Courtesy Reuters

The Thirty-Eighth Parallel

THE critical decision to divide Korea at the Thirty-eighth Parallel has never been fully explained and thus has been a subject of considerable curiosity and dispute during the past five years. Sufficient information is now available to refute definitely the erroneous but widespread impression that Korea's future was decided at Yalta.

Although one of the reasons why the Big Three met at Yalta in February 1945 was to secure definite assurances of Russian participation in the war against Japan and to fix its timing, the conference was not extensively concerned with the Far East[i] and gave almost no attention to Korea. The top secret document "Terms for the Entry of the Soviet Union into the War Against Japan" drawn up at Yalta did not contain a single reference to Korea, either explicitly or by implication.[ii]

The question of the future of Korea seems to have been touched on in the Yalta talks in two respects only and then quite inconclusively. At one point, the trusteeship plan, to replace the old League of Nations system of mandates which had been under development for some time, was brought up and passing mention was made of a multi-power trusteeship for Korea.[iii] The discussion of the trusteeship problem was concluded, however, with a formal agreement that the actual areas to be placed under trusteeship should be decided later.[iv] President Roosevelt and Stalin are also known to have agreed that foreign troops would not be stationed in Korea, an understanding which had absolutely no significance in view of the later occupation by both Russian and American forces.[v]

We now know that our military experts continuously overestimated Japan's potentialities as an enemy and that, even without the atomic bomb, Japan was very near the end of her industrial and military rope in August 1945.[vi] On the basis of mistaken intelligence, our leaders were led to believe that Russian participation in the Pacific war was vital as late as July 1945.[vii] Thus the real significance of the Yalta conference as far

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