Wednesday, September 01, 2010

How do Koreans See American Involvement in Korean War?

Dear Korean,

I have been reading a lot recently about Korean history since the end of the Korean war and yet a lingering question remains. How is the legacy of American involvement in the Korean war seen in Korea? Is America seen as a savior from communism or an imperialist divider who engineered the conflict?

Brian M. W.



Dear Brian,

First, let us make sure we have all the facts of American involvement in Korean War lined up. Korea was liberated from Imperial Japan in 1945, at the conclusion of World War II. Shortly before the end of the war in 1945 (after Nazi Germany surrendered but Imperial Japan was yet to surrender,) United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union -- i.e., the Allies -- held a conference at Potsdam to discuss the world order after the end of the war. Here, United States and Soviet Union agreed to divide Korea into North and South. Once Japan surrendered and left Korea, Korea was divided along the 38th parallel.


The southern part of Korean peninsula was to be governed initially by the U.S., and the northern part by the U.S.S.R. By 1948, both Koreas established their own government, although heavily influenced by the U.S. and U.S.S.R. respectively. In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. Within two days, U.S. influenced the United Nations to issue a resolution in favor of South Korea, and sent military aid to repel the invasion. Eventually, the war ended in a truce, with the Armistice Line dividing the peninsula nearly the same way the 38th parallel did.

The Korean explained this history first because there are competing perspectives in Korea with respect to how to evaluate the American involvement in Korean War. Allow the Korean to stress what should be a fairly obvious point: Korea is a democracy with 48 million people who carry a wide spectrum of opinions, especially with respect to politics. There are many topics where there is no such thing as "Korean opinion in general," and this topic is certainly one of them.

That would be like talking about "What Americans in general think"
based on what goes on at a Glenn Beck rally. (Source)

Korean people's opinion on American involvement in Korean War is mostly divided along the politics of Korea. Korean political landscape is largely divided into two camps -- conservatives and progressives. Keep in mind that these are very broad categories that often becomes meaningless when applied in certain context. For example, one can fairly say that American political landscape is largely divided into conservatives and liberals, but the "conservative" Republican Party often has "liberal" moments like favoring big governments, while the "liberal" Democratic Party often has "conservative" moments like being against gay marriage. But that does not mean that such labels are utterly useless, because they still provide some mental guidance as to how to look at the complex world. Visit any paint store, and you will find hundreds of different colors that may be fairly categorized as "white" -- but that does not mean that the term "white" is useless. You just have to know when to use that term.

Keeping this mind, let us move forward. Conservatives in Korea tend to be older generation of Koreans -- Koreans over age 50 tend to show a pretty clear tendency toward being conservative. Naturally, conservatives in Korea tend to have a clearer memory of Korean War. To the most hardcore conservatives, Kim Il-Sung and the communists of North Korea are the highest form of evil that started the war that ended up killing millions of soldiers and civilians in the process. This enabled Korean conservatives to tolerate -- and sometimes, even support -- the series of dictatorship governments in South Korea, because at least the dictators were not communist. And the far end of the non-communist spectrum was the United States. Because America prevented South Korea from falling into the communist rule, Americans are angels who walk upon the earth, the noble saints who selflessly sacrificed their youth to secure the freedom in Korean Peninsula in the eyes of Korean conservatives.

American soldier hands out chocolate to children. Those children are now in their 60s-70s.
One can pretty easily understand why the older Korean folks would consider Americans
as angels who walk upon the earth. (Source)

Progressives tend to be younger generation of Koreans, who were born into a situation in which the greatest threat to their freedom was not necessarily North Korea, but the military dictatorship of their own country. As Korean progressives formed their political views as they battled the military dictatorships of Korea (which had an implicit backing from the United States,) they naturally developed a view on America that is different from conservatives. Progressives are more likely to point to the fact that U.S. is one of the parties at the Potsdam Conference that divided Korea without any input from Korean people in the first place. They also note that U.S. was acting in its own interest in protecting its market share of the world, and was hardly the angels who walk upon the earth. The most hardcore progressives (some of whom, albeit in rare cases, are real deal communists who receive orders from North Korea) take this logic to the extreme and place the United States as the cardinal culprit of Korean War, claiming that America created the circumstances in which Korean War was all but inevitable.

An interesting flash point between the most hardcore progressives and the most hardcore conservatives happened in 2005, in Incheon. In Freedom Park in Incheon, there is a bronze statue of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, erected in the park in 1957 to commemorate his leadership in the Battle of Incheon that turned the tide of Korean War. In 2005, several hardcore progressive organizations protested and demanded that the city of Incheon destroy the statue, claiming that MacArthur led the efforts in America's colonization of Korea by getting involved in Korean War. (It was later revealed that some of these groups directly received orders from North Korea to engage in this campaign.)

Protesting against the MacArthur statue

Seeing this, the ultra-conservatives groups rallied and physically surrounded the statue to protect it from harm. And plenty of yelling and shoving ensued, as it tends to happen in Korean protests.

The progressives tend to be louder in media and on the Internet, so their view seem more prevalent than reality. But upon actual speaking with people, right now it appears that Korean people are converging into the sensible middle -- while America acted in its own interest in getting involved in Korean War, America's involvement was crucial toward securing freedom in South Korea that laid the foundation for prosperity and democracy.

Regardless of the political landscape, officially Korean government never omits thanking the countries that fought in the war. In the most recent war anniversary -- June 25 -- President Lee Myung-Bak of South Korea sent a message of appreciation that was carried on the Washington Times and the Times of London. Korean War veterans are also invited to visit Korea to attend official appreciation ceremonies every year.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

38 comments:

  1. One day on the subway in Gwangju, a clearly drunk old man yelled at my husband for about ten minutes, but the only word he picked up was "migook". Some time later I mentioned the incident to my coteacher, who is quite young and very progressive, and she suggested that in Gwangju, there is a sizable minority of older people who resent Americans because of the 5.18 Massacre (광주 민주화 운동). While the incident was Korean-on-Korean violence, some people in Gwangju place blame on the Americans, who could have intervened but apparently didn't.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwangju_Democratization_Movement

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  2. The Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul depicts MacArthur as a hero who very nearly reclaimed North Korea for the South, had the "foolish" LBJ not recalled him. Obviously not the only Korean perspective but an interesting one to note.

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  3. I believe it was Truman not LBJ.

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  4. @counthaku and David,
    Indeed, I've heard many older Koreans speak ill of Truman, including saying things like "Truman was jealous of MacArthur's popularity" to "Truman was a coward."

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  5. Off topic, but who else finds the second child with his hands to his back in the "American handing out chocolate" photo adorable? I know he's supposed to be waiting patiently for his turn, but with his back straight and his stomach sticking out, he looks like a Korean ahjussi approving of what he's seeing.

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  6. Yeah, he is so cute!!Caught my eye, too...but the pose reminds me more to Winnie the Pooh, kk.

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  7. Re: "the sensible middle."

    There is nothing sensible about supporting war. As the movie 태국이 nicely illustrates, war is just a bunch of young, frightened shoemakers in blue shirts killing young, frightened shoemakers in red shirts. Why do they go along with this? Because their governments lie to them, tell them, "The boys in the other shirts want to kill you!" But really, all anybody wants to do is make a little bit of money and enjoy time with their families.

    War is a racket. It's certainly not 'sensible.'

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  8. "War is a racket. It's certainly not 'sensible.'"

    Yeah, but when the guys from the North is coming at you with tanks and machine guns... you can't exactly just go up to them and go "Hey, come on guys! Let's not fight! War is stupid anyway, right? ... Right?"

    I'd go with the sensible middle. Even my flaming liberal (we're talking Gwangju-liberal) parents would agree with the sentiment "Sure, US had its own interest in helping South Korea. But how does that detract from the fact that they saved our asses big time?"

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  9. The other day, an Ethiopian woman stopped to ask for directions and asked if I was Korean. Apparently the Korean government provided Ethiopia with lots of technical aid to thank them for their part in the Korean War. Never knew we had a history together.

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  10. Like a good American I grew up believing the lies & half-truths my gov't told me. Now understanding truths such as: bin Laden, Hussein, Chavez, apartheid Israel, Noriega, Marcos, and how the US planted/supports these saviors of democracy I question why and how the K-war began. Even imperialist Japan was a creation of the US that bit us in the ass. http://www.lewrockwell.com/grigg/grigg-w162.html We lied about Iraq & Afghanistan. We lied about Vietnam. We lie about Iran & Venezuela daily whilst undermining their economies through inhumane sanctions. We do nothing about ethnic & racial cleansing in Darfur, Israel, Chechnya. Yet we are holier than them and they 'hate our way of life'. Shouldn't that be 'our way of lies'? So did our gov't actually tell the truth regarding Korea? F the commies yet F the US for being opportunistic and keeping Korea divided. And a big fat double F to China as they've absolutely no interest in seeing Korea unified. And lastly a short, complexed FU to that commie despot of the same description.

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  11. The problem is though is Korean society today what people really want?

    While the post war types much like Britain were happy to merely have survived the war the new generations may not want this at all.

    I keep meeting Koreans who tell me they escaped Korea because of the work ethic there is crazy.

    So while us Europeans do 40ish hours a week and have 28 days holiday a year Koreans do 100 hours a week (and get paid for about 40 of them) have 2 weeks off on vacation and are made to feel guity about taking all of their holidays.


    Do the young Koreans really want lives lived for somebody else? I.e. school->hagwon->school->hagwon

    Then university, then military service then you sell your seoul to Samsung or Hyundai or LG or whatever.


    In that saying Korea is a great outcome today is one hell of an assumption. Maybe Koreans were happier being poorer than subsaharan africa? I keep meeting migrant workers in China who tell me it was better in their home villages.....

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  12. @skimilk- Haha..yeah, I was totally going to post something about that kid with his/her (i'm not sure if it's a boy or little girl) hands behind the back. I thought it was cute too like some mini adult waiting patiently for his/her turn. I also thought the little boy in front taking the chocolate was adorable too.

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  13. @The Chinese Guy,
    "Then university, then military service then you sell your seoul to Samsung or Hyundai or LG or whatever."

    I think most Koreans who get to work for any of these companies would consider themselves blessed, in fact. The phenomenon of school-->hagwon-->school-->hagwon is a direct result of competition for these coveted jobs.

    "In that saying Korea is a great outcome today is one hell of an assumption. Maybe Koreans were happier being poorer than subsaharan africa? I keep meeting migrant workers in China who tell me it was better in their home villages....."

    I seriously hope you're joking here. It's not a mere issue of whether or not Korea is better off industrialized, but if you know anything of the poverty and the hunger suffered by the Korean people after its independence from Japan and at the onset of the Korean War, you would realize how ignorant your comment sounded.

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  14. aprilantipodal,

    What happened in Gwangju, although not an American sin of commission, may have been an American sin of omission.

    At least that's what a lot of older (leftist) Koreans think.

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  15. @Chinese guy:

    After all, to have more freedom and 40 hours of work/ week is a Westerner concept also. So maybe they wouldn't even think about that without less or more influence from (at the first place)the USA...

    And the only thing, with I can explain to myself, that how some older Korean could keep up this work ethic for decades(and much more if I think about their wife and children) so the one reason, I'm able to find with my different cultural background, is that, this life must be still a lot better, at least, promising, than what they experienced before.

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  16. @Skimilk

    China is no stranger to famines, in fact a book was written in 1926 called China land of famine. It detailed a famine in China EVERYOTHER YEAR since 200BC.

    Also China had a nasty 22 year civil war which made the KOrean war look like a skirmish.Before that a 20 year period or warlordism.

    After the war we had the great leap forward famine. People had to eat leaves, grass and each others children to survive.

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  17. @Phie this isn't a great format to debate this btw.

    YOu have to quantify 'better' in that in many western books on philsophy it is described that we are still in cages but in gilded ones.

    The problem I have with Korea and Japan is the horrendous systematic brain washing that goes on in those countries. I am not saying brainwashing does not happen in western economies (turn off the TV for a few weeks and go back and it is incredibly obvious). But the way I see it in Asia is horrible esp Japan and Korea, China has some throw backs to communism where people slept at their desks though.

    Often we joke in the west about corporations, about how corporations are mini totalitarian states and an irony as corporations are the back bones of free societies.

    But the way people are made to feel guilty about taking all of their holidays so they take none or half to show their loyalty the way people work stupidly long hours often unpaid for the extra time. They are made to feel is they are
    betraying their company betraying their country even. Therefore they slave away compete with each other all most cut throat style to attain best jobs to show loyalty.

    The Korean has commented on this many times that there is intense competition for jobs in Korea.

    The question you have to ask yourself is this, who is the net beneficiary of all this competition? It's the corporates, which is why they actively encourage this sort of mentality and brainwashing. Which has turned Korea into a corporate state of yes men and women. The corporates have fingers in the government and pepetuate this Lee Myung Bak is ex hyundai, the next Korean president will be from a big corporation too, and the next and the next. And it is in their interests to pepetuate this forever

    In the western world UK there has been a tendency to do unpaid overtime it keeps on growing, and there is a mentality well everybody does it, so why don't you?


    You want Karoshi?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fj9N52lRTAQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_C_roXUPYbs


    My views are coloured by Ms Choi and Lee in Seoul, in fact many Koreans. I simply quit my job in 2009 and travelled round the world, everybody expressed their envy of this. I said so why don't you do this? They said koreans do not do this. Wendy was in particular vocal about it as she ships everybody's motorbikes home from Korea. That she so wanted to go and explore and felt incredible desire to do so, it was a want her desires her dreams. But she was scared of the consequences of work
    you want to spend your whole life working?

    So when you're dying in bed 70 years old you really going to think, boy I wish I went to work more.

    Momento Mori.

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  18. is there a reason why my comments keep getting deleted?

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  19. Hey TCG, stay on topic. It's bad enough your posts don't make sense.

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  20. JustMega,

    You went a bit far in your denunciation of American interventionism. Look, we've definitely done more than our share of shady stuff and the information regarding such behavior isn't always easily accessible, but your portrayal of things isn't far from flawless. The reasons for going to war in Iraq, a war I vehemently opposed, may have been lie, but that does not change the fact that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator (albeit one initially supported by the US). Marcos was not exactly a boy scout either. And, may I ask what the "truth" is about Bin Laden? Come on, regardless of how they came to be, these really were/are bad people.

    To say that Imperialist Japan was a creation of the US is a failure to recognize that Japan made a choice (as it had on a number of other occasions) to attempt to conquer Asia and the Pacific.

    Why shouldn't Iran be subject to sanctions? Ahmadinejad has consistently used belligerent language regarding the US, Israel and Jews in general and has expressed a desire for nuclear weapons. What about his past or that of the Iranian power-holders would make you think they should be trusted or that they wouldn't be a threat to regional and global peace if they were able to obtain nuclear weaponry.

    There is no "ethnic cleansing" in Israel. What is happening in Palestine is sad, but to call it ethnic cleansing is a gross misuse of the term as well as a misrepresentation of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. First, in Israel, Arabs and Bedouins enjoy a higher standard of living than they would in almost any Islamic nation (Arabs are often the subject to extreme racism by Persians and non-Aran Muslims). Second, the Palestinian Territory exists in it's current form because of Israel's necessity to defend itself. There wouldn't be a Palestinian Territory if Egypt and Lebanon would have respected Israeli existence. Finally, Hamas has proven to be a belligerent, terrorist organization that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and has continuously launched missiles into Israeli territory. A stable, responsible governing force that respected Israel would be respected in return and the Palestinian people would certainly benefit from such leadership. Israel's current government is far more conservative and hawkish than I prefer, but that does not change Hamas' record. Furthermore, when Israel does attack they often disburse notices to civilians in the area in the hopes of avoiding civilian casualties. This is not behavior consistent with ethnic cleansing.

    Now back to Korea. What was the realistic alternative to America keeping Korea divided? A perverted form of Communism for the entire peninsula, which would have been implemented and enforced by ruthless dictators and would have resulted in the South living in the same destitute conditions as those poor people in the North. Could America have handled the situation better? Absolutely. However, that does not change the fact that South Koreans simply could not enjoy their current standard of living without the United States. In addition to the removal of Japan and initial repellence of the Communists, there is no reason to believe that North Korea would not have used their Soviet provided arsenal to reclaim the South if the US were not stationed in South Korea.

    Just as the US has been far from angelic, we have also not been solely evil. To portray us as such is just as ignorant and destructive as is to pretend that there have not been any mistakes made.

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  21. @ TPA
    >"Look, we've definitely done more than our share of shady stuff and the information regarding such behavior isn't always easily accessible, but your portrayal of things isn't far from flawless."

    Thanks. Not far from flawless. I wouldn't go that far but...whatever.

    Your argument that even though the ILLEGAL invasion of Iraq was based on a lie it was okay because Hussein was a brutal dictator. Nice. That's what the world's self professed great democracy is supposed to do. Lie, break laws and invade a sovereign nation, kill a million+ people, then make excuses, lie some more, and arrogantly continue. If it was simply about ridding the world of a brutal dictator then why do we not invade various other nations to remove despots? I don't think the court of world opinion would look down too much on that.

    >"To say that Imperialist Japan was a creation of the US is a failure to recognize that Japan made a choice (as it had on a number of other occasions) to attempt to conquer Asia and the Pacific."

    So I guess Hussein made a choice. After we gave him all the chemical weapons and technology and strategy then instructed him to go to war with Iran. Likewise, Japan made a choice after we supplied them with shipbuilding, ammunition, and other technical know-how then instructed them to wipeout Asia.

    >"Why shouldn't Iran be subject to sanctions?"

    Because sanctions do NOT work. It punishes the average citizen. It didn't work in Iraq, didn't work in Cuba, nor Somalia, and it doesn't work in North Korea. Have/Do you see regime change in any of these?

    Good job toeing that line TPA. Google '7 Jewish Americans'. They would be proud of your rote parroting of what they want you and the rest of America to believe.

    The US currently has over 250+ bases worldwide. We are opportunistic in that we kept Korea divided so that we have a reason to be on the peninsula.

    You may be correct in that it's the lessor of two evils(time will tell). Still, does that make it right?

    Do you speak or understand Farsi? How do you know what Ahmedinajad said? Just because you heard them say it on TV? Just like they told us yellow cake uranium and WMD? Just like they told us Vietnam attacked our PT boat?

    Try not to be so quick to believe what the MSM tells you. Try going and seeing the situation for yourself. If not, then befriend people who have. 99% of Americans don't have clue one about Palestine and most other events due to the fact that the MSM flat out spews lies.

    American interventionism is so often similar to wannabe firefighters who start fires except the motive is sinister. Bin Laden was a CIA asset created by our gov't. As for Japan, read the link I posted earlier. These may not be evidence in and of themselves but when there are a series of them one should begin to see a pattern. Unless one is dense. Do ten or even a hundred accusations make any true? No, but again, a pattern.

    What makes you think that any nation with nukes is trustworthy? Since nukes do exist and several nations have them wouldn't it be prudent for any nation without them to have them also to ward off an attack? If you lived in an unsafe neighborhood where everyone carried a weapon would you not want to make sure that you are prepared to defend yourself? Sure, I would move if I had the means but nations cannot just up and move.

    Maybe someday you will understand that we've gone from what should be a government that is possibly the closest thing to perfection to a hybrid fascist, communist, socialist, despotic one. Don't be like a frog in a pot, boiled without even knowing it. I know what I've stated won't change anyones opinion or beliefs. Just be open minded and look for the truth as you would gold.

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  22. Sorry folks, the new spam filter on Blogger is rather hyperactive.

    Also, please stop discussing out of topic matters. The topic here is about America's involvement in Korean War.

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  23. This will be my last off-topic comment.

    @The Chinese guy:

    It's unnecessary to tell me about how much they are work. My love is working 07:30-22:00 six days a week. And there is no Sunday without a phone call. There was a national holiday on Sunday, he got 60 missed calls from his boss by the evening. I can't express with words, what I feel those times.

    On the other hand, an average Hungarian couldn't even hope to make more money, than the quarter of what my fiance makes. No matter how much they do overtime, which company they choose, how much (decades!) work experience they have. But still, prices of living reflect the welfare of the EU (oh, what a funny sentence) so some would be okay with my love's job for a while.

    So I guess, an older Korean, who felt some effects or aftermath of war and starving and etc., was happy to have the opportunity to change their life. Today, in reality, they don't need to work so much...but it is a whole other issue. In their society, youth don't make a revolution of that kind which may offend the elderly. So things gonna change pretty slowly...

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  24. Just Mega,

    Despite my strong desire to do otherwise, I will respect The Korean's request (after all, it his blog) and I will only address the Korean War with the small exception of recommending that your sources for information go beyond the first page of a "Google Search".

    We did not divide Korea for the sole purpose of establishing military bases. As WWII came to a close there were very few options as to what the US should do with Korea given the Soviets desire to exert control over the peninsula. The United States could have: A- Just handed the entire peninsula over to the USSR, B- Let things just play out (which would have essentially been the same as Option A), Option C- do what they did or Option D- Fight until the entire peninsula was unified under the government of our choice. Is the best of these admittedly undesirable options not completely apparent?

    It is completely fair and morally acceptable for any nation to act in their self-interest as long as that self-interest does not negatively impact an innocent nation. In many cases throughout history, we have simply acted in our best interest at the detriment of others. In the case of Korea, our self-interest (not allowing the USSR an unchecked foothold on the Asian continent) was, in the big picture, extremely beneficial to the people south of the 38th parallel. Yes, this was sometimes accomplished through unseemly methods that I disagree with, but that doesn't change the fact that the 50 million citizens of South Korea live a far better life than they would have without the US. You said that I "may be correct in that it's the lessor of two evils(time will tell). Still, does that make it right?" 60 years later time has told us that North Korea is one of the worst places that a human being can live in 2010 and that South Korea is one of the best in Asia. BumFromKorea probably said it better than anyone in this discussion, "

    "War is a racket. It's certainly not 'sensible.'"

    Yeah, but when the guys from the North is coming at you with tanks and machine guns... you can't exactly just go up to them and go "Hey, come on guys! Let's not fight! War is stupid anyway, right? ... Right?"

    I'd go with the sensible middle. Even my flaming liberal (we're talking Gwangju-liberal) parents would agree with the sentiment "Sure, US had its own interest in helping South Korea. But how does that detract from the fact that they saved our asses big time?"

    As far as whether or not it was right, it was absolutely right to get involved in keeping the Soviets and North Korean's perversion of communism out of the South. Once that was accomplished we should have handled things differently and more democratically. But again, on the topic of American involvement in the Korean War, your complete and utter demonization of the United States is a failure to recognize the complexities and harsh realities of the situation.

    You asked us to "search for the truth like it was gold". It is blindingly obvious that you have not done that. Searching for the truth is not just seeking, or Googling, a position diametrically opposed to the one you disagree with. It's about finding various legitimate sources of information in order to find out what really happened. You can find an "article" for just about any crazy theory imaginable. And this often leads somebody down a slippery slope of misinformation. Finding the truth requires reason and the skills to weed out the mass-produced B.S. as well as the crack-pot conspiracy theories.

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  25. I may be late to the party but I think the Korean got two dichotomous view of legacy of American involvement in the Korean War just right. I suspect depending on one’s age, most read Koreans will have some mixture of both. I suspect that most Koreans are grateful to individuals involved in the war, i.e. GI’s but wishes the decision maker at that time weren’t so casual as to draw a line without much thought. If you think about that decision and creation of divided Germany and Korea caused huge legacy of problems that has not yet resolved in Korea.

    In a tangent, I wished the decision maker, i.e. FDR or whoever was more forceful in keeping Soviets at bay, instead of giving them equal space at the table during end of WWII.

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  26. I simply don't buy the line that the Americans somehow "saved" South Korea from the North. I think Bruce Cumings' opinion on what would have happened if the Americans would have left Korea alone (as the Soviets for the most part did) is absolutely correct.

    Korea would have gone through a difficult and often violent period of internal cleansing and development - just like China. But also just like China, it would have emerged a couple decades later as a modern, industrialized country like it is today. The regime would have moderated and opened up as all the Asian socialist countries outside of the DPRK (China, Vietnam, Laos) have. Vietnam in particular is a fascinating example. The Americans eventually gave up on that country and allowed it to develop on its own - and after a period of orthodox socialism it is now a regional American ally. I am convinced Korea would have turned out exactly the same, and I think arguments that appeal to the "specialness/uniqueness" of Korea are laughable jingoistic mumbo-jumbo.

    Today, the streets of Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing are virtually identical. If the Americans would have left Korea alone, the three cities would still look and feel exactly the same as they do today. The only different thing is that Pyongyang would be a modern city as well, instead of the Confucian/Stalinist hybrid guerrilla garrison it is today.

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  27. The problem with trying to think about how Korea would have developed without US involvement is that it could have very well changed a lot of what happened during the cold war with the major players of China, the US and USSR. Things would be different both internally and between nations. Also with the Korean War being so early of a development with respect to the Cold War, it makes it even harder to determine what would have happened. Could have ended up more peacefully or could have ended up with nuclear war.

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  28. Great answer to the question! But I think that the so called "progressives" are more prominent than you think in korea. For example during the "beef protest" several years back, I couldn't believe that many young, educated koreans (my cousin included) though that it was a conspiracy by the US??? I read a article and a expert said that the current hard line policy toward DPK don't work?

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  29. The great fallacy of this argument is that people expect that the USSR or China would of just "let Korea be".

    There are a few universal rules about the world, one being that all power vacuums will be filled. When a power vacuum is created several opportunistic powers will attempt to fill that power vacuum and dictate the outcome for those involved. This isn't "American Imperialism" this is straight how power works, in world affairs, in local city's and even in tribes who live in the middle of an jungle.

    After WWII the Allies forced Japan to give up all its imperial gains, one of which being the colonization of Korea. The newly free Korea had no significant government and the Korean people had no power. A power vacuum existed and therefor must be filled. The Russia and even China desired to fill this power vacuum, in fact Russia desired to fill ~all~ post war power vacuums. They desired to create a Russian empire that would include most if not all of Asia and Europe. This empire was known as the USSR. If anyone doubts this, go ask a Ukrainian how they feel about Russia / USSR.

    So you see, there is nothing the US, or anyone could of done to stop what happened. If the USA would of done ~nothing~, then there would only be Korea under the leadership of the very same KJI. His father desired to rule all of Korea and started the Korea war. The USA desired all of Korea as a democratic nation, Russia desired all of Korea as a communistic / dictatorship nation under their protection. The result was the dividing of the Korean peninsula into two camps. Russia actually got the better of the deal since North Korea had most of the industrial assets at that time.

    The person who actually "started" the war was neither Russian nor American. Kim Il Sung petitioned the Russians to allow him to reunify the country, they said no multiple times. The final time he convinced them his plan of sudden invasion would defeat the "weak" military of the south and unify the nation before the Americans could establish a defense. Russia gave the green light and *poof* we have the Korean war. His strategy almost worked.

    The Americans are not angels, but neither are they imperialists. The democratic election system makes being an imperialist very difficult due to political turmoil and constant leadership change overs happening. Trumen stopped McArther because he didn't want to start WWIII, and attempting an invasion of China would definitely cause that. The world was a different place back then and you can't look / judge it from the eyeglass's of modern times.

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  30. Oh, please.

    Do you really believe the U.S. had any real interest in promoting "democracy" during the Cold War (or even now)? South Korea did not become "democratic" in the Western sense since until the 1990s. Most American client states around the world were military dictatorships during the Cold War. So let's stop this fallacy that the U.S. was on some sort of magnificent democratic crusade - it was on an anti-any sort of alternative to free-market extremism crusade, and that's it.

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  31. The US desired to prevent communistic states from forming, especially any under the control of the USSR or China. Democracy was the preferred method but otherwise unnecessary. The goal is to prevent Russian / Chinese domination, the best way to do this is through the spread of democracy. No democratic government would allow itself to be dissolved into a communistic government, not willingly anyway.

    The problem with democracy is that you can't force people to care enough about their country or to feel empowered enough to follow through with it. The desire for democracy must come from within a nations own people not from an external source. Otherwise you just end up with an autocracy where the only people care to vote are the ones educated enough and affluent enough to care. In the end, its the people who must create the democratic nation not some foreign country. This is a lesson the USA is learning again over in the middle-east.

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  32. Thank you for this post, and your blog overall. Sadly I know close to nothing about Korean history and politics, but I'm learning a lot from your blog and I find it very educational, informative, and well written. I'm becoming addicted to reading all of your older posts!

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  33. First off, TPA, hats off to you for addressing the kool aid theories of JustMega (and just a little note: Iraq breached UN Resolution 1441 for years leading up to the 2003 invasion - this arguably provides the legal justification for military action against Iraq).
    Though I would not call myself Progressive or American, you've done this in a remarkably balanced manner.

    It's amazing how far people will stoop to justify their hatred for the U.S., which, as you've pointed out, and as history shows, is far from perfect. Still, a look at the Soviet gulags, and the atrocities caused by the Chinese Communists against their own people should be sufficient for an open-minded, unbiased person to determine that U.S. influence was generally beneficial (see also Taiwan).

    Trudeau89: Are you Canadian? Just a guess.
    You may not buy the line that the U.S. helped South Korea's progress, and you're entitled to that.
    Of course, you'd be wrong, but you're entitled to that opinion nonetheless.

    Your example of Beijing/Seoul/Tokyo is complete bunk, because the vast majority of the Chinese populace continues to live in the rural areas, which continue to be essentially peasant societies from the last century.
    By focusing only on Beijing, you will not get the complete picture.
    Take a look at China outside of the urban centres, and you will see a very backward country.

    I say this as a Chinese Canadian myself.

    Everything that the U.S did in the postwar era must be interpreted through the lens of the Cold War.
    Sure, they weren't angels, and sure, they acted in their own best interests (what country doesn't?), but when you look at it from the perspective of the democratic/capitalist West, it was the lesser evil to support dictatorships that resisted Communism (the so-called Domino Theory).

    In hindsight, a lot of bad things happened that may not even have been necessary.
    However, hindsight is always 20/20, and the leaders of the West simply didn't have that benefit at the time.

    AKK, thanks for this blog - I've always admired the way Koreans have passionately held their ground against Japanese expansionism and whitewashing.

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  34. "Still, a look at the Soviet gulags, and the atrocities caused by the Chinese Communists against their own people should be sufficient for an open-minded, unbiased person to determine that U.S. influence was generally beneficial (see also Taiwan)."

    Uhh, no, it should be sufficient for an open-minded, unbiased person to determine that U.S. influence is one evil among many. Not as bad as Soviets/PRC != benefit. Your logic is poor.

    "Sure, they weren't angels, and sure, they acted in their own best interests (what country doesn't?), but when you look at it from the perspective of the democratic/capitalist West, it was the lesser evil"

    So why is your conclusion that we should then support the lesser evil instead of criticizing it, especially when that critical voice is so often absent from mainstream political discourse? Hardly anyone in the mainstream talks about the CIA's removal of Mossadegh, its support of brutal dictatorships in Latin America (we'll support anyone as long as they're not communist, and so on. What you're suggesting is that we go back to the status quo of ignoring these things because the US is relatively better. You're suggesting that we ignore the very real suffering and oppression that the US is guilty of causing in the last 60+ years. So you'll have to pardon me if I say: fuck you. I don't want to hear your tired old defense of US atrocities; it's the same old crap I can hear from every other American I meet on the street. Please don't post it on the Internet.

    I don't even know why you're posting about this, you're not American, I guarantee you I know far more about this subject than you do.

    "to support dictatorships that resisted Communism (the so-called Domino Theory)."

    Really, you're supporting that old dinosaur of a theory? If domino theory is true, then why didn't Thailand and Indonesia succumb to communism? There was certainly plenty of unrest against their military dictatorships. Maybe, just maybe, domino theory is a simplified and childish way of looking at things, and there are more factors causing a country to become communist than the bare fact that its neighbors are communist.

    "However, hindsight is always 20/20, and the leaders of the West simply didn't have that benefit at the time."

    So what? That doesn't mean we need to give them a pass on their crimes. If anything, we need to make our criticism even louder, so people don't try to defend their actions (like you just did) or even repeat their mistakes.

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  35. I think the progressives also have that view because Koreans were eager to get rid of the pro-japanese chin-il-pas and the US actually did not want to get rid of them. The chin-il-pas ended up having a lot of power in Korean politics back then and today... a lot of people blame the US for turning a blind eye to that, but I bet the US did not care about anything regarding pro-japanese or whatever.

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  36. Surprised no one picked up on this point:

    "United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union -- i.e., the Allies -- held a conference at Potsdam to discuss the world order after the end of the war. Here, United States and Soviet Union agreed to divide Korea into North and South..."

    The Soviet Union had an ambiguous policy towards Korea. Unlike in Germany or Austria, it was the United States that unilaterally took the decision to divide Korea under MacArthur's General Order No. 1. It wasn't an agreement hammered out at Potsdam (the "bad-tempered meeting"). The Soviets simply accepted a fait accompli. There wasn't a "secret treaty" between the two powers either, you can Han'guksa Vol. 17 (published by Han'gilsa) for a pretty thorough debunking of that theory.

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  37. I served in the US Army from 1997 to 2005. Many people may feel that US soldier sign up because they are brainwashed or lied to. That's just not the truth in all cases. I know my government has done some underhanded things, but I also know that this world would be a very different place if it were not for the millions of American soldiers that have died around the world since our nation began (roughly 4.3 million - about the entire population of Chicago).

    I am a true patriot who believes that all people around the world should have the right to govern themselves, and live with the benefits and consequences. I may not always agree with my government (and I seldom do these days it seems), but I wish the Korean people nothing but happiness and prosperity. Economy and politics aside, stip away all the BS, and when we get right down to the bottom of it, I and many I know only want to see the North fall so that Korea can be a unified and self-governed nation.

    It's a fact - money rules the world, but when those benefits are combined with moral benefits, then everyone wins. Again, maybe our government had selfish aims, but do not think that some in the government, and most of our people, care only about money. We wouldn't voluntarily sign up to be shot at if we felt otherwise...

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    Replies
    1. I wasn't born in American, but in small nation in Asia, Nepal. Today, I am an American citizen. I have been living here for a long time. I admire people like you and have the same view and perspective as yours. I have traveled to many countries and lived in many places, but never found the land like the US. We want to make this nation great and be ready to die for the good cause whether it is ours or Koreans or anybody else in the world. Long live the US and its allies.
      Ray Chettri
      US

      Delete

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