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Korea in 1945 (Part 3)

June 23, 2013

In the South, General Hodge and Americans called themselves occupiers and treated Koreans as “occupied,” backing the right wing. Hodge had worked for unilateral American tutelage, rather than multilateral, when the Moscow decision was announced. The Right in the South supported this position; they did not want multilateral trusteeship that would include the Soviets.

To advance what the US planned, in October 1945, MacArthur and Hodge flew in a Korean living in America, Syngman Rhee, to Seoul. Born into an impoverished yangban (aristocratic) family in 1875, Rhee left for the United States in 1905 and received a B.A. from George Washington University (1907), M.A. at Harvard (1908) and a Ph.D. at Princeton (1910). The first Korean with an American Ph.D., Rhee traveled briefly to Korea in 1910, but returned to the US the next year.

Living in America for more than three decades, he made himself out to be an exile politician, but his record as an “exile politician” was less than desirable as a potential leader of a troubled country, just liberated from a long colonial rule. He had been accused of dogmatism and usurpation of authority by the Korean Provisional Government in China and was ousted in 1925. He had been equally, if not more strongly, criticized by expatriate Koreans in America for the misuse of Korean funds and excessive self-promotion.

This Rhee, back in Seoul, quickly projected himself as a unifying figure between the Right and Left and as embodying the will of the nation under the banner of his pet doctrine, ilminjuui (the one-people principle). While advocating the unity of different groups, he denounced Russia and Russian policies, refused to join the KPR (Korean People’s Republic), and allied with the Korean Democratic Party (KDP). Led by Rhee, the Right in the South turned the anti-trusteeship movement into an anti-communist and anti-Soviet affair.

By 1947, political conflict polarized, and repression intensified in South Korea. With potent rightist policies, Rhee was obsessed with myolgong (obliterate communism) and positioned himself to be the first president of the Republic of Korea in 1948. To this end, Rhee manipulated Americans, the United Nations, and his fellow Koreans.

General Hodge continued to enjoy the favor of the Right in the face of its opposition to trusteeship. This also meant that he didn’t hesitate one bit to work with those who had collaborated with the Japanese.

When General John Reed Hodge took his troops to South Korea in September, 1945, he did not have a clue about what Koreans wanted and needed. Worse, when he opened his eyes a bit, he felt a wind blowing to a possible direction of Korea turning into some form of a socialist country. The organizers of the KPR (Korean People’s Republic) saw the need to form a society in which changes were made to benefit the masses who had been long oppressed—the peasants and workers, more than 80% of the population. Clearly, some form of socialism could accommodate this need better than capitalism.

Under this circumstance, Hodge (Americans) supported the Korean Democratic Party (KDP), the conservatives—primarily comprised of landlords, people in manufacturing and publishing, and landlord-entrepreneurs. The majority of these people had been severely compromised by their cooperation with the Japanese. In short, the majority who had been in the colonial administration worked closely with KDP.

So the US not only worked with pro-Japanese but also supported rotten leaders such as Syngman Rhee. Elections were held in May 1948 in South Korea under UN supervision. The United States had taken the Korean issue to the UN General Assembly, and proposed that the international organization supervise national elections on the peninsula as a basis for the country’s independence.

On August 15, the Republic of Korea (ROK) was inaugurated in Seoul and Syngman Rhee became its first President. Thus started the regime of Rhee, a virtual police state. While Rhee claimed that he was building up all democratic forces opposed to communistic elements, he ran an autocratic government, combining Korean Confucianism, Western fascism and Japanese governing methods.

To be continued.

Don’t forget to order, Iowa Sky: A Memoir by Donald D. Gibson at Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com

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