Syngman Rhee

From Real Life Villains Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Syngman Rhee
Syngman Rhee portrait.jpg
Full Name: Syngman Rhee
Origin: North Hwanghae, North Korea
Occupation: President of South Korea (1948 - 1960)
President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (1919 - 1925, 1947 - 1948)
Goals: Eliminate communist influence in South Korea (partially successful)
Win the Korean War (failed)
Crimes: Extrajudicial murder
War crimes
Type of Villain: Dictator

Communism is cholera and you cannot compromise with cholera.
~ Syngman Rhee

Syngman Rhee (Korean: 이승만; 26 March 1875 – 19 July 1965) was a South Korean politician who served as the first president of South Korea from 1948 to 1960.

Rhee was the first and the last president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea from 1919 to 1925 and 1947 to 1948, and was elected President of South Korea in the 1948 presidential election. Rhee oversaw the transfer of power from the United States Army Military Government in Korea to the Government of South Korea and the establishment of the First Republic of Korea. Rhee adopted a strongly anti-communist and pro-American stance, and led South Korea through the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.

Rhee was widely regarded as an authoritarian dictator and his three-term presidency was characterized by corruption and political repression, including the National Defense Corps incident and reported ordering the extrajudicial killings of over 14,000 suspected communists in South Korea. Rhee's popularity declined after the Korean War, and he resigned in April 1960 during the April Revolution following popular protests against the disputed March 1960 presidential election. Rhee's resignation resulted in the transition to the Second Republic of Korea, and he died in exile in Hawaii in 1965.


Syngman Rhee was born on 19 February 1875 in the Korean lunisolar calendar (also stated as 26 March 1875) in Daegyeong, a village in Pyeongsan County, Hwanghae Province of Joseon-ruled Korea. Rhee was the third but only surviving son out of three brothers and two sisters (his two older brothers both died in infancy) in a rural family of modest means.

Rhee completed a traditional classical Confucian education and then entered a Methodist school, where he learned English. He became an ardent nationalist and, ultimately, a Christian. In 1896 he joined with other young Korean leaders to form the Independence Club, a group dedicated to asserting Korean independence from Imperial Japan. When right-wing elements destroyed the club in 1898, Rhee was arrested and imprisoned until 1904. On his release he went to the United States, where in 1910 he received a Ph.D. from Princeton University, becoming the first Korean to earn a doctorate from an American university. He returned home in 1910, the year in which Korea was annexed by Japan.

Rhee found it impossible to hide his hostility toward Japanese rule, and, after working briefly in a YMCA and as a high-school principal, he emigrated to Hawaii, which was then a U.S. territory. He spent the next 30 years as a spokesman for Korean independence, trying in vain to win international support for his cause. In 1919 he was elected (in absentia) president of the newly established Korean Provisional Government, in Shanghai. Rhee relocated to Shanghai the following year but returned to Hawaii in 1925. He remained president of the Provisional Government for 20 years, eventually being pushed out of the leadership by younger Korean nationalists centred in China. (Rhee had refused to recognize an earlier impeachment, for misuse of his authority, by the Provisional Government in the 1920s.) Rhee moved to Washington, D.C., and spent the World War II years trying to secure Allied promises of Korean independence.

After the war, since Rhee was the only Korean leader well known to Americans, he was returned to Korea ahead of the other members of the Provisional Government. He campaigned for a policy of immediate independence and unification of the country. He soon built up a mass political organization supported by strong-arm squads and a following among the police. With the assassination of the major moderate leaders, including Song Jin Woo and Chang Duk Soo, Rhee remained the most influential leader, and his new party won the elections in South Korea. In 1948 he became president of the Republic of Korea, a post to which he was reelected in 1952, 1956, and 1960.

As president, Rhee assumed dictatorial powers, tolerating little domestic opposition to his program. Rhee purged the National Assembly of members who opposed him and outlawed the opposition Progressive Party, whose leader, Cho Bong Am, was executed for treason. He controlled the appointment of mayors, village headmen, and chiefs of police. He even defied the United Nations (UN) during the Korean War (1950–53). Hoping that UN forces would continue to fight and eventually unite North and South Korea under one government, Rhee hindered the truce talks by ordering the release in June 1953 of some 25,000 anticommunist North Korean prisoners. (Under the agreed-upon truce settlement, these men were to have been repatriated to North Korea.) Stunned, the communists broke off the negotiations and renewed their attack, largely ignoring the UN forces and concentrating their fire on Rhee’s South Korean troops. Having made their point, the communists then resumed negotiations, and a truce settlement was speedily signed.

In spite of his authoritarian policies, Rhee failed to prevent the election of an opposition vice president, Chang Myŏn, in 1956. Government claims that the March 1960 elections gave Rhee more than 90 percent of the popular vote (55 percent in 1956) provoked student-led demonstrations against election fraud, resulting in heavy casualties and demands for Rhee’s resignation. These demands were supported by the unanimous vote of the National Assembly and by the U.S. government. Rhee resigned on April 27, 1960, and went into exile in Hawaii.

Rhee died of a stroke on July 19, 1965. He was 90 years old. A week later, his body was returned to Seoul and buried in the Seoul National Cemetery.