|The United States and Korea:
In the quarter century before the Japanese take-over, the United States showed a mild
interest in Korea and made some effort to support Korean independence, at least in
principle. In 1882, an American naval officer, Commodore Robert W. Shufeldt, negotiated
was achieved through the reluctant good offices of the Chinese Government. It provided
for exchange of diplomatic representatives, protection of navigation and of United States
citizens, extraterritoriality, and trade under a most-favored nation clause. The treaty could
have given the United States overriding influence in Korea. But when the Emperor sought
an American foreign affairs adviser and Army military advisers, the United States moved
slowly. The matter dragged on for several years. The American representative in Korea
repeatedly appealed to Washington for action. Although requested in 1884, military
advisers reached Korea only in 1888.
The United States treated Korea casually in the late 19th century. Its only significance lay
in the effect it had upon relationships with other major powers in the Far East. According
to one authority, the Korean Government was in the position of an incompetent defective
committed to guardianship. The United States was her only disinterested friend-but had
no intention of becoming her guardian. When the Japanese took over Korea, the United
States made no objection. President Theodore Roosevelt remarked, We cannot possibly
interfere for the Koreans against Japan.
... They could not strike one blow in their own defense. On 29 July 1905, Secretary of War
William H. Taft negotiated a secret agreed memorandum with the Japanese Prime
The United States approved Japan's suzerainty over Korea in return for its pledge not to
interfere with American interests in the Philippine Islands. The Korean Emperor's appeal
to the United States for help under the good offices& clauses of the Shufeldt Treaty fell
on deaf ears.
When World War II began, Korea was regarded by the Allies as a victim of, not a party
to, Japanese aggression. One of the earliest signs that the Allied Powers were concerned
about Korea appeared in a joint statement by the United States, China, and Great Britain
December 1943, after the Cairo Conference, which said "The aforesaid three great powers,
mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course
Korea shall become free and independent."
Sharp differences between north and south had traditionally been part of the Korean
scene. South Koreans considered their northern neighbors crude and culturally backward.
North Koreans viewed southerners as lazy schemers. During the Japanese occupation
Koreans in the north had been much less tractable than those in the south. Differences in
farming accounted for some of the social differences in the two zones. A dry-field type of
farming in the north opposed a rice-culture area in the south to produce marked
variations in points of view. In the south were more small farms and a high tenancy rate,
while in the north larger farms and more owner-farmers prevailed. Those differences the
38th Parallel promised to exacerbate.