[KS] How 38th Parallel became demarcation line between South and North Korea in 1945?

Katsiaficas, George katsiaficasg at wit.edu
Sun Jun 26 14:01:57 EDT 2011

Dear Kwang On,

Thanks for yet another intereting email. To understand the apprently arbitrary division of Korea at the 38th Parallel, one might also consider the division of Vietnam, for the four allies--the US, the UK, the USSR and China--each got half of Vietnam or Korea in 1945. At the same moment that the US and USSR divided Korea to accept the ceremonial swords of Japanese commanders, China and the UK divided Vietnam at the 16th Parallel so each of the Big Four would get something. This seemingly insignificant piece of information becomes important when we remember that after the 1954 defeat of France by the Viet Minh, Vietnam was subsequently divided at the 17th Parallel, no longer at the 16th, by the Geneva Agreement. Clearly the new line was drawn further to the north so that Hue, the country's third largest city and old imperial capital, would fall within the French/US zone of control.

Again, US policymakers were surprised by communist "generosity," which might alternatively be interpreted as a desire to avoid further war and trust among former allies. 

George Katsiaficas

-----Ursprüngliche Nachricht-----
Von: Kwang On Yoo [mailto:lovehankook at gmail.com]
Gesendet: So 26.06.2011 09:28
An: afostercarter at aol.com
Betreff: How 38th Parallel became demarcation line between South and North Korea in 1945?

*We had not selected the 38th parallel as a permanent boundary; we had
simply proposed it to facilitate the acceptance of the Japanese surrender,
American in South, Russian in North. It was designed to serve temporary
military expediency. Division along the parallel made no sense economically
or geographically as far as Korea itself was concerned.* - Dean Rusk

Sixty-one years ago on Sunday, June 25th, 1950, North Korean Armed Forces
crossed over the 38th parallel, starting the bloody Korean war which lasted
for more than three years. In the course of the war, each side crossed this
artificial line no less than four times.

This is how the infamous 38th parallel became the demarcation line between
South and North Korea in 1945; Korea's almost accidental, yet fateful,
partition. A temporary line of convenience to stop the Red Army from
occupying the whole peninsula.

Adhering to the Postdam Declaration of July 28, 1945, only after Japanese
surrender was warranted and the tide of the war definitely turned towards
the Allied favor, the Soviet Union declared war upon Japan the first week of
1945 and joined the United States, the United Kingdom and China in support
of *"independence of Korea, in due course".*

During the hectic days of early August, 1945, the necessity of a quick
decision on the division of responsibility for accepting the surrender of
Japanese forces in Korea became pressing. While the Japanese were
negotiating surrender with the United States, the Russian army prepared to
invade Korea. The situation called for a immediate action. Just three days
before Japan's August 15th surrender, Russian troops entered Korea. The
nearest American forces were in Okinawa, 1.500 km away and didn't arrive in
Incheon until September 8th!

At the time, there were 117,000 Japanese troops in North Korea and 230,000
in South Korea .(Speculating that the U.S. Forces would invade Korea through
Jeju island Japanese amassed two army divisions in the island, three
divisions in the
southern provinces during the early 1945.)

Dean Rusk, the chief architect responsible for drawing the line, revealed
his almost comedic decision in his 1990 memoir, "As I Saw It":

*"One episode had greater significance than we realized at the time. Widely
scattered Japanese forces had to surrender, and the State and War Department
differed over where and when American forces should accept their surrender.
The State Department wanted us to accept the surrender as far north on the
mainland of China as possible, including key points in Manchuria. But the
U.S. Army, concerned about the future, did not want responsibility for areas
where it had no or few forces. In fact, the Army did not want to go onto the
mainland at all.
*We finally reached a compromise that would keep at least some U.S. forces
on the Asian mainland, a sort of toehold on the Korean peninsular for
symbolic purpose. During a SWINK (State/War/Navy) Coordinating Committee
meeting on August 14, 1945 (August 15, Korean Time) the same day of the
Japanese surrender, Colonel Charles Bonesteel (who later served in Korea
from 1966-1969 as  Commanding General of the U.S. Forces in Korea) and I
(Dean Rusk was also a Army Colonel at the time) retired to adjacent room
late at night and studied intently a map of the Korean peninsular. Working
in haste and under great pressure, we had a formidable task: **to pick a
zone for the American occupation. **Neither Tic (Bonesteel's nickname since
his West Point days) nor I was a Korean expert, but it seemed to us that
Seoul, the capital, should be in the American sector. We also know that the
U.S. Army opposed an extensive area of occupation. Using a **National
Geographic map**, we looked just north of Seoul for a convenient dividing
line but could not find a natural geographic line. We saw instead the 38th
parallel and decided to recommend that.*

*SWANK accepted it without too much haggling, and surprisingly, so did the
Soviets. I had thought they might insist on a line farther south in view of
our respective military position. No one present at our meeting, two young
American colonels, was aware that at the turn of the century the Russian and
Japanese had discussed spheres of influence in Korea divided along **the
38th Parallel***. Had we known that, we almost surely would have chosen
another line of demarcation. Remembering those earlier discussions, the
Russians might have interpreted our action **as acknowledgment their sphere
of influence in Korea, divided along the 38th parallel. **Any future talk
about the agreed-upon reunification of Korea would be seen as mere show. But
we were ignorant of all this, and SWINK'S choice of the 38th parallel,
recommended by two tired colonels working late at night, proved fateful.*"

Surprisingly such a venerable Encyclopædia Britannica has described the same
line we are discussing as follows,
"The line was chosen by U.S. military
the Potsdam
1945) near the end of World
War II <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/648813/World-War-II>- -
How wrong they are!

*By August 14, the SWINK recommendation had been approved by the U.S. Joint
Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the State Department and, finally, by President
Truman. The next day Truman sent a cable of a draft for the General Order
No.1, proposing to Stalin that the 38th Parallel be accepted as the
demarcation line and to the amazement of SWINK, Stalin wired back the next
day. "I have nothing against the substance of the Order." Those at SWINK
were amazed because Stalin could have waited a day or two and told Truman
that* the Soviet forces were well on their way to disarm all Japanese forces
on the Korean peninsular and hence no need for the U.S. to be concern about
the Japanese in Korea any more. Washington would have been dismayed but
there was nothing Americans could have done, the nearest American forces was
in Okinawa!*

On August 16th, orders were issued to General MacArthur containing detailed
instructions on procedures and arrangements for receiving the surrender.
Predictably, the U.S. and Soviet zones hardened into separate regimes and
proclaimed in 1948, the Republic of Korea (ROK) south of the 38th Parallel
and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the north.

Incredibly, the U.S. government never bothered to inform the Korean
Provisional Government, in exile in China, the partition before or after the
fact. Korea was respected that much.

The fateful partition had remained until the North Korea invaded South Korea
across the line 61 years ago today.

 Map: http://ko.wikipedia.org/wiki/%ED%8C%8C%EC%9D%BC:Korean_dmz_map.png

* *Rusk was referring to following event but it was the 39th Parallel, not
the 38th*: *In 1903, Russia went on to propose among others that the
territory of Korea north of the 39th parallel be declared a neutral zone
into which neither country would be permitted to introduce troops. The
tortuous negotiations went on through several sessions but no ground for
compromise could be found. Having failed to achieve its purpose through
diplomatic mean, Japan carried out a surprise attack on the Russian
installations at Port Arthur. The rivalry between the two powers now was to
be resolved by war, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.*


Kwang-On Yoo

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