Korea: Wrong War, Wrong Place, Wrong Enemy


Henry C K Liu

Part 1: Two nations, worlds apart

Part 2: Cold War links Korea, Taiwan

This arcticle appeared in AToL on June 8, 2004

General Omar Bradley, as chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, characterized the Korean War as the wrong war, in the wrong place and against the wrong enemy. In congressional testimony on May 23, 1951, he stated: "I know my own opinion was - and I think it was pretty generally held - that the chance of Russia or China coming into the war in South Korea was rather remote. There was that possibility, and it was considered, but we did not think they would be coming in to the fighting in South Korea."

General Bradley was correct. Neither the USSR nor China was likely to enter the war on South Korean territory. It was clear that US intervention was preconditioned on this judgment, to prevent the collapse of South Korea without triggering a confrontation with either the USSR or China. But it was another story for China when US forces pushed beyond the 38th Parallel up against the Yalu River at the Chinese border.

Secretary of state Dean Acheson said in his Talent Associates interview, c 1961-62 (Papers of Merle Miller):

This [order regarding the 7th Fleet], you will recall, was a recommendation which I had made the night before and which the President had postponed. By this time the fleet was in position and the President was prepared to consider the recommendation. The third [recommendation of June 26] ... was to strengthen our forces in the Philippines. We felt that if the situation degenerated, as it later on did in Korea, there would be great nervousness and a great deal of trouble, not merely on Formosa [Taiwan] but perhaps in the Philippines also, where, as you will recall, the [insurgent communist] Huks were making a great difficulty ... for the government. The fourth recommendation was to accelerate aid to Indochina and to send a military operation to Indochina if the French would accept it. This was for the same reason.

We supposed that whoever, the Russians or the Chinese, who had instigated the attack ... that they would undoubtedly stir up trouble all along the coast and, therefore, we wished to strengthen all positions. Our fifth recommendation was to instruct Ambassador [to the United Nations Warren] Austin to report everything that had happened to the UN. And we also recommended to the President that we should continue with some work, which we had ordered earlier ... which was to make a survey of all trouble spots between us and the Russians and to see what might develop elsewhere.

These matters were talked over ... and this evening the President asked us to go into what was likely to happen if there was a catastrophe in Korea. Suppose the Korean forces were not able to rally, form a line, hold a line? Suppose air support and naval support was not enough? What then? This led to a very considerable talk in which I expressed the view that it would be very important for the United States to see that the support of South Korea did not fail from a political point of view, from an international point of view. It was essential that this did not happen.
Acheson again ("Princeton Seminar" comment, February 13, 1954, Papers of Dean Acheson):

We had also called another meeting of the UN for the afternoon of the 27th to put before them a resolution which would call upon all members of the United Nations to give assistance to the South Koreans. We were confident that this meeting was going to adopt the resolution; it had originally been planned for the morning of the 27th. However, it was put over to the afternoon because the Indians had not yet gotten instructions and they thought if they waited until 3 o'clock they would have instructions.

This produced a problem for us which has since given the Russians some propaganda. After we met with the Congressional leaders ... and people were going out, and everybody knew that there were hundreds of newspaper men waiting outside - all of this would come out in all sorts of distorted [ways], and therefore we had a statement prepared ... giving these decisions of the President which he had approved. It was decided to give that out. This created a difficulty in time, because as you see, this says that the US air and sea forces are ordered to give South Korean forces cover and support. This is military action supporting South Korea. It wasn't until 3 o'clock in the afternoon that the UN asked us to do what we said we were going to do at 11 or 12 in the morning.

[Soviet foreign minister Andrei Y] Vishinsky has always had a great time with this, saying that all this idea that we were carrying out UN Orders was perfect nonsense, because the President was doing this four hours before the UN thought of it, etc, etc.
Administrative assistant to the president, George M Elsey, in a memorandum for the file, June 30, 1951 (Papers of George M Elsey):

[Under secretary of state] Jim Webb told me ... that [at] his meeting with the President at 6:15 at the Blair House on Tuesday, June 27, 1950 ... Webb talked with the President about [secretary of defense] Louis Johnson's "leaks" to reporters about the Blair House Meeting on Sunday, June 25, and Monday, June 26. Johnson was feeding stories to the reporters that [secretary of state Dean] Acheson had been "soft" on Formosa and he, Johnson, was responsible for the President's order that Formosa be neutralized. A reporter had come directly to Webb from Johnson's office to tell Webb that this kind of thing was going on and Webb came straight to Blair House to report it to the President.
According the US Army Center of Military History, during the extraordinary conferences at Blair House after the outbreak of the Korean conflict, General Bradley had read to the assembled high officials a memorandum General Douglas MacArthur had given secretary of defense Johnson during the latter's Tokyo visit. This paper, which Johnson thought brilliant and to the point, set forth in cogent terms the reasons why Formosa should not be allowed to pass to the control of communist China, but should instead be fully protected by the United States. President Truman, on June 27, 1950, ordered MacArthur to deploy the 7th Fleet to prevent attacks on Formosa by the Chinese communists and, conversely, attacks by the Formosan garrison on the Chinese mainland.

In a public announcement on the same day, Truman explained that he had taken this action because "the occupation of Formosa by Communist forces would be a direct threat to the security of the Pacific area and to United States forces performing their lawful and necessary functions in that area".

General George C Marshall had resigned as secretary of state on January 20, 1949, to become president of the American National Red Cross. Truman's surprise victory in November 1948 and the Democrats' reclaimed control of both houses of Congress meant that Marshall's nonpartisan status was no longer essential to get foreign-policy items through Congress. Three months after the outbreak of the Korean War, Marshall was again asked by Truman to replace Johnson, Truman's key 1948 campaign fundraiser and a southern conservative from Virginia, as secretary of defense - a job Marshall reluctantly agreed to take for a year. After the Truman victory, Johnson, who had insisted on the post of secretary of defense for his key role in political fundraising, had replaced James Forrestal, the first secretary of defense, who had been forced to resign because of mental depression and eventually committed suicide.

Acheson again ("Princeton Seminar" comment, February 13, 1954, Papers of Dean Acheson):

The US 7th Fleet is directed to prevent any attack on Formosa (Taiwan) and to see that the Chinese (Nationalist) Government on Formosa cease operations against the mainland People's Republic of (Red) China. I think that the betting had been everywhere that the United States would not do anything, that we would find some way of referring this to a committee or a commission or a protest to the UN but that here the machine on the other [Communist] side had started to roll and we wouldn't do anything. When we did, there was a most enthusiastic response from everyone. This had its good effect, at that time; it also had its bad effect later when the reverses in North Korea occurred - there was an almost corresponding depression: that we had tried to do our best [in Korea] but after all we weren't even able to deal with this small outfit in a distant part of the world.
Acheson again:

At the meeting of the [congressional] leaders [on June 30], there was an observation made which later took on a great deal of significance but it took on very little at the time. Senator [Howard] Smith of New Jersey, in the course of the meeting, asked whether or not it would be a good idea to ask Congressional approval for the President's action in regard to North Korea. This was referred to me by the President, and I said that it was a matter which we ought to take under advisement and think about ...

The fact of the matter was that I thought about it, not very deeply, but just enough to come to the conclusion that this was one of those steps like the one more question in cross-examination which destroys you, as a lawyer. We had complete acceptance of the President's policy by everybody on both sides of both houses of Congress. Now the question is, should we bring a Joint Resolution in the Congress approving this? The hazards of that step seemed to me far greater than any possible good that could come from it.

Now that may have been a mistake in light of subsequent events. But looking at it from the point of view of June 30, 1950, you can see that this would be introduced, it would then be referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs in both Houses, and to the Military Committees, you'd have great hearings at which everybody would ask all sorts of ponderous questions; by the time you get through with this you might have completely muddled up the situation which seemed to be very clear at the time. So I recommended that we just drop this idea, since there was no great pressure about it, to go ahead on our own.
Might it have been a mistake for the United States to go ahead on its own with an undeclared war?

The real victim of the Korean War was the US constitution and the democratic principles of due process. It established the unconstitutional precedence of undeclared wars launched secretly behind closed doors. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Acheson argued that an air attack and invasion represented the only alternative available to the United States. He added that the US president had the responsibility for the security of the American people and of the whole world, that it was his duty to take the only action which could protect that security, and that this meant destroying the missiles in Cuba. The prospect of a nuclear war did not worry him in the least.

Theodore C Sorensen, counselor to president John F Kennedy, wrote ("The leader who led", New York Times, October 18, 1997):

Kennedy was indeed in a pretty bad fix. He had no good choices, no options free from the risk of either war or the erosion of our security and alliances, and no reliable forecasts on how Moscow would respond to our response. Acheson, the secretary of state under President Truman, in recommending to our group (in an untaped meeting at the State Department) an air strike against the Soviet missile sites in Cuba, acknowledged that this would then obligate the Soviets to knock out our missile complex in Turkey, thereby obligating us to knock out a missile complex inside the Soviet Union, thereby obligating ... et cetera, et cetera. When Kennedy's more cautious approach succeeded, Acheson wrote the President an eloquent note praising his handling of the crisis. But in a magazine article several years later he said that "the Kennedys" had prevailed in this perilous situation only through "dumb luck".
They were indeed lucky - lucky they didn't take Dean Acheson's advice.

On Korea, Truman, and unfortunately the world as well, were less lucky. And since when did the president of the United States have a responsibility for the security of the whole world? Who elected him President of the World?

On the question of Chinese warning of possible intervention, Acheson had this to say in congressional testimony, June 1, 1951:

At the end of September, there were reports which were sent out through the Government of India that statements that had been made to their representatives by Chinese officials that if we crossed the 38th Parallel they would intervene. Those were important matters to be considered, and they were considered; and on the 3rd of October, for instance, the Chinese Communist Foreign Minister [Chou Enlai] informed the Indian Ambassador [K M Pannikar], at Peiping [Beijing], that if the United States forces, or UN forces crossed the 38th Parallel, China would send troops to the Korean frontier to defend North Korea. That was a cryptic statement made by him.

He said that this action would not be taken if only South Korean troops crossed the parallel. That was a matter which had to be given very considerable attention, and information to that effect was given to General MacArthur. At the time this statement was made, the United Nations was preparing to vote on its resolution [to cross the 38th Parallel], finally adopted by the General Assembly on October 7. It was acted on by Committee One, on October 4, so that you also have to keep in mind that perhaps this statement was put out to have some effect on that vote.
Acheson again ("Princeton Seminar" comment, February 13, 1954, Papers of Dean Acheson):

This [purported warning from Communist China] was discussed at considerable length among us, and the question was whether this was really a serious observation, whether this was supposed to affect the vote on the [United Nations] resolution - the Indians were bringing in reports that the Chinese really meant this and we shouldn't cross the 38th Parallel; the Indians had been saying this sort of thing quite consistently and continued in the future with these observations, and I don't think they were taken very seriously ... We thought that Pannikar was not a good reporter ...
It seemed that it was Acheson who was not a good listener.

Thus it was clear from official US records that the United States intended from the very beginning to regionalize and globalize the escalation of the Korean civil war into a Cold War beyond the Korean Peninsula, if South Korea were to suffer military setbacks from a conflict sparked by the South itself with US support. To the US, Korea was a civil war only if South Korea won. It was naked communist aggression if the South should lose. It was an issue of US credibility and international prestige.

This attitude, in conjunction with the Truman Doctrine of March 12, 1947, of combating global communism, anchored by the Cold War rationale of National Security Council Report 68, laid the foundation for the "domino theory" that rationalized US hostile containment of China, US involvement in Vietnam and US support of anti-communist dictatorships all over the world. It was a strategy hostile to populist liberation movements in the former colonies, born out of US leaders' distrust of the wisdom of the democratic processes at home as stipulated by the US constitution.

The defense of capitalist democracy abroad required the denial of democracy at home.

The US linkage of Taiwan to Korea played a central role in China's decision to enter to the Korean War in the event US forces should approach the Chinese border by crossing the 38th Parallel. General Xiao Jinguang, commander of China's navy, wrote in Xiao Jinguang Huiyilu (Xiao Jinguang's Memoirs, Beijing: People's Liberation Army Press, 1990, p 26) on the postponement of the Taiwan Campaign Plan in June 1950:

On June 30, 1950, the fifth day after the Korean War broke out, Premier Zhou Enlai met with me in his office. He told me about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee's consideration of and the Chinese government's position on the current development of the Korean War. Zhou said that this change in the world situation made our liberation of Taiwan more difficult because the United States now protected Taiwan in the straits. This change, however, might also have a positive result since we were not fully prepared yet. At present, our government's attitude was to denounce the American imperialists' invasion of Taiwan and their intervention into China's internal affairs. Our army's plans were to continue the demobilization of the land forces, strengthen the construction of the naval and air forces, and postpone the schedule of liberating Taiwan.
China had not planned to enter Korean conflict

If China had planned to enter the Korean conflict in June 1950, it would not have continued to demobilize its land forces. By ordering the 7th Fleet, a key military asset in the Pacific balance of power, with 50-60 warships, 350 aircraft and 60,000 sailors and marines, into the Taiwan Strait to intervene in the ongoing Chinese civil war on June 27, 1950, the United States brought into existence a de facto state of war between itself and China.

At the end of July, in the midst of battlefield reverses in Korea, MacArthur flew to Taiwan for two days of talks with Guomindang [GMD, also transliterated Kuomintang] leader Chiang Kai-shek. At the end of these talks, MacArthur made a vague public announcement praising Chiang's anti-communist efforts, but further stated that "arrangements have been completed for effective coordination between American forces under my command and those of the Chinese government".

This sounded as though Chinese Nationalist troops were to be introduced into the Korean fighting, which was not US government policy, albeit considerations of it had been given by Truman and his advisers. MacArthur cavalierly refused to give details of his supposed plan to the State Department, and even waited four days before reporting to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his superiors, on this important meeting. In spite of his embattled situation along the Pusan Perimeter, MacArthur nonetheless found time to criticize administration policy in his message to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) on August 20, saying that the United States, as a matter of military logic, should keep Taiwan as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier", as a critical salient of a natural geographic arc of defense to protect US interests in the Pacific.

MacArthur stressed the strategic importance of Taiwan and insisted that the US must, at any cost, retain control of that island. He strongly hinted that the US would be able to use Taiwan as a base in any future operations against the "Asiatic" mainland. He also pointed out that Taiwan would be a formidable threat to US security if controlled by an unfriendly power, terming it an "unsinkable aircraft carrier and submarine tender ... Nothing could be more fallacious," he charged, "than the threadbare argument by those who advocate appeasement and defeatism in the Pacific that if we defend Formosa we alienate continental Asia. Those who speak thus do not understand the Orient."

He dismissed any threat of the Korean War's expansion by arguing that as the most knowledgeable expert on "oriental psychology", he knew that "most Asiatics admired his aggressive, resolute and dynamic leadership". Truman ordered MacArthur to withdraw the statement as being at variance with US policy. Mutual ill-will continued to fester between the self-aggrandizing soldier and his commander-in-chief.

Korean War creates Taiwan crisis

The CCP leadership acted immediately to cope with the crisis situation over Taiwan, as created by the outbreak of the Korean War. The CCP leadership, in recognition of the obvious gap of naval and air capabilities between the two sides, quickly decided to postpone the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Taiwan campaign plan to focus on Korea, which is separated from China by the Yalu River (Zhou Jun, "A Preliminary Exploration of Reasons Why the PLA Failed to Carry Out the Taiwan Campaign Plan after the Formation of the PRC", Zhonggong Dangshi Yanjiu (The CPC History Study), No 1, 1991, p 72).

The CCP leadership had worried about direct US military intervention on the mainland in the spring and autumn of 1949 and had made contingent plans to counteract it. As no US military invasion materialized when the PLA mopped up GMD (Nationalist) stragglers in China's coastal areas, especially in Shanghai and Qingdao, CCP perception of an "American threat" underwent complex adjustments in late 1949 and early 1950.

Chinese leaders concluded that the prospect of a US invasion of the Chinese mainland was no longer likely. Secretary of state Acheson's open exclusion of Taiwan and South Korea from the US western Pacific defensive perimeter suggested to Chinese planners that the United States would not intervene in the final campaign of the protracted Chinese civil war, which had begun in 1927. This view was explicitly expressed by General Su Yu, the officer assigned to take charge of the Taiwan liberation campaign, in his reports about the Taiwan problem on January 5 and 27, 1950. (He Di, "The Last Campaign to Unify China: The CCP's Unmaterialized Plan to Liberate Taiwan, 1949-1950", Chinese Historians, Vol V, No 1, 7-8). By the end of June 1950, the campaign to liberate Taiwan was indefinitely postponed because of direct US intervention as a result of developments in Korea.

When CCP Chairman Mao Zedong was visiting Moscow in September 1949, North Korean leader Kim Il-sung sent high-ranking Kim Kwang-hyop, secretary of the central committee of the Korean Workers' Party and commanding general of the North Korean II Corps, to visit China. His mission: asking the Chinese to return all remaining ethnic-Korean soldiers in the PLA 4th Field Army, as troops were needed to counter repeated South Korean incursions. According to the memoir of Chinese Marshal Nie Rong-zhen, chief of staff of the PLA, China agreed to this request after discussions between himself and Kim.

On January 19, 1950, General Kim further asked China to send these ethnic-Korean soldiers back to Korea together with their military equipment. Nie felt sympathetic to the request but he needed to ask instructions from the CCP Central Committee. He sent off a report for this matter to the CCP Central Committee on January 21, and the Central Committee approved the Korean request the next day. (Nie, Nie Rongzhen Huiyilu, p 743-744.) The total number of ethnic-Korean soldiers returned to Korea in the spring of 1950 was about 23,000. These soldiers were mainly from different units of the PLA's 4th Field Army and later organized as the Korean People's Army's 7th Division.

North Korea adopted Maoist, not Soviet, theory

Led by Kim Il-sung, who had developed his political experience from close association with the Chinese communists in Manchuria, the North Korean communists did not follow Soviet orthodoxy, and instead adopted the Maoist model by including masses of poor peasants in the party; indeed, they described the party a "mass" rather than a "vanguard" party.

Kim's ideology in the 1940s tended to be revolutionary-nationalist rather than internationalist communist. The juche ideology had its beginnings in the late 1940s, although the term juche was not used until a 1955 speech in which Kim castigated some of his comrades for being too pro-Soviet. The concept of juche, which means placing all foreigners at arm's length, has resonated deeply with Korea's Hermit Kingdom past. Juche doctrine stresses self-reliance and independence, but also draws on neo-Confucian emphasis on rectification of one's thinking before action in the real world.

Soon after Kim assumed power, virtually all North Koreans were required to participate in study groups and re-education meetings, where regime ideology was inculcated. In the 1940s, Kim faced factional power struggles within his group. Factions included communists who had remained in Korea during the Japanese colonial period, called the domestic faction, also Koreans associated with Chinese communism, called the Yen'an faction, Kim's Manchurian partisans, known as the Kapsan faction, and Soviet Union loyalists, the Soviet faction.

In the aftermath of the Korean War, amid much fault-finding for the disasters of the war, Kim purged the domestic faction, many of whose leaders were from southern Korea. In the mid-1950s, Kim removed key leaders of the Soviet faction. These factional power struggles took place only during the first decade of the regime. Later, there were conflicts within the leadership, but they were relatively minor and did not successfully challenge Kim's leadership.

The Yen'an experience (1937-45) was formative for the revolutionary soul of Maoism and the CCP. During his sojourn in Yen'an, Mao was at the height of his theoretical creativity. He identified the Chinese peasantry as the revolutionary core, addressed himself to his/her needs and carried out land reforms and rent reduction programs. Peasants became fully involved in the political, economic and military organizations in the liberated areas.

In order to raise the revolutionary consciousness of the peasantry, Mao created a corps of poor peasants and encouraged them to participate actively in the land reform movement. During this period Mao also formulated the "Three-Thirds System", which limited the participation of party cadre in local government to one-third, leaving two-thirds of the posts to poor peasants and progressive intellectuals. The role of experts is to serve the people, not to lord it over them, he argued. The bulk of his writings, which later appeared as Thoughts of Mao, were written in Yen'an. After 1949, the Yen'an spirit, which was the key to the CCP triumph over the GMD, was taken as a guiding principle for social revolution in China as a whole.

Mao had a deep influence on Kim. In the period 1946-48, there was much evidence that the Soviet Union hoped to dominate North Korea. In particular, it sought to involve North Korea in a quasi-colonial relationship in which Korean raw materials, such as tungsten and gold, were exchanged for Soviet manufactured goods. The Soviet Union also sought to keep Chinese communist influence out of Korea; in the late 1940s, Maoist doctrine had to be infiltrated into North Korean newspapers and books. Soviet influence was especially strong in the media, where major organs were staffed by Koreans returning from the Soviet Union, and in the security bureaus.

Korean fighters tempered in Manchuria warfare

Nonetheless, the Korean guerrillas who fought in Manchuria were not easily molded and dominated. They were tough, highly nationalistic and determined to keep Korea for Koreans. This was especially so for the Korean People's Army (KPA), which constituted an important political base for Kim Il-sung and which was led by Choe Yng-gn, another Korean guerrilla who had fought in Manchuria. At the army's founding ceremony on February 8, 1948, Kim urged his soldiers to carry forward the tradition of the Koreans who had fought against the Japanese in Manchuria.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established on September 9, 1948, three weeks after the Republic of Korea had been formed in Seoul. Kim Il-sung was named premier, a title he retained until 1972, when, under a new constitution, he was named president. At the end of 1948, Soviet occupation forces were withdrawn from North Korea. This decision echoed Soviet withdrawal from Austria and contrasted with Soviet policies in Eastern Europe. Tens of thousands of Korean soldiers who had fought in Manchuria alongside the Chinese communists against the Japanese also filtered back to Korea. All through 1949, tough crack troops with Chinese, not Soviet, experience returned to be integrated with the KPA; the return of these Korean troops inevitably moved North Korea toward China with which Koreans always share a cultural affinity.

These returning troops enhanced Kim's bargaining power with the Soviet Union and enabled him to maneuver between the two communist giants. Soviet advisers remained in the Korean government and military, although far fewer than the thousands claimed by South Korean sources. There probably were 300-400 Soviet advisers posted to North Korea, far fewer than the US advisers in the South. Both Koreas continued to trade, and the Soviet Union sold World War II-vintage weaponry to North Korea while the US armed South Korea with new weapons. The KPA was built up through recruiting campaigns and bond drives to raise funds to purchase Soviet arms. The tradition of the Manchurian guerrillas was burnished in the party newspaper, Nodong simmun (Workers' Daily).

On August 1, 1950, little more than a month after US intervention in the Korean civil conflict, the decision was made by Truman immediately to send the US 9th Bomber Wing to Guam as an atomic task force. Ten B-29s, loaded with unarmed atomic bombs, set out for the Pacific. On August 5, one of the planes crashed during takeoff from Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base near San Francisco, killing a dozen people and scattering radioactive uranium around the airfield. The other planes reached Guam, where they were kept on standby. This was the beginning of the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Korea was not a key issue at the end of World War II.

One of the earliest signs of the Allied Powers' concern about Korea appeared in a joint statement by the US, China (Nationalist) and Great Britain in December 1943, after the Cairo Conference, which read: "The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea [by Japan], are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent" (Foreign Relations of the United States: The Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943, Department of State Publication 7187, Washington, 1961, p 448).

Increased divergence between US and Russian policies in the latter stages of World War II affected the fate of Korea. The destruction of the Axis powers in 1945 left power vacuums in many areas of the world and brought the escalating conflicts between the US and the Soviet Union into sharp focus. Countries newly freed from German or Japanese subjugation assumed significance as pawns of clashing American-Soviet interests.

US gave little strategic weight to Korea, unlike Soviets

Unlike the Soviet Union, the US traditionally attached little importance to Korea as a strategic point. Korea had a relatively small population, and had neither important industrial facilities nor many natural resources not found elsewhere. If at some future date Korea should fall into hands unfriendly to the US, the occupation of Japan might be vulnerable and US freedom of movement might be restricted in the region. But with China in 1945 under control of a friendly Nationalist government, such a situation appeared unlikely. The USSR, on the other hand, maintained its traditional regard for Korea as a strategic focus. The USSR would be less likely to countenance control of Korea by another power and sought to control Korea itself.

US president Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 touched upon Korea's future. Roosevelt advocated a trusteeship for Korea administered by the US, the Soviet Union and China. Mindful of US experience in the Philippines, he surmised that such a trusteeship might last decades. Stalin suggested that Britain should also be a trustee. No actual mention of Korea was made in the document recording the agreements at Yalta. The secret protocol developed by Roosevelt and Stalin and agreed to by British prime minister Winston Churchill only provided territorial and other geopolitical concessions to the USSR in the Far East, such as recognition of Outer Mongolia as a Soviet satellite - at China's expense - as conditions for Soviet entrance into the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany.

Later, soon after Roosevelt's death in April 1945, Stalin told Harry Hopkins, president Truman's representative in Moscow, that the USSR was committed to the policy of a four-power trusteeship for Korea (Foreign Relations of the United States: The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, Department of State Publication 6199, Washington, 1955, pp 770, 984; Harry S Truman, Memoirs, Vol II: Years of Trial and Hope, New York: Doubleday and Co Inc, 1956, pp 316-17).

Korea was only briefly considered at the Potsdam Conference held between July and August 1945, two months after the surrender of Germany in May. Truman as the new US president attended and Churchill was replaced in mid-conference by Labor prime minister Clement Atlee. Among the questions discussed were the Soviet timetable for entering the war in the Pacific and the Allied proclamation demanding Japan's unconditional surrender. Looking ahead to the surrender of the Japanese on the Asian mainland, the Allied military representatives drew a tentative line across the map of Manchuria, above which the Soviet Union was to accept surrender of Japanese forces.

No mention was at first made of Korea. But since Japanese troops were stationed in Korea, there was a later discussion of Allied operations in that area. At Potsdam, the chief of the Soviet General Staff told General Marshall that the USSR would attack Korea after declaring war on Japan. He asked whether the Americans could operate against Korean shores in coordination with this offensive. Marshall told him that the US planned no amphibious operation against Korea until Japan had been brought under control and Japanese strength in the south of Korea was destroyed by Soviet forces. Although the chiefs of staff developed ideas concerning the partition of Korea, Manchuria and the Sea of Japan into US and Soviet zones, these had no connection with the later decisions that partitioned Korea into northern and southern political units.

The Soviet entry into the war against Japan on August 9, 1945, three days after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and signs of imminent Japanese collapse on August 10 - one day after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki - changed US military planning from defeating Japan to accepting its surrender.

Emperor Hirohito's Surrender Rescript to Japanese Troops issued on August 17, 1945, read in part:

To the officers and men of the Imperial Forces: Three years and eight months have elapsed since we declared war on the United States and Britain. During this time our beloved men of the army and navy, sacrificing their lives, have fought valiantly on disease-stricken and barren lands and on tempestuous waters in the blazing sun, and of this we are deeply grateful. Now that the Soviet Union has entered the war against us, to continue the war under the present internal and external conditions would be only to increase needlessly the ravages of war finally to the point of endangering the very foundation of the Empire's existence. With that in mind and although the fighting spirit of the Imperial Army and Navy is as high as ever, with a view to maintaining and protecting our noble national policy we are about to make peace with the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union and Chungking.
Japan omits term 'surrender'

The term "surrender" was not used and atomic bombs were neither mentioned nor acknowledged as the reason for ending the war, which was ascribed directly to Soviet entry into the war. China was not named because Japan never declared war on China. So Japan made peace with Chungking, the wartime capital of China. Between August 9, the day of the Nagasaki bomb, and August 17, fierce fighting continued in Manchuria between Soviet troops and the dilapidated Kwangtung Army, long stripped of fighting capability to reinforce the Pacific campaign against US troops.

According to US Army Lieutenant-Colonel David M Glantz (August Storm: The Soviet 1945 Strategic Offensive in Manchuria, Fort Leavenworth, Combat Studies Institute, February 1983), the Soviets abrogated their Neutrality Pact with Japan in April 1945 and commenced a massive redeployment effort, which doubled Soviet forces in the Far East to 80 divisions. During the months of May-July 1945, more than 40 infantry, tank and mechanized divisions plus artillery and combat support units were transferred from the European theater to the Far East.

This monumental effort, code-named August Storm, required maximum utilization of the Trans-Siberian railroad and 136,000 railroad carloads to move these assault units to the Far Eastern border areas. During the peak troop redeployments in June and July, an average of 22-30 trains per day moved Russian units under strict secrecy. Surprise was the essential element in the Soviet offensive plan. The Russians successfully deployed 30 divisions to western Manchuria without Japanese detection.

Deception and surprise were achieved by heavy reliance upon night movement, utilization of assembly areas far removed from the border and simple but strict measures such as instructing senior Soviet officers not to wear rank insignia and to use assumed names. The 6th Guards Tank Army left all tanks, self-propelled artillery and vehicles behind in Czechoslovakia and picked up new equipment manufactured in Soviet Ural factories.

This extraordinary effort resulted in the Soviet Union's ability to field a force in the Far East comprised of 11 combined-arms armies, one tank army and three air armies. Thus, without discovery by the Japanese at the start of war with Japan, the Russian army fielded 1,577,725 men, 26,137 guns and mortars, and 5,556 tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces. The air force possessed 3,800 aircraft while the Soviet navy (Pacific Fleet and Amur River flotilla) had distinct superiority on the seas with 600 fighting ships and an additional 1,500 amphibian crafts. This vast array of men and arms gave the Russians a 2.2:1 ratio advantage in men, 4.8:1 in artillery and tanks and a 2:1 advantage in aircraft.

The threat which kept 40 Soviet divisions, including two tank divisions, from the European front all though the war was Japan's Kwangtung Army. In existence since 1919, the Kwangtung Army was more than a million men strong in early 1941. Manchuria was the breadbasket and military warehouse for the Japanese armed forces. However, as the Allied effort in the Pacific war intensified, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ) began to withdraw elite divisions from the Kwangtung Army to counter the Allied threat elsewhere. By early 1943, the Japanese had approximately 600,000 troops protecting Manchuria against an estimated 750,000 Soviet troops deployed on its borders.

Huge Soviet force vs Japan's decimated army

Approaching the end of 1944, this former vanguard of Japanese military prowess found its strength reduced half again from its number in December 1942. The Japanese army was short in more than manpower. It was severely deficient in aircraft engineer support, communications and armor. What few tanks the Japanese did possess were armed with 57mm guns and were grossly overmatched by the Soviet T-34s. On March 7, 1945, the Japanese forces on Iwo Jima were annihilated and the Allies moved closer to the Japanese homeland. The Japanese IGHQ issued orders on March 15, 1945, to withdraw all remaining elite divisions from Manchuria to the homeland, including two divisions on the border. This also removed the Kwangtung Army's 1st Tank Division, the last armor division in Manchuria.

The result left the Kwangtung Army a mere shadow of its former self - its most seasoned division was formed only as late as the spring of 1944. By August 1945, the Kwangtung Army had pieced together a combat force of 1,155 tanks, 5,360 guns and 1,800 aircraft, mostly of obsolete vintage. Discounting Japanese forces in South Sakhalin, Korea and the Kuril Islands, the Soviets faced an inexperienced army totaling little more than 710,000 men.

The Japanese emperor's decree to surrender was issued over the radio on August 14, 1945, after the Japanese officially notified Allied powers that Japan would accept the Potsdam offer for surrender. However, Japanese IGHQ did not issue a formal ceasefire order to the Kwangtung Army in the name of the emperor until August 17. The result was continued fighting in some areas, surrender in others and confusion everywhere. The continuing combat impaired already poor communications between Japanese headquarters and field units. This delayed transmissions of ceasefire orders on August 17, during which time the Kwangtung Army was preparing for a counter attack in the southeast.

This atmosphere of confusion and anxiety by the Japanese was intensified by the Japanese warrior code of bushido, fight to the death. Existing army/navy regulations expressly prohibited servicemen from surrendering. Giving in to the enemy was considered shameful and dishonorable in Japanese military culture, punishable by court martial and execution. To absolve soldiers of the traditional stigma of surrender and to remove legal liabilities, Japan's military headquarters published an order that stated the nation and government would not regard servicemen "delivered" to the enemy as a result of the ceasefire order as having surrendered under the old regulations. This had an important psychological effect on the Japanese soldiers: with no dishonor there was no reason to commit suicide. Still, many officers did.

On August 19, the Kwangtung Army transmitted this order to its field commands and the Japanese capitulated everywhere in China. Soviet meticulous planning and bold offensive tactics took 594,000 Japanese prisoners including 143 generals and 20,000 wounded. The Kwangtung Army suffered over 80,000 men and officers killed in the final campaign of the war which lasted less than two weeks. In contrast, the well-prepared Soviet Army had 8,219 killed and 22,264 wounded. These battle deaths and casualties occurred after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

Next: Act IV in conjoined Korean/Taiwan debacles