Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Ann E. Liston
Although her independence was repeatedly affirmed by the powers in every wartime conference, Korea became a nation divided at the 38th parallel and was put under military rule when the Pacific War ended in 1945. While the northern side of the line was occupied by the Soviet Union, the southern half was governed by the United States. Both military regimes lasted for three years. In the first year, the American Military Government (AMG) in Korea suffered from a lack of up-date information about Korea. They knew little about Korean history, culture, people, language, etc. More important than that, the Americans were unwilling to learn about Korea. Instead, they treated the people just like a conquered enemy. This behavior resulted in complete socio-political chaos in the southern zone. However, the AMG was not able to solve the Korean problem, not only because of a lack of communication between the AMG and Washington, but also because of the absence of a concrete American policy toward Korea. The White House saw Korea as no more than a land where 20,000,000 people lived, and the State Department felt that Korea was one of the minor problems which it would get around to “in due course.” Accordingly, trusteeship was the only policy developed to deal with Korea. However, the failure of the First Session of the U.S. - U.S.S.R. Joint Commission in May 1946, which was designed to carry out the Moscow Agreement (Korean trusteeship), accelerated the political turbulence in the U.S. zone. In the second year, receiving instructions from Washington, the AMG formed the Interim Legislative Assembly in December 1946. In forming the Assembly, the AMG gave more political opportunity to the middle-of-the-roaders than either the extreme rightists or leftists. However, it was obvious that the policy would not work well without the participation of the powerful rightists. Moreover, when the Second Session of the U.S. - U.S.S.R. Joint Commission proved to be failure again in August, 1947, establishment of a separate government in South Korea was openly discussed by the rightists. Thus, although the formation of the Assembly was a big step toward Korean independence, unification of Korea became harder than ever. In the third year, realizing that the compromise with Russia would make it impossible to carry out the Moscow Agreement, America took the Korean question to the United Nations. And in May, 1948, elections were held only in South Korea under the UN’s supervision. An election in North Korea was rejected by the Soviet Union. The UN recognized the South Korean Government as the only legitimate government in the peninsula although the Russians claimed otherwise. Then part of the American troops withdrew from Korea while the Red Army completed its withdrawal by the end of 1948. Thus, the AMG failed in forming a unified government for Korea. The reasons for the failure can be summarized: first, being suspicious of the Russians, President Harry S. Truman blindly followed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s idea of a Korean trusteeship, and because of Korea’s remoteness from the military strategy of America, the Truman Administration paid little attention to the Korean problem. Second, the lack of instructions from Washington and absence of concrete American policy toward Korea were other reasons for the AMG’s failure. Third, in talking with the Russians, the Americans should have found realistic methods rather than a moralistic or idealistic approach.
Copyright 1983 Sam Sup Choi
Choi, Sam Sup, "The American Military Government in Korea 1945-1948 : The Political Vortex" (1983). Master's Theses. 1875.