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A Brief History of the US-Korea Relations Prior to 1945
Korea Web Weekly ^ | Kim Young-Sik, Ph.D.

Posted on 07/10/2003 5:15:59 PM PDT by Enemy Of The State


A Brief History of the US-Korea Relations Prior to 1945

Kim Young-Sik, Ph.D.

A paper presented at the University of Oregon, sponsored by ‘MeetKorea in Eugene’

May 15, 2003



This paper chronicles some of the major events that have shaped the US-Korea relations.  Even though Korea is well known for the Korean War (1950-53) and the "axis of evil" designation, most Americans know little about the US-Korea relations prior to the Korean War.  This paper begins with a brief history of Korea, including the story of the first white-man, the first Korean Christians, the first Americans in Korea, and the first Koreans in America.

It covers the US-Korea relations from the 1700s to the end of World War II (1945): the ginseng trade war between Korea and the American colonies (before the United States was born), the 1866 burning of the American merchant-ship General Sherman, the 1871 US invasion of Korea, the 1882 US-Korea amity and trade treaty (the Chemulpo Treaty), the ensuing pro-Americanism in Korea, the American betrayal and abandonment of Korea (the Taft-Katsura secret agreement) in 1904.

This paper describes how Koreans and Americans came into armed conflicts in Siberia in the 1920s. It tells the story of the war crimes committed by some Koreans in the Japanese army against American POWs during World War II. It tells the story of the Koreans in China working with the US OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and other Americans against Japan.  Lastly, this paper describes how the decision to divide Korea along the 38th Parallel was made in 30 min by two American colonels.

Please email your comments on this paper to 


The Republic of Korea (ROK) and the United States have been close allies since 1948 when ROK was established under the watchful eye of the US Military Government in Korea (USMGIK).  Since the formation of the alliance, the two nations have fought two wars - the Korean War of 1950-1953 and the Vietnam War - together as allies. Today ROK troops are in Afghanistan on the side of the US troops.  The US-ROK friendship is like 'lips and teeth', inseparable and firm - at least for now.

How did this unlikely friendship between a superpower and a tiny nation, oceans apart, begin?  The road to this friendship has been anything but rosy.  There have been bloodsheds and treacheries as well as altruism and heroic sacrifices. Today, the US Congress debates waging war on North Korea.  History does repeat itself, for in 1872, more than 120 years ago, the US Congress hotly debated attacking the Kingdom of Corea (Speer, 1872):

"The Congress of the United States has this winter to consider and adjudicate some very important questions relating to a strange and distant race, which have been forced upon the national attention by certain warlike collisions between some of our people with theirs. We are taking a breathing spell after a long war, paying off a mountain of debt, starting afresh a thousand forms of the enterprises of peace, and are most anxious to be at peace.

It does not pay to fight a nation on the opposite side of the globe from us, and so opposite in most of all circumstances and characteristics. That nation is equally indisposed to fight. Its most anxious policy is to have peace with Western races, at the sacrifice of all else. It has got into trouble by its very efforts to compel non-intercourse and peace. We are in a perplexing position. After our little brush with her, what are we to do with Corea? This Congress has to say; and this our people too should consider." (Speer, 1872)

This paper briefly touches upon some of the critical events that have shaped the US-Korea "teeth-to-lips" and "axis of evil" relationships.  

Since few people in America know of the past history of Korea, a brief history of Korea is given in Section I. Some of the known footprints of the white-man in Korea in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the early US-Korea contacts during 1700-1945 are traced in subsequent sections. The history of Korea from 1945 to the present day is extremely complex and is still being written and rewritten, and so, it is not covered in this paper.

I. Korea? Where is it?

The history of Korea begins with Go-Chosun (“Old Chosun” – Chosun means 'Land of Morning Calm'). The Go-Chosun people, called the Dongyi ("eastern bowmen" or "eastern barbarians"), inhabited Manchuria, East China, and the Korean Peninsula.  In addition to Koreans, the Dongyi included Jurchens (Manchus), Mongols, Khitans, Xiongnu (Huns), and perhaps, some of the Native American tribes.  (UC Berkeley, 1997) 

Map of Asia, 1812 (Ruderman, 2003) - During the last Ice Age, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Malay, Siberia, and Alaska were connected. The East Sea (Sea of Japan) was an inland lake. Humans migrated to Korea. Japan, and Alaska in waves from Central Asia and Polynesia.  Earlier maps showed Korea as an island.

It is believed that a group of Dongyi tribes formed an alliance called "Han-guk" in about 7193 BC. This nation was ruled by Han-In ("Lord of Heaven").  Today, South Korea is called Han-guk, but there exists no conclusive documentary or physical evidence that such a nation did in fact exist. Recently, three complete sets of 300,000-year old human fossils have been discovered in Korea in an ancient lava bed. Modern DNA tests showed that the remains were those of a woman, a teenage boy, and a female child, most likely a family that died in a sudden volcanic eruption about 300,000 years ago. ("Korean History", 2003)

The recorded history of Korea dates back to 2333 BC, when a tribal chieftain Dangun united warring tribes into a nation-state, Go-Chosun (or Dangun Chosun).  Dangun established his capital at Asadal (today's Pyongyang) and was buried there. Korean archeologists have restored Dangun's grave and the remains of Dangun and his wife are preserved in a glass showcase in North Korea. Although Dangun's life is shrouded in fanciful myths, Dagnun was a real person who founded the first nation in Korea.

Photo: Dangun was a real person. The story of the three saints - Dangun, his father and grandfather - is recorded in the ancient Samsung Chronicle  and also, in the Three-Nation Chronicl, familiar to all students of history in Korea.  Dangun's grave does exist and he is no myth. Dangun's body does exist and has been scientifically dated. (Lee Wha Rang, 2002) 

Many Koreans use the Dangun calendar, which puts 2003 AD at 4336 Dangun. The first nation in Egypt, Narmer, was formed in 3185 BC and the first nation in China, Xia, was formed in about 2200 BC. Go-Chosun is one of the oldest known nations of the world, and the Korean race and culture are unique. Dangun's birthday and the Go-Chosum foundation day are celebrated in Korea. 

Go-Chosun fell in 108 BC to Han China.  From the ashes of Go-Chosun, there arose three Korean kingdoms: Silla in 57 BC, Koguryo in 37 BC, and Baikje in 18 BC. Baekje and Silla occupied southern Korea while Koguryo occupied Manchuria and northern regions of Korea. Silla, after decades of warfare, united Korea in 668 AD. Silla imploded in 935 AD from internal conflicts and the Koryo Kingdom came into being. The word ‘Corea’ originally came from “Koryo”. Mongols invaded Koryo in 1238 and ruled it for about a century. Kublai Khan launched two disastrous invasions of Japan from Korea, in both attempts, tens of thousands of Koreans and hundreds of Korean ships, forced to serve the Mongols, perished in kamikaze (divine winds - typhoons). 

In 1389, General Yi Seong Gye, noted for his successful campaigns against Japanese pirates, seized the power. Gen. Yi instituted land reforms to lighten the loads on the peasants and established institutions of Confucian learning. He set up public schools for training Confucian scholar-officials for government offices. His reforms were well received and his popularity with the people soared. Yi became the King by popular acclaim in 1392. Gen. Yi called his kingdom Chosun after Go-Chosun and moved his capital from Kaesong to Seoul. 

Chosun lost much of the glory of Go-Chosun and controlled less than 90,000 square miles roughly equal to the combined area of Tennessee and Kentucky, a mere fraction of the land formerly occupied by Go-Chosun and Koguryo. The Chosun Kingdom (commonly referred to as the "Yi Dynasty" in Western publications) lasted over 500 years. It had wise progressive Kings as well as retarded tyrants.


Japanese Occupation - 1592 - 1598

The Chosun Kingdom was under constant attacks by Japanese pirates and Chinese bandits. In addition, China, Russia, and Japan made numerous attempts to occupy the nation.  Thus, for example, in 1592, a 200,000-men Japanese army led by Shogun Hideyoshi invaded Korea and devastated the land.  The Japanese were driven away in the following year, but they came back in 1597 and left Korea when Hideyoshi died in 1598. (imjin-waeran, 2002).

Photo: A replica of "Turtle" ship. The Korean navy led by Admiral Yi Sun-shin attacked Japanese transports with Turtle ships (kuh-buk-sun) - the first iron-clad warship in the world. The decks were covered with sharp spikes to deter enemy soldiers from boarding.  

The Japanese invaders took about 300,000 Koreans, many of them young girls, as slaves to Japan. (Some Japanese historians claim that less than 30,000 Koreans were taken, while South Korean historians put the number at about 100,000. The figure of 300,000 comes from a Portuguese archive cited by Lee Hae Gang, 2000.)  The Japanese cut noses and ears off their Korean victims as souvenirs. A kind-hearted Japanese governor had the trophies confiscated and buried in a mass grave near Kyoto, which exists even today known as Mimizuka ("Ear/Nose Mound" in Japanese). (Kristof, 1997)

Chesun Falls

In the aftermath of the Hideyoshi fiasco, adding insults to injury, a Manchu army invaded Korea in 1627, which was repulsed, but nine years later in 1636, another Manchu army invaded Korea. The Land of Morning Calm became a desolate land of skeletons and starving people. After these catastrophic invasions, Korea shut itself off from the world and became a ‘hermit’ kingdom. Christian missionaries and other foreigners were expelled or executed. Borders were sealed shut and no one was allowed in or out. It was against law to fraternize with foreigners of any nationality.

The Chosen Kingdom remained sealed until 1876, when Japan forced it to sign the Treaty of Kanghwa (also known as Treaty of Friendship), and soon the United Stated and other nations followed the Japanese example. On May 22, 1882: Korea and the United States signed the Treaty of Amity, Friendship, and Mutual Defense at Chemulpo (today's Inchon).  In 1904, the United States secretly nullified the Chemulpo Treaty in the Taft-Katsura Agreement. Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and the Chosun Kingdom was no more.

Korea Liberated in 1945

Korea remained a Japanese colony until August 15, 1945, on which day, Korea was divided into two halves along the 38th Parallel.  The US military ran South Korea from 1945 to 1948, when the Republic of Korea came into being under Rhee Syngman, a Korean-American.  The Soviet Red Army ruled North Korea from 1945 to 1948, when the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established under Kim Il Sung, a noted anti-Japanese guerrilla commander.

On June 25, 1950, Kim Il Sung invaded South Korea.  Kim's troops had occupied much of South Korea when the United States intervened and pushed back Kim's troops to the Korea-China border.  Mao Zedong sent in Chinese volunteers and Stalin dispatched Soviet air force units to fight the US military and its allies. An armistice agreement was ironed out in 1953 and the fighting stopped, but no peace treaty has been signed, and so, technically speaking, the war is still on. 

Today, South Korea is an economic powerhouse and democracy rules South Korea, while North Korea has become a nuclear power that cannot feed its people and is ruled by military dictatorship of Kim Il-Sung's son, Kim Jong-Il. Dark clouds of war are once again hovering over the Korean Peninsula. 

II. The Early Westerners in Korea

In 1582, a white-man, whom the Korean royal archive refers to as "Pingni" (or  "Mari"), landed with several Chinese sailors on Cheju-do, an island of Korea. He was immediately deported to China via sea. His nationality is not known. He is the first white-man in Korea, although on an island and not on the mainland Korea, recorded in the Chosun court archive.  (Lee Hae Gang, 2000)

In 1592, Japan's Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea. One of his generals, Konishi Yukinaga (Roman name, Augustin Arimandono), a devout Roman Catholic, was accompanied by a Portuguese Jesuit priest, Gregorio de Céspedes (1550-1611). Father Gregorio arrived in Korea on December 27, 1593 and left in April 1594.  He is believed to be the first white-man to set foot on the Korean peninsula. 

Another Jesuit priest, Francesco Carletti, who was in Japan at the time of Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea, stated in a letter home that some 300,000 Koreans were taken to Japan as prisoners of war and sold off as slaves.  Father Carletti bought five of the Korean slaves - dirt-cheap.  Later, his Korean slaves became Christian converts, and one of them, Antonio Correa (1578?-1626), went to Holland with Father Carletti and became the first Korean to live in Europe.  In about 1610, the Vatican sent Antonio back to Korea as a missionary, but he was not allowed in and returned to Italy. He later married an Italian girl and some of his descendents still live in Italy. Father Carletti's Korean slaves were probably the first Koreans to be baptized into the Catholic faith outside Korea. (Lee Hae Gang, 2000; Kim Andrew, 2000)

Sometime before 1653, a Spanish priest and three Dutchmen had arrived in Korea, and the three Dutchmen were still alive in Korea in 1653. One of them was Jan Janse Weltevree from De Rijp, Spain. Not much is known about these men. A Dutch trading ship, Sperwer (Sparrowhawk), on its way to Nagasaki, Japan, ran aground on the Cheju Island in August 1653.  From the 64 persons on board, 36 survived the wreck. The Dutch sailors were treated well by the Cheju residents for a few days and then were sent to Seoul for interrogation. The Chosun government refused to let the Dutchmen leave the country fearing that they knew too much about Korea.  In due course of time, twenty of the 36 survivors died from malnutrition and diseases.  Eventually, eight of the survivors managed to escape to Japan in September 1666.  

Hendrick Hamel, one of the lucky escapees, returned to Holland and published a detailed account of his captivity in Korea. His book, Journal van de Ongeluckige Voyage van 't Jacht de Sperwer  (The journal of the unfortunate voyage of the Sperwer), was published in 1668. Hamel was the first Westerner to write about Korea from first-hand knowledge. (Lee Hae Gang, 2000)

III. The Ginseng 'Trade War'

The ginseng 'trade war' that began in the 1730s was the first recorded contact between Korea and the people of North America. (The United States of America came into being much later in 1776.)  Ginseng roots from Canada and the American colonies began to flood the Chinese markets and put an end to the centuries-old Korean monopoly of ginseng in China. It is estimated that Korean ginseng used to earn as much as "3 tons of silver" a year from China before the Canadian and American ginseng arrived in China.

For over 10,000 years, Ginseng has been popular among Asians and the Native Americans for its medicinal effects. Oriental medical doctors and Indian medicine-men have been using ginseng roots to cure many illnesses. Some historians believe that the Native Americans brought the ginseng know-how from Asia during the last Ice Age. It is likely that the plant was initially used for food because of its meaty root that keeps on growing year after year.  The ginseng root is unusually large in comparison to the plant. It has been established that ginseng roots contain chemicals that affect body functions in positive ways.  Although ginseng plants grow in Manchuria, Siberia and elsewhere, the Korean ginseng is the most valued for its extraordinary medicinal effects.  (Korean Ginseng, 2003)

Photo: Ginseng has been used and prized as a medicinal herb for more than 5,000 years in China and Korea.  Ginseng plants grow naturally in Manchuria, Korea, and parts of North America. The Native American 'medicine men' have known of the medicinal value of the plants.  (Korean Ginseng, 2003)

By the third century AD, ginseng became one of the main export products of Korea.  By the 1600s, wild ginseng was all but wiped out in Korea due to over-harvesting, and Korea could no longer meet the ever-growing demand for Korean ginseng in China.  The Koreans successfully developed ways to cultivate ginseng, and soon, cultivated Korean ginseng flooded the Chinese markets.  Ginseng cultivation was centered at Kaesung and the government had monopoly of ginseng exports.

Unfortunately for Korea, it turns out that ginseng plants grow naturally in North America and almost every Indian tribe of North America has been using ginseng in the same manner as the Asians have been using. For example, it is well known that the Cherokees, who call ginseng roots "the little man", use them for colic, convulsions, dysentery, and headaches. Other tribes use American ginseng roots for easing digestion, increasing appetite and easing female menstrual problems. Other Indian curative uses are for exhaustion, breathlessness, croup, and preventing the wounded from dying of shock. (Waters, 2003)

Photo: Panax ginseng C A Meyer root - the more shaped like a human, the more value, and also, the older, the more value. Ginseng plants more than 100 years old have been found. (Korean Ginseng, 2003)

Although ginseng has been popular in Asia for over 5,000 years, the Westerners did not learn about it until about 1670 when Hendrick Hammel published a book about his years of captivity in 'Coree'. Hammel wrote of ginseng: 

"In those areas the people live from barley and millet, because rice can't grow there. Cotton grows there neither, so it had to be supplied from the south. The ordinary man in these areas is most of the time shabbily dressed in hemp, linen or hides. But in these areas one can also find the ginseng plant. The root of this plant is being used to pay the tribute to the Tartarians. This stuff is furthermore much exported to China and Japan." (As cited in Lee Hae Gang, 2000)

In 1709, French Jesuit priest, Father Petrus Jartoux, in China read about the lucrative ginseng trade and wrote a letter to his colleague Father Lafitau in St Louise, Canada, suggesting that ginseng plants might be found in America.  After receiving the letter in 1714, Father Lafitau began looking for ginseng.  The good Father knew that the Native Americans used the plant and hired some Iroquois Indians to assist in his search. Sure enough, Father Lafitau discovered ginseng in Canada in 1716.  (Talk-Koo Yun; Trade and Environmental Database).  It turns out that the North American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) is one of three true ginseng plants from the Araliaceae family, and that Ontario, Quebec, and Wisconsin are natural habitants of the plant.  Father Lafitau's discovery led to a boom in ginseng trade in Montreal, Canada. 

Some bright French-Canadian fur traders saw the enormous potential for profits in exporting Canadian ginseng to China. According to Waters (2003), the traders paid the ginseng collectors 25 cents per pound and then sold the roots for $5 per pound in China, and by 1752, the traders were making as much as $100,000 per shipment of ginseng - it should be noted that one US$ in 1750 was worth about US$25 today. (Sahr, 2003)  But the ginseng windfall did not last long, for, in their haste to cash in on this newly found "woodland nuggets of gold", the plant was over-harvested and soon became rare. Some greedy traders gathered poorer and poorer roots and then dried them in ovens, instead of drying them slowly in natural sunlight. Soon the Chinese patrons stopped buying Canadian ginseng roots, and the Canadian ginseng trade fell to less $6,500 by 1754.  (Waters, 2003)

With the collapse of the Canadian ginseng trade, ginseng traders turned to the American colonies, and the colonies were more than eager to take over the lucrative ginseng trade with China. Soon brisk ginseng harvesting and exports began in America. One of the early American ginseng traders was John Jacob Astor, who made a profit of $55,000 in his first shipment. It is believed that George Washington himself was in the ginseng business and that the American Revolutionary War of 1775-1783 was largely financed with ginseng money.

Colonel Daniel Boone jumped on the ginseng bonanza, too. Colonel Boone hired Native Americans to collect wild ginseng roots in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. In 1788, his first shipment of 12 tons of ginseng roots was lost when the barge carrying it capsized in the Ohio Rover. Undaunted, Colonel Boon was able to harvest more roots and shipped them safely to China in the following year.  Contrary to the common belief, the Boone family fortune was made from ginseng, not from selling animal skins. (Waters, 2003). 

On February 22, 1784, the Empress of China left New York Harbor bound for China loaded with American ginseng roots. She returned loaded with Chinese tealeaves. Her investors made as much as 30% profits.  It was a win-win two-way trade. Philadelphia soon became the primary port of export for ginseng roots to the Orient.  (Harrison et al.)   Fontenoyan (1997) writes:

"The sole previous American venture, by the Empress of China, had taken out a mixed cargo including thirty tons of Appalachian ginseng, fifty tons of cordage, and thirty tons of lead, plus planks, cloth, and assorted wines and spirits. This had sold for just over $270,000; the ginseng alone accounted for $240,000. In addition, $20,000 in silver dollars had been shipped in casks to be used for further purchases." 

Ginseng was one of the earliest marketable herbs to be harvested in America and one of Minnesota's first major exports. In 1860, more than 120 tons of dried ginseng roots were shipped from Minnesota to China. The ginseng trade continued to flourish until the late 1800's. By 1862, ginseng exports exceeded 300 tons per year.  Dried wild ginseng roots fetched as much as $300 per pound in today's dollars and some aged ginseng roots went for as much as $550 per pound. (Agri-Food Trade Service)

The sudden influx of ginseng roots from Canada and the American colonies came as a complete shock to the Korean ginseng growers and traders.  Korea's 1,000-year ginseng monopoly in China came to an abrupt end, and American ginseng dealers became dominant in the ginseng markets of Beijing and Canton in China. The American ginseng traders brought back Chinese tea to America for handsome profits. 

By mid-1860, wild ginseng plants in America became almost extinct and could not support the thriving ginseng trade with China, whereupon, the American ginseng traders "stole" the art of cultivating ginseng from Korea. A number of Korean ginseng growers were brought to the United States for the first Korea-America technology transfer, and it is believed that the Korean ginseng growers were the first Koreans to set foot on America. 

Photo: A Kaesung ginseng farm.  Ginseng cultivation began in the 1600s in Korea centered at Kaesung.  The "Kaesung" ginseng is deemed the best in the world even today.  ("Korean History", 2003)

The first attempts at cultivation were met with failure, however, in a few years, cultivated ginseng roots from America began to flood the Chinese markets. (Scott Harris)

It has been alleged that some unscrupulous Korean ginseng growers had imported cultivated ginseng roots from America and then sold them labeled 'Made in Chosun’ to the Chinese. Today, there exists a large market for ginseng in America.  Ginseng is popular not only with Asian-Americans, but also with a growing number of non-Asian Americans as well. The irony is that some of the 'Korean ginseng roots' sold in America are in fact Chinese or Siberian ginseng roots, which are not as medicinal as the Korean ginseng roots are. 

Thanks to the ginseng trade war, Korea became aware of America and America began to cast hungry glances at the untapped markets of Korea. Ginseng brought Korea and America together. The ginseng competition became an important factor for the US-Chosun armed conflicts of 1866 and of 1871, which led to the 1882 US-Chosun Chemulpo Treaty of Amity and Trade. (Griffis, 1894).  In addition to the ginseng growers and merchants, among the early Koreans in America were a handful of Korean Catholics who managed to escape the mass execution of the Catholics in Korea. 

IV. The Early Korean Christians

Today, South Korea is one of the most Christianized nations of the world.  Of the 50 million people of South Korea, more than ten million are Protestants and three million are Roman Catholics.  This is remarkable in light of the fact that there were no known Christians in Korea before 1770, when Chon Du-won, a Chosun diplomat in China, brought back a copy of  Father Matteo Ricci's book - The True Doctrine of the Lord of Heaven.  A small group of Korean reformists, calling themselves Shilhak, found the Catholic theology attractive and wanted to learn more about it. They believed that the Catholic theology might be the way to break out of the suffocating feudalism of the Chosun Kingdom. (Andrew Kim, 2000) 

In 1783, Shilhak sent Yi Sung-Hun, a son of a Chosen diplomat, to China, on a mission to learn more about the Catholic religion.  Yi became the first baptized Korean Catholic - not counting the Korean converts in Japan.  He was baptized in Beijing by French Catholic priests, who were ecstatic about their first Korean convert.  Yi was sent back to Korea in 1784 with evangelical materials. Some of the Shilrak reformists became Catholic converts and began to hold religious services on their own without the guidance of an ordained priest. (Andrew Kim, 2000)

The 1801 Pogrom

In 1794, the Roman Catholic Church of China sent a Chinese priest, Ju Un-mo, to Korea. He entered Korea illegally on December 23 and reached a hiding place in Seoul. He was guided and sheltered by Korean Catholics. The 'native' Korean Catholic church under Father Ju grew rapidly to more than ten thousands by the end of 1801. However, the phenomenal growth of this white-man's religion in the land of Confucius came to a sudden bloody end. King Chongjo, who was tolerant of the Catholics, died in 1800, and King Sunjo inherited the throne. Since he was a minor at the time, his mother became the Queen Regent and ran the country on his behalf.  She was dead against any foreign religion and declared that the Korean Catholics were traitors and should be punished as such. 

The Chosun secret police was hot on Father Ju's trail and executed his Korean helpers one after another. Father Ju managed to evade the police for six years, but in May 1801, his luck ran out, and he was caught and executed.  After Father Ju's execution, a Korean Catholic, Hwang Sa Young attempted to send an SOS to the Catholic Bishop in Beijing. Hwang wrote his petition on October 29, 1801, while hiding out in a cave.  He wrote out his petition in tiny Chinese characters on two sheets of silk, known today as the Hwang White Paper.

Hwang chronicled the death of Father Ju and other Catholic martyrs in Korea, and begged Rome to do something quick to help the Korean Catholics. His "white paper" had four main points: (Oh Ki-sun, 2003)

  1. Chosun is economically bankrupt and powerless, and we wish to accept the Gospel with the help of the Western nations and obtain funds to rescue our people.
  2. Chosun is a client-state of China and the Emperor of China is the effective ruler of Chosun. Therefore, Rome should ask the Emperor's permission to send priests to Korea.
  3. The Chosun royal court is weak and about to fall, and so, Chosun should become part of China, and a member of China's royal family should be appointed to rule over Korea. 
  4. The Korean people have enjoyed peace for over 500 years and so know nothing about waging war. A crusader army of several hundred warships and 50 to 60 thousands troops should occupy Korea and make evangelical missions safe and easy in Korea.

Photo: The Hwang White Paper. On the right is a portion of the paper magnified about five times. Hwang, a trained scriber, wrote in tiny Chinese characters as shown on the left. 

Chosun police arrested Hwang’s emissary with the white paper. Hwang's request for foreign troops to rule over Korea added much fuel to the anti-Catholic pogrom, and Hwang, the first Korean convert Lee Sung Hun, and about three hundreds other Catholic converts were put to death. Decades later, the Hwang White Paper was handed to the Catholic Church of Korea, which sent it to Rome. Today, it is preserved at the Papal Museum of Nationalities in Rome (Curia Romana).  (Sun-jo, 2003; Oh Ki-sun, 2003)

The 1839 Pogrom and French Reprisals

In 1831, another Chinese priest, Father Liu Fangchi, entered Korea secretly. Five years later, M. Maubant, a French Catholic, smuggled himself into Korea from Manchuria. Father Chastan and a French bishop who called himself “Lord de Capse” followed him.  Two Korean Catholics were officially ordained priests by the French bishop. All these activities were done covertly because the Catholic Church was still forbidden in Chosun. In 1839, the Korean King got wind of the covert activities and ordered the extermination of the Catholic Church in Korea once for all. Consequently, over two hundred Catholics, including the French bishop, two French priests, and numerous Korean church leaders, were executed.  (Andrew Kim, 2000; Speer, 1872)  

France was enraged over the killing of its citizens in Korea and dispatched a naval task force to punish Korea in 1847 only to be frustrated by a "divine intervention" when two of its warships sank:

"It is one of the strange combinations of Divine Providence in human affairs that the French vessels of war, La Victoriense and La Gloire, which were so suddenly sunk in the calm open sea, on their way to chastise the Coreans in 1847, were two which had just been engaged in the bombardment of the principal port of Cochin-China, the burning of many native vessels, and the slaughter of thirteen hundred of the helpless people." (Speer, 1872)

On March 11, 1866, Father Simon Francois Berneux, a French missionary who had been preaching the Gospel in Korea illegally, was arrested.  He and about 8,000 of his Korean converts were put to death.  Three French missionaries, including Father Felix-Clair Ridel, managed to escape to China and told a French diplomat, Henri de Bellonet, about the "massacre" going on in Corea.  On July 13, 1866, M. Bellonet sent an urgent dispatch to Admiral Roze: "In receiving the news of the general massacre of Christians and missionaries in Corea, you have no doubt thought like myself that the slightest delay in the punishment of this bloody outrage could result in serious endangerment to the 500 missionaries preaching in China." (Sterner, 2003)

Bellonet sent another dispatch to the French foreign minister in Paris, who in turn, sent a dispatch to the American consul in Beijing, requesting a joint French-American expedition to punish the Coreans.  However, the American consul refused to go along. America was weary of starting another war so soon after the bloody American Civil War that ended in 1865. As of that time, the Coreans had harmed no Americans, and America had no reason to stick its neck out for a handful of French Catholics, who were killed for illegal activities in Corea.

A French task force led by Admiral Roze arrived at the Han River estuary in 1866. Roze sent messengers to Seoul demanding compensation for the murder of the nine French Catholics. However, the Seoul court ignored the French demand. In retaliation, the French forces occupied Kanghwa-do and destroyed public properties of the island, after which the French fleet advanced toward Seoul. A Chosun army led by Gen. Han Sung Gun and Gen Yang Hyung Soo defeated the French in a series of savage battles and Roze was forced to flee. For this humiliating defeat, the French Government reprimanded Roze. (Sterner, 2003)

Grave-Robbing in the Name of God 

Two decades later in 1867, the French Catholic Church made another attempt to revenge the Korean King for the murder of the nine Frenchmen in Korea. Father Feron heard from his Korean converts that the grave of the current Korean king’s grandfather contained much gold and gems.  In addition to the treasures, Feron thought that he could dig up the royal remains and hold them to exact redress from the Korean king for the murder of the Frenchmen. Feron enlisted Earnest Oppert, a German adventurer, and F. H. Jenkins, an American businessman. Jenkins financed the adventure for a lion's share of the treasures expected. The grave robbers charted the armed steamer China and hired 8 Europeans, 100 Chinese and 21 Malay pirates in addition to the ship's regular crew.

On April 30. 1867, the steamer China with Father Feron and his 'Army of God' left Shanghai for Nagasaki, where arms were purchased for the 'army', and on May 9th, Feron's army arrived at the Han River estuary, where they were met by Korean Catholics, who guided the grave robbers to the royal burial ground. They dug down deep and reached a massive sarcophagus, but they were unable to lift the heavy stone lid.  By this time, a large crowd of local residents gathered around them and began to attack, and the 'Army of God' was forced to retreat without taking any 'loots'. They returned to Shanghai empty-handed. Jenkins and his American investors lost their venture money.

The Occidental community of Shanghai was deeply upset by this grotesque barbaric act. Oppert left for Germany, where he was jailed for one year. A trial court presided over by George F. Seward, the American Consul-General of Shanghai, cleared Jenkins of any wrongdoing. The French refused to prosecute Father Feron and the Catholic Church of Rome claimed it did not know any 'Father Feron', who went on "spreading the Gospel" in China. (Lee Wha Rang, 2000; Williams, 1880)

Enraged by the French invasion and Father Feron's grave robbery in the name of God, the Chosun court retaliated by killing more Catholics. During the next three years, more than ten thousands Catholics and anyone related to the Church were executed. Tens of thousands more fled to the mountains, many of whom died from exposure and hunger. The King's determination to keep out foreign devils and their Korean supporters was redoubled. (Hulber, 1898)  The persecution of the Catholics continued unabated until the 1882 US-Chosun Chemulpo Treaty that allowed American missionaries to work in Korea.

V. The Early US-Korea Relations

Although the ginseng trade 'war' of the 1700s devastated the Chosun ginseng trade with China, few if any Americans were aware that American ginseng trade had anything to do with Chosun (called Corea by the Americans at the time).  In 1840, Edmund Roberts, an influential American, argued that a treaty with Japan might open up Korea for trade as well.  His argument was persuasive enough to induce several congressmen to draft a Congressional resolution for the establishment of commercial relations with Corea.  But the US Congress tabled the draft in July 1844 for lack of interest. After this brief moment of attention to Corea, America forgot about Corea until the 1866 burning of the General Sherman, an armed American merchantman, at which occasion, the US Congress hotly debated waging war on the Kingdom of Corea. (Speer, 1872)

On January 28, 1853, the first official US-Chosun contact was made when the USS South America, a gunboat based in Hawaii, sailed into Pusan Harbor on her way to drop off two shipwrecked Japanese sailors to Japan.  It is not clear why the ship decided to take the long detour to Japan via Pusan.  The American captain wined and dined local Korean officials on his ship. The ship stayed at Pusan for ten days without any incident. 

The Chosun court archives (kojong silrok) show that in 1855 and also in 1865, a number of shipwrecked American sailors were picked up on the Korean shores.  They were fed and treated well by the Korean populace, and then sent to China for repatriation to the United States. In those years, Korea sealed itself in ("Hermit Kingdom") and let China handle Korea's foreign affairs.

On January 11, 1866, an American sailing ship, the Surprise, ran aground at Sunchun-po, Pyongahn-do, in a storm. The Korean officials of the port village rescued the shipwrecked sailors, fed them, gave them new clothing, and then sent them unharmed to China on horseback.  The Koreans burned the wrecked American ship and salvaged its iron bars.

The General Sherman Incident

In August 1866, an armed American schooner, the General Sherman (formerly the US Navy warship Princess Royale), sailed up the flooded Taedong River toward Pyongyang, seeking trades with Korea. An American merchant W. B. Preston contracted with the Meadows & Co., a British firm in Tientsin, to outfit the General Sherman for an adventure into Korea. 

The crewmembers were: Captain Page, Chief Mate Wilson and the owner Preston (all Americans); George Hogarth (a British); thirteen Chinese and three Malays. A British missionary, Robert J. Thomas (1840-1866), was also onboard the ship.  Thomas, who had learned some Korean words from the Korean Catholics at Chefoo, was hired on as Preston's interpreter. (Han, 1999; Steiner, 2003)

The ship's cargo consisted mainly of cotton goods, tin sheets, glass, and other items. The schooner left Tientsin on July 29, 1866, and stopped briefly for water at Chefoo, from where she set sail on August 9 and reached the mouth of the Taedong River on August 18. She was heavily armed with cannons and small arms.

The Americans, ignoring Korean officials' repeated requests to turn back, continued to sail toward Pyongyang.  Preston demanded to see the 'man in charge' and refused to cooperate with the local officials.  In addition, he demanded that Korea stop executing Catholics.  Robert Thomas told the Korean officials that his Protestant Church was much superior to the Catholic Church and demanded that he be allowed to preach the Gospel in Korea. (Sterner, 2003)

When flood water subsided, the heavy ship got stranded and became a sitting duck for the angry Koreans. Preston sent out raiding parties in small boats to collect foods and hostages.  Park Gyu-Su, the governor of Pyongahn at the time, ordered his troops to destroy the ship. But the Korean canon balls harmlessly bounced off the ironclad hull of the ship. A quick-thinking junior officer loaded several boats with sulfur, saltpeter and firewood, set them afire, and then guided them to the stranded ship. The poisonous gas from the burning sulfur and saltpeter forced the ship's crew to abandon the ship. As they jumped into the water, angry soldiers and civilians beat or hacked them to death.  All members of the crew were killed and their bodies were mutilated and burned.

The news of General Sherman's demise reached the US Asiatic Squadron in the fall of 1866, and Rear-Admiral Bell dispatched the USS Wachusett commanded by Commander R. W. Shufeldt to investigate the incident and recover the remains and the survivors, if any. The Wachusett reached the mouth of the Daedong River on January 23, 1867.  Unable to navigate the shallow river, Shufeldt met with the local officials and learned that there was no survivor and that there were no remains either, since the corpse were burned and thrown away. (Welles, 1867)  According to Welles, the US Secretary of Navy at the time, Shufeldt's inquiry went something like this: 

Commander Shufeldt: Have you heard or do you know anything about the ship that was wrecked?

Corean official: I know nothing about it whatever. I only hope you will immediately leave and return to your native land.

Commander Shufeldt: What objection can there be to our waiting? If I am obliged to leave without an answer to my dispatch, many more armed vessels will return to your country.

Corean official: To return with many armed vessels would be exceedingly unjust. To return to your country would be praiseworthy.

Commander Shufeldt: To allow your country to murder our men without cause or provocation cannot be passed over uninvestigated.

Corean official: I do not know anything about this business.

Commander Shufeldt: If you know nothing, I have nothing more to say to you. (Welles, 1867)

The Corean official’s account of this meeting differs. He told Shufeldt that he had no authority to talk to foreigners and that he had sent a messenger to Seoul for the official permission and instructions, and that the messenger would be back in a few days.  He told the Americans to wait but the Americans left without waiting.

In 1867, the General Sherman was refloated and brought to a shipyard by Han River.  It was refitted and rearmed as Korea's first Western-style warship. But the Chinese government forced the King to give up the ship. US navy archives indicate that the General Sherman was returned to the United States in 1868 or thereabout. It was refitted as a civilian steamship. She sank on January 10, 1874 near Wilmington, North Carolina, in a storm.  (Lee Wha Rang, 2000a) 

The 1871 US Occupation of Kanghwado - Shinmi-yang-yo

Commander Shufeldt's threat to return with more warships was no idle threat.  In the spring of 1868, the USS Shenandoah under Captain John C. Febiger reached the Daedong River’s mouth and received an official letter acknowledging the death of all crewmen of the General Sherman. The Coreans wondered why the Americans wanted to make a treaty: "We have been living 4,000 years without any treaty with you, and we can't see why we shouldn't continue to live as we do." (Sterner, 2003)

In April 1870, the U.S. State Department told Frederick F. Low, the US minister in Beijing, to negotiate a treaty with Corea that would secure the safe treatment of shipwrecked American sailors, to establish trade, and to look into the murder of the General Sherman crew. The US Asiatic fleet under Rear Admiral John Rodgers was ordered to support Low's mission impossible.  Low spent years in the Orient working for the Boston firm of Russell, Sturgis and Company, prior to his diplomatic career.  

In 1871, Adm. Rodgers marshaled a squadron of five warships and a landing party of over 1,230 men.  The US troops were armed with Remington carbines and Springfield muskets.  The USS Colorado, a pre-Civil War frigate, served as the flagship. Minister Low and Captain McLane Tilton, commander of the Asiatic Fleet's Marine Guard were on the Colorado

The Americans landed at Choji Fortress of Kanghwa-do on June 10, 1871, and proceeded to occupy the whole island.  The Korean defenders of the island were out-gunned and could not put up any effective resistance.  

Photo: Interior of the main Fort du Coude, showing some of the 350 Korean dead after the decisive battle on June 11, 1871. (Bennett, 1997)

It was a lop-sided victory for the Americans: about 350 Koreans, including the garrison commander Gen. Uh Je-yun, were killed but only three Americans were lost. 

The American forces captured 20 wounded Korean defenders. Minister Low tried to barter them for a meeting with a decision-making Corean official, but he was turned down.  The Coreans retorted that the POWs were cowards and they would be severely punished if returned.  Low was told that he was welcome to keep the wounded prisoners.

Photo: Secretary Drew, Minister Low and Chinese interpreters on board the flagship USS Colorado, May 1871. (Bennett, 1997)

The Korean army sent in reinforcement armed with modern weapons, and Admiral Rodgers wisely retreated in good order and left for China on July 3, content with the knowledge that the killers of the General Sherman crew had been punished. 

This little-known "war" is known as Sinmi-yangyo in Korea and as the 1871 US Korea Campaign in America. (Duvernay, 2001; Hulber, 1898; Sterner, 2003)

The Chemulpo Treaty of 1882

After the 1871 expedition to Korea, the United States leaned heavily on China to force its client-state Korea to open up for trade with the United States, but the Korean court steadfastly refused to go along. In 1876, Korea was forced into a treaty with Japan at gunpoint, after a Japanese fleet sailed into Kanghwa waters and threatened to bombard Seoul.  After the Kanghwa Treaty with Japan, the Korean King decided to open up to outside world.  Soon, trade agreements with the United States and several European countries followed. 

Korea's first pro-American official was Kim Hong Jip (1842-1896), who had served as the Korean minister in Japan and witnessed the rapid Americanization of Japan.  Kim drew up a grand scheme to use America as a springboard to recover the vast Koguryo territory lost to China and to establish a powerful Korean empire.  Kim returned to Korea in 1880 and presented his "Korea Plan" to King Kojong, who warmly accepted the plan.

On March 24, 1882, King Kojong appointed Shin Hun to negotiate a treaty with the United States. Commodore Robert W. Shufeldt represented the US side. The negotiation began on April 4 at Chemulpo, and on May 22, the delegates signed a 14-article treaty on the deck of the USS Ticonderoga. This treaty is known as the Chemulpo Treaty, the first article of which loftily proclaims - "Corea and the United States of America hereby establish everlasting amity and friendship between the two peoples."

The Chemulpo Treaty provided for immigration of Koreans to America, extraterritorial privileges for Americans in Korea, the purchase of land for an American legation, most-favored-nation trade relations, the right for American missionaries to preach the Gospel in Korea, and most importantly, mutual defense in case of a foreign invasion.  It should be noted that Commodore Shufeldt  rejected the Chinese request to incorporate Chinese suzerainty over Korea in the treaty, and he made it clear that the United States recognized Korea as an independent nation. 

In 1860, Russia occupied Vladivostok and threatened to move south in search of ports navigable year-around. In April 1885, the British Pacific Fleet landed marines and occupied Kuh-mun-do, a Korean island in the South Chulla Province, in the pretext of stopping the Russian expansion in to the Pacific. The British hoisted the Union Jack on a Korean island.  The British navy left the island in February 1887 under an intense international pressure. 

VI. Americans in Korea in the Late 1800s

There is a special cemetery in Seoul where some one hundred Americans are buried. These Americans came to Korea in the 1900s, worked for the Korean people as officials in the Korean government, as Christian missionaries, as medical doctors, as educators, as businessmen, and so on. They truly loved Korea and willed to be buried in their adopted country.

Lucius Foote became the first US "Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary" to Corea on February  27, 1883, and Foote presented his credentials to King Kojong on May 20, 1883.  Foote's status was lowered to "Minister Resident/Consul General" in 1884. Foote resigned and left Korea on February 19, 1885, in protest.  (US State - Korea, 2003)

Soon after Foote's arrival, King Kojong appointed dozens of Americans to key government positions: among them were Commander Fok (a US Navy officer), William McEntre Dye, and Gen. Charles W. LeGendre.  The King appointed Yi Hah-yong the "Generalissimo" of his army and navy and tasked the American military advisors to build a powerful army and navy strong enough to conquer Manchuria.  The King, who distrusted foreign powers, trusted Americans because he believed that America was too far away to interfere in Korean affairs, that America would share its wealth with poor Korea, and that America was a Christian country and so it would treat Korea fairly and morally.

In June 1883, King Kojong appointed Min Young Ik the first Korean ambassador to the United States. Hong Young Sik, Suh Kwang Bum, and other progressive officials were assigned to the Korean mission in Washington.  

Photo: The first Korean delegation to America headed by Minister Min Young-Ik, seated center and also in the inset at right, in June 1883. (Republic, 2003, Digital, 2003)

The first Korean diplomatic mission to America sailed on an American ship, carrying years' supply of Korean foods - kimchee, hot bean-pastes, dried fish, rice, and so on. They brought their own cooks who prepared Korean dishes during the month-long voyage to America. The Koreans met US President C. A. Arthur twice and presented him with a personal letter from King Kojong. They toured the Smithsonian Institution, farms, a textile plant, a pharmaceutical company, a naval yard, an electric power plant, the WestPoint Military Academy, and so on.   

Three students from the Union Theological Seminary of New York - H. B. Hulbert, D. A. Bunker, and G. W. Gilmore - were recruited to come to Korea to teach at the newly created Western-style school, Yuk-young Public School.  Years later in 1904, Hulbert returned to America as special envoy of King Kojong.  The Koreans returned home with several typewriters, farm instruments, and other modern equipment. (Digital, 2003)

The Chemulpo Treaty guaranteed safety of foreign missionaries and soon the Korean Peninsula was flooded with American Methodist and Presbyterian evangelists eager to spread the Gospel among the Korean populace.  King Kojong believed that, of all the foreign powers present in Korea, the United States was the only nation that had no hidden agenda and so, he hired a number of Americans to serve as advisers and officials in his court. The Americans, mostly Christian missionaries, effectively and enthusiastically introduced modern education, medicine, public health, technology, public administration, and democratic ideas. King Kojong truly believed that the United States would abide by the mutual defense clause of the Chemulpo Treaty and welcomed all Americans with an open arm.

Early in 1884, the Presbyterian Church appointed Dr. Horace N. Allen as the first missionary to Korea, while at about the same time, the Methodist Church appointed Dr. and Mrs. W. B. Scranton, his mother Mrs. Mary Scranton and the Rev. and Mrs. Henry Appenzeller as the first missionaries to Korea, who with A. B. Hall, founded churches as well as the first school for handicapped Koreans.

Dr. Allen arrived in Korea in September 1884 and became the first American missionary in Korea. He was also the medical officer at the US foreign affairs mission in Seoul.  Most importantly, he became the King's personal physician and confidante due to an unusual incident. On December 4, 1884, Prince Min Young Ik was seriously injured in an assassination plot at a location near Dr. Allen's place of residence.  

Photo. Horace Allen, MD (1858-1932), the first Presbyterian missionary in Korea. ("First Presbyterian", 2002)

Upon hearing the commotion, Dr. Allen rushed to the scene to find a man bleeding to death.  He administered an emergency care and the man lived. The man was Prince Min, the designated ambassador to the United States and a nephew of Queen Min (the King's wife - in Korea, married women retain their maiden family name). The grateful king made Dr. Allen the royal physician.

The King readily granted Dr. Allen’s petition for the establishment of a Western hospital and on April 10, 1885, the first Western medical hospital, Kwanghyewon (Global House of Benefits) was opened for business. American medical doctors staffed it.  In later years, Dr. Allen was instrumental in founding the Severance Medical Hospital and University, with the generous financial aids from an American philanthropist, Severance. 

In 1887, Dr. Allen joined the staff of the Korean foreign affairs mission in Washington, DC. In 1890, he returned to Korea as a medical missionary but his ambition was to become an American diplomat. His ambition was realized in 1901 when he became the US ambassador (minister) to Chosun.

In June 1885, Mary F. Scranton, the mother of Dr. W.B. Scranton, came to Korea at the age of 52 and established the Ewha Girls School and later, the Ewha University. She died in Korea in 1909.  Today, the Ewha University is one of the largest women's colleges in Asia and the most prestigious in Korea. 

In 1888, the Korean Catholics brought on a calamity upon themselves. In May, the Korean Catholic Church began to build a cathedral at a site sacred to the royal family. The King had told the Church to pick another site but he was ignored, whereupon Kojong issued an edict prohibiting Catholicism in Korea. Anti-Catholic pogroms swept through Korea once again, and many Catholic heads were chopped off.

In 1888, Lillias Stirling Horton, MD, (1851-1921) came to Korea as a medical missionary. She was the first American woman doctor in Korea.  Several other women medical doctors came later and cared for the sick and poor of Korea. Dr. Horton married Horace Underwood in 1889.  Dr. Underwood (1859-1916) came to Korea in 1885 as the first Presbyterian minister. The Underwood family spent 30 years doing God's work in Korea. Dr. Underwood translated hymns and scriptures into Korean. He founded the Chosen Christian College in Seoul. The Severance College and Hospital were merged into the Yonsei University, one of the major private universities in Korea today. Dr. Horace G. Underwood established the first official Korean Presbyterian Church in 1887.

Brigadier General Charles William LeGendre, an American Civil War hero, was an advisor to the Korean Royal Household from 1890 till his death in 1899. He advised King Kojong on matters related to treaty negotiations with Japan, on account of his many years in the Japanese Foreign Service, and was a go-between the King and the foreign diplomatic community in Seoul. In addition, he served as a military advisor to the Korean Foreign Office. Col. F.J.H. Nienstead, an American, was a military instructor for King Kojong's army.

There were non-American Westerners helping out in Korea, too. For example, Dr. Julius Wiles, former British Deputy Surgeon General in the British Army, joined the English Mission in Chemulpo run by Bishop Corfe. With his own family money, he built the English Mission in Seoul. Corfe was a former British navy chaplain and was head of Britain's Korea mission from 1889 to the 1890s. A German, Paul George Von Mollendorffa, served as an adviser on foreign relations for  King Kojong in the 1880s. (Republic, 2003)

By the time Japan annexed Korea in 1910, American missionaries had established about 800 schools for 41,000 students. The missionary schools, from kindergarten to college, were well staffed and financed.  In contrast, the Chosen public schools had less than 20,000 students. Some of the American schools became well known for their quality education and some missionaries in China sent their children to Korea for education. For example, Rev. Billy Graham's wife, Ruth Bell, attended the Pyongyang Foreign School in North Korea.

American Entrepreneurs in Korea

One of the earliest recorded American firms in Korea is the Gulf of America, which took over copper mines in Kapsan, near Mt. Baiktu, in the 1890s. The mines had been in operation since 1782 and the Americans modernized and expanded the mining operation.  When Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910, the Gugen Company of Japan took over the mines and more than 10,000 tons of copper were produced from 1914 to 1939.

Dozens of American businessmen, including General William Tecumseh Sherman of the American Civil War fame, scoured Korea looking for business opportunities.  The Americans found the pickings rather slim because Chinese and Japanese got there first and picked the choice plumbs. The US trade with Chosen from 1890 until 1904, when Japan took over Korea, was insignificant, accounting for less than 2-3 percent of the total Korean foreign trade. 

Americans opened gold mines, silver mines, tungsten mines, tin mines, and tons of precious metals found their way to America.  However, the business activities of the Americans in Korea during this period were largely unsuccessful, and eventually, they were taken over by the Japanese. There were some notable exceptions, however: the firm of Thomas Edison introduced electricity in 1887: two American businessmen, Harry Bostwick and Henry Collbran, set up street cars and a commercial electric lighting system in 1898: James R. Morse, Walter Davis Townsend, and Collbran began construction on the railway from Seoul to Inchon in 1897 (later completed by a Japanese company): Morse opened a gold mine in Unsan, and so on.

In 1905, Japan took over Chosun's foreign affairs and all foreign missions in Seoul were ordered closed and all Chosun diplomats in foreign nations were recalled. Edwin V. Morgan was the last American ambassador to Chosun. He had the dubious honor of closing down the US mission in Seoul on December 8, 1905. (Wehry, 2000)

Although there was no American foreign office in Korea and the US officials left Seoul in 1905, American civilians stayed on and continued their activities. After the Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japan expelled all Americans from Korea. After Korea was liberated on August 15, 1945, some of the American missionaries, educators and businessmen - or their offspring - returned to Korea to pick up where they left in 1941.

VII. The Rape-Murder of Queen Min

Clarence Ridgeby Greathouse, a former San Francisco Examiner editor, was hired as a legal advisor for King Kojong in 1890. In January 1891, he was put in charge of the royal legal affairs. His best-known case was the trial of the Japanese and Korean conspirators accused of the murder of the Queen Min Myongsong in 1895. Queen Min, the outspoken powerful wife of King Kojong, was fond of the Americans and socialized with some of the American women in Seoul.  She was instrumental in removing her father-in-law, Daewongun, from power. She brought in American, Russian, German, and British power brokers in order to push out the Japanese.

Min was born in 1851 to a relative of King Kojong's mother. She was orphaned at age 18. In 1866, she was married to King Kojong at the instigation of his mother. The main reason why she was chosen was that she had no close relatives and so, she would not bring any new unwanted influence peddlers in the royal court. In addition, she was already in the royal family circle on account of her relation to the King's mother.

Photo: The Empress Myongsung, the last queen of Korea, was gang-raped and burned alive by a group of Japanese and pro-Japanese Koreans in 1895. Some historians believe this photo is a fake. although the costume is authentic. 

Min was unusually bright and cunning: it did not take long for her to master the art of palace intrigues and she began to meddle in her husband's political affairs. At the time of her marriage, King Kojong's father, Daewongun, ran the country in his son's name.  When King Kojong was anointed in 1863, he was only 11 and his father became the Regent, Daewongun in Korean. But the old man stayed on even after King Kojong became old enough to take over.

To add insult to injury, Daewongun attempted to designate an illegitimate son of King Kojong the heir to the throne. This was the last straw and Min shrewdly eased out Daewongun from power in 1873 and put her husband in full control of his throne.  After throwing out Dawongun, Min placed her relatives in key positions of power and began to dismantle Daewongun's 'hermit' isolationist policy and opened up the country to foreign trades and friendly relations. Encouraged by his wife, King Kojong signed the Kanghwa Treaty with Japan and instituted a series of modernization and reform programs.

However, Min's progressive policies had many detractors. In 1882, a group of dissidents led by Daewongun mounted a military coup and took over the power. Min was tipped off and escaped to the home of a relative, a Christian minister, one step ahead of her assassins. She was able to contact her husband and talked him into asking the Chinese for help. China sent in an army and arrested Daewongun and other coup leaders. After this incident, Min became pro-Chinese in gratitude.

In 1894, the Second Tonghak War erupted and King Kojong asked Japan and China for troops to quell the peasant rebels. The Japanese came in force and put down the rebellion, but they stayed on.  Japan backed Daewongun and other pro-Japanese Koreans. Min countered the Japanese move by empowering Russians and pro-Russian Koreans. In August 1895, Min's nephew Min Young Hwan was appointed the special envoy to the United States, and pro-Russian Koreans - Yi Bum-jin and Yi Wan-yong - were given cabinet posts. This new government was anti-Japanese, pro-US and pro-Russian.

Miffed by Min's anti-Japanese stance, Ino-ueh Gaoru, the Japanese envoy, refused to pay the three million won owed to Korea by Japan, which drove the Korea-Japan relation to the breaking point. Major Miura Goro replaced Ino-ueh. King Kojong attempted to erase Japanese influences by disbanding the two battalions of soldiers trained by the Japanese officers. Miura hatched a scheme to assassinate Min and eliminate pro-Russian elements. Miura enlisted the aid of Daewongun, pro-Japanese Korean officers, Japanese gangsters, soldiers and diplomats in his evil scheme, code-name "Operation Fox Hunt".

In the early hours of October 8, 1895, Miura's assassins began Operation Fox Hunt. Daewongun led the way and the accomplices pretended that they were escorting the King's father for an audience with the King. The palace guards blocked the entourage but they were outnumbered and pushed aside or killed.  The assassins rushed into the royal residence. King Kojong bitterly protested the Japanese intrusion but the Japanese pushed him down. The Prince came to his father's rescue but the young man was thrown on the floor by his hair-knot and then was beaten with a sword.


The Queen heard the commotion and ran into a bush to hide, but the assassins discovered her. She was stabbed on the back several times, stripped naked and then gang-raped. The assassins fondled her breasts and genitals laughing. Finally, they took her to a small woodland, poured kerosene on her and lit the fuel.  She was burned to death still alive and moaning.  Her charred body was buried in the woodland. 


At 9:30 am, Maj. Miura sent a secret cable to the Japanese Army Chief of Staff:  the top secret cable read - "Queen dead and King safe."  The cable signaled the successful execution of Operation Fox Hunt. This shows that the order to kill the Queen came from the top. 


Photo: The woodland where Queen Min was burnt and buried.


The Japanese tried to white-wash this crime but there were too many witnesses: in addition to the Korean employees of the Palace, a Russian reporter and an American military advisor saw the whole incident and told the world of the truth.  The Western powers demanded investigation and punishments of the guilty. Japan was forced to arrest Maj. Miura and 48 of the assassins. A court trial in Hiroshima found the accused not guilty for lack of evidence, and they were set free, in spite of the effort of Clarence Ridgeby Greathouse, the American legal advisor to King Kojong.   (Lee, 2002a: Sun-jo, 2003)

VIII. Koreans in America in the Late 1800s

While American evangelists, diplomats, consultants, military advisers, educators, and businessmen flocked to Korea, a tiny group of Koreans managed to go to America. They were mostly political and social reformers expelled from Korea following an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government. They arrived in San Francisco in 1885. Among them was Suh Jae-pil (aka Philip Jaisohn). He was the first Korean to become an American citizen and the first to receive an American medical degree in 1892. Four years later, he returned to Korea to establish the first Korean newspaper, the Independent, in 1896. It was bilingual and its Korean name was Tongnip Shinmun, whose first issue appeared on April 7, 1896.

The Koreans in America found a hostile environment.  The yellow-man was not welcome to the United States and there were many laws that worked against the Asians at the time.  Thus, the Alien At of 1798, the 1862 "Act to Protect Free White Labor Against Competition with Chinese Coolie Labor and to Discourage the Immigration of the Chinese into the State of California",  the Page Law of 1875, Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited immigration of Chinese contract laborers for ten years; subsequently renewed; prohibited naturalization.  The yellow-man were forced to work menial jobs regardless of their professional qualifications.  Koreans with college degrees had to work as houseboys, cooks, laundrymen, coal-miners, and so on. The total number of Koreans in the United States before the 20th century was estimated at fewer than fifty. (Randall, 1997)

On November 2, 1886, the US government officially approved Korean immigration, which was previously agreed to in the 1882 Chemulpo Treaty.  On January 18, 1888, King Kojong appointed Park Jung Yang the Korean ambassador to the United States. Park succeeded Prince Min Young Ik. 

The First 'Mass' Immigration of Koreans 

Commercial sugar plantations in Hawaii began in about 1850.  As the business expanded, the local labor force could not keep up with the rapidly increasing demand for farm workers, and the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society began to import Chinese workers in 1876. By 1886, there were more than 5,000 Chinese in Hawaii.  Many of the Chinese left the plantation as soon as their contact ran out and moved to towns and cities, which the Hawaiian natives saw as threats to their way of life.  Consequently, a law was passed to stop importation of Chinese workers in 1897, by which time the Chinese population had grown to about 46,000 in Hawaii.  (Lee Man Yul, 2003)

The plantation owners began to import Japanese workers in 1885 and by 1902, more than 60,000 Japanese lived in Hawaii.  The Japanese workers had organized numerous strikes against the farm owners, and they, too, left the farms and moved into native towns, just as the Chinese had done. It was under these circumstances that the plantation owners decided to try out Korean workers. 

Hawaii became a nation in 1810 when King Kamehameha I united the islands after a bloody war.  In 1898, the royal family was removed from power and a republic was established under Richard B. Dole, a plantation owner. In the same year, it became part of the United States.  The Hawaiian royal court approved importation of Korea workers on November 2, 1896, and sent an invitation to King Kojong to send his subjects to the Kingdom of Hawaii, and King Kojong gracefully accepted the invitation. 

Dr. Allen, the US minister to the court of King Kojong played a key role in the first 'mass' immigration of Koreans to Hawaii. Dr. Allen was on his way back to Seoul from a vacation when he ran into William G. Irwin of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association in San Francisco in February 1902.  Irwin told Dr. Allen that his association was in need of foreign workers.  Upon his return to Seoul, Dr. Allen pushed King Kojong to expedite the immigration process. (Lee Man Yul, 2003)

A famine hit Chosen in 1901 and the people were starving, and King Kojong saw the Hawaiian immigration as a way to help out and also to bring home Western ways of life.  In 1902, King Kojong created a new government organ for immigration and placed Min Yong Ik in charge.  The Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association contracted with David W. Deshler, the American owner of the East-West Development Company and the Deshler Bank in Korea, to recruit Korean laborers for Hawaii.  (Lee Man Yul, 2003)

Deshler promised ten-hour workdays with Sundays off and a monthly wage of 15 dollars. His initial effort, even with King Kojong's enthusiastic backing, failed because few Koreans were willing to leave their ancestral homeland.  Deshler turned to American missionaries for help and they were able to persuade some of their Korean flocks to sign up.  For this reason, most of the early immigrants were Christians.  The Methodist Episcopal Church in Seoul, under Rev. George Heber Jones, played the key role in recruiting Korean Christians for farm work in Hawaii.  Several Korean ministers who spoke English were among the immigrants to Hawaii and they acted as interpreters and social leaders in Hawaii. (History, 2003)

On December 22, 1902, the first group of Korean emigrants, 56 men, 21 women, and 25 children, left Chemulpo (Inchon) for Hawaii aboard the SS Gaelic and arrived in Honolulu on January 13, 1903. The men were assigned to work at a plantation in Magalia on Oahu Island. The plantation owners were satisfied with the hard-working Koreans and asked for more. Consequently, by the end of 1905, when the Japanese government stopped the flow, a total of 7,843 Koreans (6,701 men, 677 women, and 465 children) had come to Hawaii in 65 trips.

The Korean immigrants stuck together and lived in self-governing Korean "villages".  The men worked ten hours a day earning only 69 cents per day - the lowest wage paid to Oriental workers at the time. In a few years, many of the Korean migrants lost their initial pioneering spirit and began to rebel.

The Gaelic - the steamer that brought the first batch of farm workers from Korea in 1902.   (History, 2003) 

Some managed to save enough money and moved to the US mainland. Many could not stand the harsh life in Hawaii and returned home.  Some began to drink heavily and some became thieves and armed robbers.

They began to fight amongst themselves. Their work productivity dropped alarmingly, and the plantation owners looked for remedies. The Koreans used to be better workers than the Chinese or the Japanese - now what happened?

It became clear that those Koreans who brought their wives and children caused few problems.  It was the bachelors who caused problems and so, the plantation owners decided to import Korean women for the old bachelors - since these men were unlikely to attract women of other ethnic origin. Many women in Korea wanted to start a new life in Hawaii, and about the only way open was to marry men living in Hawaii - sight unseen.

The US Immigration gave the permission to import mail-order brides in 1910, and the first mail-order bride, Sara Choe, arrived in Honolulu on December 2, 1910. She married Lee Lae-Soo.  Rev. Chan Ho-Min presided over the matrimony at the US immigration office.  Lee picked Sara to be his wedded wife from a catalog of pictures of Korean women wanting to come to Hawaii. He mailed her US$200 to cover her travel expenses. 

About 1,000 mail-order brides came to Hawaii and the mainland from 1910 to May 15, 1924 when the Asian Exclusion Law put an end to this form of immigration. Most of the brides were better educated than the men, but they endured and persevered, and became the foundation of the Korean community in America.

By 1910, when Korea was annexed to Japan, the Korean population in America had grown to 5,008. Under the Japanese rule, few Koreans were allowed to migrate to America, and there were only 7,030 Koreans in America in 1950, when a second wave of Korean immigrants began to arrive in America in the aftermath of the Korean War.  Today, over one million Koreans live in the United States. 

Photo: A 1915 Korean newly wed  (Korean-American, 2003)

It should be noted that from 1910 to 1943, by and large, the US government treated Koreans as citizens of Japan.  However, this changed on December 4, 1943, when US Military Order No. 45 granted Koreans in the United States non-enemy alien status. Thanks to this change, Korean-Americans were spared of life in concentration camps - unlike many of the Japanese-Americans.

Koreans and other Asians in America had limited career choices. Oddly, one of the few careers open to them was acting. The Hollywood needed Oriental actors and many Asians made a career out of working as extras and playing some minor roles. Pil Lip Ahn (Americanized as Philip Ahn) was born on March 29, 1905 in California. He is believed to be the first Korean to be born in America. His father, Ahn Chang Ho, came to America as a farm worker and became a noted Korean nationalist.  He left his young family in America to fight for Korea's independence and died in a Japanese prison. Philip Ahn worked odd jobs to support his mother and siblings, while attending high school.

Pil Lip Ahn became the first Korean actor in Hollywood and played key roles in movies such as Anything Goes, The General Died at Dawn, The Story of Dr. Wassell, Daughter of Shanghai, Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. He also played in several TV dramas. He is best remembered as the wise Master Kan, leader of the Shaolin Temple in the ABC TV series, "Kung Fu", for uttering "Grasshopper, as soon as you are able to grab the rock from my hand you may leave the temple . . . ."  (Cuddy, 2003)


IX. America Abandons King Kojong

Kojong (1852-1919) was the 26th King of the Chosun Dynasty. He became the king in 1863 at the tender age of 11.  His father became the Regent and ruled the nation in his behalf.  King Kojong's crafty wife, Queen Min, succeeded in dislodging Daewongung from power in 1873 and King Kojong assumed the power for the first time under the shadow of his domineering wife. 

Queen Min engineered the 1882 Chemulpo Treaty of Amity and Trade.  The Treaty involved more than friendship and fair trades: it was in effect a mutual defense treaty.  King Kojong believed that the United States would protect his kingdom from any foreign invasion.  He felt safe after getting the US to sign the Treaty. But subsequent events would prove him wrong - dead wrong. 

Photo: King Kojong in his "Emperor" regalia, circa 1898.

Japan defeated Russia in 1904 and became a world power.  Japan's military might was recognized and respected by the Western powers, and she began to flex her muscle. Korea became the first victim. On July 19, 1904, Japan’s Count Katsura met with US Secretary of War William Howard Taft to iron out outstanding problems between Japan and the United States.  Japan had close ties with the Hawaiian royal family, who sought Japan's assistance in freeing Hawaii from the US occupation.

Another bone of contention was the Philippines. In 1898, the US Pacific fleet attacked the Spanish fleet in Manila and the Spanish American war spread to the Philippines. The United States had promised the Philippine Nationalists an independent nation after Span was defeated. When Spain surrendered, the Americans reneged on the promise, and the nationalists began to fight the Americans. This guerrilla war continued until 1902, and Japan expressed concern about the US encroachment into the Pacific. (Elliot, 2003) 

After ten days of intense negotiations, the Taft-Katsura Agreement was signed on July 29, 1904.  Japan agreed to accept the US presence in Hawaii and the Philippines, and in exchange, the United States agreed to nullify the Chemulpo Treaty and to give Japan a free hand in Korea.  When the agreement was signed, Japanese troops were already in Korea in large numbers and the US military had neither the will nor the power to expel the Japanese from Korea, even if it had wanted to. 

The Taft-Katsura agreement on Korea (Article #3) is as follows: (Elliot, 2003) 

"Third, in regard to the Korean Question, Count Katsura observed that Korea being the direct cause of our war with Russia, it is a matter of absolute importance to Japan that a complete solution of the peninsula question should be made as a logical consequence of the war. If left to herself after the war, Korea will certainly draw back to her habit of improvidently entering into any agreements or treaties with other powers, thus resuscitating the same international complications as existed before the war. 

In view of the foregoing circumstances, Japan feels absolutely constrained to take some definite step with a view to precluding the possibility of Korea falling into her former condition and of placing us again under the necessity of entering upon another foreign war. 

Secretary Taft fully admitted the justness of the Count’s observations and remarked to the effect that, in his personal opinion, the establishment by Japanese troops of a suzerainty over Korea to the extent of requiring Korea to enter into no foreign treaties without the consent of Japan was a logical result of the present war and would directly contribute to permanent peace in the East." (Elliot, 2003) 

After securing the US consent, Japan moved fast and made Korea a Japanese protectorate.  Unaware of the secret Taft-Katsura agreement, King Kojong sent Homer Hulbert, an American friend and advisor to the Korean court, to Washington to seek US aid under the Chemulpo Treaty.  President Teddy Roosevelt, under whose name the Taft-Katsura agreement was signed, refused to see Hulbert. (Elliot, 2003)

President Theodore Roosevelt's official stance was: "The Korean Government was in the position of an incompetent defective not yet committed to guardianship. The United States is her only disinterested friend-but has no intention of becoming her guardian.... We cannot possibly interfere for the Koreans against Japan. ... They could not strike one blow in their own defense."  (US Army, 2003)  

After the Taft-Katsura Agreement, some of the American advisers in King Kojong's court began to work secretly for the Japanese.  They believed that Korea would be better off under Japan and worked their best to help Japan annex Korea. Durham White Stevens was one of these American turncoats.  Stevens was employed as an adviser to the foreign ministry of King Kojong, while secretly working for Prince Ito Hirobumi, the chief architect of Japan's annexation of Korea. A Korean-American, Chang In-Whan, gunned down Stevens on March 23, 1908, in San Francisco. (Sunoo, 2003, 2003a)

In 1907, Japan forced King Kojong to step down, and his son became the puppet emperor of Korea. King Kojong's son, the last prince of the Chosun Dynasty, was installed as King Sunjong. He was a pro-Japanese and approved the Annexation Agreement on August 29, 1910.  The Chosun Dynasty founded by General Yi Sung-gye 519 years ago became part of Japan.  Many of the pro-Japanese Koreans were rewarded with Japanese royal titles - counts, lords, etc., were given large tracts of land, and became rich and powerful under the Japanese rule.

X. The US-Korea Relations: 1910-1945

The Woodrow Wilson Doctrine and the March First Movement of 1919

On January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States proclaimed the Fourteen Points on the principle of national self-determination at the end of World War I.  Although the Wilson Doctrine did not apply to the Asian colonies, Korean nationalists were profoundly encouraged by the American president's lofty idealism. Kim Gyu-sik, a graduate of Roanoke College, VA, went to Paris to make a direct appeal to Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference for Korea's independence.  Kim Gyu-sik's appeal was in vain, as was Ho Chi Minh's appeal for Vietnam's independence from France.  (AianInfo, 2003)

Young students and Christians in Korea led the Samil Anti-Japanese March on March 1, 1919. It was crushed brutally by the Japanese. Teachers and civic leaders read a Declaration of Independence, patterned after the American version, in tens of thousands of villages throughout Korea: “Today marks the declaration of Korean independence. There will be peaceful demonstrations all over Korea. If our meetings are orderly and peaceful, we shall receive the help of President Wilson and the great powers at Versailles, and Korea will be a free nation.”

Nearly two million students, patriots and Christians responded and joined the march. The naive Koreans were not aware that the American President Wilson was not quite the good guy he claimed to be: America had years earlier agreed to Japan's annexation of Korea. The 33 organizers of the movement were mostly Christian idealists and had no experience in mass movement and so the March failed disastrously.

Photo: Hundreds of Korean nationalists were executed on a cross. 

The Japanese suppressed the movement with brutal force. They fired into groups of Korean Christians singing hymns. Christian leaders were nailed to wooden crosses and were left to die a slow death –so that they can go to heaven”. Mounted police beheaded young school children. The police burned down churches.

The official Japanese count of casualties includes 553 killed, 1,409 injured, and 12,522 arrested, but the Korean estimates are much higher, over 7,500 killed, about 15,000 injured, and 45,000 arrested.  (AsianInfo, 2003)

The Korean people, in particular Christians, came to realize the international fact of life; so-called self-determination of the Wilson Doctrine was only propaganda for the Western imperialists. Young Korean patriots were forced to join the camps of the Soviets and China for material and ideological support. Thus the Korean Provisional Government (KPG) was established on April 8, 1919, in the French Concession of Shanghai. Rhee Syngman, in absentia, was elected premier, Yi Dong Whi, defense minister, later, premier, and Kim Kyu Sik, foreign minister. The KPG had its own parliament, press, and a military school in Shanghai. The original founders of KPG represented a broad spectrum of the Korean political ideologies united in the common cause of Korean independence.

US Expeditionary Force in Siberia and Soviet Koreans - 1920-1922

Go-Chosun ruled parts of Siberia centuries before Christ was borne, and Korean farms dotted Siberia. The flow of Koreans into Siberia increased as the Chosun Dynasty began to fall apart in the 18th and the 19th Centuries.  By the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, some 300,000 first-generation Koreans lived in Siberia. Poor Korean farmers saw an opportunity to own a farm in Virgin Siberia and Korean nationalists found a refuge and an eager ally there. There rose Korean towns in Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Irkutsk, Chita and other major regions in Siberia. 

On October 1, 1917, the Russian Revolution succeeded in Russia proper, but in Siberia, chaos ensued. The Whites (Mensheviks), Czarists, Czechs, Japanese and Americans had armed men fighting against the Bolsheviks and their Korean nationalist allies in Siberia. After the Tsar's government fell, Alexander Kerensky's pro-Western government took over Russia, and the US promptly gave it a $100 million credit for buying American goods.

In September 1917, Kerensky invited the US to run the Trans-Siberian Railway.  The US government readily accepted the challenge and formed the Russian Railway Service Corps (RRSC), made of 285 railroad workers with military training.  Although these men were not regular soldiers, RRSC was officially a military organization. On November 11, 1917, RRSC left St. Paul, Minnesota and headed to San Francisco. The Americans arrived at Vladivostok in December 1917 but were turned back by the port authority and ended up in Nagasaki, Japan.  After several months  in Japan, the unit reached Siberia via Manchuria.

On March 3, 1918, the Russian Provisional Government under the Bolsheviks signed a peace treaty with Germany and gave the Ukraine to Germany, which was in desperate needs of the Ukraine minerals, wheat and oil on account of the British blockade. This treaty meant 40 extra German divisions were freed to fight the Anglo-French allies. The US feared that the war material stockpiled by the Allies in Siberia might fall into the German or the Soviet hands. The Allies shipped and stockpiled war materials at Vladivostok.  By 1914, over one billion dollars of worth, 400,000 tons, of construction material, barbed wire, rails, vehicles, machine tools, and munitions were waiting to be moved to the front lines in Europe.  (Great War Society, 2003)

In addition to safeguarding the war supplies, the US wanted to help anti-Soviet forces in Siberia topple the Soviets.  The US decided to send combat troops to augment the RRSC soldiers in Siberia.  The American Expeditionary Force Siberia (AEFS) was made of 5,000 men from the US 8th Infantry Division in the US and other US units in the Philippines. Major General William Graves was the commander.  (The US sent troops to Archangel, a separate operation in another region of Russia. These troops were forced to leave Russia on June 27, 1919).

Gen. Graves was ordered to proceed to Siberia promptly to assist the Czech Legion being pursued by the Red Army. The Allied wanted the Legion moved to Europe via Siberia to fight against the Germans. The Legion was made of Czech and Slovak POWs and Austro-Hungarian deserters. When Lenin withdrew the Russian troops from the War, the 40,000-man Legion was stranded in Ukraine. Lenin agreed to ship the Legion to Vladivostok, from where they would find a sea passage to Europe, and in return, the Legion agreed to leave the weapons behind. However, the Legion went wild in Siberia and took control of many towns and established military governments hostile to the Bolsheviks. 

Graves and his troops left San Francisco on August 15th aboard the Sheridan and Thomas and reached Vladivostok on September 1, 1918. The American troops joined 70,000 Japanese, 829 British, 1,400 Italian, 107 French colonial troops and a Canadian brigade already in Siberia. Japan, the US and China signed the Inter-Allied Railway Agreement in November 1918, under which the Trans-Siberian Railways would be taken over and managed by these nations. The railway systems were divided up among the three 'expeditionary' forces.  

Since 1905 when Japanese troops occupied Korea, Korean nationalist armies waged guerrilla war from military bases in Siberia and Manchuria.  Lenin provided arms and training to the Koreans and most of the Koreans sided with Lenin in the Russian civil war. There were nearly 10,000 Korean soldiers based in Siberia when the Japanese and American forces arrived in Siberia in 1918, and the allied Red Army and the Korean nationalists attacked the foreign invaders.

In September of 1919, the situation in Siberia took a sudden turn for the worse when the main anti-Soviet army led by Admiral Alexander Kolchak was defeated in Russia and fled to Siberia. The American RRSC came to their rescue and Kolchak's defeated army was ferried to Omsk and other towns in Siberia. However, the Soviet Red Army marched right behind the White armies and forced the RRSC and Gen. Grave's troops to leave Siberia.  On April 1, 1920, the last US troops left Vladivostok. The Soviets and their Korean allies captured some 150 Americans and killed perhaps twice as many Yanks in Siberia and Northern Russia. No one knows how many Americans were injured or had died of natural causes in Siberia.  

Because of racial prejudice prevailing in the 1800-1900s in America, college-educated Koreans in America had limited employment opportunities. The US military needed Korean interpreters in Siberia in order to deal with the hostile Korean armies and employed a number of Korean-Americans with college education.  Park Yong Man  was one of these lucky Koreans.

Photo: Americans killed in action in Siberia. From 1918 to 1920, these US troops helped Japanese troops fight Korean nationalists in Siberia. An American railway battalion maintained the Trans-Siberian Railways  for the anti-Soviet forces of Kolckaks, Czechs, Japanese, Chinese and other 'allies'.   Courtesy: US Army archives. 

Park Yong Man was one of the few Koreans who came to America as a student, not as a laborer as in the case of most other Korean immigrants in the early 1900s. He came to America in 1904 and studied at the Hastings Institute in Nebraska. After graduating from Hastings, he studied political science and military science at a college in Lincoln, Nebraska. Upon graduation, he moved to Hawaii and established a Korean military school and formed a Korean paramilitary unit. In October 1917, he represented Korea at the World Conference on Small Nations in New York.

Park translated the March First declaration of 1919 into English for publication in Hawaii. In May 1919, he joined the American Expeditionary Forces in Siberia as an intelligence agent. His job was to spy on the Koreans in Siberia. The Americans were allies of Japan in Siberia at the time, and so, Park became a Japanese spy in effect. Paradoxically, Park helped establish a Korean nationalist army at Nikolsk, Siberia. (Hyatt, 2003)

After the Americans left Siberia in April 1920, Park went to Shanghai, where he allegedly negotiated a secret “mutual defense pact” with the Soviets on behalf of the Korean Provisional Government in 1920. After 1920, Park devoted his time to financial affairs and provided funds to Kim Wong Bom's Yiyuldan, a leftist terrorist group, while at the same time, working with pro-Japanese elements in China and Korea. He went to Korea in 1924 with a group of pro-Japanese military and business leaders of the Japanese puppet government of China. On October 17, 1928. Park was executed on the order of Gen. Ji Chung Chun, the military commander of the Korean Provisional Government. Park Yong Man was accused of being a Japanese spy.

Korean GIs in World War II

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, there were about 6,000 Koreans in America, and about 100 of them joined the US army, many of them as linguists and intelligence officers. Rev. Hyun came to Hawaii in March 1903 with the second group of Korean immigrants and helped establish several Korean churches in Hawaii and became pastor of the Korean Methodist Church in Kapaia, Hawaii, in 1905. 

He returned to Korea in 1907 to preach at the Chung Dong Church, Seoul, noted for its central role in the March First Movement of 1919. Upon collapse of the March First movement, he fled to Shanghai and participated in the Korean Provisional Government as deputy foreign minister. He returned to Hawaii in 1921 as the official representative of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai, and later worked for US intelligence during World War II.  He sired Peter, David, Alice and two other children in Shanghai. 

Peter Hyun joined the US Army during World War II and landed in Korea as a major with the US occupation force in 1945. Alice Hyun, too, joined the US Army during Work War II and came to Korea with the US military in 1945. Both Peter and Alice worked for the US CICK (Civilian Information Control) in Seoul. Their job was to open private letters and wiretap phone conversations for the US military.

Alice Hyun grew up in Shanghai and met Park Hyon-Young, South Korean Communist Party boss, and Yo Un-hyung, and it was easy for her to get these leaders' confidence in Seoul.  Later in 1943, Alice was sent to North Korea using a cover story of being exiled for sedition in the US. Alice worked for about a year in Pyongyang as a private secretary of the Foreign Minister (Park Hyon-Young).  In April 1950, Alice was arrested at the Moscow airport by Kim Il Sung's secret police. In her possession were Kim Il Sung's secret war plans. (Lee Wha Rang, 2000b)

Gen. Donovan (OSS) and Kim Gu

On Sept. 17, 1940, Kim Gu formed the Korean Independence Army (Kwang-bok Army). Ji Chung Chun was appointed the Supreme Commander and Lee Bom Suk the Chief of Staff. Chinese dignitaries from Mao and Chiang groups – including Chou En Lai – attended the army foundation ceremony. In 1941, Kim Gu declared war on Japan. In 1942, he formally asked China, the US and Britain to recognize his government. Only China did so. The United States refused to recognize Kim Gu's government in China.  In 1944, the US military was faced with the possibility of fighting the Japanese in Korea and began to recruit Koreans in China.

Thus, on August 7, 1945, Gen. Donavan, the head of the US Office of Special Services (OSS), met Kim Gu at Shenyang, China, and agreed to send a US OSS team to work with Kim Gu’s army. Donavan wanted to use the Koreans as spies and saboteurs in preparation for land battles in Korea. Kim Gu saw a golden opportunity for military aids from America and to liberate Korea with his Independence Army.

Photo. Kim Gu and the OSS chief Gen. Donavan at the Kwang-bok Army 2nd detachment HQ in China. Yung Han Sum, Minister of Information (right of Kim Gu), Ji Chung Chun, Commander of Kwang-bok Army (partially hidden by Kim Gu), and Lee Bum Suk, 2nd Detachment commander (behind Donavan). Courtesy: Kim Gu Collection.

But Japan surrendered too soon for Kim Gu's army. The United States dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan and the Soviet Army began to move into Manchuria. Emperor Hirohito saw the handwriting all over the wall and decided to capitulate. No sooner Japan surrendered, than the OSS detachment assigned to Kim Gu left China. The US abandoned Kim Gu.

The US military in Korea refused to allow Kim Gu and his army to return to Korea in any official capacity. They were allowed to return home only as private citizens. Even those Koreans trained by the OSS received no special consideration by the US military. Some historians say that Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander in the Far East, disdained the OSS and kept the 'spooks' far away. President Truman, too, felt the same way and ordered the OSS disbanded.  (Lee Wha Rang, 2000c)

 Photo: Kim Gu's Korean Independence Army 2nd Brigade officers with US OSS instructors in 1945. The man in the middle front row is Lee Bom Suk. Gen. Ji Chung Chun, a graduate of the Japanese Military Academy, commanded the Army.

After liberation, Lee Bom Suk and his followers returned to Korea.  Since the US military did not allow them to return as a unit, they had to come back in small groups and then regrouped as private armies. Gen. Lee had served as Prime Minister of Rhee Syngman's government but he had falling out with Rhee and quit the post.

There were dozens of private armies in Korea in 1945-46. Many of the nationalist leaders returned with their private armies from China and vied amongst themselves for funds and recruits. In 1946, the US military banned all private armies in Korea and established a Korean regular army.

Lt. Gen. Hong Sa-Ik Hanged by the US

While less than 100 Koreans in America enlisted in the US military during World War II, more than 100,000 Koreans served in the Japanese army as officers and soldiers.  There were two Korean Lt. Generals in the Japanese Army: a Chosun prince, whose rank was honorary and who commanded no troops; and Lt. Gen. Hong Sa-Ik, who was a professional military man from the old Chosun army.

In 1910 when Japan annexed Korea, there were a dozen or so Korean cadets at the Japanese Military Academy. The Korean cadets split into two factions: a pro-Japanese faction led by Hong Sa Ik and Kim Suk Won, and an anti-Japanese faction led by Ji Chung Chun and Kim Gyong Chun.  After graduation, the pro-Japanese Koreans led Japanese troops in China and later in the Pacific battlefields.  Hong Sa-ik commanded an army division in China in the early days of World War II, and later, he was put in charge of the POW camps in the Philippines.  In contrast, the anti-Japanese officers led anti-Japanese Korean armies in Siberia and China.


Photo: Lt. Gen. Hong Sa-Ik, at right, at his war crimes tribunal. He refused to talk at the trial. He was convicted of war crimes against American POWs in the Philippines during World War II and was hanged in 1948.  

Among the Koreans in the Japanese army were college students who spoke English well, and they were assigned to POW camps on Java. In addition, the Japanese command deemed Korean soldiers untrustworthy in combat and assigned many of them to guard POW camps.  The Japanese command believed that the Korean guards would mind a Korean general and picked Lt. Gen. Hong to supervise the POW camps. Unfortunately for Hong, some of his Korean guards committed atrocities against the POWs on his watch.

When Japan surrendered, Lt. Gen. Hong was tried as a war criminal and sentenced to hang.  During the trial, Hong refused to talk and accepted the sentence with a stoic smile and muttered - "I passed the test for hanging."  He was in prison for 165 days waiting for the execution. During this time, he read the Bible and became a Christian. As he was led to the hanging platform on April 18, 1948, he handed his Bible to his American guard, Ivan Kay, and climbed the gallows. There he asked the presiding minister to read passages from the Old Testament (Psalm 51). 

His body was cremated and the ashes were dumped in the ocean. Years later, Ivan Kay gave Hong's bible to Hong's son, Hong Guk-sun.  Ironically, Hong's window and another son of Hong's came to America to live because they were not welcome in Korea. (Lee Gyu-Tae, 2003)

The Song of Ariran

Strange though it may sound, an American woman (Helen Foster Snow, aka Nym Wales) met a Korean nationalist (Kim San, aka Jang Ji Hak) in the caves of Yenan in 1937, where Mao Zedong and his troops were holed up. Nym Wales accompanied her husband Edgar Snow to Yenan on month-long stay with the Chinese Communists. Edgar wrote the Star over China and Nym wrote the Song of Ariran.  (Wales & Kim, 1941)

Photo: Kim San, aka Jang Ji Hak, in Yenan in 1937.  Jang dedicated his life to Korean independence and worked to put Mao in power.  In spite of his contributions, he was executed by Mao's secret police.

Her book was published in 1941 and became a best seller in America.  However, during the peak years of McCarthyism, the US government deemed it a Communist propaganda and banned it from public libraries. Nym and her husband were labeled Communist sympathizers. Her book was translated into Korean and published in South Korea in the late 1940s becoming a best seller.

Several prominent Korean historians performed detailed verification of the events chronicled in her book and have published several revised editions in Korea and America.  When the book came out in 1941, Nym was unaware that her hero and coauthor Kim San had been dead for sometime. Kim San was executed by Mao's secret police soon after she left him.

Her book details some of the major achievements of Korean nationalists in China.  For example, she gives a gripping account of the March 28, 1922 attack on Gen. Tanaka, the main architect of the Japanese imperialism in China and Korea.  Her account involves two American women. The plot involved three Korean nationalists: Oh Song Yun (aka Chon Kwang) with a pistol, Kim Ik Sang with a bomb, and Yi Chong Am with a sword. Oh Song Yun fired at Tanaka at which moment, an American woman who happened to be next to Tanaka grabbed Tanaka in terror and was hit, thus saving Tanaka's life. Oh ran from the scene believing that Tanaka was dead.

Photo: Nym Wales (penname of Helen Foster Snow) and her husband, Edgar Snow, spent years with Mao's group in China, and published several books on the Chinese revolution.  She saw Chinese revolutionaries not as Communists but as nationalistic agrarian reformers.

Oh Song Yun hijacked a car and sped away but ran into another car (Oh did not know how to drive) and was arrested. A Japanese girl friend of his smuggled a steel knife to Oh and he escaped after cutting out the lock on his cell door. Oh hid in an American friend's house for three days after which he managed to escape to Canton, from there to Germany on a forged passport; from Berlin, Oh traveled to Moscow and joined the Communist Party.

Today, the United States maintains close friendly contacts with China and Vietnam, but such was not always the case.  In Viet Nam, the US military backed Ho Chiming and his nationalists fighting the Japanese occupation army during World War II. Uncle Ho not only believed in the American democracy but also worshipped George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  When Japan surrendered, Uncle Ho proclaimed an independent republic of Viet Nam and fully expected the United States to recognize the republic, but instead, the United States opted to back the return of French colonial power in Viet Nam.  After years of bloody warfare, the US military was forced out of Viet Nam and Ho's dream came true. 

In China, the United States backed the wrong side in a long protracted civil war.  Like Uncle Ho, Mao Zedong admired America and wanted to join forces with the US military against the Japanese army, but the United States spurned Mao's friendship and poured billions upon billions into Chiang Kaisek's corrupt regime.  In the end, Chiang was driven out of China in 1949, and the United States turned China into an enemy nation for no good reason.

Nym Wales depicted many Korean nationalists, though Communists on paper, who admired America and wanted to be friends with Uncle Sam. What would have been the outcome, had the United States backed Ho Chiming, Mao Zedong, and other Asian 'Communists'?  Millions of Vietnamese and Chinese wouldn't have lost their lives and both nations would have reached where they are today many decades earlier. 

The Yalta Conference and the Vivisection of Korea

As World War II began to wind down, the Allied Powers - the United States, China, and the Great Britain - met in Cairo in 1943 and agreed that: "The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent."  A year later, the Soviet Union joined the Big Power circle and earned a say on Korea.

To the United States, Korea had little if any strategic significance, because Korea had a tiny population of less than 30 million and no important natural resources or industries. In contrast, the Soviet Union coveted Korea's warm water ports as a gateway to the Pacific. At the Big Powers conference held at Yalta in 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Stalin that Korea should be managed as a joint control area by the United States, China, and the Soviet Union for 20-30 years. Stalin had no objection except he wanted the Great Britain to to be a trustee as well.  However, this informal oral agreement was left out in the Yalta declaration.

On July 26, 1945, the Allied Powers met again at Potsdam (Germany). Roosevelt died earlier and Truman took over Roosevelt's seat at the Big Power Conference. Korea was hardly mentioned at the conference. The Powers discussed the final strategies to defeat Japan and the general division of military chores. The Soviet Union was assigned the task of occupying Manchuria but the question of who would occupy Korea was left hanging. The US military implied that the United States had no military plan for Korea, and thus indicated that Korea was under the Soviet zone of operation. (US Army, 2003)

The Red Army invaded Manchuria on August 9, 1945, and the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Emperor Hirohito was forced to send out a surrender feeler, and on August 10, 1945, the US War Department Operations Division was asked to draft a surrender document - General Order No. 1 - as soon as possible.  The Chief of the Policy Section, Col. Charles H. Bonesteel, had thirty minutes in which to dictate Paragraph 1 (dealing with disarming Japanese troops) to his secretary. Col. Bonesteel was aided by Lt. Col. Dean Rusk, who later became assistant secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs 1947-1960, Secretary of State 1961-1969, and the main architect of the Vietnam War.

Col. Bonesteel and LTC. Rusk believed that the line separating the US and the Soviet zones of occupation in Korea should follow the provincial boundary, but the only map of Korea they had was a small wall map, and so the officers cut Korea into two equal parts along the 38th Parallel. Stalin had no objection to the 38th Parallel.  The 38th Parallel runs about 190 miles across Korea and the Allied Powers cut up Korea without "any regard for political boundaries, geographical features, waterways, or paths of commerce. The 38th Parallel cut more than 75 streams and 12 rivers, intersected many high ridges at variant angles, severed 181 small cart roads, 104 country roads, 15 provincial all-weather roads, 8 better-class highways, and 6 north-south rail lines. It was, in fact, an arbitrary separation." (US Army, 2003) 

The decision to cut Korea into two halves was made in 30 minutes by two US Army colonels under great pressure from their superiors in 1945, nearly 60 years ago.  The line, although somewhat altered by the Korean War, still divides Korea.

XI. The US-Korea Relations: Summary

There is a Korean word - "sah-dae-ju-ih" - which loosely translates to - "Big Power Worship", "Cuddle up to a big power and you will be taken care of."  This idea goes with an old Korean proverb: When two whales fight, many shrimps get crushed, unless the shrimps stick close to one of the whales.  With the exception of Go-Chosun and Koguryo, which were big powers on their own rights, Korea has been a yak-so-min-jok (a tiny weak people) and has practiced sah-dae-ju-ih on and off with various big powers - Mongols, Chinese, Russians, Japanese, Germans, and Americans.

Thus, for example, King Kojong relied on China for protection until China was defeated in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1995). Next, the King embraced Russia and America for protection. For over a year, King Kojong embraced Tsar's Russia as a savior and ruled Korea hiding out in the Russian legation in Seoul. Russia was defeated by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War (1905), and the United States abandoned Korea soon after. The poor King Kojong believed that Uncle Sam would protect him from Japan and had placed dozens of Americans in key government positions in vain.

America saw little use for its Korean 'friends' and looked the other way when Japan annexed Korea in 1910. King Kojong failed to grasp the stark truth of 'real politic' that every nation is on its own and ought to take care of itself. A nation's 'national interests' change and yester years' friends become mortal enemies today and foes become close allies with time - all based on the needs of the present moment.  America accepted Korea as a Japanese colony, and the Americans in Korea - missionaries, educators, businessmen, and government officials - acted accordingly.

US troops briefly occupied South Korea from 1945 to 1948. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the US troops returned not so much to save South Korea but to stop Communism from spreading.  When the war dragged on, America decided to get out of Korea but Rhee Syngman forced America to sign a mutual defense treaty and leave behind a token force of about 40,000 men. Since the armistice of 1953, American presidents - Reagan, Bush, Sr., Carter, and Clinton - tried to get out of Korea, but they were met by intense opposition from the Korean officials, who would create bogus 'military crisis' and the threat of an "imminent invasion" from North Korea on occasion.

Today, President Bush is rethinking US troop deployments in Korea and other parts of the world. With modern weaponry, stationing ground troops in harm's way - within range of heavy guns and missiles loaded with WMD warheads - is not a prudent thing to do. Stationing nearly 40,000 US troops next to North Korean guns and missiles pleases Kim Jong Il but not US commanders. Plans are under way to pull back the US troops from the danger area - even completely out of Korea. When and if war comes, the troops would be relatively safe, and cruise missiles and other modern weapons will do much of the fighting.

If no war, then it is likely that America will leave Korea. There is no more Red menace and Korea offers little in the way of American national interests. Sooner or later, America will let the Korean people manage their own affairs on their own. The new breeds of Korean leaders want it that way and no more sah-dae-ju-ih for Korea. Korea wants to become a Big Power and regain the past glory of Go-Chosun and Koguryo.


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Appendix A: US Diplomats in Korea

Source: US State - Korea. (2003).

1883: Lucius H. Foote, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Feb 27, 1883 - Feb 19, 1885
1886: William H. Parker, Minister Resident/Consul General, Feb 19, 1886 - Sep 3, 1886
1887: Hugh A. Dinsmore, Minister Resident/Consul General, Jan 12, 1887 - May 26, 1890
1889: William O. Bradley, Minister Resident/Consul General, Mar 30, 1889 - Declined appointment.
1890: Augustine Heard, Minister Resident/Consul General, Jan 30, 1890 - Jun 27, 1893
1894: John M.B. Sill, Minister Resident/Consul General, Jan 12, 1894 - Sep 13, 1897
1897: Horace N. Allen, Minister Resident/Consul General, Jul 17, 1897 - Dec 10, 1901.
1905: Edwin V. Morgan, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Mar 18, 1905 - Dec 8, 1905
1949: John J. Muccio, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Apr 7, 1949 - Sep 8, 1952
1952: Ellis O. Briggs, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Aug 25, 1952 - Apr 12, 1955
1955: William S.B. Lacy. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Mar 24, 1955 - Oct 20, 1955
1956: Walter C. Dowling. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, May 29, 1956 - Oct 2, 1959
1959: Walter P. McConaughy, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Oct 5, 1959 - Apr 12, 1961
1961: Samuel D. Berger,  Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Jun 12, 1961 - Jul 10, 1964
1964: Winthrop G. Brown, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Jul 31, 1964 - Jun 10, 1967
1967: William J. Porter, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Jun 9, 1967 - Aug 18, 1971
1971: Philip C. Habib,  Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Sep 30, 1971 - Aug 19, 1974
1974: Richard L. Sneider, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Aug 23, 1974 - Jun 21, 1978
1978: William H. Gleysteen, Jr., Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Jun 27, 1978 -  Jun 10, 1981
1981: Richard L. Walker, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Jul 18, 1981 - Oct 25 1986
1986: James Roderick Lilley, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Oct 16, 1986 - Jan 3, 1989
1989: Donald Phinney Gregg, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Sep 14, 1989 - Feb 27, 1993
1993: James T. Laney, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Oct 15, 1993 - Feb 5, 1996
1997: Steven W. Bosworth, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Oct 24, 1997 - Feb 10, 2001

2001: Thomas C. Hubbard, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Aug 3, 2001


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Government; Japan; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: asia; history; southkorea

1 posted on 07/10/2003 5:15:59 PM PDT by Enemy Of The State
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To: Enemy Of The State
An astounding piece of work. As a sometime student of Asian history, it was very interesting.
2 posted on 07/10/2003 5:22:49 PM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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3 posted on 07/10/2003 5:24:01 PM PDT by Support Free Republic (Your support keeps Free Republic going strong!)
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To: Enemy Of The State

My dad (center) while a student at a Seoul military school, circa 1941

4 posted on 07/10/2003 5:30:00 PM PDT by martin_fierro (A v v n c v l v s M a x i m v s)
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To: HighRoadToChina; maui_hawaii; rightwing2; soccer8; US_MilitaryRules; Libertarianize the GOP; ...
FYI Ping..
5 posted on 07/11/2003 7:02:28 AM PDT by Enemy Of The State (If we don't take action now, We settle for nothing later!)
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To: Enemy Of The State
Thanks for this great read!

MacArthur should have been allow to finish off that cancer in the 50's and maybe we could have got a free China at the same time.

But no, the one-worlders beginning with Truman wanted to preserve their one-world borders.
6 posted on 07/11/2003 7:41:30 AM PDT by HighRoadToChina (Never Again!)
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To: HighRoadToChina


7 posted on 02/14/2016 3:32:08 PM PST by GeronL (I remember when this was a conservative forum)
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