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The United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK; Korean: 재조선미육군사령부군정청; Hanja: 在朝鮮美陸軍司令部軍政廳), was the official ruling body of the southern half of the Korean Peninsula from September 8, 1945 to August 15, 1948. Many of the foundations for the modern South Korean system were laid during this period. The country in this period was plagued by political and economic chaos, which arose from a variety of causes. The aftereffects of the Japanese occupation were still felt in the occupation zone, as well as in the Soviet zone in the North.[1] Popular discontent stemmed from the U.S. Military Government's support of the Japanese colonial government; then once removed, keeping the former Japanese governors on as advisors; by ignoring, censoring and forcibly disbanding the functional and popular People's Republic of Korea (PRK); and finally by supporting United Nations elections that divided the country.[1]

In addition, the U.S. military was largely unprepared for the challenge of administering the country, arriving with no knowledge of the language or political situation.[2] Thus, many of their policies had unintended destabilizing effects. Waves of refugees from North Korea (estimated at 400,000[3]) and returnees from abroad also helped to keep the country in turmoil.[4]


The short-lived People's Republic of Korea had been established in August, in consultation with Japanese authorities, and quickly spread throughout the country.[5] The U.S. Military Government outlawed it in the South shortly after their arrival.[6] The leader of the People's Republic, Yeo Un-hyeong, stepped down and formed the Working People's Party.[7] The U.S. administration also refused to recognize the members of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, led by Kim Ku, who were obliged to enter the country as private citizens.[8]

Key events[]

Surrender of Japanese Forces by U.S. Army at Seoul, Korea, 9 September 1945.

Anti-Trusteeship Campaign, December 1945.

After Japan's surrender to the Allies, division at the 38th parallel marked the beginning of Soviet and U.S. command over the North and South, respectively. U.S. forces landed at Incheon on September 8, 1945, and established a military government shortly thereafter.[9] The forces landing at Incheon were of the 24th Corps of the US Tenth Army.[10] They were commanded by Lt. General John R. Hodge, who then took charge of the government.[11] Four days before he arrived in Korea, Hodge told his officers that Korea "was an enemy of the United States".[2] On September 9, at a surrender ceremony, Hodge announced that the Japanese colonial government would remain intact, including its personnel and its governor-general. After a major outcry, Hodge replaced the governor-general with an American and removed all the Japanese bureau chiefs, though he, in turn, enlisted the former Japanese bureaucrats as advisors.[3] Faced with mounting popular discontent, in October 1945 Hodge established the Korean Advisory Council. The majority of the Council seats were given to members of the Korean Democratic Party which had been formed at the encouragement of the U.S. and was primarily made up of large landowners, wealthy businesspeople, and former officials in the colonial government. A few members of the PRK were offered to join, but they refused and instead criticized the Council appointees for their collaboration with the Japanese.[4] A proposal was made in 1945 for a long-term trusteeship arrangement. In December 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to administer the country under the U.S.-Soviet Joint Commission, as termed by the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers. It was agreed that Korea would govern independently after four years of international oversight. However, both the U.S. and the USSR approved Korean-led governments in their respective halves, each of which was favorable to the occupying power's political ideology. From a number of perspectives, it may be argued that not all Koreans necessarilly favoured these arrangements. In the north, Koreans responded with violent insurrections[citation needed]. In the south the interim legislature and the interim government were headed by Kim Kyu-shik and Syngman Rhee, respectively, and the elections for which were met with a large uprising.[5][6] The USMGIK tried to contain civil violence in the south by banning strikes on December 8 and outlawing the revolutionary government and the people's committees on December 12. Things spiraled quickly out of control however, with a massive strike on September 23, 1946 by 8,000 railway workers in Busan which quickly spread to other cities in the South. On October 1, police attempts to control rioters in Daegu caused the death of three student demonstrators and injuries to many others, sparking a mass counter-attack killing 38 policemen. In Yeongcheon, a police station came under attack by a 10,000-strong crowd on October 3, killing over 40 policemen and the county chief. Other attacks killed about 20 landlords and pro-Japanese officials. The US administration responded by declaring martial law, firing into crowds of demonstrators and killing a publically unknown number of people.[7]


Among the earliest edicts promulgated by USAMGIK was one reopening all schools, issued in November 1945. No immediate changes were made in the educational system, which was simply carried over from the Japanese colonial period. In this area, as in others, the military government sought to maintain the forms of the Japanese occupation system. Although it did not implement sweeping educational reforms, the military government did lay the foundations for reforms which were implemented early in the First Republic. In 1946, a council of about 100 Korean educators was convened to map out the future path of Korean education.


Although the military government was hostile to leftism from the beginning, it did initially tolerate the activities of groups including the Korean Communist Party. The government sought to strike a balance between hard-left and hard-right groups and encourage moderation. However, this frequently simply had the effect of angering powerful leaders such as Syngman Rhee (on the right). At the same time the military government actively disempowered, and eventually banned, popular organizations that the Koreans preferred to the military government such as the People's Republic of Korea.

Inter-Korean relations[]

At the time of division, the overwhelming majority of Korean industry was concentrated in the North, while most of the agricultural land was in the South. Power lines and shipping connections were maintained during this period, but were frequently and unpredictably cut off. The North, controlled during this period by the Soviet Union, had the ability to wreak havoc in the South by cutting off the supply of electricity or fertilizer, and frequently did so.[8]


The economy of South Korea did not fare well during this period, although the first foundation-stones of recovery were successfully laid. Serious problems were faced with counterfeiting during this period.


  1. ^ Allan R. Millet, The War for Korea: 1945-1950 (2005) P. 59
  2. ^ Lee (1984, p. 374); Cumings (1997, p. 189).
  3. ^ Cumings, 1997, p. 189. Nahm (1996, p. 340) gives "Eighth Army", reflecting the Corps' later affiliation.
  4. ^ Nahm, Cumings, loc. cit.
  5. ^ Nahm (1996, p. 351); Lee (1984, p. 375).
  6. ^ Nahm (1996, p. 340).
  7. ^ Lee (1984, p. 375).
  8. ^ Nahm (1996, pp. 330–332); Lee (1984, p. 374).
  9. ^ Nahm (1996, p. 340).
  10. ^ Nahm (1996, p. 340).

See also[]


  1. Hart-Landsberg, Martin (1998). Korea: Division, Reunification, & U.S. Foreign Policy. Monthly Review Press. pp. 63–67, 70–77. 
  2. Cumings, Bruce (1981). The Origins of the Korean War, Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, 1945-1947. Princeton University Press. p. 126. 
  3. Hart-Landsberg, Martin (1998). Korea: Division, Reunification, & U.S. Foreign Policy. Monthly Review Press. pp. 71–72. 
  4. Hart-Landsberg, Martin (1998). Korea: Division, Reunification, & U.S. Foreign Policy. Monthly Review Press. pp. 72–73. 
  5. Hart-Landsberg, Martin (1998). Korea: Division, Reunification, & U.S. Foreign Policy. Monthly Review Press. pp. 75–77. 
  6. Cumings, Bruce (1981). "The Autumn Uprising". The Origins of the Korean War, Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, 1945-1947. Princeton University Press. 
  7. Green Left - Features: HISTORICAL FEATURE: The Korean War - a war of counter-revolution
  8. Department of State Publication 3305, October 1948, pg. 25

External links[]

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