Division of Korea
Story told by
Young Suh Kim, Professor of Physics Emeritus, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA. Home page.
Korea used to be, and I still believe, is one country. Do you know
how the country was divided into two? I wrote many articles on this
issue, and I decided to make a webpage based on those articles.
(the first version made in 1994, webpaged in 2013, and updated in 2022.)
1. Where were you on August 15 (1945)?
- I spent the first eleven years (1935-46) of my life in a
farming/fishing village called Sorae. Click here to see
what is so special about Sorae.
- This village is near a beautiful beach called Kupmipo, and there
were many American houses, including the summer villa belonging
to the family of Horace Underwood.
Underwood came to Korea from the United States in 1885 as the first
Presbyterian missionary to Korea. You may
click here for a story told by his grandson.
During the Pacific War (1941-45), Americans were not allowed to come back to the beach, and all the houses were empty. What happed to the furniture and appliances? Nothing happened for three years until Japanese authorities auctioned them off in 1945, and started building their military bunkers. They thought Americans would send their marines to the beach they are familiar with.
The Koreans in Sorae were convinced that Americans would come back, and this is the reason why those villagers did not touch anything in those American houses. Toward the end of 1944, my maternal grandmother invited me to her room and showed me a photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She told me that Roosevelt would be the ruler of Korea within a year.
- My grandmother told me I should go to the United States to study,
not to Tokyo. Ten years later, in 1954, I became a freshman at the
Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh.
She was right there, but she was only partially correct in saying that
Roosevelt would be the ruler of Korea.
- Soon after August 15 (1945), Soviet soldiers came to my part of Korea.
I heard that those soldiers in Pyongyang were taking watches from Korean
men, and they were doing something to Korean women. I was not old
enough to understand what those soldier were doing to women.
In October of 1945, the Red Army Command in Pyongyang sent ten trucks looking like this to our village and demanded grains.
Our villagers were used to Japanese taking away grains, and but they did using a systematic method. Soviets were in their "Dawai" (give me everything immediately) style. Our village farmers gave them the cheapest and about-to-trash grains. Those Soviet grain collectors did not know much about grains. All they had to do was to load their trucks whatever they could get.
- from the North Korean propaganda literature.
Americans sent 8,000 of those GMC trucks to Europe during the World
War II. After Germany's surrender in May of 1945, all of these trucks
were given to Russians for their possible operation against Japan.
- In January of 1946, we heard a disturbing news that Korea would be
governed by a joint US-USSR trusteeship (called Shintak Tongchi).
In February, we heard that there would be a mail exchange program
between the North and South. This was a bad news to us. Why do
we need mail exchanges in the same country? This was the first
sign that the country was divided.
- On March 1 (1946), we had a big celebration of the 3.1 Independence
day, but people were not happy. On March 5, the North Korean
Provisional Council of People announced the land reform. All
farming lands would be confiscated, and those lands would go to
those farmers working on them.
- On May 1, they had a big Mayday celebration. This a holiday
for factory workers, and there were not many those workers
in Korea because there were not many factories.
The only manual workers were kitchen workers in noodle houses. Indeed,
those noodle workers became the first group of communists, and
they led the Mayday celebration.
- On May 12, 1946, my family left the Sorae village and came to Seoul
on May 15. The great news in Seoul at that time was the arrest
warrant issued against Park Hun-Young for printing money illegally.
I was confused. How could communists could be so active in the
- Since then, I have been continuing my research on how Korea was
divided and how the country can be re-unified.
- In spite of a not-so-good impression of Soviet combat troops who came to
Korea in 1945, I become very happy when I meet Russian soldiers these
days. You may be intereted in the following webpages.
- My photos with Russian soldiers
- My photos with Russian ladies in Russia and in many other countries.
I also note that Russians suffered more than Koreans during the World War II, which they call the "Great Patriotic War."
- My photos with Russian soldiers in Russia.
2. American Explanation of the 38th Parallel
- On August 6, 1945, one American B-29 bomber dropped the first
nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, and the second bomb on Nagasaki three
days later. Soviet authorities realized the war was going to end
end shortly, and declared war against Japan on August 9. The
Soviet army then launched three-pronged attacks against Manchurian
cities of Harbin and Jangchoon. Harbin was initially built by Russians,
and Jangchoon was developed as the capital city of Manshu-Koku by
In late night of August 10, the Pentagon (American military command center) was empty, except two nighty-duty officers. One was Colonel Charles Bonesteel, and the other was Col. Dean Rusk. They were watching the situation during the night.
Bonesteel was a West Point graduate, and he in Europe during the World War II primarily as a staff officer. He had became geopolitician by when he reached his rank of Colonel. During the period (1966-69), he served as the commander of the U.S. Forces in Korea. He was a four-star general then.
Dean Rusk became a military officer through the ROTC program during his college years, and received his law degree from the UC Berkeley in 1940. He served in the Army as a staff officer in the South the Burma and southern China front. In January of 1945, still in uniform, joined the State Department. He was one of the liaison officers between the Pentagon and the State Department. During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (1961-69), he was the secretary of state.
Dean Rusk used to appear on TV to explain how the 38 the parallel was drawn on the map of Korea. Here is his explanation.
After the Soviet Union's declaration war, the advancement of the Soviet army in Manchuria was so shift, they could occupy the Korean peninsula within a week, and could even come to the mainland of Japan, while U.S. forces were not prepared to advance beyond Okinawa.
- Thus Rusk and Bonesteel made their hasty decision. On August
10 (late night), they looked at the map and the 38th parallel was
north of the capital city of Seoul. They thought that Soviets
would agree to stop there if they told so. Even if we take into
account time differences (time difference between the Baikal time
and the Washington time, and the difference between AM and PM),
their decision was made only 40 hours after the Soviet army units
launched their attacks.
They then decided to contact the Soviet liaison office stationed in the Pentagon. The Soviet Union was an ally of the United States against Hitler's Germany.
Yes, they did the great job for their country, but Americans do not talk about their contribution. Why?
- Even a greater mystery is why the Soviet Union obeyed their
order to stop at the 38th parallel. They were army colonels, and
low-ranking officials of the U.S. government. Dean Rusk did
not explain why? Joseph Stalin was not under the command of
Bonesteel or Rusk.
The key to this answer is the Japanese army in Manchuria called
- Kwantung Army in English writings
- Gwantung-Jin in Chinese
- Kanto-Goon in Japanese
- Kantonsky Army in Russian
- Kwandong-Goon in Korean.
Kwandong-Goon headquarters in Jangchoon, capital city
Since most of the readers of this page would be Koreans, let us call this army "Kwandong-Goon."
3. Rise and Fall of Kwandong-Goon
As a result of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japanese were able to
extend their influence in southern Manchuria. They started building
southern Manchurian railroad and developing iron-ore mines in Ansan.
They also started developing farm fields to grow beans.
- In 1931, Japan set up a puppet government in Jangchoon (north
east of Shenyang) and installed the last emperor of the Qing
(Cheong in Korean) dynasty
as the new emperor of the country called Manshu-koku.
Young Japanese officers revolted against their government in 1936.
- On February 26, 1936, a group of young Japanese officers thought that
their politicians in Tokyo were corrupt and incompetent, and that the
leaders of Kwandong-Goon should come to Tokyo to run the country.
They took over Tokyo's broadcasting station and started arresting
However, this radical action was condemned by both the Japanese government and the generals of Kwandong-Goon in Manchuria. As a consequence, the revolt was put down, but Kwandong-Goon's influence on the Tokyo government became much stronger.
Marshal Zhukov's bust at a Metro station in Kharkov (Ukraine)
where the Soviet tanks were developed.
Tojo Hideki believed in his own lies.
- In 1939, the Kwandong-Goon generals became greedy enough to invade
But, the invading Japanese army was stopped by fierce Mongolian troops
at a village near the border town called
Then, the Soviet army,
led by General
Georgy Zhukov, came with water-cooled machine guns and
their new tanks. They were Models BT-5 and BT-7, which later became
the famous T-34 tanks. The Soviet
army wiped out the Kwandong-Goon troops.
As a consequence the top-level Kwandong-Goon generals were ordered to commit "Harakiri" (suicide by cutting his own abdomen). In reality, this was the end of Kwandong-Goon, but its name lasted as a formidable military unit until August of 1945. How?
- Among the generals, Lt. General Tojo Hedeki was transferred to
Tokyo after the 2.26 incident of 1936 and before the Nomonhan incident
of 1939. I assume he was instrumental in putting down the 2.26
revolt by young officers. He thus avoided the Harakiri party for
the Kwandong-Goon generals. He was then given the responsibility
of covering up the Nomonhan disaster. He carried out his job well.
- In 1939, Japan was making preparations of the "Kigen 2600 Years" (Japan
became 2600 years old) for the all-out celebration scheduled for 1940.
Tojo took the maximum advantage of this event. Let us hear the
Japanese song commemorating this event. Click on
- 2600th Anniversary Song. Japan became 2600 years old in 1940.
There was another song every Japanese and Korean had to sing.
These two songs were strong enough to cover-up the Nomonhan disaster and transform the image of the Kwandong-Goon into an invisible military unit of one million soldiers. Tojo was a very creative in developing these lies, but his tragedy was to believe his own lies (non uncommon human psychology). He then took over the cabinet and declared war against the United States on December 8, 1941.
- After the Nomonhan disaster, Japanese imperialists turned their
attention from the Asian mainland to South-East Asia rich in natural
resources, including petroleum in Indonesia and rubber plants in
Indochina. They became greedy enough to liberate India from the
British colonial rule. This is known as the Imphal operation
(March-July 1945). For this purpose, Japanese had to build up
their army base in Burma. Thus, all possible combat units were
pulled out of their Kwandong-Goon and were sent to this new front.
- Since 1905, Japanese army used their Arisaka-38 as the main
service rifle. Korean call this 38-shik. Its caliber is 6.5 mm.
In 1939, they started producing their 99-shik rifles with
7.7 mm caliber. There was one of the 99-shik factories in Shenyang
(called Hoten or Manshu Hoten by Japanese, Bong-chun by Koreans).
Thus, Kwandong-Goon troops were equipped with the new 99-shik rifles.
However, Japanese were behind in producing 99-shik ammunition. Their
old 38-shik ammos were totally useless. Many of the Kwandong-Goon
troops had rifles without ammunition in 1945, essentially without
rifles. The soldier without rifle was called "Dep-po-no nai
heitai-san," and it was the most insulting Japanese word at that time.
- How about the morale of the soldiers? The Kwandong-Goon
environment was like a society of wild animals to anyone with
conscience. This aspect was vividly addressed
in the Japanese film entitled "Ningen no Joken" (the Human Condition).
This 3-volume film (ten hours long) was produced by Kobayashi Masaki
(known as a social critic in Japan) based on a novel
published in 1957 by a Japanese writer named by Gomikawa Junpei.
I saw this movie in 1975. If you have not seen this movie, you may read about it from its Wikpedia article. If you do not wish to go through this trouble, simply read the title. The title says the Kwandong-Goon society does not meet the condition for human beings.
4. Yalta ConferenceBefore August of 1945, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin had three meetings in order to discuss how to run (or divide up) the world after the elimination of Hitler's Germany and the Empire of Japan. They were
- Tehran Conference (November 1943). Roosevelt asked Stalin to attack
Japan from Siberia. Stalin promised to do so after getting rid of
Hitler in Germany.
- Yalta Conference (February 1945). Roosevelt asked Stalin again to
attack Japan. By this time, both the United States and the Soviet
Union had their concrete plans, but Stalin was still busy with
his troops fighting against Germany.
- Potsdam Conference (July 1945). This conference was held after the surrender of Germany in May. Roosevelt was dead and Truman went there. Churchill went there, but he lost the election during the conference. Clement Atlee became as the new prime minister of Britain, and he replaced Churchill at the conference. Here they demanded an unconditional surrender from Japan.
Atlee, Truman, and Stalin in Potsdam (July 1945).
Among those three conferences, the division of Korea was decided at the Yalta Conference. Let us see how this happened.
- In July of 1944, Japan lost the crucial battle on the Pacific
island of Saipan, and the fate of the war was decided.
Japan was going to lose the war, but Japanese
soldiers would never surrender. American war planners had
to consider how many American soldiers would be killed
to conquer the mainland of Japan.
- Japanese war planners also knew they were going to lose.
They had to consolidate their military posture to defend the main land.
As for their troops in Korea, they moved most of their troops to
southern provinces and placed under the command of their 17th
Regional Army with its headquarters in Seoul. This unit, called
Ju-hichi Homei-goon (Sipchil Bangmyun-goon in Korean), was a
component of the Japanese mainland defense force.
- On August 5, 1945, Stalin declared that he would not honor the
Soviet-Japanese non-agression, even though it would not expire
until April of 1946. In spite of their bitterness from the
Nomonhan incident of 1939, Japan and the Soviet Union signed
a five year non-aggression treaty. Japanese and Soviets
needed this treaty in order to take care of their own urgent battle
fronts in the Pacific arena and against Hitler's army respectively.
Click here for a detailed explanation
of this map.
- Even before August of 1945, Japan had a plan for their Kwandong-goon
troops and Japanese nationals retreating from Manchuria. Pyongyang
was designated as the processing place center them. Thus, Pyongyang
was a important logistic base for Kwandong-Goon, viewed from the
- It is quite safe to say that Stalin was aware of this distribution
of Japanese troops in Korea. There were two different Japanese
military centers in Korea. One in Pyongyang (for Kwandong-Goon) and
the other in Seoul (for the 17th Regional Army).
He also knew that Kwandong-goon was
sufficiently weak, while the 17th Regional Army consisted of
never-surrounding Japanese soldiers determined to safeguard their
- Americans are not known for gathering accurate intelligence information. Manchuria was like the back of the moon. American war planners believed in Tojo's propaganda version of the Kwandong-Goon, an invincible army. They assumed that Japan would recall all those Kwandong-goon troops to the mainland during the forthcoming battle on the beaches of the mainland.
- Japanese war planners also knew they were going to lose. They had to consolidate their military posture to defend the main land. As for their troops in Korea, they moved most of their troops to southern provinces and placed under the command of their 17th Regional Army with its headquarters in Seoul. This unit, called Ju-hichi Homei-goon (Sipchil Bangmyun-goon in Korean), was a component of the Japanese mainland defense force.
- When Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin met at the Livadia Palace near
Yalta (Ukraine), Churchill was obsessed with Poland. He was only
interested in keeping Poland out of the Soviet influence. Thus,
one night, Roosevelt asked Stalin to meet without Churchill. They
met, and Roosevelt asked Stalin again to attack Manchuria from Siberia.
- Roosevelt was obsessed the the Kwandong-goon troops who would
come from Manchuria to fight against Americans during the landing operations
on the beaches of the Japanese mainland.
Roosevelt at that time was thinking of the bloody Iwojima landing which was going to take place two weeks later. Almost all of 20,000 Japanese soldiers died, and 8,000 Americans died and 2,700 were wounded there.
Thus, the best way was to let Soviets clean up those Kwandong-Goon troops in Manchuria before the landing operations in the Japanese mainland. In so asking, Roosevelt did not know Kwandong-Goon did not exist as a military unit.
Stalin was wiser, and he knew Roosevelt was desperate. For his military operation against Japan, Stalin demanded a huge amount of military supplies from the United States, including 8000 GMC trucks. To Americans, it was nothing. During the war, the General Motors Corporation produced more than 500,000 GMC trucks.
- For European operations, GMC produced truck looking
- For Pacific operations against Japan, the company (later)
produced trucks looking like these.
They were also used during the Korean war.
- Soviet troops came to Manchuria and to Korea without any
Japanese resistance on those American GMC trucks
looking like these. They were
given to Stalin by Roosevelt at the Yalta conference. I saw those
trucks in Korea before coming to the South in May of 1946.
I assume Americans gave their trucks in Europe to Soviets after
Germany surrendered in May of 1945. They looked like those GMC
trucks produced for European operations.
- For European operations, GMC produced truck looking like this.
How do I know all these, while Dean Rusk did not?
- The reason is very simple. I lived near the 38th parallel while
Rusk was far away. My home village is about
12 km north of the 38th parallel,
near the Kumipo beach where American missionaries were maintaining
about 100 summer houses. Here is a photo of
the mountain behind the beach taken from the Paeknyon Island
(south of NLL). I was able to see the Island from the top of that mountain.
Furthermore, my home village called "Sorae" is the place where Koreans built their first Presbyterian church in 1984. I was infant-baptized in this church, and I can tell you many interesting stories about this church which no one else can tell. Click here for some of my stories.
Japanese military planners thought American would send their troops and tanks to this beach, and started building there bunkers and gun positions. This operation was conducted by the 17th Regional Army. There was a big welcoming ceremony when the commander of this army (lieutenant general) came to the village to encourage his troops. I remember seeing him. He had a white mustache.
at Berlin's Brandenburg gate (2010). Needless to
say, I was thinking about the Division of Korea in 1945.
- According to Stalin's understanding, Americans should have come here.
In fact, I once heard the village elders saying this. I assume they
heard this from Soviet officers. Those Soviet troops left their
home bases two days before the 38th parallel was mentioned at
the Pentagon. Thus, they only received the order to wipe out
the Kantonsky troops, but not to touch the Yaponsky (Japanese)
belonging to the 17th Regional Army.
Unfortunately, the 38th parallel was only an approximate dividing line, and it pushed my village to the Soviet side.
The division of Korea was the most tragic event for Koreans in the 20th Century. I seems to be in a unique position to tell the details of how the 38th parallel was created.
copyright@2013 by Y. S. Kim.
Unless otherwise specified, all photos are from the public domain, the Wikipedia fair-use domain, the North Korean propaganda literature, or from my personal collection.
- Click here for his home page.
- His photo-biography.
- His Style page.
- His Princeton page.
- His Einstein page.