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Who Was Rhee Syngman?

By Lee Wha Rang, Kimsoft, 22 Feburary 2000

Dr. Rhee Syngman ruled South Korea from 1948 until his downfall in 1960. His fanatic anti-communism made him a darling of the United States. In spite of his professed faith in Christianity, he had more Koreans killed than any other tyrants in the Korean history.

He was the man behind the Cheju 4.3 Massacre, the Daejun Massacre, the Suwon Massacre, the blowing up the Hangang Bridge, assassination of Kim Ku and Yo Woon Young and countless other killings of Koreans.

Although Dr. Rhee dominated Korea for over ten years, little information is available on him on the Internet and what little cyber-information available is mostly false or inaccurate. For example, one source claims that Rhee presided over a ’government in exile in Hawaii’. Another source claims Rhee was from the royal family line. Most history books praise him as the ’tiger of Korea’, democratically elected founder of Korea, most revered by all Koreans even today, and so on.

Nothing can be further from truth.

Rhee is a sinister and dangerous man, an anachronism who had strayed into this age to use the clich??s and machinery of democracy for unscrupulous and undemocratic ends.—Mark Gayn, the Chicago Sun

The Korean leadership is provided by that numerically small class which virtually monopolizes the native wealth and education of the country... Since this class could not have acquired and maintained its favored position under Japanese rule without a certain minimum of collaboration, it has experienced difficulty in finding acceptable candidates for political office and has been forced to support imported expatiate politicians such as Syngman Rhee and Kim Ku. These, while they have no pro-Japanese taint, are essentially demagogue bent on autocratic rule.—March 10, 1948, US CIA

Rhee will be killed in a few weeks, when the Korean people find out the truth.—Gen. MacArthur.

All the legends aside, Rhee was born on March 26, 1875 (many of the ’official’ documents list 1876, but Rhee listed 1875 as the year of his birth on his application to Princeton), a son of an impoverished yangban, Rhee Kyong Sun. Rhee organized fellow students to oppose the corrupt Yi government and spent six years in jail for his treason. While in prison, he became a Christian.

In 1904, the Yi government sent Rhee (because of his English and American connection) to the US in order to implement the US-Korea Friendship Treaty signed in 1885. The Yi officials were unaware of the secret agreement the US had made with Japan, whereby Japan would take over Korea and Manchuria, and the US would take the Philippines.

In November 1905, Rhee Syngman met Teddy Roosevelt in Washington and pleaded in vain for American support for Korean independence. Foreign nations (including the US) withdrew diplomatic missions from Seoul.

Rhee obtained a Bachelor of Art at George Washington University in 1907 and a Master’s Degree at Harvard in 1909. In September 1908, he enrolled at Princeton University and obtained a Ph.D. on June 14, 1910 at the age of 33.

Rhee was penniless and the Princeton University waived the fees and the Princeton Theological Seminary gave him free room and board (Rhee’s mailing address was: 111 Hodge Hall, Princeton, NJ) on Rhee’s promise that he would return to Korea to spread the Gospel.

In a neat handwritten letter to the Princeton officials dated September 23, 1908, Rhee pleads for special considerations for his ’extreme poverty’ and his promised return to Korea by 1910. He wants a Ph.D. in two years and the Princeton granted his wish in a letter dated October 2, 1908. Rhee lived at 202 N 36th St., New York, NY at the time.

Curiously, Princeton had contacted Harvard to verify Rhee’s alleged Master’s degree. It turned out that even though Rhee had completed his master degree requirements, he had not been awarded the degree yet. Princeton decided to ignore Rhee’s ’misunderstanding’ and the whole matter was dropped. (Rhee’s ’official’ biography states that Rhee was awarded a Master’s degree from Harvard in 1908, but the degree was awarded in 1909, one year after Rhee was admitted to Princeton).

Rhee was not a good student. His grade cards show: Economics (D), Government (B) and 3 History courses (B, B, C). He took 7 classes at Princeton barely passing them. In fact, the first reading of his thesis—Neutrality As Influenced by the United States—was unfavorable. In an April 14, 1910 letter, Prof. Edward Elliott, Dean of College, informed Rhee that The majority of those who have examined it are unwilling to recommend its acceptance...

On May 24, 1910, Rhee’s thesis was accepted finally on condition that the last part be put into as good condition as the first.. Rhee was finally granted his Ph.D.—the first Korean to be so honored—on June 3, 1910. However, Rhee could not raise enough money to bind and publish his thesis as required by Princeton and Rhee was given one year to comply with this rule.

In mid-1910, Rhee Syngman returned to Korea as a teacher at Seoul YMCA and as a Christian missionary (Methodist). He lived at YMCA, Seoul, Korea. In a letter dated January 31, 1911, Rhee tells Princeton that he does not have the $80 needed for his thesis. He wrote I have to ask for some more help either from the University or from the unknown friend who helped me so much already. The ’unknown friend’ probably refers to the Methodist Church of America.

In 1912, Rhee Syngman gave up his evangelic work in Korea and emigrated to Hawaii as headmaster of a Methodist school, The Korean Christian Institute, Honolulu, Hawaii. There, Rhee founded and edited the Korean Pacific Magazine in 1913.

On April 8, 1919, the Korean Provisional Government (KPG) was established in the French Concession of Shanghai. Rhee Syngman (in absentia) was elected president, Yi Tong Whi defense minister (later, premier) and Kim Kyu Sik foreign minister. The KPG had its own parliament, press, and a military school in Shanghai. The original founders of KPG represented a broad spectrum of the Korean political ideologies united in the common cause of Korean independence.

On Sept. 23, 1919, Gen. Yi Tong Whi took over the premiership of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai. Gen. Yi filled high positions in the KGP with his fellow members of the Korean People’s Socialist Party. Yi’s effort to regroup KPG into a united front failed, however. The exiles split into two primary groups: Yi’s group who favored military actions with Soviet backing and Rhee Syngman’s group which favored diplomatic channels working closely with America.

On Dec. 8, 1920, Rhee Syngman arrived in Shanghai. Rhee was elected president of the KPG in 1919, in absentia, but this was the first time Rhee set foot in the KPG office.

On Jan. 26, 1921, Shanghai, the Korean Provisional Government split openly. When Rhee’s faction learned about Lenin’s gold rubles, an open hostility toward Gen. Yi erupted. Rhee Syngman accused Kim Rip of embezzling funds to finance his sex habits. Kim Rip was assassinated and Gen. Yi parted company with the KPG.

Unfortunately for the KGP, Rhee was more interested in fermenting dissension in the ranks than in forming a united front against Japan. Rhee was finally expelled by Kim Ku from the KPG in 1925 for embezzelements (in 1960, he was expelled again, being accused of taking $20 million from his Seoul government among other misdeed). Kim Ku became the president.

Rhee returned to Hawaii in disgrace. From 1925 to 1945, Rhee attempted to pass himself off as the sole representative of Korea even though the Korean Provisional Government disowned him in 1925. The US State Dept. officials wrote him off as an old man out of touch and representing no one but himself in Korea.

In America, Rhee’s financial problems worsened and he turned to the Soviets for help. On his train tip to Moscow, Rhee met a young Austrian woman, Francisca Donner. Rhee was refused entry to the Soviet Union. Bitterly disappointed, he returned to Hawaii but kept in touch with Miss. Donner.

He married Francisca Donner on October 8, 1934 in New York City. He supported his family on contributions from other Koreans in US. In 1943, the Korean National Association in the US accused Rhee of taking money earmarked for independence activities for his personal use. According to a Princeton document, Rhee and his wife lived at 1766 Hobart Street, NW, Washington, DC. in 1940.

Rhee listed his profession as: Washington Representative of the Provisional Government of Korea in Exile, Chungking, China. In a 1948 document, Rhee lists his position as: Chairman, Korean Commission, located at 4700 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC.

On October 12, 1945, Gen. MacArthur ordered Col. Preston Goodfellow, former Deputy Director of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), to fetch Syngman Rhee from America. Rhee owed this fortune to Chiang Kai Sek. MacArthur was looking for a Korean leader he could count on and asked Chiang Kai Sek for a recommendation. Chiang came out with two names: Kim Ku and Rhee Syngman.

MacArthur ordered Gen. Hodge (in charge of Korea) to treat Rhee with respect and do whatever in Hodge’s power to anoint Rhee as the chosen puppet to control the ’Korean mobs’.

Rhee had been trying to return home since Aug. 15, 1945, but the US State Dept. would not issue him a passport for his travel. Sometime in the 1940’s, Rhee was enrolled into the OSS by Col. Preston Goodfellow. The OSS wanted ’Col. Rhee’ to organize an espionage network inside Korea.

However, Col. Rhee had no contact in Korea and could not find a single Korean in Korea for this job. Nevertheless, Rhee gave out generous concessions in post-war Korea to a number of his supporters including Goodfellow in return for their support for his authority Korea.

In 1948, Rhee was ’democratically elected President of the First Republic of Korea.. Rhee was removed from power by the Korean people in 1960.

On April 28, 1960, a DC-4 belonging to the Civil Air Transport (CAT was operated by the US CIA) spirited Rhee out of Korea barely one step ahead of a lynch mob. Kim Yong Kap, Rhee’s Deputy Minister of Finance, revealed that Rhee took $20 million of the government fund. Rhee, his wife and an adopted son lived at 2033 Makiki St., Honolulu, Hawaii.

Rhee died on July 19, 1965 at the age of 90 of a stroke. His 65-year old wife Francisca and adopted son Rhee In Soo were at his bedside. A US Air Force plane carried his body to Seoul for a family funeral. Park Jung Hee, who had plotted to topple Rhee, planned a state funeral but decided against it in face of mounting opposition. Rhee’s body was interned at Dougjak-dong National Cemetery near Seoul.

Francisca Rhee returned to her native country and lived out her tragic life with a relative, Miss B Donner, at Laurenzgasse 4/6, 1050 Vienna, Austria.