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occupation of his country. Flown into Korea in one of MacArthur's airplanes, Rhee was
soon maneuvered into a position of prominence and authority by the US Army Military
Government in Korea (USAMGIK). In the process, American officials had to suppress a
provisional government, the Korean People's Republic, that was the outgrowth of a
number of regional governing committees set up by prominent Koreans and which had
already begun to carry out administrative tasks, such as food distribution and keeping
order. The KPR's offer of its services to the arriving Americans was dismissed out of
Despite its communist-sounding name, the KPR included a number of
conservatives; indeed, Rhee himself had been given the leading position of chairman.
Rhee and the other conservatives, most of whom were still abroad when chosen,
perhaps did not welcome the honor because the KPR, on balance, was probably too
leftist for their tastes, as it was for the higher echelons of the USAMGIK. But after 35
years under the Japanese, any group or government set up to undo the effects of
colonialism had to have a revolutionary tinge to it. It was the conservatives in Korea
who had collaborated with the Japanese; leftists and other nationalists who had
struggled against them; the make-up of the KPR necessarily reflected this, and it was
reportedly more popular than any other political grouping.19
Whatever the political leanings or intentions of the KPR, by denying it any
"authority, status or form",20 the USAMGIK was regulating Korean political life as if
the country were a defeated enemy and not a friendly state liberated from a common foe
and with a right to independence and self-determination.

The significance of shunting aside the KPR went beyond this. John Gunther,
hardly a radical, summed up the situation this way: "So the first”and best”chance for
building a united Korea was tossed away."21 And Alfred Crofts, a member of the
American military government at the time, has written that "A potential unifying agency
became thus one of the fifty-four splinter groups in South Korean political life."22
Syngman Rhee would be Washington's man: eminently pro-American, strongly
anti-Communist, sufficiently controllable. His regime was one in which landlords,
collaborators, the wealthy, and other conservative elements readily found a home.
Crofts has pointed out that "Before the American landings, a political Right, associated
in popular thought with colonial rule, could not exist; but shortly afterward we were to
foster at least three conservative factions."23
Committed to establishing free enterprise, the USAMGIK sold off vast amounts
of confiscated Japanese property, homes, businesses, industrial raw materials and other
valuables. Those who could most afford to purchase these assets were collaborators who
had grown rich under the Japanese, and other profiteers. "With half the wealth of the
nation 'up for grabs', demoralization was rapid."24
While the Russians did a thorough house-cleaning of Koreans in the North who
had collaborated with the Japanese, the American military government in the South
allowed many collaborators, and at first even the Japanese themselves, to retain
positions of administration and authority, much to the consternation of those Koreans
who had fought against the Japanese occupation of their country. To some extent, these
people may have been retained in office because they were the most experienced at
keeping the country running. Another reason has been suggested: to prevent the Korean
People's Republic from assuming a measure of power.25
And while the North soon implemented widespread and effective land reform
and at least formal equality for women, the Rhee regime remained hostile to these
ideals. Two years later, it enacted a land reform measure, but this applied only to former
Japanese property. A 1949 law to covet other holdings was not enforced at all, and the
abuse of land tenants continued in both old and new forms.26
Public resentment against the US/Rhee administration was aroused because of
these policies as well as because of the suppression of the KPR and some very
questionable elections. So reluctant was Rhee to allow an honest election, that by early
1950 he had become enough of an embarrassment to the United States for Washington
officials to threaten to cut off aid if he failed to do so and also improve the state of civil
liberties. Apparently because of this pressure, the elections held on May 30 were fair
enough to allow "moderate" elements to participate, and, as mentioned earlier, the Rhee
government was decisively repudiated.27
The resentment was manifested in the form of frequent rebellions, including
some guerrilla warfare in the hills, from 1946 to the beginning of the war, and even
during the war. The rebellions were dismissed by the government as "communist-
inspired" and repressed accordingly, but, as John Gunther observed, "It can be safely
said that in the eyes of Hodge [the commander of US forces in Korea] and Rhee,
particularly at the beginning, almost any Korean not an extreme rightist was a
communist and potential traitor."28
General Hodge evidently permitted US troops to take part in the repression.
Mark Gayn, a correspondent in Korea for the Chicago Sun, wrote that American
soldiers "fired on crowds, conducted mass arrests, combed the hills for suspects, and
organized posses of Korean rightists, constabulary and police for mass raids."29 Gayn
related that one of Hodge's political advisers assured him (Gayn) that Rhee was not a
fascist: "He is two centuries before fascism”a pure Bourbon."30

Describing the government's anti-guerrilla campaign in 1948, pro-Western
political scientist John Kie-Chiang Oh of Marquette University has written: "In these
campaigns, the civil liberties of countless persons were often ignored. Frequently,
hapless villagers, suspected of aiding the guerillas, were summarily executed."31
A year later, when a committee of the National Assembly launched an
investigation of collaborators, Rhee had his police raid the Assembly: 22 people were
arrested, of whom 16 were later found to have suffered either broken ribs, skull injuries
or broken eardrums.32
At the time of the outbreak of war in June 1950, there were an estimated 14,000
political prisoners in South Korean jails.33
Even during the height of the war, in February 1951, reported Professor Oh,
there was the "Koch'ang Incident", again involving suspicion of aiding guerrillas, "in
which about six hundred men and women, young and old, were herded into a narrow
valley and mowed down with machine guns by a South Korean army unit."34
Throughout the war, a continuous barrage of accusations was leveled by each
side at the other, charging the enemy with engaging in all manner of barbarity and
atrocity, against troops, prisoners of war, and civilians alike, in every part of the country
(each side occupied the other's territory at times), trying to outdo each other in a verbal
war of superlatives almost as heated as the combat. In the United States this produced a
body of popular myths, not unlike those emerging from other wars which are widely
supported at home. (By contrast, during the Vietnam War the inclination of myths to
flourish was regularly countered by numerous educated protestors who carefully
researched the origins of the war, monitored its conduct, and publicized studies sharply
at variance with the official version(s), eventually influencing the mass media to do the
There was, for example, the consensus that the brutality of the war in Korea
must be laid overwhelmingly on the doorstep of the North Koreans. The Koch'ang
Incident mentioned above may be relevant to providing some counterbalance to this
belief. Referring to the incident, the British Korea scholar Jon Halliday observed:

This account not only serves to indicate the level of political violence employed
by the UN side, but also confers inherent plausibility on DPRK [North Korea] and
Southern opposition accusations of atrocities and mass executions by the UN
forces and Rhee officials during the occupation of the DPRK in late 1950. After
all, if civilians could be mowed down in the South on suspicion of aiding (not
even being) guerrillas”what about the North, where millions could reasonably be
assumed to be Communists, or political militants?35 (Emphasis in original.)

Oh's account is but one of a number of reports of slaughter carried out by the
South Koreans against their own people during the war. The New York Times reported a
"wave of [South Korean] Government executions in Seoul" in December 1950.36 Rene
Cutforth, a correspondent for the BBC in Korea, later wrote of "the shooting without
trial of civilians, designated by the police as 'communist'. These executions were done,
usually at dawn, on any patch of waste ground where you could dig a trench and line up
a row of prisoners in front of it."37 And Gregory Henderson, a US diplomat who served
seven years in Korea in the 1940s and '50s, has stated that "probably over 100,000 were
killed without any trial whatsoever" by Rhee's forces in the South during the war.38
Following some of the massacres of civilians in the South, the Rhee government turned
around and attributed them to Northern troops.
One way in which the United States contributed directly to the war's brutality
was by introducing a weapon which, although used in the last stage of World War II,

and in Greece, was new to almost all observers and participants in Korea. It was called
napalm. Here is one description of its effect from the New York Times.

A napalm raid hit the village three or four days ago when the Chinese were
holding up the advance, and nowhere in [he village have they buried the dead
because there is nobody left to do so. ... The inhabitants throughout the village
and in the fields were caught and killed and kept the exact postures they had held
when the napalm struck”a man about to get on his bicycle, fifty boys and girls
playing in an orphanage, a housewife strangely unmarked, holding in her hand a
page torn from a Sears-Roebuck catalogue crayoned at Mail Order No. 3,811,294
for a $2.98 "bewitching bed jacket”coral". There must be almost two hundred
dead in the tiny hamlet.39

The United States may also have waged germ warfare against North Korea and
China, as was discussed earlier in the chapter on China.
At the same time, the CIA reportedly was targeting a single individual for
termination”North Korean leader Kim II Sung. Washington sent a Cherokee Indian,
code-named Buffalo, to Hans V. Tofte, a CIA officer stationed in Japan, after Buffalo
had agreed to serve as Kim II Sung's assassin. Buffalo was to receive a considerable
amount of money if his mission succeeded. It obviously did not, and nothing further has
been revealed about the incident.40
Another widely-held belief in the United States during the war was that
American prisoners in North Korean camps were dying off like flies because of
Communist neglect and cruelty. The flames of this very emotional issue were fanned by
the tendency of US officials to exaggerate the numbers involved. During November
1951, for example”long before the end of the war”American military announcements
put the count of POW deaths at between 5,000 and 8,000.41 However, an extensive
study completed by the US Army two years after the war revealed that the POW death
toll for the entire war was 2,730 (out of 7,190 held in camps; an unknown number of
other prisoners never made it to the camps, being shot in the field because of the
inconvenience of dealing with them in the midst of combat, a practice engaged in by
both sides).
The study concluded that "there was evidence that the high death rate was not
due primarily to Communist maltreatment... it could be accounted for largely by the
ignorance or the callousness of the prisoners themselves."42 "Callousness" refers here to
the soldiers' lack of morale and collective spirit. Although not mentioned in the study,
the North Koreans, on several occasions, claimed that many American POWs also died
in the camps as a result of the heavy US bombing.
The study of course could never begin to catch up with all the scare headlines to
which the Western world had been treated for three years. Obscured as well was the fact
that several times as many Communist prisoners had died in US/South Korean camps”
halfway through the war the official figure stood at 6,60043”though these camps did
hold many more prisoners than those in the North.
The American public was also convinced, and probably still is, that the North
Koreans and Chinese had "brainwashed" US soldiers. This story arose to explain the
fact that as many as 30 percent of American POWs had collaborated with the enemy in
one way or another, and "one man in every seven, or more than thirteen per cent, was
guilty of serious collaboration”writing disloyal tracts ... or agreeing to spy or organize
for the Communists after the war."44 Another reason the brainwashing theme was
promoted by Washington was to increase the likelihood that statements made by
returning prisoners which questioned the official version of the war would be

In the words of Yale psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton, brainwashing was popularly
held to be an "all-powerful, irresistible, unfathomable, and magical method of achieving
total control over the human mind."45 Although the CIA experimented, beginning in the
1950s, to develop just such a magic, neither they nor the North Koreans or Chinese ever
possessed it. The Agency began its "behavior-control" or "mind-control" experiments
on human subjects (probably suspected double agents), using drugs and hypnosis, in
Japan in July 1950, shortly after the beginning of the Korean War. In October, they
apparently used North Korean prisoners of war as subjects.46 In 1975, a US Navy
psychologist, Lt. Com. Thomas Narut, revealed that his naval work included
establishing how to induce servicemen who may not be naturally inclined to kill, to do
so under certain conditions. He referred to these men using the words "hitmen" and
"assassin". Narut added that convicted murderers as well had been released from
military prisons to become assassins.47
Brainwashing, said the Army study, "has become a catch phrase, used for so
many things that it no longer has any precise meaning" and "a precise meaning is
necessary in this case.48

The prisoners, as far as Army psychiatrists have been able to discover, were not
subjected to anything that could properly be called brainwashing. Indeed, the
Communist treatment of prisoners, while it came nowhere near fulfilling the
requirements of the Genera Convention, rarely involved outright cruelty, being
instead a highly novel blend of leniency and pressure ... The Communists rarely
used physical torture ... and the Army has not found a single verifiable case in
which they used it for the specific purpose of forcing a man to collaborate or to
accept their convictions.49

According to the study, however, some American airmen, of the 90 or so who
were captured, were subjected to physical abuse in an attempt to extract confessions
about germ warfare. This could reflect either a greater Communist resentment about the
use of such a weapon, or a need to produce some kind of corroboration of a false or
questionable claim.
American servicemen were also subjected to political indoctrination by their
jailers. Here is how the US Army saw it:

In the indoctrination lectures, the Communists frequently displayed global charts
dotted with our military bases, the names of which were of course known to many
of the captives. "See those bases?" the instructor would say, tapping them on the
chart with his pointer. "They are American”full of war materiel. You know they
are American. And you can see they are ringing Russia and China. Russia and
China do not have one base outside their own territory. From this it's clear which
side is the warmonger. Would America have these bases and spend millions to
maintain them were it not preparing to war on Russia and China?" This argument
seemed plausible to many of the prisoners. In general they had no idea that these
bases showed not the United States' wish for war, but its wish for peace, that they
had been established as part of a series of treaties aimed not at conquest, but at
curbing Red aggression.50

The Chinese Communists, of course, did not invent this practice. During the
American Civil War, prisoners of both the South and the North received indoctrination
about the respective merits of the two sides. And in the Second World War,
"democratization courses" were held in US and British POW camps for Germans, and
reformed Germans were granted privileges. Moreover, the US Army was proud to state
that Communist prisoners in American camps during the Korean War were taught "what
democracy stands for".51

The predicted Chinese aggression manifested itself about four months after the
war in Korea began. The Chinese entered the war after American planes had violated
their air space on a number of occasions, had bombed and strafed Chinese territory
several times (always "in error"], when hydro-electric plants on the Korean side of the
border, vital to Chinese industry, stood in great danger, and US or South Korean forces
had reached the Chinese border, the Yalu River, or come within a few miles of it in
several places.
The question must be asked: How long would the United States refrain from
entering a war being waged in Mexico by a Communist power from across the sea,
which strafed and bombed Texas border towns, was mobilized along the Rio Grande,
and was led by a general who threatened war against the United States itself?
American airpower in Korea was fearsome to behold. As would be the case in
Vietnam, its use was celebrated in the wholesale dropping of napalm, the destruction of
villages "suspected of aiding the enemy", bombing cities so as to leave no useful
facilities standing, demolishing dams and dikes to cripple the irrigation system, wiping
out rice crops ... and in those moving expressions like "scorched-earth policy",
"saturation bombing", and "operation killer".52
"You can kiss that group of villages good-bye," exclaimed Captain Everett L.
Hundley of Kansas City, Kansas after a bombing raid.53
"I would say that the entire, almost the entire Korean Peninsula is just a terrible
mess," testified Major General Emmett O'Donnell before the Senate when the war was
one year old. "Everything is destroyed. There is nothing standing worthy of the name."54

And here, the words of the venerable British military guide, Brassey's Annual, in
its 1951 yearbook:


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