Lecture Video: The Division of Korea: How and Why

It is widely known that the United States and the Soviet Union were responsible for the tragic division of Korea following its liberation from Japan in 1945. However, how and why the two occupying powers made the decisions that led to this outcome remains poorly understood. The question is, in fact, complicated because neither Moscow nor Washington intended or desired the establishment of separate states in Korea. As they jockeyed for position in the fluid circumstances of the end of the war against Japan and the beginning of the Cold War, their approach to the Korean settlement gradually took shape. Although they did not seek the division of Korea, the chain of actions they took in Northeast Asia made it unlikely that any other outcome would result.

In this lecture, Dr. Weathersby will trace the key stages in the settlement of the Korean question in 1945-46, examining the motivations of both occupying powers as their tactics shifted over these chaotic months. Drawing on Soviet documents recently uncovered from Russian archives as well as American records that have long been available, she will argue that Washington and Moscow subordinated the Korean issue to their top priority of protecting against a renewed threat from Japan. As they shaped their strategy toward the strategically vital peninsula, their mistrust of each other and their fear of Japan made them determined to maintain a “friendly” government in their zone, even at the cost of a catastrophic division of Korea.

Dr. Weathersby is a Visiting Professor in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Sungshin Women’s University and Professorial Lecturer at the School of Advanced International Studies of The Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC. After the collapse of communist rule in the Soviet Union, she conducted extensive research in newly-available Soviet archives on Moscow’s policy toward Korea from 1944 to 1953. She has published and lectured widely on the Korean War and the Cold War in East Asia, and has taught the history of Soviet foreign policy and the history of South/North Korean relations. In 2013 the Ministry of Veteran’s Affairs of the Republic of Korea honored her with the Civilian Medal of Merit for her research on the Korean War, and in 2012 she received the Special Prize for the Promotion of Democracy from the Federation of Korean Industries.

 

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