In contrast to their frequent squabbling over Indochina, American and British leaders gave little attention to Korea during the war. As Japan's conflict in China broadened into a world war, the pressures and demands on Koreans increased. About two and a half million Koreans were recruited or conscripted for work in Japan, often working in Japanese mines and factories under conditions that amounted to virtual slave labor. Three hundred fifty thousand Koreans served in the Japanese military or in its auxiliaries and support services, and one hundred fifty thousand died. Korean women were tricked or kidnapped into the Japanese system of military prostitution; they were often referred to as "comfort women." Young women from all areas under Japanese control were coerced into this network of sexual slavery, but the largest proportion, an estimated fifty thousand to two hundred thousand, were Koreans. (SIGEX Kandy to Director of Operations, X-2 R&A, National Archives Record Group 226, entry 58, box 3.)
By late August, word had reached Seoul that U.S. troops would occupy the southern half of the country. The news brought feelings of relief to the Japanese and motivated the independence committee, which moved quickly to establish a de facto government that could be in place when the Americans arrived. September 6 saw the formation of the Korean People's Republic with a long list of Cabinet members representing a wide spectrum of political leaders, including many prominent exiles who were unaware that they had been nominated. Although the People's Republic was designed to look like a government of national unity, it was in fact dominated by two factions, Yo Un-hyong's Korean Independence League and the Communists, whose dominant faction was headed by Pak Hon-yong.
In a nation where even the Communists had feuding factions, it was no surprise that the Korean People's Republic soon found itself confronted by a rival coalition, formed a week later. This was the Democratic Party, led by well-to-do professionals, businessmen, and landowners, many of them educated in American or Japanese universities. Some were patriots who had spent their share of time in Japanese prisons, but others were tainted with suspicion-or more than suspicion-of having collaborated with the colonial authorities. The leaders of the Democratic Party saw Yo Un-hyong as an opportunist who had sold out to both the Japanese and the Communists. Mostly members of the affluent classes, they naturally resisted the more radical reforms called for by the Korean People's Republic. Had the Koreans been left to determine their own future, they might have found a basis for unity and independence, or they might have become embroiled in civil war. But the forces of the world's two most powerful countries were arriving on the peninsula. The fate of Korea was now entangled in the exigencies of Great Power rivalries, as it had been so often in the past.
On August 20, a platoon of Russian
soldiers with a lone Soviet tank entered the old fortress town of Kapsan on the Korea-Manchuria border. The Kapsan People's Committee had organized a welcoming
ceremony with an honor guard of the local Chiandae and
citizens lining the streets waving homemade red flags. One old man waved a
tattered copy of Das Kapital and was hoisted up to the tank. The Soviet
soldiers, appreciative of their reception, passed out loaves of black bread
that one Korean found "tough enough to be used as pillows but tasty."
(Peter Worthing, Occupation and Revolution,Berleley,
2001, p. 70.)
The Russian platoon belonged to a division of the Twenty-fifth Army, which had attacked the Japanese forces in northern Korea on August 10. The outnumbered and outmaneuvered Japanese surrendered five days later. On the twenty-fourth, the Soviets reached Pyongyang, the largest city north of the 38th parallel, where they were welcomed by cheering crowds and bottles ofliberated Japanese liquor. (Memo for Record by General Gallagher, 21 September 1945, Philip E. Gallagher Papers, U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pa.)
The Koreans soon discovered that the soldiers of the Twenty-fifth Army, like their counterparts in Manchuria, seemed to have left any sense of self-restraint far behind them in the Soviet Union. Indiscriminate looting, rape, and robbery began almost immediately. The town of Songdo, which was occupied by the Soviets for only days because it was below the parallel, had eight million yen taken from the bank and sixty thousand pounds of expensive, highly prized ginseng lifted from local warehouses. As a souvenir of their stay, the soldiers also relieved most of the citizens of their wristwatches. (Report of Arthur Hale, November 1945, enclosure 2, Gallagher to Bernard.)
In the larger towns north of the parallel, the conduct of the Soviets was such that Korean women began disguising themselves as men. An Australian who visited Pyongyang to help in the recovery of Allied POWs reported, "The Russians, armed with tommy-guns, fire a few shots in the air, then break into the house, drag out what women (mostly young girls) they can find, put them into the truck along with furniture and any other objects that caught their eyes and drive off to their barracks. After a day or two the girls are thrown on the street." (A.L. Patti, Why Vietnam?,Berkeley, 1980, p.285.) Even in 1947, long after Soviet generals had cracked down on their troops' worst abuses, a single province in the north experienced seven murders, one assault, two rapes, and five robberies during one month, according to Soviet Army statistics. (William J. Duiker,Ho Chi Minh,New York, 2000, pp. 313-14. )
Those statistics may safely be assumed to represent only a fraction of those types of offenses, since in the Russian Army, as in many armies, most such crimes went unreported.
Despite the behavior of their troops, which soon prompted an order from the high command that soldiers at night must travel in groups of three for safety, the advent of the Russians was far from completely unwelcome in the north. Land rents were drastically reduced, and over the next few months land formerly owned by Japanese or absentee landlords was confiscated and distributed to former tenants or other landless farmers. Many larger landowners fled to the south. Those who remained were permitted to retain only as much land as they could cultivate themselves. Japanese troops were quickly disarmed and sent north to prisoner of war camps. Japanese officials, police, and bureaucrats promptly found themselves out of a job. Most soon joined the streams of thousands of other Japanese refugees headed for the port of Wonsan or to southern Korea.
After a few years, as the Cold War hardened and the division of the peninsula evolved into a permanent condition, many Americans and their allies came to see Soviet actions in Korea as a product of a carefully developed plan to bring about the sovietization of the north, a region where the Korean Communist presence was weak to nonexistent. (Most of the real fire-breathing Communists were in the south, while the north was a stronghold of the nationalist right, the Christians, and indigenous socioreligious movements.)
Actually, Soviet actions in the north were driven by no guiding plan, nor was any needed. Soviet officers knew only one political and social system, and they had been assured since early childhood that Russian style Communism represented a scientific blueprint for human progress. The Soviets kept the local People's Committees in place but brought them firmly under control. In Pyongyang they retained the Provisional People's Political Committee, headed by Cho Man-sik, a widely respected Christian nationalist. A graduate of Meiji University in Japan, Cho was sixty-three years old in 1945 and had been active in nationalist causes since the 1920s. He had become particularly famous during the war years for publicly refusing to comply with the Japanese order that all Koreans adopt Japanese names.
While the soviets went about their task of assuring a friendly political regime in northern Korea, Japanese and Koreans below the 38th parallel uneasily awaited the arrival of the Americans. The Japanese were having second thoughts about having granted such wide latitude to the nationalists, and they reinforced their well-armed police with detachments from the army. Either ignorant of or ignoring the fact that Japan had surrendered unconditionally, Japanese officials in Korea insisted that the future of Korea would be decided at a coming "peace conference" with the Allies. Endo, speaking for the governor-general, explained, "The Japanese sovereign power in Korea still majestically exists ... in a sense only hostilities have ceased. The matters about Korea will be decided only after the treaty has been signed." (Memo, Major George C. Sharp to Colonel G. Edward Buxton, Captain Albert Peter Dewey, 28 December 1943, National Archives Record Group 226, microfilm 1642, reel 73.)
The U.S. Army's XXIV Corps, which had fought in the bloody campaign of Okinawa, was designated by MacArthur as the occupation force for Korea. Like the Marines on Okinawa, the soldiers of the XXIV Corps' three divisions had been expecting an early return to the United States now that the war had ended. Instead they got Korea. While even the newest Marine in Tsingtao, Tientsin, or Peking had consumed an ample stew of fact, sea stories, and half-remembered history about China before he embarked from Okinawa, there was nothing of the sort about Korea-no gossip, no rumors, no colorful or bloodcurdling stories. Nothing. Almost no one in the army spoke Korean except for a handful of Americans of Korean descent and the sons of missionary families. Thousands of soldiers had been trained in Japanese at the U.S. Army Military Government School in Charlottesville, Virginia, but "policy prohibited the study of Korean in Army schools." (Ronald Spector, Advice and Support, New York, 1985, p.6.)
The XXIV Corps had almost no intelligence on Korea. Aerial reconnaissance missions were flown over the peninsula and Koreans captured with the Japanese Army were interrogated, but with "little result." (Wickes, "Saigon 1945-Hanoi 1946.") Donald MacDonald, a graduate of the Military Government School, where he had been trained in intensive Japanese, arrived at Inchon aboard a troopship. "On the way a few of us dug out of the ship's library a book entitled 'Terry's 1905 Japanese Empire' which had a few pages on Korea .... We copied that on the ship's typewriter and then mimeographed it. That was the total of our knowledge about Korea when we arrived at Inchon." (Peter M. Dunn, First Vietnam War; New York, 1985, p. 154.)
The American entry into Seoul was made in silence. Heavily armed Japanese police lined the principal streets, and those Koreans who dared turn out for the American arrival were prudently quiet. That afternoon, however, as General Hodge and Admiral Thomas C. Kincaid, commander of the Seventh Fleet, drove through Seoul on their way to accept the Japanese surrender, the previously silent Koreans broke into wild cheering. The surrender ceremony was held in the capitol building, in a chamber that had been used as a throne room for the emperor of Japan on imperial visits to Korea. That evening, Koreans danced and celebrated in the streets.
Korean exuberance was soon cut short by Hodge's announcement at a news conference that, for the present, the Japanese Government General would continue to function under American supervision and that all of its personnel from Governor-General Abe to the lowest ranking policeman would remain in their jobs. This declaration, which surprised even the Japanese, unleashed a blast of criticism in the media. Editorial writers in U.S. papers reacted to Hodge's announcement in the same manner as Lieutenant Bliss's soldiers had to the sight of the bayonet-wielding Japanese sentries at Inchon, although they used less colorful language. Koreans took to the streets in protest. The Seoul Times commented that Koreans would rather be ruled by "some chief from Borneo" than by the Government General. (Bruce Cumings, Origins of the Korean War, Princeton, 1981, p. 136.)
The State Department quickly disavowed any responsibility for leaving the Japanese in control, explaining to the press that it was a local decision of the theater commander. In fact, State Department planning documents for Korea had discussed the desirability of continuing to utilize Japanese technicians and functionaries in the postwar era to fill positions where no qualified Koreans were available. (James A. Matray, "Hodge Podge: American Occupation Policy in Korea, 1945-1948," Korean Studies 19 (1995), p. 23.)
On the advice of Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson, President Truman released a public statement saluting Koreans as "a freedom-loving and heroic people" and promising that all Japanese officials would quickly be replaced. ("Draft Statement Prepared for President Truman," 12 September 1945, 740.00119-PW/9-1845, National Archives Record Group 59.)
Exactly why Hodge made his ill-fated decision remains unclear. One possibility is that he was simply following MacArthur's occupation policy for Japan, which was based on utilizing the existing governmental structures to implement American policies. Whatever the reasons, MacArthur, anticipating instructions from Washington, directed Hodge to remove immediately the Government General and its officials. Hodge might have attempted to work through the Korean People's Republic, which was already exercising governmental responsibilities in many areas and was far and away the strongest and best organized political group in southern Korea. Yet Hodge and his political adviser, H. Merrill Benninghoff, had only a sketchy idea of who was who in Korean politics during those first few weeks. When Hodge invited Korean political parties to send two representatives to meet with him, more than two hundred individuals appeared. By November there were 134 different political parties registered with the American headquartersY Unlike General Gracey in Indochina, Hodge maintained personal lines of communication with all factions, including with the Communist leader Pak Hon-yong. (NIS Survey of Political Parties, tab C JCS 1483, ABC 014 Japan, 13 April, National Archives Record Group 165, entry 421, box 32.)
Southern Korea can best be described as a powder keg ready to explode at the application of a spark," wrote H. Merrill Benninghoff, General Hodge's political adviser, in his first report to Washington one month after the Japanese surrender. Inflation continued. Thousands of Koreans were unemployed, either because they refused to work any longer in Japanese-owned businesses or because of the collapse of many war-driven industries. Refugees from the north swelled the population of the crowded cities. There was a critical shortage of rice and coal. Korean agriculture was a mess and had been so for years. About 3 percent of the population owned two-thirds of the arable land. Farms were small and farming methods primitive. More than half of all farmers were tenants who worked their rented land under conditions that made sharecroppers in the American South appear almost affluent by comparison. (Richard E. Lauterbach, "Hodge's Korea," Virginia Quarterly Review 23, June 1947, p. 359.)
All Korean political groups, Benninghoff concluded, "seem to have the common ideas of seizing Japanese property, ejecting the Japanese from Korea and achieving immediate independence. Beyond this they have few ideas ... Korea is completely ripe for agitators." (Benninghoff to the Secretary of State, 15 September 1945, FRUS, 1945, vol. 6, pp. 1049-50.)
In addition some of the leaders of the Korean former provisional government returned from their long exile in China and the United States. This, they had been assured by their conservative English-speaking informants, would be a great step toward stability in southern Korean politics. The two best-known members of the Korean provisional government were Kim Ku, who led the organization from China, and Syngman Rhee, its representative in the United States. Kim Ku had gained fame for masterminding a 1932
Hodge's difficulties were not just confined to squabbling political factions in Seoul. The military government, having proclaimed itself the sole authority, had somehow to extend its control over the eight sprawling provinces of southern Korea. As had the Government General in Seoul, Japanese officials in the provinces kept Hodge supplied with continuing reports on the disorder and danger to lives and property in the countryside. This disorder and lawlessness were generally attributed to Communist inspiration.
By mid October, Hodge had received his two additional divisions, the 40th Infantry Division and the 6th Infantry Division, from the Philippines. A portion of the 6th Division, having gained experience in the evacuation of the Japanese from the Philippines, took on the task of completing the embarkation of thousands of Japanese from the port of Pusan on the east coast of Korea. The rest of the division, together with the 40th, made their way into the countryside. Military government companies that were supposed to assume responsibility for supervising or implementing all local government functions followed the divisions a few months later.
As their trucks rolled down the dusty roads and byways into towns and villages, the GIs received a warm welcome. Koreans ran from their homes "pointing and waving in the direction of the oncoming Americans. They lined the streets, sometimes three deep, shouting and waving homemade American and Korean flags .... At the entrance to the larger towns archways garnished with fresh flowers were constructed across the road. Across the top were signs of all sizes and descriptions' ‘Welcome Americans,' 'Thank you Allied Force,' or 'America-Korea.' ("History of US. Armed Forces in Korea," pt. 1, ch. 6, p. 15.)
This cordiality did not last. In many areas, American troops and' military government detachments clashed with local People's Commit- tees of the Korean People's Republic that had assumed governmental functions in towns and districts. In some larger towns People's Republic leaders occupied the city hall and other municipal buildings. Local
If many Koreans soon found the American presence in Korea tiresome, many Americans found Korea to be the farthest shore of nowhere. "I thought at the time that Korea was hopeless as a society," recalled a former American engineer officer at Inchon. "It was this curious mixture of more or less 20th century and 15th century. You could smell it forty miles at sea .... The only fertilizer they had was human excrement. Honey wagons were all over the place .... This was obviously a society totally alien to us young Americans. We had no comprehension of it." (Richard A. Ericson interview by Charles Stuart Kennedy, 27 March 1995, "Frontline Diplomacy" oral history collection, Center for the Study of Diplomaey, Washington, D.C.)
The Koreans themselves "were not overly friendly." They appeared to lack the obsequiousness and good manners of the Japanese or the jovial and accommodating approach of those Chinese long accustomed to dealing with foreigners. Instead the Koreans appeared proud, stubborn, puritanical, and contentious, "the most independent, cocky, sassiest people in the world." "The GIs in Japan have got heaven and don't know it," declared one of Hodge's soldiers after a short stay at a rest camp near Tokyo. "The Japanese are friendly. The Koreans are hostile. You try to take a picture of a Korean child and he runs away. You treat the Korean nice and he cheats you." Another soldier declared he would "sign up for ten years" if he could spend them in Japan rather than Korea (Walter Simmons, "GI's Haven't a Kind Word to Say for Korea," Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1945.)
"Here we are not dealing with wealthy U.S.-educated Koreans," observed General Hodge, "but with poorly trained and poorly educated Orientals strongly affected by forty years of Japanese control who stubbornly and fanatically hold to what they like and dislike, who are definitely influenced by direct propaganda and with whom it is almost impossible to reason." (MacArthur to JCS [enclosing letter from Hodge], 2 February 1946, FRUS, 1946: The Far East, vol. 8, p. 629.)
Washington's solution for Korea's problems was to pursue the goal of an international, or at least u.S.-Soviet, trusteeship. The State Department argued that only Soviet agreement to an international trusteeship could guarantee the elimination of the 38th parallel barrier and the reunification of Korea. In December1945, Secretary of State Byrnes journeyed to Moscow for talks with the Soviets on the situation in Eastern Europe and the future of Korea. He carried with him an American proposal for a five-year Great Power trusteeship over Korea.
So at the start of WWII the British had fought the war to protect themselves from the perceived threat of Hitler’s Nazi regime by making a pact with Stalin. Yet, at Churchill's insistence, the British war effort was also designed to preserve their imperial power.
For example, when the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was received in London on the evening of 7 December 1941. Winston Churchill records in his memoirs his feelings of relief and elation that Japan had, by this act, drawn the United States into the war: 'So we had won after all, Britain would live. The Commonwealth and Empire would live. We should not be wiped out. Our history would not end.... Being saturated and satisfied with emotion and sensation I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful. (Winston Churchill, Memories of the Second World War, Vol. 6, War Comes to America, London, 1950, pp.209-10).
On waking up the next morning, his first act was to plan to go to Washington to review with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt 'the whole war plan in the light of reality and new facts as well as the problems of production and distribution'. It was during this visit, recounts Churchill, that Roosevelt 'first raised the Indian problem with me on the usual American lines', meaning on anti-'Empire' lines. He continues: 'I reacted so strongly at such length that he never raised it verbally again.' (Ibid, p.188.).
For eighteen months after Japan's surrender, the Labour government in London struggled to find a political formula for India But in early 1947, as their economic crisis grew deeper, and in fear of be in trapped in an Indian civil war, they threw in the towel. A new vicero was sent to wind up the Raj in just over a year. Lord Mountbatte after persuading the Congress that partition was the best solution, he staged a lightning retreat after six months office in August 1947. Within less than a year, Ceylon, Sri Lank, and Burma had gained independence as well.
The surprising thing was that this retreat from empire did nt become general. It was true that the British also abandoned the mandate in Palestine. But that was mainly because they thought the, further involvement in the Arab-Jewish conflict would wreck the Middle East primacy they were so keen to maintain. Britain, Franc the Netherlands and Belgium reached to rebuild their war-shattered economies, also needed cheap raw materials and tropical commodities that they could resell for the dollars to help pay for their essential imports from the United States. Their colonies now seemed the perfect source: they could be forced to accept payment at below the world price, and in Europe's soft currencies not hard American dollars. Cocoa from West Africa, copper from the Congo, tin and rubber from Malaya, sugar, coffee and oil from the Dutch East Indies would keep the wolf from the door until the metropolitan economies got back into balance. 'Indie verloren, ramspoed geboren' ('If the Indies are lost, ruin will follow') ran the saying in Holland. 'We are on the edge of the abyss,' said the Netherlands finance minister in April 1947, shortly before the Dutch 'police action' to regain control of key economic assets in Java.
The argument for empire was not solely
economic. A crucial part of the British case for staying put in the Middle East
was geostrategic. Soviet aggression in Central Europe, the strategists argued,
could best be deterred by the use of air power - the huge bomber force the
British had deployed against Nazi Germany. Russia's industrial cities were
beyond the range of Britain's own airfields, but from its Middle East bases
they could be bombed at will. The British imperium in the Middle East would
make up for British weakness close to home in Europe. France's post-war leaders
were also convinced that they needed their empire - as much if not more so. After France's defeat in
June 1940, it had been the African colonies that had rallied to 'Free France'.
Any hope of recovering France's pre-war status as one of the world's great
powers seemed to depend on keeping the empire intact, not least as a source of