The Navy Department Library
Chapter 1: To Korea By Sea
History of US Naval Operations: Korea
Part 1. The Commodore's Treaty
Part 2. The American Link
Part 3. The Dominance of Japan
Part 4. Return to Asia
Part 1. The Commodore's Treaty
As the sun rose from behind the Korean hills all was in readiness for the assault. On the warships lying off Inchon plans and preparations were complete. As morning wore on the boats were brought alongside and the landing force was embarked. Upstream from the transport area Monocacy and the gunboats were already engaging enemy strong points, and toward mid-day, with the flooding tide, the landing craft left the anchorage and headed north. At 1330, under cover of the continuing bombardment, the signal was given and the boats went in. By 1345 the first wave of Marines was ashore and moving forward, while the boat crews and other members of the landing force struggled to get supporting weapons through the thick Korean mud and onto hard ground. So effective had been the bombardment that initial objectives on the heights overlooking the beaches were overrun without difficulty. By 1645 the artillery had been brought up, outposts were placed, the lines tied in, and the force settled down to get such rest as it could prior to resuming the advance at first light. It was the 10th of June, 1871.
The event is of some importance, if only for its illumination of the fact that the presence of the United States Navy in the Far East has been the alpha and omega of Korean-American relations. American naval activity was responsible for the opening of this distant nation and for its incorporation into the international system. When the decline of American interest resulted in naval withdrawal; Korean independence proved short-lived. In mid- 20th century the Navy's return to the Western Pacific was the precondition of Korean liberation from Japanese control; a second such return permitted the preservation of the Republic of Korea from Communist domination. Only through free access by sea can the United States wield influence upon this distant peninsula. When access is disputed only naval power can ensure it. The history of American relations with Korea has been in large degree a function of the availability of such power.
The attack on the Korean forts in the summer of 1871 was one of the last acts of pre-industrial outward-looking America, the product of a pattern of overseas activity which dated back to the earliest days of the republic. The importance of maritime trade to the young nation had led to the growth of a merchant marine second only, and barely so, to that of Great Britain, and had governed the development and activities of the United States Navy. Created to defend American commerce against the pirates of Algiers, the Navy developed into a police force for the seven seas, an instrument of scientific discovery, and a spearhead of western influence in distant places. Campaigns against pirates were fought in the Mediterranean, the West Indies, and in China seas. Exploring expeditions ranged the globe. Naval diplomats sought commercial treaties from the princes of Barbary and the Sultan of Turkey, and the Mediterranean activities of Commodores Preble and Rodgers were followed by more famous efforts on the far side of the globe. As early as 1815 Commodore David Porter had proposed an expedition to the Pacific to open Japan, China, and surrounding territories to American commerce. The suggestion was premature, and in China, at least, the merchants got there first without government help. But the voyage of Edmund Roberts in Peacock, the activities of Commodore Kearny in China, and Perry's opening of Japan nevertheless bore witness to a navy and commercial policy of a remarkably forward nature for what was then one of the minor powers of the world.
Although the period of the Civil War brought the effective liquidation of the American merchant marine and a corresponding concentration on internal development, the old interest in the oceans and in what lay beyond them did not immediately disappear. The decade after Appomattox, which brought the attack on the Korean forts, was an active one overseas. These years saw the purchase of Alaska in the northwest, and proposals for the acquisition of Greenland and Iceland in the eastern approaches; interest was evidenced in the acquisition of a North African naval base; a reciprocity treaty was negotiated with Hawaii, and in Samoa an American agent became prime minister of that most beautiful of all kingdoms. Divitis indiae usque ad ultimum sinum, the motto of the town of Salem, had been the operating motto of American merchants and sea captains and of the American Navy, and now at the end of a century of independence the uttermost gulf had been reached. Across the Pacific, beyond the great bulge of the China coast and sheltered by the island screen that runs from Formosa to the empire of Japan, lay the Yellow Sea. On its eastern shore, at the mouth of the River Han, stood the forts which guarded the capital of Korea, last of the isolated civilizations of earth.
A generation before, Edmund Roberts had suggested that a Japanese treaty might lead to trade with Korea. In the 1840's a resolution had been introduced in Congress urging the establishment of commercial relations with both countries. But these proposals were nugatory, and in Korea, as so often elsewhere, the ultimately effective impulse to governmental action came not from home, but from the oversea activities of merchant marine and Navy. In 1866 the American merchantman General Sherman was destroyed, and its crew massacred, in the Taedong River below Pyongyang. The report of this tragedy brought the dispatch of a ship of the Asiatic Squadron, the U.S.S., Wachusett, Commander Robert W. Shufeldt, to investigate the affair, and to communicate with the King of Korea.
Shufeldt's mission proved fruitless, but the General Sherman incident led two successive commanders of the Asiatic Squadron, Rear Admirals Stephen C. Rowan and John Rodgers, to interest themselves in the possibility of a Korean treaty. The latter's proposal of a naval expedition, modelled on that of Commodore Perry, brought government action, and the American minister to China was designated to carry out the negotiation in cooperation with the Squadron Commander. Preparations were made, a force was assembled at Nagasaki, and on 30 May 1871 five United States ships of war, totaling 85 guns, dropped anchor off the mouth of the Han.
For this procedure the Perry expedition was not the only precedent: in just such a manner an earlier John Rodgers had extorted a favorable treaty from the contumacious Bey of Tunis. But the capital of the King of Korea, unlike that of the Bey, was upstream and beyond the range of naval guns; unlike the forces of the Bey, and indeed unlike the Japanese on the occasion of Perry's arrival, the Koreans opened fire; although Rodgers had strength enough to capture the forts he lacked that necessary to capture a treaty. On 3 July, honor having been satisfied, the expedition withdrew.
Nine years were to elapse before congressional pressure to obtain a treaty and the ambition of another naval officer to conclude it led to a second effort. In 1880 Commodore Shufeldt, who 14 years before had carried the first letter to the Korean King, returned to the Orient in the U.S.S. Ticonderoga with authority to treat. Efforts to communicate with the Koreans through the government of Japan were unproductive, but in mid-summer an offer of assistance came from the Chinese viceroy Li Hung-chang. China and Japan were currently at odds; as had been the case with other rulers subject to outside pressures, Li was desirous of American aid in developing his navy; in exchange for technical assistance he undertook to forward negotiations with Korea. Shufeldt proceeded to China, advice and advisors were provided the Chinese, and talks with Li were begun. In these discussions between Commodore and Viceroy may be seen some of the abiding realities of the situation: 71 years later, under very different circumstances, another American flag officer was to find himself negotiating with the Chinese concerning the future of Korea.
Two years of complicated intrigue were required before Shufeldt could attain his goal. But at last, on 22 May 1882, a treaty arranged in Tientsin by the Chinese Viceroy was signed on the Korean shore within view of the U.S.S. Swatara. By this instrument, which provided for perpetual peace and friendship and for the exchange of diplomatic and consular representation, American citizens were granted trading rights, extraterritoriality, and most- favored-nation treatment. The aims of commerce were satisfied and, as Shufeldt reported, the United States had brought "the last of the exclusive countries within the pale of western civilization."
The movement to open Korea, with its inevitable impact on the equilibrium of eastern Asia, has been described as America's most important action in the Far East prior to the occupation of the Philippines. Be this as it may, it was the last such action, and as such marked the end of an era both for the Navy and for the nation. Industrialism was bringing the end of the period of free exchange of goods, the development of internal resources was replacing foreign trade as a prime source of wealth. As nations became industrialized so did their navies, and the new complexities of maintenance, together with the new fuel problem, forced the fleets of the world to retire on their bases. With the development of new nationalisms the naval function shifted from one of exploring, opening, and policing to one of fighting. Shufeldt had opened Korea, but although the Secretary of the Navy in 1884 urged the establishment of a naval station at Port Hamilton, off the southern Korean coast, and although it appears that such facilities were offered by the Korean government, nothing was done. The next important American naval action in Asiatic waters came in 1898 in the Battle of Manila Bay.
Part 2. The American Link
The country launched by the American Commodore upon the seas of international life had dwelt for centuries in isolation. Although Europe had long traded with China and the Spice Islands, it was only with the 19th century that western ships in increasing number visited the Korean coasts. There, as earlier elsewhere, the history of exploration came to be written on the Admiralty charts of the world: Russian interest was memorialized in such places as Port Lazaref and Kornilov Bay; French designs in Euge'nie Island and the Prince Imperial Archipelago; British discovery in Broughton Bay and Port Hamilton; the arrival of the Americans in Washington Gulf, Maury Island, and Monocacy Bay.
But while discoveries could be made and recorded, efforts to penetrate beyond the Korean shoreline were long unsuccessful. Within the peninsula the first important western contact was that of Christianity, which filtered in by way of China, and which in the 1830's brought French missionary priests to the Hermit Kingdom. But many were martyred, and nature as well as the natives was hostile to foreign interference. In 1846 the French frigates Gloire and Victorieuse, sent to investigate a massacre of missionaries, grounded on uncharted shoals; the extreme tidal range of the Yellow Sea left them high and dry, the crews were taken off by a passing English ship, and the frigates abandoned to the elements. In 1866, the year of the loss of the General Sherman, another French expedition was defeated at the mouth of the Han River, and five years later Admiral Rodgers was frustrated in his purpose. Yet the influence of the west was growing: conversions to Christianity continued, by mid-century there were some 15,000 Korean Catholics, and in the 1860's the first Protestant missionary effort was begun.
Through her centuries of isolation Korea had maintained a special, if somewhat vague, relationship with China. This relationship, which the Koreans apparently felt not disadvantageous, was conceived of in Confucian terms. Governed not by law but by standards of propriety, it required a deferential attitude, such as that of younger toward elder brother, on the part of Korea in her relations with the Middle Kingdom. Put forward by the Koreans as the reason they could have no dealings with outsiders, and concurred in by the Chinese with the proviso that Korean actions were none of their concern, this familial relationship seemed to legalistic westerners a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense. For Korea, however, it had at least the utility of providing some freedom of maneuver, and of delaying by a few years the inevitable arrival of the barbarians. Only in 1876, when Japan did for Korea what Perry had done for her, did the Hermit Kingdom accept relations with an outside power. Only with the Shufeldt treaty did she accept them with a non-Asiatic people. Oddly enough, despite Chinese assistance in both negotiations, neither treaty made mention of Korean dependence on China, and this apparent admission of sovereignty had considerable impact on the outer world. Although the Commodore's accomplishment went largely unnoticed at home, such was not the case abroad, where Britain, Germany, France, and Russia hastened to make treaties on the Shufeldt model.
Inevitably all this raised serious questions about the ancient relationship with China. But here the basic issue was the vitality of China herself, and at this point in history the Middle Kingdom was a doubtful proposition. Things being what they were in the1880's, it would have taken a very vigorous elder brother to preserve the peace of a peninsula which divides the waters between China and Japan, and which dangles from the Asiatic mainland where Manchuria and the Maritime Provinces meet. The treaty with the United States, with its emphasis on Korean independence, may have hastened the coming of trouble, but hardly more than that. Long before the treaty was concluded Shufeldt had written that "Corea would in fact be the battlefield of any war with China and Russia or Japan in whichever way these nations might confront each other," and his prediction was speedily borne out.
Without preparation for the diplomatic rough and tumble of the outer world, situated between three stronger powers in a time of rapid change, the little kingdom found itself subjected to increasing pressures, and the winds blew ever stronger from north, east, and west. In the old Confucian family there had been the easy traditional relationship of father and son, or of elder and younger brother. In the new family of nations into which Korea had been welcomed there were three competing volunteers for a big brother role construed in more modern terms.
China was attempting to reassert her historic dominance, Russia to move southward into ice-free ports, and Japan to gain control of the peninsula as a springboard for continental expansion. All urged their chosen advisers upon the Korean King, and the triple pressure from without was reflected in serious strains within. Torn by the inevitable factionalism of a people emerging from isolation, the country found itself divided between nationalists and reactionaries, between a progressive party desirous of acquiring foreign skills and methods and a traditional pro-Chinese faction. In this situation America and the Americans, although far away and preoccupied with other things, had for the progressive group of Koreans a special meaning.
The United States had been the first of the western powers to make a treaty with Korea. It was for some time the only such power to send a minister to the Korean court. A provision of the Shufeldt treaty stated that "if other powers deal unjustly or oppressively with either government, the other will exert their good offices . . . to bring about an amicable arrangement. Together with the traditional American sympathy for a society attempting to modernize itself, all this seemed full of promise for the new era and inevitably placed the United States in a conspicuous position. The King, on the arrival of the first American minister, is reported to have danced with joy.
But in Washington, and in the United States generally, small attention was paid to Korean matters. From the viewpoint of the America of the1880's the treaty was but a last echo of the period of maritime greatness and the product of Shufeldt's personal diplomacy. Yet however little the provision for good offices may have meant to the American government, America had from the beginning given sympathy and support to the independence of small nations. It remained willing, if asked, to issue sound advice. Since, in the last analysis, self-determination means self-defense, it would provide, although dilatorily, assistance in military organization. Nor was the importance of the United States limited to the actions of its government: American businessmen would bring their skills across the sea; the American religious community would send forth missionaries bearing, along with the Protestant word, western education and western techniques. Somehow the Koreans seem to have sensed a disinterested benevolence in the distant republic, and to have founded great and indeed excessive hopes upon it: in 1897, in an audience with the American minister, the Korean King was to remark, "We feel that America is to us as our Elder Brother."
Reality, unfortunately, did not live up to expectations. The conclusion of the Shufeldt treaty had reversed the roles of Korea and the United States, and the Hermit Kingdom was now the petitioner. Desiring to consolidate his new-found independence, the King cleared out his Chinese and Russian advisers in the hope of replacing them with Americans. But the response of the American government was disappointing. Although internal disorder in 1882 brought the arrival of the U.S.S. Monocacy with instructions to offer good offices, and although the United States created a ministerial post at Seoul equal in rank to those at Tokyo and Peking, the instructions of Lucius H. Foote, the first incumbent, reflected the non-participating sympathy so often evident in American policy in distant places. Foote was authorized to tender advice to the King, but unless covered by specific instructions this advice was to be considered personal rather than official, and such instructions rarely came. Korean requests for advisers in foreign affairs, for military instructors, and for school teachers remained unfulfilled, and the American minister found his dispatches unanswered by a lethargic State Department and his grade reduced by an economizing Congress.
Resentful of these indignities and of the apparent indifference of the home government, Minister Foote resigned his post. But lack of official interest in Washington did not prevent further development of non-governmental relations. As the negotiation of the treaty had been largely an individual enterprise on the part of Shufeldt, so relations between the two countries became increasingly personal and unofficial. From China came an American to be Inspector-General of Korean Customs; a former United States consul at Tientsin assumed the post of vice-president of the Foreign Office. In 1884, following the departure of Foote, custody of the legation fell to a young naval officer, Ensign George Foulk, who became deeply concerned with the future of Korea and for three years struggled to uphold both the integrity of that country and the dignity of the United States. By the time of his recall Foulk had gained the highest favor, and the desire of the Korean King to name him personal adviser in foreign affairs was frustrated only by heavy pressure from the Chinese government.
Despite this victory for Chinese influence the American connection continued strong. Munitions for the army were ordered from the United States. Under the leadership of General William M. Dye, the military mission which the King had earlier requested finally arrived in 1888. Dye, a veteran of Vicksburg and the Red River campaign who had later served in the army of Egypt, took over the military academy, published a tactical manual in Korean, and produced a body of highly trained troops. But the Korean noblemen proved unamenable to discipline, and that part of the army not subject to his personal influence continued to suffer from faction and intrigue.
In economic development, too, there was progress. With the passing of years American businessmen followed the Navy's trans-Pacific lead to found a Korean-American bank, to operate Korea's most important gold mine, and to build a street railway system for the capital. In Seoul there arose the Astor House hotel, and over the Yalu River a bridge, built by American engineers, which in the fullness of time would be knocked down by American naval aviators.
The final, and increasingly the most important link between the two countries, was that of the missionary effort. The 19th century had seen a great expansion of Protestant missions in which Americans had played a leading part. Throughout the non-European world these pioneers had been active in bringing the gospel and the gifts of western civilization to those who dwelt in darkness, and in beginning a revolutionary undermining of the static societies of Asia. Typically, although influential in worldly things, the missionaries had accomplished few conversions, but in Korea, where Christianity had already taken root, their success was greater. By 1885 both Presbyterians and Methodists had arrived from America and begun their work, profiting from the esteem in which their country was held. By the end of the decade a dozen stations had been established, running from Kanggye far in the north through Pyongyang, seven-gated Kaesong and Seoul, and southward to Taegu and Pusan.
Schools, colleges, and hospitals were established by the missionaries, in their efforts to assist the people, and in time an important Christian community developed. By 1910 there were some 72,000 Korean Catholics and almost 180,000 Protestants. Yet things move slowly in the Orient: at least as late as the First World War the missionaries in Pyongyang could enjoy the sight, at one of the city gates, of the anchor and chain from the General Sherman, preserved in commemoration of that successful encounter with the outer world.
Their obvious concern for Korean welfare, and their open support of Korean independence, quickly brought the missionaries into close relations with government as well as people. The medical missionary Horace N. Allen established a government hospital, was appointed court physician, and served both as a Korean emissary to the United States and as American minister at Seoul. Horace B. Underwood, translator of the gospel into the Korean tongue, became an unofficial adviser to the King, and his wife the Queen's physician. The link between missionary activity and the Navy, so strong in Ottoman regions, reappeared in Korea: when the King, despite strong Chinese opposition, moved to establish a legation in Washington, Allen accompanied the emissaries, who eluded the Chinese warships sent to intercept them by taking passage in the U.S.S. Ossipee. Although these intimate connections proved at times embarrassing to the American government, to the Koreans they seemed a very present help. In the dark days of 1895, following the Japanese-instigated murder of the Queen, the missionaries rallied to the King, giving him moral support and safeguarding his food supply. In 1905 Korean confidence in the selfless strangers was again demonstrated when, in a last desperate effort to avoid Japanese domination, the Emperor secretly sent Allen and Homer Hulbert, another distinguished missionary, to seek the assistance of the United States.
Great changes came with the Japanese occupation, but in time the older pattern was repeated. In 1945 the United States Navy again sailed the coasts of Asia, and its return was followed by a new opening of Korea and a new period of American influence. Where earlier Americans like Foulk and Allen had advised the Korean King, American Military Government now supervised the creation of a new state; where American entrepreneurs had brought the techniques of the West there now came ECA aid; where General Dye had commanded the palace guard there appeared the Korean Military Advisory Group. Again the missionaries arrived, to renew their efforts, and Homer Hulbert, the American interpreter of Korean culture and the Emperor's personal emissary in the crisis of 1905, returned to end his days in this distant country.
Part 3. The Dominance of Japan
All this lay hidden in the future as the 19th century ended. Korea was small and far away, its opening seemed the last effort of an age that was past, and the treaty provision for good offices was to prove less meaningful than the dancing king had hoped.
For Korea the years following the conclusion of the Shufeldt treaty brought internal chaos and increasing Chinese influence. By 1894, despite the presence of American and other foreign advisers and despite the best efforts of the Japanese, Chinese dominance had been thoroughly reestablished. But the triple pressure continued, and while the Middle Kingdom could dominate her younger brother she was unable to withstand her stronger neighbor. The position so carefully retrieved by Li Hung-chang was to be suddenly destroyed by war with Japan.
In the summer of 1894 anti-foreign rebellion broke out in the southern provinces of Korea. A request from the King for the assistance of Chinese troops was somewhat reluctantly acceded to, but by the time these arrived the revolt had been put down. Japan, meanwhile, on the pretext of protecting her nationals and property, had sent troops of her own, and despite the restoration of peace continued to increase these forces until they gradually outnumbered those of the Chinese. Efforts by the American minister and others to compose the differences and secure the withdrawal of troops proved unsuccessful. There followed a coup in which the Japanese seized the King and installed his father-in-law as Regent. Chinese troopships bringing reinforcements were sunk by the Japanese, and in August war was declared.
The Sino-Japanese war, which eliminated Chinese influence in the Korean peninsula for more than half a century, was a sufficiently one-sided affair. Politically it is noteworthy as the first step in a Japanese expansion which would only be checked at Midway and Guadalcanal. Militarily it was important for the Battle of the Yalu, the first major engagement between ironclads, which marked the opening of the era in which the world's strategic pattern depended upon the new navies of industrialism. For the United States this engagement demonstrated that a policy based on a belief in self-determination may have its difficulties, and that one people's self- determination may be another's poison. While the Japanese Navy, victors at the Yalu River, had benefited from American advice and assistance, the Chinese battleship Chen Yuen was fought in this engagement by Philo McGiffin, a Naval Academy graduate of the Class of 1884.
By the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895 Japan acquired Formosa and the Pescadores, and so gained strategic control of the approaches to North China and to Peking; the treaty also ensured Korean independence of Chinese domination. The Japanese had expected that it would ensure still more, and would give them control of Korea's foreign relations and internal communications, but their position was greatly compromised by their murder of the Korean Queen, which excited both Korean nationalism and foreign interference.
Although the attitude of the American government remained one of strict neutrality and abstention, Americans in Korea were gravely concerned by the prospect of Japanese control. This concern was demonstrated by the actions of the American minister, John M. B. Sill, who maneuvered against the Japanese; by missionary support of the King; and by an attempt of Korean patriots, with the assistance of certain Americans, to rescue the King from Japanese control. On the failure of the effort some of the Koreans were given asylum in the American legation, and Sill asked for a warship to convey them to safety. But his request was refused by the State Department and his actions on behalf of Korean independence were censured.
The resultant power vacuum was quickly filled. The King took refuge in the Russian legation, temporary Russian dominance of Korean affairs ensued, and at Russian suggestion the Kingdom of Korea was translated into the Empire of Dai Han. But in their turn the Russians overreached themselves, and in 1898, at the request of the Emperor, their advisers were withdrawn. There followed, briefly, a period of apparent Korean independence, marked by resurgent Japanese economic penetration, by Korean misgovernment and confusion, and by tension between Russia and Japan which led shortly to a second war.
War with Russia brought further triumphs to the Japanese. A second Battle of the Yalu, fought this time on land, resulted in the first great triumph of an Asiatic army over a European one, and the repercussions of this notable event, reinforced by the naval victory of Tsushima and the course of the subsequent campaign, reached through India to the heart of Africa. Yet though the fighting was with Russia, Japanese operations were aimed at Korea. Two days before declaring war the Japanese seized the capital and the palace of the Emperor, and within a month an agreement was signed in which Japan guaranteed the integrity of Korea and the Koreans promised to take none but Japanese advice.
The vigor with which the Japanese pressed their advantages proved irresistible by the faction-ridden inhabitants of the peninsula. Korean confidence in the promise of American good offices had been strengthened by the assurances of their American friends, internal reform had been neglected, and no steps had been taken - if indeed any could have been taken - to improve the position of Korea. Seeing his country becoming a Japanese protectorate, the Emperor in September 1904 appealed for American help in maintaining its integrity, and in the next year urgent efforts were made to communicate secretly with President Roosevelt through the American missionaries and through a young Korean patriot named Syngman Rhee.
The hopes founded on the American elder brother proved delusive. Although the treaty ending this war on the Asiatic mainland was signed on the eastern seaboard of the United States, this geographical oddity reflected Theodore Roosevelt's concern with larger matters than Korean independence. Already the President had made his attitude clear, observing that "we cannot possibly interfere for the Koreans against Japan. They could not strike a blow in their own defense." And Korea's future, so far as the United States was concerned, was settled by the Taft-Katsura conversations of 1905, in which the Secretary of War expressed the view, immediately confirmed by the President, that Japanese suzerainty would contribute to the peace of the Orient.
So Korea became a Japanese protectorate and acquired a new and unwished for elder brother. Ironically enough, when the Japanese took over the management of Korea's foreign relations, it was the United States, the country whose good offices had been promised in case of unjust treatment, which was the first to remove its legation from Seoul. But while the loss of Korean independence was distressing to those Americans, diplomatic and missionary, who were on the spot, it can hardly be denied that President Roosevelt correctly construed the feeling of the country. The victories of Japan, it seemed, proved the Japanese to be America's foremost pupils, and testified retrospectively to the importance of Commodore Perry's mission. Despite difficulties over Japanese immigration and landholding, a general admiration for the accomplishments of the Japanese nation had developed in America, as indicated by a spate of juvenile novels with such unlikely titles as With Togo to Tsushima, or, Two American Boys in the Navy of Japan.
Yet there were deeper forces affecting the conduct of the United States than the transitory admiration for Japanese progress in western ways. If somewhat absent-mindedly, the United States had also participated in the new imperialism. With the overseas holdings acquired in the War with Spain came new responsibilities. The new realism in foreign affairs, manifested in the policies of Theodore Roosevelt, was part of the price of empire.
In the development of this new realism, as in that of the New Navy which had won the victories at Santiago and Manila Bay, the writings of an American naval officer were of great influence. To Alfred Thayer Mahan, as he sat in the English Club at Lima perusing Mommsen's History of Rome, there had been vouchsafed a vision of the meaning of command of the seas. Building upon this vision Mahan developed a gospel of sea power and, as his evidence was drawn from the great 18th century wars for empire, his message was well suited to the new imperial age. Hailed throughout the world, and particularly by the rising naval powers of Germany and Japan, his writings became a potent influence in burying the strategic concepts of the old Navy in which he had served so long and a strong stimulus to the navalism of the early 20th century.
Rapidly, in these years, the strategic geography of the world changed and became compartmented, and not least as a result of the rise of Japan and of Japanese adherence to the doctrines of the American naval officer. Where Shufeldt had brought Korea "within the pale of western civilization," Mahan provided a philosophic framework for Japan's effort to make East Asia her exclusive sphere. Where detachments of western navies had policed the Asiatic seas on behalf of the international commercial community, there now developed an oriental battle fleet. For the United States, with its flag planted in the Philippines some 7,000 miles from home, the development was a significant one and elicited a double response. In 1908 the Great White Fleet set forth across the Pacific on its cruise around the world; in 1910 Japan annexed Korea with the approval of the American government. The protectorate was ended, the Emperor pensioned off, and the country opened by the American commodore disappeared from the map. Where Shufeldt had seen commercial opportunity, Americans now thought of Korea, if they thought of it at all, as a picturesque and distant land of top-knots and horsehair hats. All that remained of the period of independence was the missionary link, now weakened and harassed by the Japanese rulers of the peninsula, and a scattered and impotent band of Korean nationalist conspirators.
Part 4. Return to Asia
The lot of Korea under Japanese rule was hard. In a consistent effort to subjugate the populace the Japanese took over the administration, the control of education, and the police. A directed economy was imposed with the aim of ending Korean self-sufficiency and of integrating the country into the imperial economy of Japan. Investment in Korean plant was not inconsiderable, but the benefits flowed back across the sea, and the inhabitants of the peninsula were reduced to hewers of wood and drawers of water for their alien overlords.
Despite the best efforts of the conquerors, however, the independence movement remained alive. Those who had struggled to save their country from alien control became the nucleus of a continued resistance which made Korea the Ireland of the East. The quiet of the Land of the Morning Calm was a quiet imposed from above, but from time to time the pressures broke through in riots and uprisings, and in 1919 there came an echo of the past. In Paris President Wilson was laboring to remake the world on principles derived from the older America; his emphasis on the self-determination of peoples and the rights of small nations had repercussions even in Korea, where the resisters, hoping to draw attention to their country's plight, issued a Proclamation of Independence.
But Japan had fought with the Allies. The Proclamation got no response, the protesters were driven underground or into exile, and the sole accomplishment of their effort was the formation of a Korean Provisional Government at Shanghai. Yet even here there were traces of the American connection: the presidency of this government was conferred upon Syngman Rhee, who had been educated by American missionaries, who had studied at Woodrow Wilson's Princeton, who on returning to Korea had escaped arrest through the assistance of a missionary bishop, and who was living in Hawaii.
Yet while the influence of American ideas was still potent, American policy remained one of continuing abstention. Japanese annexation of Korea had not been questioned. American participation in the League of Nations was defeated by the Senate. When crisis threatened with Japan the solution was found in the Washington treaties, which by restrictions on warship construction and on base development effectively trisected the Pacific Ocean and left the Japanese unchallenged in their sphere. A growing inclination to disengage from the Orient brought the grant of prospective independence to the Philippines.
This retirement from the outer world, which culminated in the extreme isolationism of the late thirties, was ended by the new dictatorships. For while these did not immediately menace the security of the country, they did endanger the continued existence of that minimum degree of world order which seems necessary to the United States. With Munich the withdrawal stopped, while the fall of France and the threat to Britain brought a forward diplomacy in the Atlantic and a sizable rearmament program. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor new emphasis was placed on the Pacific. There followed, in due course, a second advance to the shores of Asia, and one in force such as had never before been seen. The United States Pacific Fleet, which by summer of 1945 was dominant in Japanese home waters, was a far cry from the five ships and 85 guns with which John Rodgers had attacked the Korean forts.
To the captive Koreans the outbreak of war in the Pacific brought new hope. Repeated efforts between the wars to gain the attention of the powers had met with no success. Various uprisings in the thirties had been repressed, and in 1940 an organized non-cooperation movement had been vigorously put down. In China the advance of the Japanese armies forced the Korean Provisional Government to flee inland to Chungking. But Pearl Harbor changed the shape of things, and on 11 December 1941 the government in exile declared war on Japan.
Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, despite the ancient friendship and the missionary link, the Korean question remained long neglected by the United States. The Provisional Government was ignored, and attempts by Syngman Rhee to win recognition gained no countenance from the State Department. By 1943, however, American thinking with regard to Korea had advanced to the point of contemplating that liberation from Japan would be followed by an international trusteeship. The communiqué of the Cairo Conference promised Korean independence "in due course," and both at Yalta and at Moscow discussion of the trusteeship idea resulted in apparent general agreement.
But while agreement on trusteeship came easily in talk and in paper planning, the realities of the Korean situation remained much as before. Geography, at least, had not changed. The Japanese elder brother was facing expulsion, but Russia and China were still much in the picture, and so, once again, was the United States. Although Korean nationalism was undiminished, the strains which had beset the Korean kingdom persisted and the independence movement was itself a divided one. Syngman Rhee, the President of the Provisional Government, was in the United States, where important Korean groups existed in Hawaii and in Washington. In China, and under Chinese Nationalist influence, was the greater part of the Provisional Government, along with some army divisions supported by the regime of Chiang Kai-shek. The other China of Mao Tse-tung boasted its own Korean adherents, and as early as 1939 had created a so-called Korean Volunteer Army. Large numbers of Koreans had taken refuge in the Soviet Maritime Provinces, and many had served in the Russian armies. And finally, Koreans of all factions urgently desired immediate independence, and took a poor view of qualifying phrases such as "in due course."
In this situation events took charge. The sudden end of the war in the Pacific found the United States unprepared, its attentions focused on the projected invasion of the Japanese homeland. Hasty efforts in Washington to cope with the issues of Japan's surrender resulted in a directive which provided, with Soviet concurrence, that Japanese forces in Korea north of the 38th parallel would surrender to the Russians, and those south of that line to the United States. In time, of course, this decision on the mechanics of surrender was to divide Korea in rigid and illogical fashion, but it also saved the southern half of the country from Communist control. On 12 August, with American forces still 600 miles and almost a month away, Russian troops entered Korea against negligible Japanese resistance.
The moment of victory in the Pacific found the United States suffering from a shortage of sea power in the midst of plenty. The defeat of Japan was one thing; the simultaneous occupation of key points all along the Asiatic littoral was quite another. Since all available amphibious lift was needed for the occupation of the Japanese islands, peripheral areas had to wait. But in time ships did become available. Lieutenant General John R. Hodge's XXIV Corps was embarked at Okinawa, and on 8 September 1945 a group of Seventh Fleet transports steamed up the Inchon approaches and prepared to land the troops. The second coming had taken place. The wheel that Rodgers and Shufeldt had set in motion had come full circle.
[End Chapter 1]