Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Back in the USA, The Fourth Feather

My summer trip is over and I'm back home. What a nice two weeks, I'm truly sad to be back here and having to face boring, unpleasant reality. It'll be rough getting back with ROTC. I've had a rather nasty summer and this trip has been the best thing that has happened to me since school ended. Sadly, it was simply a stay of execution and soon I’ll have to face the music and deal with what has happened. Until then, I’ll just have to try to keep it together; not an easy task.

I’d really like to talk about the conference and how much fun I had there, but right now I want to do a small review and reflection of something I read while on the flight back from the UK. It is quite obvious that I get the inspiration for this blog from Rudyard Kipling’s short story about imperialism and adventure, so it might also be easy to guess that I have an interest in that period of history. One of the most famous pieces of fiction set in the era is A.E.W. Mason's The Four Feathers.

Set in the 1880s with the background of the Anglo-Sudanese war which would cost General “Chinese” Gordon his life and inspire many of our images of the British Empire in the latter part of the 19th century. The novel centers on a Harry Feversham who resigns his military commission for fear of being proven a coward, but in the end three of his fellow officers send him white feathers signifying cowardice. When his fiancĂ©, Ethne Eustace, finds out that he wouldn’t even face the chance, she gives him a fourth feather and vows never to see him again in this life or the next. This spurs Harry to try and win back his honor so that even if they can’t be together in this life, they can in the next one. Anyhow, so Harry’s ventures into the wartorn Sudan and through the course of the book he wins his honor and Ethne back.

There are some times when you are in a situation where a book just speaks to you. If you had read it some other time, it might have just been another book, but because you feel a certain way at the time it takes on more significance. For me, The Four Feathers, hit me at a very trying time. The story of a man so afraid of the possibility of cowardice ruining his reputation that he makes a decision that creates a situation even worse than his fears and his path to redemption. I can relate to that—that’s kind of what happened to me recently and it has been causing me many sleepless nights and much grief. However, there’s a character—which I didn’t even mention and that’s Jack Durrance.

Jack is Harry’s best friend and almost is really the central character of the novel since Harry is out of it for many chapters. He is deeply in love with Ethne, who doesn’t return his affection and would prefer to die in battle. In the novel he doesn’t give Harry one of the feathers—because he doesn’t know of Harry’s cowardice. Yet even when he learns of Harry’s shame, Durrance is the only character besides LT Sutch who does not condemn Harry and is the catalyst behind the attempt to go out and rescue Harry, for the sake of their friendship and because Durrance knows Ethne doesn’t love him. Not only that, he goes out of his way to make sure Ethne doesn’t suspect that he knows this and tries to spare her from the pain of breaking off their engagement by breaking it off himself. In my mind he is a very noble and selfless character.

Let’s not look past the efforts Durrance goes through to try and save Feversham from the terrible prison in Omdurman and that he doesn’t condemn Feversham for his cowardice. Durrance is a good, valiant soldier who quickly rises to the rank of Colonel during his time in the Sudan. Durrance is prepared to face death, but instead he is blinded with no hope of regaining his sight—a fate really worse than death for such an active and vigorous young man. Not only does he deal with that with a quiet dignity and grace, he also accepts that Ethne will never love him and would be miserable if he allowed her to marry him. Also, in a slightly odd way, he’s extremely worried that because of his blindness he’ll become selfish and so he is constantly on guard against this possibility.

Here is a man who has every right to feel sorry for himself: the woman he loves is in love with his best friend, who is in mortal danger. On top of that, he is blind and unable to do the one career path which he wanted to follow and has been denied the kind of honorable death he had hoped for instead. Durrance never allows himself to be overcome with pity for his situation, but instead faces his fate with that “stiff upper lip” that the English have made so famous. Or as Pink Floyd put it: “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.”

And really, that is what Durrance is doing. He isn’t allowing himself to wallow in pity, but no one is reaching out to him and he isn’t opening himself and his tribulations to anyone else. He is quite literally hanging on in that quiet desperation. Really, he has lost everything—his only love—he doesn’t want to marry since he’s afraid that’ll make him selfish. He’s also lost the army, his chosen career path and his sight. What can he do? His friends will be deployed and he can only be left behind. Indeed, the last line of the novel is about Durrance standing on the deck of a ship heading south, looking up (in vain) at the stars as the Southern Cross appears. While not a completely sad ending, it really is not a hopeful one for Durrance either.

Personally, I can really was touched by the story. I can relate to a man so afraid of the possibility of failing he causes an even greater problem for himself. Likewise, I admire Durrance’s courage and steadfastness, traits I wish to emulate. Durrance is a man who knows he’ll live out the rest of his life alone and sightless, but is resigned to this and faces it unflinchingly. I personally hope I can muster the same grace when I’ll have to face the world alone.

Sorry for any spoilers, but it has been out for over 108 years.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Stranger in a far Stranger Land

It's been forever and a day since I've updated this...

Anyway, I should be at LDAC now, but for some late unpleasantness that have delayed me for a year going to cadet land and which I'd rather not dwell on. At any rate I will go to LDAC next summer, so in the end, everything's all right.

Instead this year I'm with my family in Paris. I have to say that its a pretty nice place, despite the fact that I have absolutely no grasp of the language, so I'm even more lost here than I was in Kazakhstan.

We're living on Rue de l'Exposition, which places us about a block away from the Champ de Mars and the Eifle Tower. Eat your heart out francophiles. I've got probably the most scenic run route in the morning. Every day I'm here I'm getting up rather early ( I'm having a hard time staying asleep...) and going about 3 laps around the Champ de Mars and down to the Eifle Tower. I think that's about 6 kilometers but I'm not sure exactly. Great little jog.

Yesterday we had a long day. Hit the Louvre and I have to say I am not a fan of art. Yeah, I'm uncultured but it just doesn't appeal to me, except for a few of the large 19th century french pictures, such as the Raft of the Medusa or Lady Liberty Leading the People. Other than that, the musuem was a pretty rough couple of hours.

Today promises to be much better though--we'll be seeing Les Invalids and good old Nappy! I look forward to many great souvenirs--like my Napoleon Sword letter opener or my Napoleon coasters (courtesy of the Louvre, so I can't complain too much I guess).

Back later!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Executions: It solves ALL problems

If anyone's been paying attention to North Korea lately, you'll notice they've been having some problems with their currency (or lack there of now). Well, they've finally got a bright idea for fixing it: executing the finance minister.


Man, it has got to suck pretty hardcore living there. I wonder how much they believe from their government about the outside world? There's supposed to be some interesting books that recently came out. I'm definitely going to have to check some of these out here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Paper's are done and graded

Got an A on both the Kazakhstan and Korean papers.

Dr. Lee's wanting me to rework on the Kstan paper and try to get it submitted and published. This could be exciting. I've decided (for anyone interested) to post what I wrote on Korea (about the U.S.-Korea alliance).

If anyone's interested in seeing my footnates and scholarship, just give me your email address and I'll send you a copy of the full version.

The Korean-American Alliance:

Forged in Blood

Alexander T. Gerges

Summer 2009

Pittsburg State University


This paper is a general overview of the U.S.-ROK alliance, including aid in the Korean War, from before the outbreak of hostilities to the signing of the armistice. It will examine the successes, failures, and impact of the U.S. aid. This will include things such as the supplies and military training that the ROK forces received before the war, as well as the actual U.S. Armed Forces support in the war. It will also look at the problems that faced the U.S. military during the beginning of the war and how the U.S. military was able to overcome them and successfully help defend South Korean independence. Finally, the paper will also look at some of the difficulties the alliance has faced, how both sides have overcome them, and some speculation on the future of the alliance.


The history of the nation of Korea in the past one hundred and fifty years has been a period of extreme difficulty and sorrow for the people of Korea. From the political pressure and brutal occupation by the Japanese in the first half of the 20th century, to the division after World War II, the blood and destruction wrought by the Korean War, this period has left lasting scars upon the two Korean states. In the last forty years, things have improved greatly for people living in what is now the Republic of Korea, or South Korea, because of its enormous economic growth. However, the Korean peninsula remains divided with the people of the so called “Democratic People’s Republic” of Korea living under an oppressive dictatorship and in poverty.

In modern times, there have been three Korean Wars. Each time, foreign powers have fought in the Korean peninsula with destructive results for the Korean people. The wars that mainly led to the Japanese take over was the Sino-Japanese war in 1894 and the Russo-Japanese war in 1905[1]. In both wars, the Japanese were able knock out a potential rival for dominance in Korea and strip Korea of a possible protector against Japanese aggression.

Throughout Korea’s history, it had always maintained a close relationship with China to its north while treating with its neighbor Japan as more or less equals, despite two invasions during the 16th century. However, as Korea continued with its traditional rural agricultural society, Japan catapulted itself into the modern world through industrialization and military expansion[2]. On the other hand, Korea’s isolationism was forcibly ended by the major powers, including the United States, Europe, and Japan[3]. Unlike Japan, Korea was unable to modernize itself sufficiently to fend for itself.

With Korea’s possible protection in Asia removed from the equation and any possible help from western powers an ocean away, the Japanese soon made their move in Korea and without any serious outside force to back the Korean king, Korea fell under Japanese control the occupation included repression of the Korean culture and language and would help lead to the lasting division of Korea[4].

The U.S. really had not had planned to get seriously involved in Korea. Instead it became involved more as a way to check communist expansion in Asia towards Japan. The United States proposed a division of spheres of influence along the 38th Parallel, which the Soviet Union agreed. Had the Soviets disagreed, there was not much that the United States could have done, considering the fact that the Americans had no real presence in Korea, while the Soviets had an entire army in Manchuria[5]. Both superpowers supported governments based upon their own ideologies; the United States supported the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south, under Dr. Syngman Rhee while the Soviets supported the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under Kim Il-sung. Thus, began the U.S.-ROK alliance.

U.S. -South Korean Relations Before and During the War.

When the Korean War began, South Korea and the United States were not prepared for the struggle that lay ahead of them. The American troops sent to reinforce the South Korean army initially were badly under strength, poorly equipped, improperly trained, over--confident, and far too few for the task at hand[6]. Likewise, the South Korean military was unprepared and by the evening of the 28th of June, the South Korean army could only account for 22,000 of 98,000 men on the roll on the 25th. It had all but been destroyed by the North Korean People’s Army[7].

Similarly, the American task force sent during the initial weeks of the North Korean invasion was unprepared for the trail that lay ahead of them. On July 5th, 403 Americans of “Task Force Smith” had hastily dug in on a road between Suwon and Osan. The soldiers had grown soft from inactivity during their occupation of Japan and were under strength when sent to Korea. They were a token force, attempting to frighten the North Koreans into backing down, however it was unsuccessful[8]. The Americans were attacked by North Korean tanks and quickly overrun. The United States and their Korean allies had no anti-tank mines and were using obsolescent anti-tank rockets that could not penetrate the North Korean T-34s. This lack of sufficient equipment to stop the tanks coupled with rain that prevented the American air force from supporting Task Force Smith, led to their defeat and the task force quickly melted away[9].

Many people are unable to understand how this could have happened, seeing the current strength and power of the United States, often called the world’s sole superpower. Older people, or people more familiar with history might remember the perceived power of America in the immediate post war period and also struggle to reconcile the performance of the American army in the beginning of the war with the image of American power that people are more familiar. It is very true that the American army performed extremely poorly at the beginning of the war[10].

However, it may be this sort of image of America being an unstoppable superpower that led to the initial disaster in the Korean War. Americans at the time were exuberant at the conclusion of the Second World War. They also felt very secure in their monopoly on atomic weapons, economic, and industrial power and so believing that they would be able to rely on this, the American government dramatically slashed defense spending[11]. In 1945, the American military had twelve million men under arms and spent $82 billion dollars. However in 1950, the military had only 1.6 million men and the government was only spending $13 billion[12]. Thus, overconfidence in American’s status and power helped directly lead to America’s unpreparedness in the war.

Furthermore, Americans were unprepared for the situation in Korea and had not planned what to do with Korea after World War II and most American servicemen had no desire to serve there after hostilities had ended in 1945[13]. The Joint Chiefs of Staff felt that the U.S. had little strategic interests in maintaining troops in Korea and in the American government it was felt that Korea was not vital to the security of the United States, but a complete withdrawal would have hurt American credibility with Japan, which was vital for security[14]. Thus, a token force of about five hundred advisors was left in Korea to help train the South Korean military to fight a guerilla war going on in the southern region. In fact, the only real interest the American army had in Korea was for Korea to serve as a bastion of anti-communism. The military had grown suspicious of communism in the post World War II and it was hoped that the United States could fight communism in Asia by allowing South Korea to become a successful democracy, to serve as an example against communism[15].

American policy in the post--war would was clumsy, and while the American was hoping to use Korea as an example against communism, the State Department was pulling in the other direction. It felt that a unified Korea under non-Communist rule was unattainable and so wanted a way out; they also did not like Syngman Rhee, who had been able to take power with support from the U.S. military leaders in Korea. This action was done without the approval of the State Department, which did not want to be seen as getting involved in Korean politics[16]. The Rhee regime was repressive and an embarrassment to the United States. The entire situation in Korea was seen as volatile and dangerous with the top American commander in Korea recommending that the U.S. and Soviet Union simply both back out and let Korea settle its political ails and decide its future in its own time. He believed that involvement by the U.S. and U.S.S.R. could only exacerbate things and create an even more dangerous situation[17].

This led to reluctance to support the Rhee regime and getting seriously involved in South Korea. Rhee was not a simple puppet; he was strongly nationalistic and vigorously denounced the American approved division of Korea. The U.S. government decided to limit Rhee’s ability to create “mischief” by denying his military armor or heavy artillery and other military equipment because they feared he might try to unite the peninsula through armed force[18].

The military that the United States created for the Republic of Korea was meant to fight a communist guerilla insurgency, which was aided and led by the North Korean leadership and controlled large regions of territory in the southwest. The primary training the South Korean army received was to fight these guerillas effectively and to end the outmoded methods picked up during Japanese occupation. The guerilla insurgency would last through the war, with American troops also having to aid the South Korean forces in fighting the insurgents. Thus, not only was the South Korean army ill-equipped to fight a modern conventional war, it was also untrained to a point which was not lost on Kim Il Sung when making his decision to invade[19].

The arrogance of the U.S. Government that communists would not try any aggressive actions in Korea because of the perceived strength of America and fear of America’s nuclear arsenal combined with the intention of preventing war by limiting the South Korea’s offensive capability was a recipe for disaster which threatened the very existence of South Korea. The five years of neglect of the U.S. military and the crippling of the South Korean military also almost enabled the Chinese and North Koreans to inflect wholesale disaster during the war. Since the Korean War is often seen as the first major test by communist powers against the West, it also can be argued that losing in Korea may have altered the entire course of the Cold War.

Luckily for both the Republic of Korea and the United States of America, once the North Koreans invaded in the summer of 1950, the U.S. was given a simple and obvious casus belli which then allowed them—with military support of the United Nations, to use force to counteract the communist aggression. Without this act of naked aggression, it is highly unlikely that the United States would have been able to marshal the popular support to continue the war to a satisfactory finish[20]. Another result that would be of great benefit to both countries is that the war turned “a very shaky relationship” into a direct military alliance and a mutually beneficial relationship that has stood the test of time and political blundering on both sides[21].

This war has been extensively written about in academic and American military circles, even if the war itself has been mainly forgotten by the public here in America and by younger generations in Korea. For older generations, especially in Korea, the war and the period afterwards still brings about memories and many American veterans of the Korean War who have visited Korea since the end of the war have talked about the gratitude they felt from the older Koreans[22]. So a brief overview is in order.

The North Korean People’s Army invaded the Republic of Korea on June 25, 1950. This surprise attack caught the South Koreans and their American allies completely unaware. Furthermore, the North Koreans had infiltrated the South with Communist agents and they knew the location of every South Korean defense unit and then sent overwhelming forces against them. American advisors in Korea were also caught in a difficult position, because they were not sure whether or not they should fight alongside the ROK army, continue advising or withdraw completely[23].

The North Korean invasion was spearheaded by tanks and the South Korean army had no real means of combating them. Many South Korean soldiers threw themselves at the tanks while carrying explosive charges, but this had very little success and the South Korean morale began to shatter. The North Koreans also had Russian built aircraft, which it used against the South, who had no fighters. Seoul soon fell and the ROK army was all but destroyed. The United States was able to secure United Nations support for a joint military operation against North Korea because the Soviet Union was boycotting the UN at the time of the vote and were unable to help out their fellow communists. America was not ready yet to fight a major war; with only ten divisions and nine regimental combat teams, all but one were at seventy percent strength[24].

The American and South Korean forces were not well equipped, trained well, equipped well and had poor morale, unlike their opponents[25]. The North Korean People’s Army was a force of combat veterans of World War II and the Chinese Civil War who were fervently motivated and well equipped[26]. Thus, in the beginning, the South Koreans and then their American allies were pushed back farther and farther, until they had their backs to the sea in what became known as the “Pusan Perimeter.”

There, the U.S. and ROK forces dug in and the Americans began reinforcing Pusan. Slowly, the situation began to change; American units could feel secure in their flanks and they could fight the type of battle they had trained for. As the American confidence grew, the undisciplined and untrained forces became competent. American officers began to reorganize the ROK Army and soon, the U.N. forces outnumbered the North Korean Army, who had been bled white during the fight to Pusan[27].

Thus, with the situation improved, the U.N. forces were able to push the North Korean invaders back. The amphibious landing at Inchon, a risky gamble for the American Marines--the bulk of troops in the attack, but ultimately it paid off for the U.N. forces, retaking Seoul shortly afterwards and cutting off and destroying a large portion of the North Korean Army. After this success, the allied troops under MacArthur began pushing north, until the unexpected Chinese intervention drove them back below the 38th Parallel. At Chipyong-ni, the American troops defeated the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army and began driving them northward above the 38th Parallel.

The West, deciding to attempt to reach a negotiated peace settlement halted their offensive and backed down to the 38th Parallel. However, the Chinese and North Koreans were not ready to end the war, which they still believed they had a hope of winning if they could out last the U.N. forces, so they took this opportunity to reorganize and dig in. The initial peace talks floundered and the war dragged on for another two years. The Communist forces could not make any headway against the West’s superior firepower and by now the U.S. forces had become a formidable fighting force, but the United Nation troops were also unable to break through the Chinese and North Korean defenses without suffering casualties that were unacceptable to the governments at home. Eventually the Communist situation changed and they no longer felt they could break the will of the United Nation forces and so an armistice was finally signed[28].

This ceasefire, which left the Korean peninsula divided, was bitterly protested by Syngman Rhee, who actively tried to torpedo the armistice talks, and by the Korean people. Both felt that they had spent too much blood for nothing gained by this treaty and were also afraid that the Americans might withdrawal and leave South Korea to fend for itself[29]. On this last point, the Koreans could rest easy, as the Republic of Korea and the United States signed a Mutual Security Treaty, which included an agreement to expand the South Korean Army at American expense and gave long term economic aid with a $200,000,000 down payment and 10,000,000 pounds of food immediately[30]. Thus began the formalized American-Korean alliance, that continues to this day.

When the war had started, there existed “a very shaky relationship” between the Koreans and Americans. This improved dramatically after the Korean War, during which both sides developed a mutual respect and appreciation. The Koreans saw the U.S. troops now as necessary for their independence and realized that the Americans were willing to die to defend their country. Americans for their part lost the attitude that they deserved a degree of deference for freeing Korea “free of charge” after World War II as they saw the Koreans fighting and dying in desperation to defend their country. For both sides, this was an alliance formed in blood[31].

During the war, the United States provided the arms and equipment that the South Korean Army used, but it was still lacking in artillery and armor, which was provided by the U.S. Army. For the U.S.’s part, it had plenty of firepower, but lacked manpower and cultural and linguistic sensibility in Korea[32], which it tried to help fix by using KATUSAs, or Korean Augmentation to the United States Army. This never quite worked the way intended, because many of the Korean soldiers lacked English skills and there was a wide cultural gap between them and the Americans, but it did get Americans and Koreans working together more closely and this program continues to this day[33]. An example of the closeness that could develop between the American and Korean soldiers is of Lieutenant Timothy Donovan, who led partisan forces in North Korea. During one of his actions, he was captured by the Chinese, but his men chose to cross the Yalu River into China and rescue him from captivity[34].

Besides military support during the war, it is also good to remember that the United States also did much during the Korean War to help alleviate the suffering of the South Korean populace. During the war, Civilian Assistance Command “waged a relentless war on poverty and disease[35].” This program was organized by the United Nations, but was staffed mainly by U.S. Army civilian and military personnel. It fed and clothed four million refugees, established health care facilities that treated another three million South Korean civilians, and provided over sixty million inoculations. It also planned and implemented programs that restored water, sanitation and other utilities, constructed and repaired transportation and communication systems, and improved agricultural and industrial production. On their own time U.S. soldiers also built orphanages, clinics, schools and churches, which eventually led to the creation of the Armed Forces Assistance to Korea program. This program mixed American financial aid with voluntary efforts of the American soldiers to construct nearly four thousand facilities by 1960[36].

The American-South Korean Alliance After the War.

When the Korean War began, South Korea was still recovering from forty brutal years of Japanese occupation and the shock of the division of the peninsula. The Korean War threatened all of the progress that it had made. It lost countless lives and $2 billion dollars in property losses[37]. It would be difficult for South Korea to recover and in the immediate future; South Korea was still faced with a communist insurgency, which would finally be crushed for good in 1955 with American aid[38].

Slowly, South Korea began to recover, but Syngman Rhee’s anti-democratic tendencies became too much for the American government to bear politically. His corruption deeply embarrassed the United States, who had gone to war defend South Korea’s freedom and independence[39]. Syngman Rhee was finally deposed in 1960 after the U.S. publicly withdrew its support from him. Until the late 1980s, repressive military influenced governments would maintain power in South Korea[40].

Following Syngman Rhee, Park Chung Hee, a general, seized control in Seoul. The country at the time he took over was heavily dependent economically and militarily on the United States. Park set out to turn this around and today in Korea, he is less remembered for difficulties in the U.S.-Korean relation or his political repressions than for being the father of South Korea’s economic progress. Park took charge of the South Korean economy, copying the successful postwar Japanese system, normalized relations with Japan which was highly encouraged by the U.S. gaining it hundreds of millions in economic aid and many more millions in Japanese investments[41]. It is this normalization of relations with Japan as well as the payment from the United States that Park Chung Hee received in gratitude for the two South Korean divisions he sent to Vietnam that are the external factors which give birth to the economic explosion that has made South Korea the economic powerhouse it is today.

It can be argued that without U.S. monetary aid, the South Korean economy would never have gotten to where it is today[42]. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch, in the real world, you get what you pay for and this was not an act of charity on the United States’ part. Instead it was a repayment in gratitude for assistance rendered by an ally. South Korea sent two divisions to Vietnam that fought with great acumen and distinction[43]. This action not only helped South Korea’s economic standings, but also boosted South Koreans own confidence in themselves and their government. They could see that they were a rising economic power and then with the ability to aid the powerful United States in Vietnam, they could see the growth in their own influence[44].

Since the end of the Korean War, the American-Korean alliance has been a steadfast diplomatic feature between the two countries, cemented by their shared experiences in the war. However, the alliance has seen its fair share of difficulties and continues to see them today. A lot of the troubles that faced the alliance were due to fears that the U.S. would abandon South Korea to communism after the fall of Saigon and the warming of relations with China[45]. However, some of the biggest challenges the alliance faces today, comes from within South Korea—growing anti-Americanism based on distrust and grievances both real and perceived[46].

One major reason that mistrust exists on the South Korean side is that for the entire existence of the alliance, the United States has attempted to lower the cost of the occupation by minimizing troop levels in South Korea, something that throughout the entire period of the alliance, the South Korean government has fought against because it feared that the U.S. would abandoned South Korea[47].

South Korean confidence in the alliance was shaken with the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. Park Chung Hee saw a great resemblance in Vietnam to the situation in South Korean. Another issue that scared the South Korean government was the U.S. dĂ©tente with China. Park was very afraid that the U.S. would abandon South Korea like it had Vietnam continued, despite the U.S.’s top army commander’s assurance that he had come to “fight and die to save your country[48].”

It should be remembered that defense of South Korea was no easy duty. In response to the growing power of the South Korean economy, Kim Il Sung tried to reunify the Korean peninsula through an unconventional campaign. South Korean and U.S. forces had to fight a low intensity conflict from 1966 to 1969 that some have dubbed “The Second Korean War. The bulk of the key decisions and technical support was done by the U.S. officers, who made sure however that the ROK forces received credit. This type of support boosted South Korean confidence in their own military’s ability to defend its people. It also demonstrated that the U.S. was certain to act if the North Koreans attacked[49].

Another cause for friction in the alliance is that many South Koreans felt that the U.S. supported anti-democratic regimes in its lust to contain communism. While this is true, it is hard to see what else the U.S. could have done. Even the worst oppressions in South Korea paled in comparison to that of the communist regime in the North, and the U.S. had little choice in who it dealt with in the South Korean government[50]. The men who ran the Republic of Korea, whatever else they might be, were not puppets of the U.S., heeding its every beck and call.

There is also a belief by some Koreans that the U.S. supported the military coup of the early 1980s and its ensuing crack down this, view promoted by the evidence that immediately after his inauguration in 1981, President Reagan invited Chun Doo-hwan for a summit to the White House. However, it is untrue that the U.S. supported the crackdown and Koreans do not give the United States the credit it is due, since this summit was part of the price for saving the life of a future president, Kim Dae-jung then under a death sentence by Chun. Many Koreans also ignore the pressures the United States put on the dictator to allow democratic elections in 1987[51]. Other earlier incidents, such as a blunt and crude message to the Korean government, warning of the repercussions in U.S.-Korean relations, saved Kim Dae Jung’s life earlier in 1973[52].

In recent years, there have been many difficulties between the two governments in maintaining the alliance. Political blundering on both sides, especially during the Bush-Roh period has made the task especially daunting. However, despite these troubles both sides have been able to maintain this alliance and are working keep it relevant in the modern world[53].

Many issues today strain the relations such as the difference in political “values and perceptions” of the two countries, South Korean nationalism, tragedies born out of contact with U.S. Soldiers, a perception in the U.S. that South Korea is weakening its stance towards North Korea[54], and perhaps shame of a proud, independent-minded people, bitter of division and the position they find their country in[55]. All of these issues require serious thinking and level-headedness, and many, such as South Korean nationalism, will require deep soul searching from the South Korean people to solve.

Some issues, like the difference in “values and perceptions” come because the United States and South Korea stand both literally and figuratively in completely different places when looking at the alliance. To South Korea, the alliance is a matter of survival and it looks at the reduction of U.S. forces with alarm, while to the United States, South Korea is a smaller piece in a much larger puzzle, and it must balance its alliance with South Korea with its global security and economic interests[56]. This is a major reason why the South Korean government has fought so hard against reduction of U.S forces in Korea[57].

Another major issue deals with nationalism and, to be blunt, shame. Normally, in a historical paper, it is not customary for the author to write of their own experiences, but in this case, the author believes it warrants it. During this author’s stay in Korea and in his experience talking with South Koreans, it is his belief that there exists a great deal of shame in the situation that South Korea finds itself it. The people that the author has talked to about this highlight a shame that the country was divided up by two foreign occupiers, a shame that the country could not feed itself during the war and required support from America, and a shame that the country requires United States protection for its independence. The author recognizes that this may not be the feeling of all or even many South Koreans, but if it is, this is an issue that the U.S. cannot really do anything about except wait for the South Koreans to make peace with the legacy of the Korean War.

Finally, a major issue that has been a problem for many years has been the presence of American soldiers in South Korea. In the 1980s many returning GIs commented on how welcome they felt by the population[58]. Today, the situation is much more volatile, with many tragic accidents, such as the inadvertent deaths of two Korean girls in 2002 at the hands of U.S. soldiers driving heavy equipment. This accident has come to symbolize the oft repeated claim the American soldiers in Korea commit crimes and are not punished because of the special judicial treatment they receive. Unfortunately for all involved, cases like this one, which sparked massive protests and anti-Americanism in South Korea are the result of misunderstandings of things such as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and South Korea. This in turned is caused by “Korean government and incomplete media reporting,” and sensationalization by anti-American activities which breeds resentment and difficulties for the alliance[59]. These kind of problems can really only be solved if the Korean media and government do a better job of portraying the facts about the incidents and combat the activist who sensationalize the issues[60].


The Korean-American relationship was born in misunderstanding, resentment, and distrust. The Korean War would strengthen the relationship and forge an alliance in blood. Though the alliance has not always had an easy time of, it has lasted for the past sixty years. The reason for this is that despite all the mismanaging, blundering, political rhetoric, and emotion rationality and realism has triumphed[61]. The U.S.-ROK alliance is one of the most enduring and formidable alliances in the world, which has helped preserve peace and stability in North East Asia[62] and it must continue to do so

Both South Korea and the United States need to cooperate together to face problems such as the North Korean nuclear issue and the eventual reunification of the peninsula. South Korea has to expand its international affairs past a survival perspective to a more global outlook to help make the relationship work in the future. On the other hand, the United Sates needs to learn and understand the Korean cultural history and situation that create the South Korean foreign policy[63]. Both sides must reach out to each other to make it work.

Fortunately, both sides realize the necessity and importance of maintaining the alliance and understand the critical role it will play in the near future[64]. Through all the emotion and turbulence in the alliance, South Korean leaders feel that their country’s destiny lies with the United States and thus cooperate with the American leaders. America for her part have grown beyond the feeling that “given all the blood and treasure in the war, abandonment [of South Korea] was not an option,” to a respect of their partner’s strategic importance and capabilities[65]. Thus, the South Korea-American alliance will continue to weather the storms and will continue to survive into the new century.


Birtle, Andrew J. U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine 1942- 1976. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History United States Army, 2007.

Bolger, Daniel P. Scenes from an Unfinished War: Low-Intensity Conflict in Korea, 1966-1969. Leavenworth Papers 19. Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1991.

Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History, 50th Anniversary Edition. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 2000.

Hastings, Max. The Korean War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Korea: A Contemporary History. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Seol, Magdalena J. “The Future of the U.S.-Korean Alliance: Emerging into the Post-Modern International Politics,” Winning Essay for Lint Center 2009 Eekwon Lee and Jongja Byun Scholarship, http://www.lintcenter.org/2009/US-Korea-Alliance.pdf.pdf, accessed January 5, 2010.

Snyder, Scott. “A Call for Justice and the US-ROK Alliance,” PacNet 53A. Honolulu: Pacific Forum, CSIS, December 18, 2002.

Stueck, William, PhD., “The American Presence in Korea: Then and Now.” Lecture, Brooks E. Kleber Readings in Military History, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, date unknown, http://www.carlisle.army.mil/AHEC/mediagallery/videoGallery.cfm?id=34#nogo, accessed December 28 2009.

[1] T.R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War Histor 50th Anniversary Edition. (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 2000) 10-11.

[2] Max Hastings. The Korean War. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987) 24.

[3] Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. (New York: Basic Books, 1997) 4-5.

[4]Fehrenbach. 16.

[5] Hastings, 26-7, 28.

[6] Ibid. 16-7, 20.

[7] Fehrenbach, 49.

[8] Hastings, 15-6, 18-9, 20

[9] Fehrenbach, 67, 70-1.

[10] Hastings, 333.

[11] Fehrenbach, 30.

[12] Hastings, 19. 50, 58. These numbers have not been adjusted for any inflation from the late 1980s.

[13] Oberdorfer, 6-7.

[14] Fehrenbach, 30-1.

[15] Hastings, 29, 34, 42

[16] Ibid. 33-4, 36, 43-4.

[17] William Stueck, PhD., “The American Presence in Korea: Then and Now.” (lecture, Brooks E. Kleber Readings in Military History, date unknown), U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, http://www.carlisle.army.mil/AHEC/mediagallery/videoGallery.cfm?id=34#nogo (accessed December 28, 2009).

[18] Hastings, 33-34, 43, 53.

[19] Andrew J. Birtle, U.S. Army and Contingency Operations Doctrine 1942-1976. (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2007). 85-7, 98, 102-3.

[20] Hastings, 333, 336.

[21] Stueck.

[22] Hastings, 342.

[23] Fehrenbach, 34-5.

[24] Fehrenbach, 36-7, 49, 52,59.

[25] Hastings, 52

[26] Birtle, 98-99; Hastings 52-3.

[27] Fehrenbach, 108-110, 113

[28] Ibid. 266, 337, 342-33, 442-3, 448

[29] Hastings, 322-3

[30] Fehrenbach, 446-7

[31] Stueck.

[32] Birtle, 103.

[33] Fehrenbach 148-9.

[34] Obituary of Timothy Donovan, The Columbia Tribune, September 12, 2009. http://m.columbiatribune.com/news/2009/sep/12/timothy-donovan-19292009/ accessed January 5, 2010.

[35] Birtle, 111.

[36] Ibid., 111-2.

[37] Oberdorfer, 10.

[38] Birtle, 115.

[39] Stueck.

[40] Hastings, 343.

[41] Oberdorfer, 32-4.

[42] Stueck.

[43] Hastings, 343.

[44] Daniel P. Bolger, Scenes from an Unfinished War: Low-Intensity Conflict in Korea, 1966-1969, Leavenworth Papers 19 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1991) 25.

[45] Oberdorfer, 64.

[46] Magdalena J. Seol, “The Future of the U.S.-Korean Alliance: Emerging into the Post-Modern International Politics,” Winning Essay for Lint Center 2009 Eekwon Lee and Jongja Byun Scholarship, http://www.lintcenter.org/2009/US-Korea-Alliance.pdf.pdf (accessed January 5, 2010) 1.

[47] Stueck.

[48] Oberdorfer, 12-3, 61, 64.

[49] Bolger, XIII, 3, 5, 15.

[50] Hastings, 339-40.

[51] Stueck.

[52] Oberdorfer, 42-3.

[53] Stueck.

[54] Seol, 2; Choe Sang-Hun, “An Anger in Korea Over More Than Beef,” The New York Times, June 12, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/12/world/asia/12seoul.html?pagewanted=1 accessed January 6, 2010; Scott Snyder, “A Call for Justice and the US-ROK Alliance,” PacNet 53A (Honolulu: Pacific Forum, CSIS, December 18, 2002) 1; Nirav Patel, "Future of the ROK-US Alliance," The Korea Times, Opinion, February 2, 2009. http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2009/02/137_39778.html , accessed January 6, 2010.

[55] Oberdorfer, 8.

[56] Seol, 2.

[57] Stueck.

[58] Hastings, 342.

[59] Snyder, 1.

[60] Ibid., 1.

[61] Stueck.

[62] Patel.

[63] Seol, 2-3.

[64] Patel.

[65] Stueck.