Saturday, November 26, 2005

October 8, 1945 archives: Not Slave, Not Free

Not Slave, Not Free

After 35 years in captivity, Koreans rejoiced to see their Japanese rulers overthrown. But last week, chafing under two sets of liberators, they were jar from that independence "in due course" which the U.S., Britain, China and Russia had jointly promised. From Seoul, TIME Correspondent John Walker cabled:

In Southern Korea a simple fact is news: the grade schools have reopened. The run-down buildings were emptied several months ago when the Japs evacuated school children; the intellectual shutdown occurred a generation ago. The Army is solving the textbook problem the direct way, by going into the printing business. Freedom of worship is back, too. Church bells ring on Sunday morning, and the other day the Most Reverend Paul Ro, Archbishop of Seoul, celebrated a solemn high mass of thanksgiving for liberation.

Rule or Chaos.

This occupation had to be organized in tearing haste. Lieut. General John R. Hodge and the military governor, Major General Archibald V. Arnold, had to staff it with men who, like themselves, are combat officers and not proconsuls. They are shorthanded—Arnold has only 109 men for the whole military government. Men already punchy from combat (and anxious to go home) are driving themselves 15 hours a day and more, trying to get a country of 25 million people rolling again. Before it is done, the job will take experts.

Some Koreans would have welcomed chaos, they were so impatient to get the slate wiped clean for independence. They were bound to be disillusioned by American insistence on retaining the forms of government, and by the Army's slow-motion progress. That is passing. Koreans have replaced almost all the hated Japanese police, and those who remain (as sources of information) are kept out of sight.

The Russians Again.

The Japs organized this country thoroughly: the south was the rice bowl, the north was the workshop (see map). Together the two parts formed a working economic entity; separated they are simply out of gear. The split along the 38th parallel is Korea's biggest, most galling problem. The border isn't closed, but no shipments are coming over.

The Russians are businesslike in occupying what was enemy territory.

Their attitude toward civilians is: "Give us what we want and keep the hell out of our way." They brought fine weapons but few supplies, and they are living off the country. That probably stimulates the impression of widespread looting. Optimists say the Russians are rough because they don't intend to stay. Pessimists say the Americans will throw up the game and pull out, leaving all the Orient to the Russians.

Economics & Rice.

This peninsula's capital plant has been worn out by Jap exploitation and the drain of war. Machinery is falling apart, roads are knocked to rubble. Industry is at a standstill —laborers won't work for the former owners, and wage ceilings are too low.

Quickie strikes abound, and an Army officer recently complained that the holidaying Koreans had thought up a Fifth Freedom — freedom from work. Absentee ism can easily be overcome, but raw materials must come from the north (again, the 38th parallel).

A bumper rice crop is coming up — the only bright spot I see in the coming winter of privation. The dipsy-doodle price of rice shows how values have changed. It shot to 280 yen per bushel in the Japs' latter days. At the end, hoarded stocks were dumped. The price fell to 28 yen (briefly) and by now is back to 100 to 120 yen on the black market. The Army has set a military exchange rate of 15 yen to the dollar. But 25 or 30 would be more realistic.

The Politicians.

Korea today has almost no politics, and legions of politicians. Seventy-odd parties stepped up to be counted at General Hodge's request. The best guess is that they will shake down to three: 1) a "democratic" party, conservative and nationalist; 2) an extreme left-wing party, Communist-dominated ; 3) a middle or pinkish party, claiming a position comparable to Labor's in Britain.

All parties are for independence, nationalism, turning the Jap rascals out. Where they differ is on methodology, nationalizing industry, and on local issues. After years of political frustration there are few strong personalities. One is plump, man-of -good-will Woon Heung Lyuh (pronounced Yuh), 60, head of the provisional commission for rebuilding Korea, nucleus of party No. 3. He is out of circulation at the moment (it appears there were a couple of fist fights). Lyuh told me he wants to set all good Koreans — Communists included — help the reconstruction.

Song Chin Woo, a fiftyish editor with a long record in the secret nationalist movement, is remaining aloof from parties while things jell. Cho Mansik, called the Gandhi of Korea, is a Christian church elder whom the Russians reportedly brought out of retirement to head the municipal government of industrial Pyengyang. As for the long-exiled government at Chung king, some Koreans would welcome it as a ready-made instrument for wielding political power. More likely, its members will return as private individuals.

In Korean eyes the two tragedies of their country are that the Japanese were here from 1910 on, and the Russians are here now. Eventually the Koreans must solve the problem of transforming their schizoid country into a nation. Meanwhile it is our problem too, and what the U.S. does here in the next year or so will be the tip-off to our future role in the Orient.

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