Syngman Rhee

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Syngman Rhee
Syngman Rhee in 1956
1st President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
In office
September 11, 1919 – March 21, 1925
Prime Minister Yi Donghwi
Yi Dongnyeong
Sin Gyu-sik
No Baek-rin
Park Eunsik
Preceded by Yi Dongnyeong (the 2nd Prime Minister of Provisional Government)
Succeeded by Park Eunsik
1st, 2nd and 3rd term President of the Republic of Korea
In office
July 24, 1948 – April 26, 1960
Vice President Yi Si-yeong
Kim Seong-su
Hahm Tae-Yong
Chang Myon
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Yun Po-sun
Personal details
Born March 26, 1875(1875-03-26)
Haeju, Hwanghae, Joseon Korea
Died July 19, 1965(1965-07-19) (aged 90)
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
Nationality Korean
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Francesca Donner[1]
Religion Methodism[2]

Syngman Rhee or Yi Seungman (March 26, 1875 – July 19, 1965; Korean pronunciation: [i sɯŋman]) was the first president of South Korea. His presidency, from August 1948 to April 1960, remains controversial, affected by Cold War tensions on the Korean peninsula and elsewhere. Rhee was regarded as an anti-Communist and a strongman, and he led South Korea through the Korean War. His presidency ended in resignation following popular protests against a disputed election. He died in exile in Hawaii.



[edit] Early life

Syngman Rhee was born on March 26, 1875 into a rural family of modest means in Hwanghae Province, Korea. Rhee was the youngest of five siblings, though his elder brothers died prematurely. Rhee's family traced its lineage back to the third king of the Chosŏn Dynasty. When Rhee was two years old, the family moved to Seoul. His early education involved primarily classic Chinese literature, though he attempted civil service examinations, he failed them multiple times. When reforms abolished traditional systems of education, Rhee enrolled in Paejae School, an institution which had been established by a missionary from the United States.[3] Rhee learned English and began a school newspaper, Maeil Sinmun.[4]

Rhee joined an Independence Club, a political reform movement, in 1896. In the aftermath of a protest against Japanese dominance of the Korean Peninsula, Rhee was arrested and charged with sedition on January 9, 1899. Rhee unsuccessfully attempted to escape imprisonment, and was tortured and sentenced to life in prison. During this imprisonment, Rhee studied with books smuggled to him from friends and diplomats. Rhee later said he converted to Christianity in prison, and began conducting Bible studies in prison with fellow inmates. He also wrote columns for a newspaper and began a library for inmates which eventually grew to 500 books. He also began to write a political manifesto, The Spirit of Independence.[4]

Following the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, politics shifted in Korea, and Rhee was released from prison in 1904. He then traveled to the United States, possibly at the behest of government officials, to a peace conference to end the war. Rhee arrived in Washington, D.C. in December of that year. Rhee met with Secretary of State John Hay and US President Theodore Roosevelt at peace talks in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and attempted to convince the US to intervene and allow Korea sovereign status. This was unsuccessful, and Korea became a protectorate of Japan in November 1905.[4] With assistance from missionaries, Rhee remained in the United States for education. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts from George Washington University in 1907, then a Master of Arts from Harvard University in 1910, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University the same year. Rhee's studies included politics, history, international relations, Christian theology and law. He began writing his name in the Western manner, with his given name preceding his family name.[5]

Rhee returned to Korea in late 1910 to become the chief secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association in Seoul. However, Japan had recently annexed Korea, and had begun a crackdown on the Christian community in the nation. Rhee left Korea 15 months later for the United States under pretense of attending a Methodist conference as part of a crackdown. Rhee arrived in Hawaii in March 1912 and began a Christian school for Korean immigrants, and became involved in the local Korean-American community, which had swelled by those displaced in the nation's continued political unrest.[5]

In 1911, he returned to Korea (which had, by this time, been annexed by Japan) and served as a YMCA coordinator and missionary.[6][7][verification needed] His political activism attracted unwelcome attention from the occupying army. In 1919, all of the major pro-independence factions formed the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai. Rhee was elected the president, a post he held for six years. In 1925 he was removed from office following his impeachment by the Provisional Assembly for misuse of his authority— an event that would foreshadow his later political career.

Rhee lived in exile in the United States living in New York and Washington, DC, and then in Hawaii, where a large Korean community in exile was politically active. Donner worked in the US as Rhee's secretary, particularly in the preparation of the book Japan Inside Out (1940).

After the defeat of Japan in World War II, Rhee returned to Korea with the support of the US government.

[edit] Presidency

[edit] Rise to power

Ceremony inaugurating the government of the Republic of Korea (15 August 1948)

After liberation in 1945, Rhee returned to Seoul before the other independence leaders. Backed by the United States, Rhee was appointed head of the Korean government in 1945. Rhee began a campaign to "remove Communism"; however, in speeches during the later years of his presidency, Rhee frequently equated his political opponents with Communists.[8]

Rhee won a seat at the First Assembly of South Korea on 10 May 1948 by one parliamentary vote after left-wing parties boycotted the election. He was elected as the Speaker of the Constituent Assembly on May 31. Rhee was then elected the first president of South Korea defeating Kim Gu, the last president of the Provisional Government by a margin of 82-13, on 20 July. On 15 August, Rhee formally took over power from the US military and de jure sovereignty of Korean people from the Provisional Government. A year later, Kim Gu was assassinated by Ahn Doo-hee. Some[who?] speculate that Rhee was behind this assassination.[citation needed]

[edit] Political repression

When Rhee assumed power in 1948, he immediately enacted laws that outlawed political dissent and began arresting and eliminating leftist political organizers.[9] He allowed the internal security force (headed by his right-hand man, Kim Chang-ryong) to detain and torture suspected Communists and North Korean agents. His government also oversaw several massacres, the most notable one being on Jeju island, where over 30,000 protesters were killed by police.[10]

[edit] Korean War

Syngman Rhee awarding a medal to U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie during the Korean War in 1952

At the outbreak of hostilities in June 1950, all South Korean resistance at the 38th parallel was overwhelmed by the North Korean offensive. By June 26, it was apparent that the KPA would occupy Seoul. Rhee, who was afraid of a mass insurrection in Seoul, forbade the military from revealing the situation, and instead fled the city on June 27. At midnight on June 28, the South Korean military destroyed the Han Bridge, thereby preventing thousands of citizens from fleeing. On June 28, North Korean soldiers occupied Seoul.

Rhee and his wife posing with Army Corps of Engineers personnel in 1950 at the Han River Bridge

During the North Korean occupation of Seoul, Rhee established a temporary government in Busan and created a defensive perimeter along the Naktong Bulge. A series of battles ensued, which would later be known collectively as the Battle of Naktong Bulge.

Restored as South Korea's leader after the recapture of Seoul, Rhee's relationship with the United States became strained after he refused to agree to a number of ceasefire proposals that might have ended the Korean War. Rhee wanted to become the leader of a unified Korea so he vetoed any plans that failed to destroy Kim Il-Sung. He also wanted stronger methods to be used against the government of Mao Zedong, expressing annoyance that the U.S. was reluctant to bomb China with nuclear weaponry.[citation needed]

[edit] Re-election

Because of widespread discontent with Rhee's corruption and political repression, it was considered unlikely that Rhee would be re-elected by the National Assembly. To circumvent this, Rhee attempted to amend the constitution to allow him to hold elections for the presidency by direct popular vote. When the Assembly rejected this amendment, Rhee ordered a mass arrest of opposition politicians and then passed the desired amendment in July 1952. During the following presidential election, he received 74% of the vote.[11]

[edit] Resignation and exile

In 1960, Rhee assured his fourth term in office as President with 90% of the vote. The victory came after the main opposition candidate, Cho Byeong-ok, died shortly before the March 15 elections.

Rhee wanted his protégé, Lee Gibung, elected as the independent Vice President - a separate office under Korean law at that time. When Lee, who was running against Chang Myon (the ambassador to the United States during the Korean War) won the vote with a wide margin, the opposition claimed the election was rigged. This triggered anger among segments of the Korean populace. When police shot demonstrators in Masan, the student-led April 19 Movement forced Rhee to resign on April 26. In addition to being the object of popular protests, Rhee was accused by Kim Yong Kap, Deputy Minister of Finance, of embezzling more than $20 million in government funds.[citation needed]

On April 28, a DC-4 belonging to the United States Central Intelligence Agency and operated by Civil Air Transport flew Rhee out of South Korea as protestors converged on the Blue House.[12] The former president, Franziska Donner (his Austrian-born wife), and adopted son then lived in exile in Honolulu, Hawaii.

[edit] Death

Rhee on a 1959 issued 100 hwan coin

Rhee died of a stroke on July 19, 1965. A week later, his body was returned to Seoul and buried in the Seoul National Cemetery.[13]

[edit] Legacy and analysis

Rhee's former Seoul residence, Ihwajang, is currently used for the presidential memorial museum. The Woo-Nam Presidential Preservation Foundation has been set up to honour his legacy.

Rhee is accused of having a dictatorial and corrupt government. His reaction to any opposition was marked with brutality, for instance allowing the police at Masan and Seoul to open fire at the strikers, killing over 100, and brutally murdering a high school student named Kim Ju-Yeol (김주열). Rhee was extremely authoritarian, arresting any civilians who opposed him, whether legislators or vagabonds. In one instance, in Gyeongnam on May 27, 1952, forty legislators were arrested by the military police simply because they were heading to the senate. A similar instance occurred in Masan on April 18, 1960 when Rhee secretly ordered the police and bribed criminal organizations to break up the strikers.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] Citations

  1. ^ "KOREA: The Walnut". TIME. March 9, 1953.,9171,890478-3,00.html. Retrieved 2010-03-20. "In 1932, while attempting to put Korea's case before an indifferent League of Nations in Geneva, Rhee met Francesca Maria Barbara Donner, 34, the daughter of a family of Viennese iron merchants. Two years later they were married in a Methodist ceremony in New York." 
  2. ^ The Walnut
  3. ^ Rhee 2001, p. 1
  4. ^ a b c Rhee 2001, p. 2
  5. ^ a b Rhee 2001, p. 3
  6. ^ Coppa, Frank J., ed (2006). "Rhee, Syngman". Encyclopedia of modern dictators: from Napoleon to the present. Peter Lang. p. 256. ISBN 9780820450100. 
  7. ^ Jessup, John E. (1998). "Rhee, Syngman". An encyclopedic dictionary of conflict and conflict resolution, 1945-1996. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 626. ISBN 9780313281129. 
  8. ^ Dillard, James E.. "Biographies: Syngman Rhee". Korean War 60th Anniversary: History. US Department of Defense. 
  9. ^ Tirman, John (2011). The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars. Oxford University Press. pp. 93–95. ISBN 9780195381214. 
  10. ^ Müller, Anders Riel (19 April). "One Island Village's Struggle for Life, Land, and Peace". Korea Policy Institute. 
  11. ^ Buzo, Adrian (2007). The making of modern Korea. Taylor & Francis. p. 79. ISBN 9780415414821. 
  12. ^ Cyrus Farivar (2011), "The Internet of Elsewhere: The Emergent Effects of a Wired World", Rutgers University Press, p 26.
  13. ^ "Syngman Rhee". South Korean President. Find a Grave. Feb 20, 2004. Retrieved Aug 19, 2011. 

[edit] Sources

Political offices
Establishment of the Republic
President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
Succeeded by
Park Eunsik
Preceded by
Kim Kyu-sik
Chairmen of the Interim Legislative Assembly
Succeeded by
as Speaker of the Constituent Assembly
Preceded by
as Chairmen of the Interim Legislative Assembly
Speaker of the National Constituent Assembly
Succeeded by
Shin Ik-hee
Preceded by
Kim Gu
President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
Succeeded by
Syngman Rhee
(President of South Korea)
Preceded by
Syngman Rhee
as President of the Provisional Government
1~3rd President of South Korea
Succeeded by
Heo Jeong

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