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«Winchester, UK Washington, USA First published by Zero Books, 2012 Zero Books is an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Laurel House, Station ...»

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Roosevelt at Yalta said to Stalin: ‘He had in mind for Korea a trusteeship composed of a Soviet, an American and a Chinese representative. … He felt that in the case of Korea the period might be from twenty to thirty years.’ When the US made clear that Korea was to become a trusteeship, Syngman Rhee, head of the Korean delegation said that Korea was ‘the victim of secret diplomacy’.29 On 16 December 1945 foreign ministers of Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the US talked about Korea in Moscow. Around that time Lt. General John Hodge wrote a report on Conditions in Korea in which he looked at the potential conflict Under present conditions with corrective action forthcoming, I would go so far as to recommend we give serious consideration to an agreement with Russia that both the US and Russia withdraw forces from Korea simultaneously and leave Korea to its own devices.

Sadly, Hodge’s advice was not taken. The Moscow meeting ended on 27 December with only an agreement that Korea should be put under a four-power trusteeship. Afterwards the USSR agitated for independence, while in practice the two powers divided the country between them along the 38th parallel.30 When as US Commander John Hodge arrived at Inchon to find a functioning Korean People’s Republic, he reinstated the defeated Japanese police and functionaries to displace them.

The Korean People’s Republic had been founded on the initiative of Yuh Woon-Hyung.

Yuh’s Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence was organised in August 1945 – ironically, at the request of the retreating Japanese – and on 16 Yuh addressed 5000 Koreans, urging unity and no bloodshed. Soon 145 branches of the Committee had been set up, and, with an influx of released prisoners, it was moving in a radical direction.31 Yuh Woon-Hyung’s Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence was sidelined by the Allies Setting up Headquarters in Seoul the Committee organised its own police force, the ch’iandae, or peace preservation corps, and also a National Preparation Army of Korean Soldiers dismissed from the Japanese Army. The Preparation Committee announced on 28 August that it would establish ‘a people’s committee elected by a national conference of people’s representatives’, and on 6 September several hundred met at the Kyŏnggi Girls’ High School in Seoul to elect a central People’s Committee of 55 members. The two men who would lead the two rival Korean republics, North and South, after the country was divided, Kim Il-Sung and Syngman Rhee, were both elected to the People’s Committee, though neither were present. Indeed Syngman Rhee, who was known to be in touch with the US authorities, was appointed Chairman, probably to appease the Americans, though it was a post he never took up.32 The Korean People’s Republic declaration of 14 September 1945 was that We are determined to demolish Japanese imperialism, its residual influences, antidemocratic factions, reactionary elements, and any undesirable foreign influence on our state, and to establish our complete autonomy and independence, thereby anticipating the realisation of an authentically democratic state.33 According to Yuh Independence was not something given to us by the Americans or the Soviets. It is something that can be achieved only by gathering together the revolutionary forces within Korea… through our own efforts and our own blood.34 The Korean People’s Republic filled the gap left between the Japanese and the Allied authorities, and between the American and Soviet rivals. It was ambitious, but untested. The reactionary forces that it identified as collaborationist were already reorganising to meet the challenge.

The ‘Korean Democratic Party’ was described by a US official at the launch meeting as ‘the party of wealth and respectability’, and by another US source as ‘composed predominantly of large land owners and wealthy businessmen. Many of its leaders, like Chang Tŏk-su had collaborated with the Japanese.35 When Commander John Hodge accepted the Japanese surrender on 6 September he refused to acknowledge the Provisional Republic, and instead kept the Japanese officials that had run the colonial administration in place. When that proved too much, he turned to the more reliable reactionaries of the Korean Democratic Party – and Syngman Rhee.

With the end of Japanese rule, Korea’s large industrial workforce had the confidence to organise militant trade unions and pushed hard for better wages. Between August 1945 and March 1947 there were 2,388 labour demonstrations involving 600,000 people. Labour disputes married with opposition to the Military Government, and were close to an uprising in autumn 1946 that was brought to a close with the savage repression of the railroad strike of January 1947. Hundreds of left wing labour leaders were ‘killed or executed, and thousands were imprisoned’. In March 1947 the US Military Government outlawed the Communist Party. The US created fake, company unions, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, to take the place of the suppressed labour movement.36 It was under these conditions of military and political repression of the opposition that John Foster Dulles called for ‘free elections’ for Korea in the United Nations, using the Interim Committee to sidestep the Soviet veto in the Security Council. The move, rejected by the Soviet military administration in the North, led to separate elections in the South. Of the debate Dulles said that ‘the United Nations action on Korea was to be taken as an endorsement of the wider opposition of American foreign policy to communism’. Divided, by the United Nations, Korea was more easily manipulated by its two sponsoring powers, the Soviet Union and the United States.37 The Soviets had their excuse to install Kim Il-Sung as premier in the North. In the South Syngman Rhee was reluctant to hold elections, and was reprimanded for the many postponements. To distract attention from its own democratic deficit, and to crank up tension the South Korean administration launched a number of military attacks on border towns in the North in 1949, such as Wonsan, attacked that June.38 When Rhee’s elections were held, even with the communist opposition outlawed, most elected were independents and not Rhee supporters. Still, the South Korean government’s room for manoeuvre was restricted.

The Korean Aid Bill passed by the US Congress in February of 1950 carried a clause that said aid would be terminated ‘in the event of the formation in the Republic of Korea of a coalition government which includes one or more members of the Communist Party or of the party now in control of the government of North Korea’.39 In 1950 Kim Il-sung launched an invasion of South Korea starting the conflict that would divide the country to this day, and install, as James Connolly wrote of the partition of Ireland, a ‘carnival of reaction on both sides of the border’.

Vietnam On 2 September 1945 Ho Chi Minh announced the foundation of the Democratic

Republic of Vietnam. It is a speech that bears repeating:

‘All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense this means: All the peoples of the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to be happy and free.

The Declaration of the French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: ‘Also men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights.’ Those are inalienable truths.

–  –  –

Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice.40 Ho Chi Minh wrote to US President Harry Truman ‘Our Vietnam people, as early as 1941, stood by the Allies’ side and fought against the Japanese’ (16 February 1946). During the war the Viet Minh worked with US Office of Strategic Services and had given US pilots shot down in the war with Japan protection. The OSS had even sent medics to Ho when he was ill.41 Ho Chi Minh with advisors from the US Office of Strategic Services Ho told a representative of the US State Department that ‘my people look to the United States as the one nation most likely to be sympathetic to our cause’. A Department of State report was dismissive: ‘Perhaps naïvely, and without consideration of the conflicting interests of the “Big” nations themselves, the new government believed that by complying with the conditions of the wartime United Nations conferences it could invoke the benefits of those conferences in favour of its own independence’.42 The Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s government was naïve indeed to imagine that the promises of freedom in the Atlantic and United Nations’ Charters would apply to the Great Power’s colonial possessions.

Far from honouring Vietnam’s independence, the Great Powers invaded. In September 1945 General Douglas Gracey, carrying the title of Commander of Allied Troops in French Indochina, landed at Saigon at the head of the 20th Indian Infantry Division. ‘Despite his ceremonious reception by the Vietminh, Gracey immediately ejected the latter’s de facto government from the Cochinchina Governor’s Palace and installed himself there’.43 With the Viet Minh on the verge of seizing power Gracey armed and commanded Japanese Prisoners of War as a police force to suppress the rebellion. By October French troops under Leclerc were streaming into Vietnam to take over from Gracey’s unconventional force of Japanese and Indians. At the same time Chiang Kai-Shek’s anti-Communist Kuomintang Army invaded from the North.44 For the French restoration of the Empire in Indochina was essential to French pride.

Paris correspondent Frank Giles wrote ‘as for General de Gaulle, he seems to have been less concerned with internal developments in Indochina than with the need to uphold French prestige and status’. Even the Parti Communist Français leader Thorez said on 6 March 1946 that he was not keen to see the Tricolour hauled down in Indochina. The French took over, and on 23 November launched a massive assault on Haiphong that left 20,000 dead.

In response Viet Minh General Giap led an assault on French forces in Saigon. When the veteran Socialist Léon Blum briefly became French Premier in December 1946 Ho tried to get a message to him, but it was held up by the military. Blum favoured negotiation – but only once order had been restored. Admiral Theirry d’Argenlieu announced in January 1947 that ‘it is from now on impossible for us to deal with Ho Chi Minh’. French determination to defend her prestige in Indochina would stoke the most protracted revolutionary war of the Twentieth Century.45


The Investigatory Committee for Indonesian Independence (Badan Penyelidikan Kemerdekaan Indonesia, or BPKI) led by Sukarno and Mohammed Hatta was compromised by its closeness to the Japanese, and Sukarno’s younger supporters were demanding action. Sukarno also had to face down demands that the movement be Islamic in outlook, which led him to draw up the doctrine of Pancasila – that combined nationalism, social justice and belief in (an unspecified) God. In July 1945 the Japanese War Council – knowing that they were close to collapse – agreed that the Indies should be independent.

Indonesia’s declaration of independence lacked the poetry of Vietnam’s, reading: ‘We the people of Indonesia hereby declare Indonesia’s independence. Matters concerning the transfer of power and other questions will be executed in an orderly manner and in the shortest possible time.’ It was signed, in the name of the Indonesian people, by Sukarno and Hatta at Jakarta, on August 17, 1945 – as the Japanese Army was being stood down after the surrender.46 According to Mountbatten’s report to the South East Asia Command on 15

August 1945:

Dr. H. J. van Mook, Lieut-Governor-General of the NEI who had come to Kandy on 1st September, had given me no reason to suppose that the reoccupation of Java would present any operational problem beyond that of rounding up the Japanese.47 On 12 September General Yamamoto went to the HMS Cumberland to agree local surrender terms after South East Asia Command agreed the terms of the Japanese standdown with General Itagaki at Singapore. The British cabled ‘have just had Yamamoto on board to rub in his responsibilities, which he assures us he fully realizes’. ‘Japanese control is undoubtedly deteriorating and new Indonesian nationalist flag is appearing in increasing numbers’ they reported. ‘Extremists continuing old Japanese-created organisations,’ said the British commander, ‘are effecting a measure of terrorism and underground movements especially communists are coming to the surface’.48 The British solution to the challenge of Indonesian nationalism was to use the surrendered Japanese troops as a police force.

Laurens Van Der Post wrote ‘I was sent by Lord Mountbatten to the Japanese general commanding the Japanese army in Java to order him to take up arms against the forces of Nationalism he had helped to provoke’. After thinking it over ‘he went straight away to order his Chief of Staff to tell his troops to do whatever I wanted’, and ‘the Japanese fought with us, their old enemies, at places like Bandoeng and Semerang’ – against the Indonesian people.49 The Japanese position was set out by General Nishimura Otoshi, who said that having surrendered they had lost jurisdiction over Indonesia, and should abide by international law. Though Indonesian independence ‘comes from the will of the Emperor’, the same Emperor has ordered us to stop fighting. Apart from the legal question, the Japanese military plainly identified with the British ambition to restore order, and put their troops at Britain’s command. On the other hand, the Japanese had trained a paramilitary Indonesian force of 60,000, and the Indonesian nationalists secured large supplies of guns, ammunition, hand-grenades, vehicles and even 50 tanks from their former masters.50 The British intervention in Indonesia caused problems with the colonial power, Holland.

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