This is a suggestion that we replace what is currently being taught in American high schools regarding the Korean War, at least in part, because what the U.S. did in Korea starting immediately at the end of WWII has an echo today in the Ukraine.
The Japanese government invaded Korea and ended the 500-year-old Yi or Chosen dynasty in 1905. That same year the Taft-Katsura Memorandum was signed in which Japan's hegemony over Korea was recognized by the U.S. in return for Japan's pledge not to interfere with America's control of the Philippines or Hawaii.
Japan's occupation was hated by Koreans. Japanese Colonial land policy forced many Korean peasants off the land, and even as rice exports rose by a factor of eight from 1912 to 1935, rice consumption for most Koreans fell by over 35%. Wages in 1935 were 50% lower than in 1927, and the work day had increased from 12 to 16 hours. When a pro Korean independence rally was called on March 1, 1919, two million Koreans turned out. Repression followed. Three hundred thousand were arrested and 50,000 sent to prison. To enforce Japan’s rule the police force had increased from 6,200 in 1910, to 20,800 in 1922 and then to 60,000 in 1941. This police force was used to break up labor strikes and independence rallies, but also to enforce the public ban on the use of the Korean language.
After Japan's surrender and the World War Two’s end on 15 August 1945, Korea was divided between a USSR controlled northern zone and a US controlled southern zone. There was a massive upsurge In the Korean struggle for independence. At that time there were over 30,000 Koreans in jail, most of them political prisoners. Yo Un-hyong, an anti-Japanese activist who had spent three years in prison, and others had established the Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence (CPKI). By the end of August 1945 there were 145 branches functioning as basic units of government all over Korea except in four cities where the Japanese military ruled. On September 6, 1945, activists from the CPKI met in Seoul and established the Korean People's Republic or KPR.
Unfortunately the hope for an independent and more democratic Korea was short lived. The wealthy landowners and businessmen who had profited under the occupation received the backing of the U.S. military when troops landed on September 8, 1945. On September 16, these collaborators formed the Korean Democratic Party. They, however, were tainted by their Japanese connections. Syngman Rhee, who came to the U.S. after the repression of 1919 and claimed to be a true nationalist, returned to South Korea on General MacArthur's plane on October 16, 1945. He denounced both the Soviet Union and the KPR. The U.S. Army Military Government in South Korea banned a KPR publication, The Traitors And The Patriots. In December it banned strikes, and in January 1946 the activities of the KPR were declared illegal.
During this time Rhee's U.S. backed party attacked the People's Committees that had arisen out of the KPR. Japanese trained Korean police were used by Rhee to force workers and peasants to give up control of the factories and lands which had been seized from the Japanese. The political machinery to control a 1948 election in South Korea was turned over to Rhee's party and Koreans from the northern part of the country, who had worked or profited under the Japanese occupation and had fled south.
Many Southern peasants did not vote, viewing the election as rigged. One KPR candidate who was elected to the parliament, was murdered when he arrived in Seoul. It is estimated that up to 100,000 people were killed prior to June 1950, including at least 30,000 on the island of Cheju who had refused to participate in the 1948 election. Soldiers of Rhee's government, in the mainland port city of Yosu rebelled, refused to embark for Cheju, and sided with the islanders.
The Koreans living north of the dividing line mostly supported the pro-peasant socialist policies of the KPR, as did the Soviet military. They were also led by Koreans who had been fighting the Japanese since 1932 in Manchuria. One of those leaders was Kim II Sung. It must have seemed terribly wrong to the American veterans of the war in the Pacific to see that Koreans and Chinese, who had been allies during the war, pictured as enemies by 1948. But then again that also happened to America's European ally, the Soviet Union.
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