In U. S. world strategy, Korea can be more accurately compared to Berlin then to Greece. The area itself is important neither strategically nor economically. It has been, rather, a proving ground on which the United States attempted to show Asia that it could remake a Japanese territory into an independent, democratic nation. The comparative simplicity of the task undertaken by the American Military Government has permitted careful evaluation of the progress at each stop of the occupation. Briefly, General Hodge's assignment was; to eliminate Japanese control, reconstruct the economy, set up a democratic government, and get out. Unfortunately, the peoples of Asia now behold a complete failure to achieve these goals.
The first move the AMG made was to repatriate the 10,000 Japanese technicians who had run Korea for the 43 years of their occupation. A scant 3,000 Americans had to take over their positions and begin training 7,000 Koreans for administration, for the Japanese had never permitted natives to rise above the rank of clerk or shopkeeper.
In 1945, temporary military agreement was made with the Russians to split the country in two. Within a year it was apparent that the Soviets had no intention of negotiating a reunification settlement. But it was then too late to retrieve the industrial plants which had been bundled off to the Soviet North. The U. S. found itself in control of almost three--quarters of the country's population, two-thirds engaged in agriculture, mainly rice growing--the rest living in de-industrialized cities, unable to produce at all. The final break came in May, 1948, when the Russians switched off the electricity from the North on which the South was dependent.
The entire industrial plant of the South was thus brought to a standstill. Cities soon had no products to exchange with the farmers for food, and the result has been an ever-increasing urban black-market in agricultural products.
Further disruption has occurred from the stoppage in trade from the industrial North to the agricultural South. Nor is there sufficient rice production to maintain the trade with Japan so important before the war. Moreover, the birth rate is so high that it will double the population in 25 years.
Land reform is the only aspect of the American occupation which has been at all successful. By September 1, 1948, almost a million and a half farm plots, belonging to the Japanese and large land-holders, had been redistributed among more than 550,000 former tenants on 15 year mortgages. Unlike the communist program in the North, the peasants were given titles of ownership immediately. The success of these reforms proved a strong bulwark against communism in rural areas and clearly demonstrated that honest and intelligent administration is possible in Korea. Now that the farm administration has been placed in the hands of Syngman Rhee's U.S.-approved government, however, corruption and waste threaten to obliterate the gains made by the occupation authorities.
Last spring's much-debated election for an "all-Korea" government was characterized by rightist terrorism and lawlessness, particularly by Dr. Rhee's semi-fascist Youth Corps. The 80 percent participation was hailed as a triumph for democracy in the American press. Actually, U. S. authorities failed to distinguish between liberals and communists and supported only rightists among the 200 parties.
Corruption in Government
The victorious Rhee government has proved little better than the tottering regime of Chiang Kai-shek. Grafting and inefficient, it has adopted police methods which border on "thought-control." Leftwing and labor groups are constantly threatened with persecution.
Having completed their task along their lines, the Russians last month embarrassed U. S. authorities by announcing the withdrawal of all their troops from the North. In this way they have made it appear that the U. S. is the only obstacle to reunification, the great hope of all Koreans. Attempting to disprove this, the U. S. withdrew one division from the South last week, in spite of Rhee's pleas. The situation for the U. S. now stands much as it did in China. Only through U. S. support can the rotten government sustain its control against the communist threat from the North. U. S. authorities realize that they have again backed themselves into a corner, for at the moment there remains but one alternative, communism.
U. S. policy in Korea represents a propaganda fiasco. In spite of almost $400 million of aid, the economy fails to function; the government makes a farce of freedom; and the AMG cannot withdraw and let the communists take over without a complete confession of its failure to establish democracy in Asia.