“Potsdam Revisited: Prelude to a Divided Korea”

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations
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Scholarly debate about the reasons for Korea’s division at the 38th parallel in August 1945 has not been particularly intense. Early historical accounts accepted the u.s. government’s claim that the United States and the Soviet Union made a hasty decision to partition the country as a matter of military convenience to coordinate the acceptance of the surrender of Japanese forces at the end of World War ii. By the early 1980s, however, new research had established that President Harry S. Truman planned to occupy all of Korea after using the atomic bomb, which was designed to force Japan’s surrender before the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War. But when Premier Joseph Stalin sent the Red Army into Korea, Truman proposed dividing Korea to prevent the Soviets from imposing Communist rule on the entire nation. Recently, some South Korean scholars have challenged this interpretation. Relying on new research, they contend that during the Potsdam Conference, u.s. and Soviet officials negotiated a secret agreement to divide Korea at the 38th parallel. This research note examines Won Bom Lee’s article making this argument, showing how it lacks evidentiary support to overturn the standard explanation for Korea’s division.


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