The Socio-Political Setting of South Korea
4.2. 'Liberal' South Korea and 'Crying in the Wilderness'
Ham finally arrived in south Korea at dawn on March 17, 1947. He had fled to south Korea without any clear idea of what was expected of him. South Korea too was in a state of chaos, both within south Korea itself and in terms of its relationship with the United States.
Southern Korea was more of a champion of the status quo than the north by the end of the Second World War. In 1945, south Korean society was still semi-feudal and most substantial landowners' real estate was in the south. Seoul, the capital, had long been the focal point of those pursuing power. Those who had drifted in the direction of the centre of Japanese control had largely been those most against any support for change. They might not have favoured Japanese rule, but it was a regime under which to a certain extent they held influence and from which some at least had gained advantages.
In contrast to the Soviet Union in north Korea, the United States had made no preparations to govern south Korea even on a temporary basis. Prior to the United States military control of south Korea in 1945, there were virtually no training timetables for the American military in the Korean language or on Korean issues, such as had existed for Japan.
Accordingly, when the Americans arrived at the Inch'on docks, on September 8 1945, the Korean hosting delegation advanced to bestow flowers and to welcome them. But a Japanese officer fired at them, instantly killing five and injuring nine more. Instead of being disciplined, the Japanese officers were promoted by General Hodge and the Korean welcomers were forcibly removed and Japanese commanders took the part of formal masters of ceremonies. Following the landing at Inch'on, Hodge complimented the Japanese Army for their team-work in maintaining order, and spoke to an American reporter: "There have been a few incidents between the Koreans and Japanese, including one in which some Japanese shot into a group of Koreans attempting to welcome us at the docks. I had ordered civilians kept away because they would hinder the landing operation."
General Hodge exacerbated that ill-starred day by declaring that for the present the entire Japanese administration would be kept in place, to continue their role of rulers over the Korean people. Widespread criticism erupted despite Hodge's commands for calm. Hodge's occupation was swiftly isolated, backed by the far right and former collaborators with the Japanese. Hodge's administration resulted in the wishes of the majority of the Korean people being disregarded. Finally Washington mediated and ordered Hodge to dismiss and replace all the Japanese officials as soon as possible.
These were the inauspicious surroundings under which began the United States' seizure of south Korea. The United States' control was swiftly cemented, aided and abetted exclusively by the hand of the far right and former associates of the Japanese. The USAMGIK during its three-year existence (1945-1948) showed to the south Koreans a doubtful image. Inasmuch as the United States occupied south Korea as a buffer in the Cold War, the political field of south Korea saw close attachments between United States military officials and pro-Japanese Korean officials. The key error concerning the United States administration was that the desires of the overwhelming majority of the Korean populace were completely disregarded.
This close affinity sprang from a shared anti-Communism aimed at north Korea and the Soviet Union. Bruce Cumings shows how the irony of this unholy alliance struck even the Japanese-trained Korean officers themselves. On several occasions, Reamer Argo, an American military officer, asked Yi Hyonggun, a pro-Japanese Korean, to help in building the Constabulary in the south. Yi often refused, mentioning, "How can those who served in the Japanese Army participate in building a Korean army?" Argo replied, "If experienced men like yourself do not participate, who will?"
What is more, in 1946 when General Hodge, Commander of USAMGIK, interviewed Kim Sogwon, another pro-Japanese Korean, Hodge said this: "The Constabulary is going well now, --- it will become the national army --- You have had your experience in the Japanese military, but now you must have a new beginning in a democratic military."
On 15 August, 1948, the Republic of Korea was formally brought into existence, with Syngman Rhee chosen as its first president. In the autumn of 1948, both to establish power with the military, against the pro Chinese Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) factions, such as Kim Ku, and to accelerate the anti-Communist vanguard against the newly established DPRK, Rhee made a secret appeal to Kim Sogwon to join the South Korean Armed forces as Commander. Rhee had never had an opportunity to come into close contact with Communist theory and ideas, and had only a stereotyped picture of Communism as the Red monster. Rhee held an "absolute and uncompromising" suspicion and malice towards the Soviet Union and even termed anyone who opposed him a Communist. In view of this, Rhee chose many other former collaborators for important posts, particularly in the police and military; thus throughout Rhee's presidency, the South Korean governmental constabulary was marked by the prevalence of one-time Japanese constabulary officials. Consequently Rhee's regime was set up as a coalition of conservative bodies attached to the administrative and police mechanism of Japanese origin.
By the end of the 1940s, South Korea was in turmoil and on the edge of civil war. Since Liberation, terrorism and assassination had been frequently practised at the hands of both rightist and leftist associates. Song Chinu (1890-1945: Leader of the Han'guk Minju-dang; Korean Democratic Party), Chang Toksu (1895-1947: a key founding member of Han'guk Minju-dang), Yo Unhyong (1885-1947: a popular left-wing figure and head of the Kullo Inmin-dang, Working People's Party) and Kim Ku (1876-1949: head of the Han'guk Tongnip-dang, Korean Independence Party, and leading rival of Syngman Rhee), had all been assassinated between 1945 and 1949. But the political assassins were not really punished by the authorities; some of them were released after a few months in prison then promoted; some fled to Japan without hindrance from the authorities.
Rhee was a tough man and ruled like a potentate. He did not object to using violence to achieve his aims. In 1948 alone, the election year for the National Assembly, 147 political activists were killed and another 600 were seriously injured. South Korean society suffered under the hand of terrorism and outrage, and the strongest political groups were the police and the youth cliques. Rhee showed himself to be as ruthless as Kim Ilsung in exterminating political rivals. Between September 1948 and May 1949, the South Korean government closed seven significant newspapers and one news agency. Democratic desires were suppressed as the Rhee regime turned ever more tyrannical with the enactment of the National Security Law (NSL) in November 1948. Several critics were detained and many significant journalists and editors, like Dr.Ha Kyongdok (1897-1951), the moderate, anti-Communist journalist of the Seoul Sinmun [Seoul Newspaper] and Korea's first Harvard PhD, were dismissed. In 1949 alone, 118,621 civilians (including 16 Assemblymen) were arrested under the NSL.
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