Overwhelmed by almost one million Korean refugees returning from Japan and its wrecked empire, the US Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) and the State Department watched political events unfold with dismay.
In the Soviet zone, the Red Army looted and expropriated everything of value.
The Koreans resented this approach and continue to do so.
After the Japanese surrender in August–September 1945, the United States under an agreement with the Soviet Union sent an expeditionary force of three US Army divisions to Korea to disarm and repatriate 400,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians.
Japan had defeated the Chinese in 1895 and the Russians in 1905, and then incorporated Korea into the Japanese empire in 1910.
The Koreans had continued to struggle against Japan in China and Manchuria and in a series of uprisings and guerrilla raids within Korea until Japan’s defeat by the Allies in World War II.
The Soviets took over Korea’s industrial heartland, gold and coal mines, fertilizer and concrete plants, and hydroelectric power system.
This division, intended to be temporary, destroyed Korea’s economic viability.
The Russians had been excluded from the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II, and Stalin and Mao Zedong thought a new Japanese-American conspiracy was afoot to mount a counteroffensive against Asian Communism. The United States had recognized Korean independence in 1882 but did nothing to stop the annexation of Korea by the Japanese.
Only a handful of Americans, either Christian missionaries or educators, knew very much about Korea at all, let along the Koreans’ struggles against Chinese and Japanese imperialism or of the growth of Christianity in Korea.