Albert Wedemeyer’s 1947 Report to the President on Korea makes a point that a young Korean-American woman made to me years ago — South Korea was always the less-developed half of the country:
South Korea, basically an agricultural area, does not have the overall economic resources to sustain its economy without external assistance. The soil is depleted, and imports of food as well as fertilizer are required. The latter has normally come from North Korea, as have most of the electric power, timber, anthracite, and other basic products.
The economic dependence of South Korea upon North Korea, and of Korea as a whole, in prewar years, upon trade with Japan and Manchuria, cannot be too strongly emphasized. Division of the country at the 38° North parallel and prevention of all except smuggling trade between North and South Korea have reduced the Korean economy to its lowest level in many years. Prospects for developing sizable exports are slight. Food exports cannot be anticipated on any scale for several years, and then only with increased use of artificial fertilizer. South Korea’s few manufacturing industries, which have been operating at possibly 20 percent of prewar production, are now reducing their output or closing down. In part this is a natural result of ten years of deferred maintenance and war-time abuse, but lack of raw materials and essential repair parts, and a gross deficiency of competent management and technical personnel are the principal factors.
In 1947, Wedemeyer is more concerned with Communist-inspired riots than full-scale invasion:
The military situation in Korea, stemming from political and economic disputes which in turn are accentuated by the artificial barrier along the 38° North parallel, is potentially dangerous to United States strategic interests. Large-scale Communist inspired or abetted riots and revolutionary activities in the South are a constant threat. However, American forces supplemented by quasi-military Korean units are adequate to cope with such trouble or disorder except in the currently improbable event of an outright Soviet-controlled invasion.
Whereas American and Soviet forces engaged in occupation duties in South Korea and North Korea respectively are approximately equal, each comprising less than 50,000 troops, the Soviet-equipped and trained North Korean People’s (Communist) Army of approximately 125,000 is vastly superior to the United States-organized Constabulary of 16,000 Koreans equipped with Japanese small arms. The North Korean People’s Army constitutes a potential military threat to South Korea, since there is strong possibility that the Soviets will withdraw their occupation forces, and thus induce our own withdrawal. This probably will take place just as soon as they can be sure that the North Korean puppet government and its armed forces which they have created, are strong enough and sufficiently well indoctrinated to be relied upon to carry out Soviet objectives without the actual presence of Soviet troops.
It appears advisable that the United States organize, equip, and train a South Korean Scout Force, similar to the former Philippine Scouts. This force should be under the control of the United States military commander and, initially should be officered throughout by Americans, with a program for replacement by Korean officers. It should be of sufficient strength to cope with the threat from the North. It would counteract in large measure the North Korean People’s Army when American and Soviet forces are withdrawn from Korea, possibly preclude the forcible establishment of a Communist government, and thus contribute toward a free and independent Korea.
(Hat tip to Foseti, who has much, much more to say.)