Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement

By Selig S. Harrison | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The United States and Reunification

IN NORTH KOREA and South Korea alike, it is an article of faith that the United States deserves the principal blame for the division of the peninsula and thus has a special responsibility for helping to restore national unity. This deep-seated sense of grievance is linked with the belief that Washington wanted to keep Korea divided during the cold war in order to pursue U.S. strategic objectives related mainly to Japan. Anti-American nationalism is surprisingly virulent even in the South, where military dependence on the United States has generated strong undercurrents of xenophobia that are sweeping aside the gratitude felt by the older generation for the American role in the Korean War. A representative poll of college students found that 79 percent blamed the United States for the division of Korea and 64 percent considered the United States to be the country most reluctant to see Korea reunified. 1

The Korean indictment of the United States begins with the Cairo, Yalta, and Potsdam conferences, condemning the casual disposition of the peninsula by the wartime allies that led to the division. Since Russian diplomacy traditionally had sought to divide Korea, argues Cho Soon Sung in a representative statement of the dominant Korean attitude, the United States either was a gullible fool or must have been more than ready to sacrifice Korean interests for the sake of its own, emerging cold war strategic concerns. 2

Due allowance is made in this view for the confusion marking the last months of the war. In particular, Cho recognizes that the Russians knew of the impending Japanese surrender before the Americans did through a decoded diplomatic cable and were thus able to claim an eleventh-hour role in the war, which gave them their access to North Korea. But it is the very accidental character of the division and the low priority given to Korea by Roosevelt and Truman that has been such a persistent insult. As Cho puts it, American interference regarding Korea and the vagueness of the United States about its occupation plans “amounted to a tacit invitation to the Russians to occupy the peninsula, setting in train the events that led to the division.” 3

-102-

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