupying a small mountain north of the 38th Parallel. Rhee had constantly threatened attacks on North Korea, creating anxiety among U.S. advisers. Just how the fighting started and by whom on that particular day, June 25, 1950, depends on one’s source of information. The North’s official version claims that South Korean forces had been shelling with howitzers and mortars the Unpa-san area on the Ongjin Peninsula on June 23-24. Then the ROKA’s 17th Regiment attacked a northern unit at Turak Mountain on the Onjin Peninsula on June 25 which was repelled by the northern forces. The South claimed, on the contrary, that elements of ROKA’s 17th Regiment counterattacked and were in possession of Haeju city, the only location north of the 38th Parallel claimed to have been taken by the South’s forces. This was announced on the morning of June 26. The details are irrelevant, however, since a civil and revolutionary war had been raging for nearly two years with military incursions moving routinely back and forth across the 38th Parallel. The war was announced to the world as a premeditated, belligerent attack of communist forces from the north against a sovereign democratic society in the south. The quick introduction of U.S./U.N. military forces beginning on June 26 occurred with no understanding by the West (except by a few astute observors such as journalist I.F. Stone) that in fact they were entering an active revolutionary, civil war in progress explicitly against five years of U.S. interference with the passionate effort of indigenous Koreans to achieve genuine independence. These additional outside forces simply fueled Korean passions even more, while creating further divisions among them.

This tragic paranoid misunderstanding by the U.S., and the West in general, accompanied by deeply held racism, helps to explain, but not in any way excuse, the massive numbers of civilians (“gooks”) massacred by U.S./U.N. forces, including, of course, by the ROK army itself, and the incredible devastation of civilian targets and murder of millions of civilians from the tenacious aerial bombing campaigns conducted throughout the war. Many of the bombing missions were carried out by the 1,008 bomber crews of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) under direction of its young and reckless commanding General, Curtis LeMay, who had recently directed the firebombings that destroyed all or parts of sixty-six Japanese cities in 1945. The extent of the hatred felt by U.S. forces toward Koreans was sometimes reported by shocked news people. The derogatory term “gooks” was as commonly applied to Koreans by U.S. military personnel as it was to Vietnamese later, during the Vietnam War. The Rhee forces, mostly made up of Koreans collaborating with their former Japanese occupiers, were also merciless in their killing of fellow Korean civilians in both southern and northern areas of Korea.

Bombing Everything

During the Korean “hot” war, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the U.S. Air Forces “destroy every means of communication, every installation, factory, city, and village” south of the Yalu River boundary with China. Pyongyang and 76 other Korean cities in the north were leveled during the 37-month bombing campaign coinciding with the hot war period.

Massive saturation bombings, especially with napalm and other incendiaries, alone murdered perhaps 2.5 million civilians. Major General William B. Kean of the 25th Infantry Division ordered that “civilians in the combat zone” be considered enemies. The famous July 25, 1950 Fifth Air Force memorandum to General Timberlake declared that adherence to Army orders to “strafe all civilian refugees [have been] complied with.” USA Today (Oct. 1, 1999) and The New York Times (Dec. 29, 1999) reported from declassified U.S. Air Force documents the “deliberate” strafings and bombings of Korean “civilians” and “people in white.” In the August 21, 1950 issue of Life, John Osborne reported that U.S. officers ordered troops to fire into clusters of civilians.

Germ Warfare

An early study examined the allegations of the use by the United States of bacteriological and chemical weapons in Korea. The Commission of International Association of Democratic Lawyers’ Report on U.S. Crimes in Korea, March 31, 1952, concluded that the U.S. used both germ (“deliberate dispersion of flies and other insects artificially infected with bacteria, with the intention of spreading death and disease”) and chemical (“use of poison gas bombs and other chemical substances”) warfare against both civilians and combatants in North Korea. Established at the September 1951 Berlin Congress of the Association, the Commission consisted of eight lawyers, one each from Austria, Italy, Great Britain, France, China, Belgium, Brazil, and Poland. The Association had been prompted by a Report of the Committee of the Women’s International Democratic Federation in Korea, May 16-27, 1951, an international commission of 22 women from 18 countries (including Canada and 7 Western European nations) that found systematic war crimes by a number of means were being committed by U.S. forces and South Korean forces under the command of the U.S., though it did not specifically discuss use of bacteriological or chemical weapons.

China convened its own international study, Report of the International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacteriological Warfare in Korea and China, issued in Peking in 1952, finding significant use by the U.S. of germ warfare.

In all, thirty-six U.S. officers, mostly pilots, most from the Fifth Air Force, as well as some from the 1st Marine Air Wing under direction of the Fifth Air Force, gave their Chinese jailers statements admitting their participation in biological (germ) warfare. Most captured flyers acknowledged that tho they were subject to stress and duress, they were neither physically beaten nor provided information to include in their statements. The most exhaustive study of extent of US collaboration in the POW camps conducted by the US Army concluded that in fact there was no brainwashing nor beatings nor torture, but that the US prisoners were from a cultural background that failed to provide them with political insight and emotional maturity for dealing with such adverse experiences. Shortly after the confessing US prisoners were released in 1953, they were placed under strict control and the US government presented recantations signed by one-quarter of those who confessed. The majority did not recant, at least in public.

Of course, the U.S. denied the various allegations and accusations of its use of biological and chemical warfare, and does so to this day. However, thanks to two York University professors in Toronto, Canada, Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, we now have the benefit of their 20-year exhaustive study, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998). Carefully researched, their report concludes that the United States experimented with and deployed biological weapons during the Korean War, and that the U.S. government lied both to Congress and the U.S. public in saying that its biological warfare program was purely defensive (for retaliation only). A large and sophisticated offensive biological weapons system had been developed in the post-World War II years, and was used in North Korea. However, their study does not identify any use of germ warfare in South Korea, tho Koreans have insisted it was used in South Chollah Province. 

Threat of US Use of Atomic Weapons on Northern Korea and China 

Due to the early military successes of the northern forces pushing the ROK army and U.S. forces far south of Seoul, General MacArthur, on July 9, 1950, requested the use of Atomic bombs to protect his retreating forces. After some deliberation in Washington, this request was denied. This was the first of at least nine separate circumstances when the U.S. seriously considered using Atomic/Nuclear bombs against northern Korea and adjacent regions of China during the Korean War. A second “active consideration” of use of the Bomb occurred on November 30, 1950, following entrance into the war in late October of the Chinese military “hordes,” when President Truman publicly suggested General MacArthur might be given authority to use the Atomic bomb at his discretion to stop the Chinese. This created a tremendous furor in Europe which initially dampened the idea. Nonetheless, Truman ordered SAC to “dispatch…bomb groups” to Asia to “include Atomic capabilities” and had non-assembled Atomic bombs moved to aircraft carriers off Korean coasts.

Seven subsequent known serious considerations of using the Bomb occurred.

  1. In December 1950, only a short time after Truman’s public suggestion elicited negative responses from Europe, the Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) supported General MacArthur requested discretionary use of over thirty Atomic bombs to be dropped on “retardation targets” and “invasion forces” if necessary to avoid defeat.
  2. In March and April 1951, the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested use of Atomic bombs against Chinese bases in Korea and China, a plan supported in principle by President Truman who ordered the transfer (of completely assembled Atomic weapons) “to military custody” in Asia (Guam and Okinawa, Japan) for use against Chinese and North Korean targets if the Soviets and Chinese in any way escalated the war that spring.
  3. In June and July 1951, the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested use of Atomic weapons in tactical operations, five months after the first U.S. tests of tactical Nuclear weapons, in case of “unacceptable” deadlocks in the peace talks that had begun in July.
  4. In October 1951, three Army colonels traveled from Washington, D.C. to Japan and Korea for a top secret meeting with General Ridgeway, commander of the U.N. forces, and other officers, in part to initiate plans and preparations for “the employment of atomic weapons in support of ground operations” in Asia. In September and October 1951, U.S. bombers flew simulated Atomic bombing runs over northern Korea, even dropping dummy Atomic bombs, in preparation for using the real thing if peace talks were unacceptably stalled.
  5. In May 1952, when General Mark Clark replaced General Mathew Ridgeway as Commander of the U.N. forces, he proposed a number of new steps, including deployment of Atomic bombs.
  6. In February 1953, shortly after President Eisenhower was elected to office, he directly threatened China with Atomic bombs. The U.S. Air Force transferred fresh Atomic bombs to Okinawa, and its chief of staff, Hoyt Vandenberg, publicly suggested that an area in northeastern China, Mukden (Shenyang, 150 miles north of the border with Korea containing a large air base), would be an appropriate strategic target. This crisis was averted by diplomacy of Soviet leaders who immediately succeeded Stalin after his death on March 5.
  7. On May 20, 1953, the National Security Council seriously discussed the “extensive” use of atomic bombs against China, including much of Manchuria, if the Communists did not accept “reasonable” peace terms. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles transmitted a message through Premier Nehru of India to the Chinese and North Koreans, that the U.S. was prepared to use the Bomb during another adjournment of the peace talks. It should be noted that just one year later Dulles also offered two Atomic bombs to aid the French besieged at Dien Bien Phu in northwest Vietnam. Fortunately, Georges Bidault, Dulles’ counterpart as French foreign minister, turned down the offer due to his wise realization that the French forces would be wiped out as well if Atomic weapons were used.

On at least two other occasions the U.S. has seriously considered using nuclear weapons against North Korea. The first was in 1969, within a few months after Nixon became President, when the North Koreans apparently shot down a U.S. plane, killing thirty-one persons. Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, recommended dropping a Nuclear bomb, but were subsequently persuaded to nix the plan. The second time was in June 1994, when President Bill Clinton was on the verge of bombing North Korea’s nuclear program in Yongbyon. Though it wasn’t clear whether Clinton intended to use low-level nuclear bombs, it was clear that bombing of nuclear facilities risked substantial radiation over a wide-area. Only the personal interventions of South Korean President Kim Young Sam and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on an emergency diplomatic mission averted the crisis within hours of the planned bombing.



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