Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Dennis Kux
Some aspects of the Army were rather funny. For example, I was supposed to be able to speak French, because I passed the interpreter's test which consisted of a true or false reading exam and nothing spoken. When I took this test at Ft. Riley, Kansas, somebody had told me that the way you score well was to avoid guessing. I passed the test because I didn't guess. I didn't have many “wrong” answers—I just left blank the questions I didn't know the answers to—so I scored passed even though my French was fairly weak. Still, the Army said I was qualified to be an interpreter. As a result, on two occasions, I took groups of French and Vietnamese military officers around Korea to witness Korean civil development and the progress made by the Korean military forces. We traveled all around the country.
That escort experience was very interesting in itself, but also because I got to talk a lot with the young Vietnamese. Actually, the French defeat at Dienbienphu in May, 1954 happened during one of these trips. The French officers in the group were thunderstruck, because their friends had been captured, and so forth. However, there was a clear cleavage between the French and the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese said privately, “We'll never get our independence as long as the French are around. We'll never win against the communists.”
Another group I remember escorting was a couple of senior French officers who were, I think, connected with military government functions. We attended a briefing given by a special envoy of President Eisenhower—the Governor of Texas, Alan Shivers—who was either in charge of the economic aid program in Korea or was sent over to Korea to make a report on it. I remember during the briefing, in what I think was the Chosun Hotel, it was stated that we would be lucky if, 50 years from then—2004—, South Korea would really be a going concern economically. This comment was made in 1954. There was no electric power, little economic activity, nothing but problems. Americans thought South Korea was hopeless. I always remembered that briefing in later years when I dealt with South Asia, Africa and other poor places. South Korea was so poor in 1954.
However, the Chosun Hotel—the only acceptable hotel in Seoul at the time, owned by Mrs. Rhee—was one of the benefits of being assignment as an interpreter. I got to stay at the Chosun. This was a great treat for a young Lieutenant living in a tent in the countryside 30 or 40 miles to the north of Seoul.