INTERVIEW WITH NILES BOND-2/2/97
INTERVIEWER: Right, it's the second of February 1997. This is tape 10475, interview with Mr Niles Bond in New York. Mr Bond, thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us today.
NILES BOND: It's my pleasure.
INT: Perhaps I could just start off, could you just as briefly as possible summarise for us where you were in that period 1949/50, just before the war began, your official
NB: At that time I was officer in charge of Korean Affairs in the State Department and I was still in that position, I was just in the process of leaving it on assignment when the Korean War broke out, so they grabbed me back from going to Baghdad and sent me kept me in the Far East.
DISCUSSION ABOUT AIRCRAFT
INT: Mr Bond, what was your assessment of Syngman Rhee in the years between the establishment of the Republic, '48 and 1950? What were his strengths and weaknesses as a leader of the Korean people?
NB: Well, one of his strengths was that he was regarded by the Korean people and by foreigners who knew about Korea as sort of the George Washington of Korea. He had he'd been a heroic fighter for Korean independence from the very beginning. He was born in 1875 and as soon as he was in his teens, he was into his first agitation against the Japanese. He was imprisoned by the Japanese in about 1897 and he was kept there for 7 years and then he was released and he became famous for organising a meeting… sort of a Korean declaration of independence meeting in which he and fellow-minded Koreans put together something called the the National Council for the Pro Provincial Republic of Korea and this lasted until this was in existence up until the outbreak of World War II and he was president of it, I think, all during that time, during which he was in various countries, in China most of that time.
INT: And as far as the State Department was concerned, what sort of an individual was he to deal with?
NB: I never had dealings with him in Washington. He was he had been in Washington for a long time, annoying the State Department very much. He would grab anyone by the lapels if he thought they could help him get Korean independence and so he was regarded as a nuisance, generally, when I first heard of him. I first met him in 1947 when he was living in Korea and was hoping to become president of the Korean government when it was established, and I dined at his house. We got along very well together. He's a charming fellow. His charm is somewhat deceptive because he's also very tough, he's absolutely unforgiving, very patriotic and he's not nearly as sweet as he looks.
INT: How involved was the US in the creation of the Republic of Korea?
NB: Well, the United States was entirely involved. I mean, we made made the Republic of Korea, really, between the Pentagon and the State Department, and the definitive government paper on the establishment of the Korean Republic was something called NFC-8 and there was a lot of difference of opinion between the State and the Pentagon over that and I had hadn't been in the job very long but I took the all the papers home from both sides and spent one weekend and drafted the paper as it came out finally. So if anybody's to blame for the way the Korean Republic I'm as much to blame as anyone! (laugh)
INT: In the period running up to the beginning of the War, why did the US only give limited military support to the Republic of Korean army?
NB: Well, during the 5 years of military occupation up to the time of the war, the first 3 of those 5 years, during the first 3 years of that period, there was no Republic of Korea. There was no Korean government of any sort and therefore there was no Korean military force in being, to which assistance could be given. So it wasn't until the Korean Republic came into being that they could -- and there was a Minister of Defence and so forth -- and then they started discussing assistance. The other reason, I think, was that the US government position was that the Korean peninsula was not within the strategic area of interest to the United States and as you remember, there were several speeches on that, statements on that. So I think those 2 things together plus the desire of the of the Pentagon to get rid of this whole question, they didn't want to have to go on, they wanted to get out of. Get their troops out of Korea and then not have to worry about it. So I think the combination of those was the reason that nothing was ever but even when I was there in '47, heading up that military assistance, that military MDAP mission, the assistance which we were authorised to discuss was peanuts. It was nothing of any importance, nothing like tanks, fighter planes, nothing of that sort and the only change the Koreans asked for, they were being given some L-4 liaison planes, these little tiny planes and they asked that they get L-5s instead of L-4s. That was all they… So they were not pushing for any equipment themselves and later they, of course, they got a great deal and
INT: Was there any sense in State Department thinking, or Pentagon thinking, Washington thinking overall that in giving too much armaments to Syngman Rhee he would actually use them against the North?
NB: I think there had been some there were people who took that point of view back around 40 before the Korean Republic came into being. Once Syngman Rhee became president of the Republic, it sort of dropped off. They felt that he was then in a position where it would be his own doing and not somebody else's that he would suggest.
INT: Right, if I could just ask you to remember in replying to my questions rather than saying 'it' or 'he'.
NB: Oh yes, I'm sorry.
INT: How did the State Department react or your part of the State Department react to Acheson's Defence Perimeter speech of January 1950?
NB: Secretary Acheson made that speech at the National Press Club in Washington. It wasn't a speech really. It was a talk, and he was speaking from informal notes. He had no prepared text and because there was no prepared text, there was nothing to clear with anybody, so we didn't even know he was gonna make this statement until till it came out in the newspapers and we were informed afterward. If that remark had been sent to us for clearance, we would not have cleared it. Actually, Secretary Acheson was paraphrasing a statement made 10 months earlier by General MacArthur to a British journalist, so he wasn't there was nothing new about this and what he said was in fact the position of the of the Pentagon and I think even of the State Department. Korea was never mentioned in that statement, you remember, it was just the line was drawn to leaving them on the outside. So it was really it there was no real repercussion except regret we didn't think it was gonna be helpful.
INT: Do you feel that the speech in any way gave a green light to Communist expansion in the Korean peninsula?
NB: I think that has to be just left for speculation until we get some more documentation, if there is any. I would doubt very much whether it… I think plans were underway for this long before that.
INT: Now can you describe -- and again, in these next few questions, talking about the weekend, at the beginning of the war -- to talk in the present tense, sorry, to talk in the first person talk about 'I' and
NB: Yes yes.
INT: So did the news, that arrived in Washington of course on the 24th of June 1950, come as a shock to you, of the invasion?
NB: It certainly did. The first I knew about it was about 11pm on the 24th. My wife and I had been out celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. We'd been out to dinner. Our anniversary actually was the next day, on the 25th but it was a Sunday so we were celebrating Saturday night. We were arrived home and the baby-sitter had a list of phone calls for me as long as her arm.
INTERRUPTION - SIRENS