Sunday, November 27, 2005

September 24, 1945 archives:
The Korean Way

I think I should comment on a few of these archives (which up to now I have kept "as is," except for a few underlined key points). Key lines here are that the Americans thought the Koreans were "the same breed of cat as the Japanese," and that the American forces mistakenly kept the Japanese in power.

Especially, note also that the infamous words "in due course" was mistranslated as "in a few days."

Anyway, this and the other TIME archives from the same few weeks show that Korea was a little more than an afterthought, as many today assume, and that the problems that arose came from errors, not neglect.

International: The Korean Way

"Government meetings at Seoul [capital of Korea] were held, in two sections. The first was composed of the 'help discuss' mandarins. They talked for hours and days on a stretch. They plumbed the innards of every problem. They reviewed every, plan proposed for anything. Then they arose and went off. . . .

"After the 'help discuss' mandarins had departed, the 'help decide' mandarins took over. They paid little attention to what the research had been. Each offered a decision . . . and at length a set of these were adopted. . . . It wasn't long after [that] the Japanese took over Korea."

Last year, New York Timesman Arthur Krock selected this picture of Korean administration at the turn of the century as an appropriate brick to throw (by way of parable) at Washington's bureaucracy. Last week the lack of connection between U.S. "help discuss" and "help decide" mandarins was painfully apparent in Korea.

Washington's State, War and Navy Coordinating Committee (SWINCC) had delved for months into the Korean problem, bristling with thorny questions of U.S.-Russian-Chinese relations. When surrender came, SWINCC hastily wrote a tentative directive, sent the State Department's Merrell Benninghoff to Korea to act as political adviser to U.S. occupation forces. Benninghoff got as far as Okinawa, was shunted off to Japan.

Man of Decision. Meanwhile, Lieut. General John R. Hodge, unbriefed on Korea, landed there. The directive he had not seen told him to replace Japanese officials immediately. Hodge retained the Japs, including the notorious General Nobuyuki Abe, ex-Governor of Korea, whom he thanked publicly for making the U.S. occupation "simple and easy." Hodge also kept the Japanese police, holding that Koreans were "too excited" to perform police duty and that they were "the same breed of cat as the Japanese." Koreans roared and rioted (Japanese soldiers machine-gunned one throng, killed two, wounded ten.)

Even before Hodge arrived they had been in a ferment. U.S. planes had dropped leaflets with Korean translations of the Cairo declaration promising Korea independence "in due course." The Korean translation of "in due course" meant "in a few days."

After 35 years of complete Japanese domination, Koreans were falling over themselves with pent-up political activity. One small boat met the U.S. convoy 20 miles offshore. In it was a Korean who nominated himself for Finance Minister.

From Seoul, LIFE Photographer George Silk cabled: "I am writing this during a party in Korea's leading geisha house. The party is the third in a succession of 51 such parties. In the last few weeks 51 Korean political organizations have mushroomed and each tried to reach American military authorities. Failing, they are entertaining the U.S. press. Some of the new parties' names: Republican, Democratic, Communist, New Korea, Party for the Control of Law and Order, and Party for Cooperation with the Party for the Control of Law and Order."

The U.S. zone in Korea ran up to the 38th parallel. From the Russian zone north of there came reports that Soviet influence was being consolidated by Communists, picked from the thousands of Koreans who had fought in the Red Army. Moscow described the Communists as busily organizing meetings, electing town councils.

In Seoul, General Hodge heard from General MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo (which had heard from Washington). Hodge changed his policy, dismissed Abe and other high Jap Army officials.

U.S. prestige in Korea—and elsewhere—had suffered. Said the N.Y. Times: "A major error of political strategy and principle."

1 comment:

  1. The decision to occupy Korea, the organization of the occupation troops, and a few of the early errors are discussed quite thoroughly here. A quick example:

    "Moreover, there were no Korean linguists... No Americans on Okinawa could speak Korean. A search of the island finally turned up "six paroled Korean prisoners of war, who were accordingly attached to the XXIV Corps."

    Keep posting these, by the way! They make for fascinating reading.


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