The Korean Military Advisory Group (kmag) – a relatively small unit of U.S. Army officers – developed, advised, and exerted influence over the Republic of Korea (rok) Army from its inception in 1946 through the signing of the Korean War armistice in July 1953. kmag advisors served down to the battalion level, working alongside South Korean counterparts in rok Army units, causing language to be a crucial battlefield that animated American anxieties and negative racial assumptions. In a moment when few, if any, American military officers had Korean language proficiency, South Koreans with English-language capability became essential to the U.S. foreign policy project in South Korea. South Korean interpreters, too, amplified racialized concerns about the trustworthiness of rok soldiers. This article places American understandings of language in kmag affairs into critical focus, highlighting the cultural assumptions that came to effect material change in U.S. Army policy towards the rok Army before and during the Korean War. It shows how language was a means of U.S. penetration into the fabric of Korean state and society, but also a target of imaginations that disturbed the U.S. military because of its consistent reminder of how language could resist American suggestion.
This article examines the problem of Operational Control (opcon) in the relationship the Republic of Korea Forces in Vietnam (rokfv) built with the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. When the rokfv deployed in Vietnam, they faced the dilemma of pursuing their own interests while maintaining a good relationship with U.S. forces. Therefore, the rokfv refused to fight under the opcon of U.S. forces, even though all rok troops remaining in South Korea were under U.S. opcon. Instead of arguing who would have opcon over the rokfv, the United States and the rok negotiated the establishment of a cooperative relationship. Although their opcon was not perfect at first, the rokfv nevertheless proved their military professionalism and achievements through securing areas and building company bases in their Vietnamese territories, rather than search-and-destroy operations, to achieve pacification. As a result, the rokfv built a parallel command in which the South Vietnamese, Americans, and South Koreans cooperated, which allowed them to carry out a Korean style of war under a more equal relationship with U.S. forces.
The discourse of Korea’s failed history has been mostly a production of Japanese colonial scholarship, but the early texts that American authors produced were what guided the Western understanding of Korean history during the long 20th Century. Despite the importance of these texts that left significant imprints on later academic works and policy decisions, scholars have not as yet examined properly the American discourse of failure in Korean history. This article analyzes the representative American books on Korean history of authors William E. Griffis and Homer B. Hulbert to describe the emergence of the American discourse of Korea’s failed history in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. It argues that early American authors of accounts of Korean history wrote them in a specific narrative structure that depicted Korea’s past as a story of gradual decline that ended with failure. These works identify three major themes – isolation, victimization, and dependency – as explanations for why Korea failed. Then, the article examines the doctoral dissertations of Harold J. Noble and George M. McCune to show how this early narrative framework during the 1930s and the 1940s continued thereafter to shape U.S. understanding of Korea even into the 1950s, informing both policymakers and scholars.