Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
|Revised Romanization||I Seung-man|
|Term of Office:||March 3, 1948-May 3, 1960|
|Predecessor:||Kim Kyu Sik|
|Date of Birth:||March 26, 1875|
|Place of Birth:||Hwanghae, Korea|
|Date of Death:||July 19, 1962|
|Place of Death:||Honolulu, Hawai`i, United States|
|Political party:||Liberal Party|
Syngman Rhee (March 26, 1875 - July 19, 1965) was a Korean politician and the first president of South Korea. His rule, from March 1948 to April 1960, remains a matter of controversy, arising from Cold War tensions on the Korean peninsula and elsewhere. Rhee, a professed Christian, was identified strongly with the conservative, anti-Communist side in Korean politics and geopolitics, and led South Korea throughout the Korean War. His presidency ended in resignation following popular protests against a disputed election. He died in exile in Hawaii.
Rhee obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree at George Washington University in 1907 and a Master's Degree in 1909 at Harvard Univerisity. Rhee enrolled at Princeton University in September of 1909 and obtaines a Ph.D. on June 14, 1910 at the age of 33.
During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), he was elected president of the provisional government in exile. Rhee became unpopular with his allies in the Korean conflict when he refused to agree to a number of ceasefire proposals that would have left Korea divided. His hope throughout the war was that, with UN help, he would be made leader of a united Korean peninsula; he tried to veto any peace plan that would not eliminate the northern government completely. He pushed for stronger methods to be used against the People's Republic of China and was often irate at the U.S. reluctance to bomb it.
After southern Korea was liberated, he became the first president and served three consecutive terms. As with many rightists in power during the Cold War, his government has been called authoritarian or autocratic, and his opponents accused him of mass oppression, brutality, and corruption, while his supporters argued that he was simply staunch in his opposition to Communism. His supporters also claim that any abuses committed by his government, including torture, were unknown to him and not his responsibility.
On January 18, 1952, Rhee declared South Korean sovereignty over the waters around the Korean peninsula, in a concept similar to that of today's exclusive economic zones. The maritime demarcation thus drawn up, which Rhee called the "Peace Line", included the uninhabited islets of Dokdo (Takeshima in Japanese). This led to protests from the Japanese government, which claimed that the islets should be considered Japanese territory. Minor clashes followed, but the islets have thereafter been under South Korean occupation (see Liancourt Rocks for more on the dispute).
He arranged an amendment to the constitution to run for a fourth term in 1960, and his victory seemed assured when the main opposition candidate died shortly before the March 15 elections. The real contest was in the race for vice president (held separately under the law of the time), and Rhee's heir apparent Yi Gi-bung was declared the victor in an election that the opposition claimed was rigged. This sparked off anger among segments of the Korean populace, and the student-led April 19 Movement forced Rhee to resign on April 26.
On April 28, a DC-4 belonging to the CIA operated Civil Air Transport (CAT) swiped Rhee out of South Korea and away from the clutches of a lynch mob that was closing in. Kim Yong Kap, Rhee's Deputy Minister of Finance, revealed that President Rhee had embezzeled $20 million in goverment funds. Rhee, his wife and adopted son lived in exile on 2033 Makiki Street in Honolulu, Hawai'i. On July 19, 1965 Rhee died of a stroke.
Rhee's ideology has been summarized as "뭉치면 살고 흩어지면 죽는다" or "United we stand, divided we die (or fall)". His presidential library is the Woo-Nam Presidential Preservation Foundation .
Kim Ku (President of the Provisional Government)
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