Korea Divided on 38th Parallel Using Map From National Geographic

 

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Time Magazine cover featuring US Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, who served in that position longer than any Secretary of State in US history.

On 14 August 1945, Dean Rusk, a young colonel assigned to the State Department, and a colleague made a fateful decision:

“Using a National Geographic map, we looked just north of Seoul for a convenient dividing line but could not find a natural geographical line. We saw instead the thirty-eighth parallel and decided to recommend that … [Our commanders] accepted it without too much haggling, and surprisingly, so did the Soviets.”

And thus was the Korean peninsular divided. With Soviet troops moving south to occupy “their” part of the Korea, the United States had to make a decision about what part of Korea would be occupied by the US.

Pressure by the American military for the Department of State to make a decision about how to divide Korea was intense. Japan, which then occupied all of Korea, had just surrendered. Soviet troops were on the ground and the nearest US troops were 900 miles away.

On the night of 14 August 1945, two young colonels then assigned to State, Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel, were given the task of recommending a temporary dividing line.

In his memoirs published in 1991, As I Saw It, Dean Rusk, who became one of the longest serving Secretaries of State in US History, recounted the events of that night.

“… Colonel Bonesteel and I retired to an adjacent room late at night and studied intently a map of the Korean peninsula. Working in haste and under great pressure, we had a formidable task: to pick a zone for the American occupation. Neither Tic nor I was a Korea expert, but it seemed to us that Seoul, the capital, should be in the American sector. We also knew that the U.S. Army opposed an extensive area of occupation.

Using a National Geographic map, we looked just north of Seoul for a convenient dividing line but could not find a natural geographical line. We saw instead the thirty-eighth parallel and decided to recommend that … [Our commanders] accepted it without too much haggling, and surprisingly, so did the Soviets.”

 

This is from a piece in the National Geographic. You can find the entire article here:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130805-korean-war-dmz-armistice-38-parallel-geography/

 

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L-R: Amb. Llewellyn Thompson, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, US Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. (Courtesy LBJ Presidential Library)

Photo taken during the Glassboro Summit when US President Lyndon Johnson met with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin. The meeting was held between 23–25 June 1967 in Glassboro, New Jersey.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/