UO Alum Helped Korea to Peace

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 29, 2012 | Go to article overview

UO Alum Helped Korea to Peace


Byline: Song Nai Rhee For The Register-Guard

In July 1953, there was a mood of crisis in President Dwight Eisenhower's White House over U.S.-Korea relations. A man born in Oregon played a role in resolving the crisis and ending the Korean War.

After three years of bloody fighting and mounting losses of U.S. troops, the Eisenhower administration was eager to bring the Korean War to a close. So were 15 other United Nations countries that had joined in the fight against North Korean and Chinese Communists.

After endless wrangling, cease-fire agreements finally had been ironed out between the United States, Chinese and North Korean representatives at Panmunjom, with the exchange of prisoners of war as a major issue. By July, all parties were ready to sign a cease-fire treaty, lay down their arms and bring their troops home - except for Syngman Rhee, the president of Korea. He would not go along with the United States and United Nations and refused to agree to the truce.

Rhee was one of the most ardent and fierce anti- Communist leaders in the post-World War II era. He believed that the Soviet Union was on a march of world conquest in Europe and in Asia. His country, the Republic of Korea, was invaded by North Korean Communist troops, whom Soviet leader Josef Stalin had trained with heavy tanks and artillery just for that purpose, and then by hordes of Mao Zedong's Red Army, which recently had conquered China.

During three years of war, most of Rhee's country had been reduced to cinders. He had sacrificed more than 2 million of his own people and soldiers in his determined effort to drive the invaders out with U.S. help. Even the U.N. General Assembly, on Oct. 7, 1950, had adopted a policy of defeating the aggressors and uniting Korea "with force of arms."

But the Communist invaders were still in the land with his country divided, ready to strike again and destroy his nation.

"Hell, no!" Rhee declared.

Rhee would not quit, and his people would not lay down their arms. There would be no peace until the enemies were driven out and the peninsula reunited. If necessary, he would continue the fight alone, even without the United States as an ally. And in his effort to disrupt the cease-fire negotiations, on June 18, 1953, he secretly opened the gates of all prisoner of war camps in southern Korea, releasing nearly 30,000 anti-Communist prisoners of war, creating utter consternation in Washington.

Tough and no pushover, Rhee was a man of brilliance with an educational background at America's best universities: a bachelor's degree from George Washington University, a master's from Harvard, and a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1910. He studied U.S. history and government, and at Princeton he specialized in international relations under Woodrow Wilson.

After living in the United States for 35 years, he knew America inside and out. He was a superb orator. Even at 78 in 1953, he was vigorous physically and sharp mentally. Through his anti-Communist orations, he had gained the admiration and respect of many Americans and had friends in Congress, especially among Republicans with strong anti-Soviet and anti-Communist sentiments.

For President Eisenhower, eager to end the war and bring his troops home, Rhee presented a formidable dilemma, once a loyal ally but now a stumbling block, diametrically opposed to his objectives. Into this whirlwind of U.S.-Korea relations entered Robert Oliver, with intent to help save the day.

Oliver was born in Sweet Home in 1909. He attended Pacific University in Forest Grove, graduating in 1930 with a degree in English literature. He then came to Eugene to attend the University of Oregon, graduating in 1933 with an master's degree, also in English literature. …

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