|Home > East Asia >
The Korean Americans in the War of Independence
The left-right confrontation in Korea – Its origin
Kim Young Sik, Ph.D.
There is no question that many Koreans in America have made valuable contributions to our war of independence. Dr. Suh Jae Pil, Dr. Rhee Syngman, Ahn Chang Ho, and many others made inspiring speeches and wrote articles for Korea’s independence.
The Koreans in America were small in number before our liberation and America was a long way from the killing fields of China and Siberia. Although about 100 Koreans enlisted in the US Army during World War II, few Koreans in America shed blood in our war of independence. Chang In Whan, Park Yong Man, and Roh Baik Lin were some of the exceptions, however.
On March 23, 1908, Chang In Whan assassinated Durham White Stevens, in San Francisco. Stevens, an American diplomat, became an advisor to the foreign ministry of King Kojong, while secretly working for Prince Ito Hirobumi, the chief architect of Japan's annexation of Korea. Chang was arrested and tried for murder.
The Korean community asked Rhee Syngman, the best educated of the Koreans in America at the time, to be Chang’s trial interpreter. But Rhee declined saying that he did not want anything to do with a murderer of an American. Thanks to an American lawyer who believed in Chang’s cause, Chang was saved from the hangman’s noose and a lynch mob. He was released after serving a short prison term.
Park Yong Man was one of the few Koreans who came to America as a student, not as a laborer as in the case of most other Korean immigrants in the early 1900s. He came to America in 1904 and studied at the Hastings Institute in Nebraska. After graduating from Hastings, he studied political science and military science at a college in Lincoln, Nebraska. Upon graduation, he moved to Hawaii and established a Korean military school and formed a Korean paramilitary unit. In October 1917, he represented Korea at the World Conference on Small Nations in New York. When he was in Nebraska, Rhee and he were close friends but later they drifted apart and eventually became bitter enemies.
Park translated the March First declaration of 1919 into English for publication in Hawaii. In May 1919, he joined the American Expeditionary Forces in Siberia as an intelligence agent. His job was to spy on the Koreans in Siberia. The Americans were allies of the Japanese troops in Siberia at the time, and so, Park became a Japanese spy. Paradoxically, Park helped establish a Korean nationalist army at Nikolsk, Siberia.
After the Americans left Siberia in April 1920, Park went to Shanghai, where he allegedly negotiated a secret “mutual defense pact” with the Soviets on behalf of the Korean Provisional Government in 1920. After 1920, Park devoted his time to financial affairs and provided funds to Kim Wong Bom's Yiyuldan, a leftist terrorist group, while at the same time, working with pro-Japanese elements in China and Korea.
He went to Korea in 1924 with a group of pro-Japanese military and business leaders of the puppet government of China. On October 17, 1928. Park was executed on the order of Gen. Ji Chung Chun, the military commander of the Korean Provisional Government. Park Yong Man was accused of being a Japanese spy. Some historians claim that Park was falsely accused. The truth about Park is yet to be established.
Dosan Ahn Chang Ho was one of the most notable independence activists and a key figure in the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai. Ahn was born in Gangsuh, South Pyongahn Province, in 1878. Ahn came to the United States in October 1902 as a farm laborer. His zeal for learning new things and for pursuing academic studies impressed his American employers and he was given supervisory tasks. In 1919, he went to Shanghai to help establish the Korean Provisional Government there. Except for a brief return to America (1924-1926), he was a devoted independence fighter in China until his death in 1938 at the hand of the Japanese.
Ahn believed that the main reason why Korea was lost to Japan was that the Korean people were backward, and the reason why Korea was backward was due to the defective character and low level of morality. In order to free Korea, the Korean people must correct these shortcomings. Every Korean must endeavor to be moral and civilized. His other theme was Korea must be developed economically. Ahn's thinking was influenced by Tolstoy's self-salvation theme and Gandhi's self-purification theme.
He formed Gongrip Association, New People's Association (sin-min-hoe), Youth Alumni Association, Korean People's General Association, Hungsa Corps and other independence activist organizations. In addition, he established educational institutions such as Jungjin, Daesung and Taehguk; he started the Independence News paper for mass enlightenment.
Ahn Chang Ho’s younger sister, Ahn Sin Ho, was once engaged to Kim Gu, but for some reason or other they broke off their engagement and never got married. After liberation, Ahn Sin Ho became vice chairwomen of the Korean Democratic Women's League in Pyongyang. In 1948, Kim Gu had an emotional reunion with his old lover when he was in Pyongyang to attend the North-South reconciliation conference.
Rhee Syngman was another noted Korean-American. Rhee was born on March 26, 1875 (Rhee’s official biography says he was born in 1876). In 1904, the Chosen government sent Rhee (because of his fluency in English) to the United States to negotiate implementation of the 1885 US-Korea Friendship Treaty. Lee Wan Yong, Korea’s Number One Traitor, was in Washington from 1887 till 1890. Lee was also fluent in English and worked with Rhee closely. In November 1905, Rhee Syngman met Teddy Roosevelt in Washington and pleaded in vain for American support for Korean independence.
After his failed mission, Rhee remained in America to study. He obtained a Bachelor of Art degree at George Washington University in 1907 and a Master's Degree at Harvard in 1909. In September 1908, he enrolled at Princeton University and obtained a Ph.D. on June 14, 1910. He was the first Korean to obtain a doctorate. (The Princeton University Library maintains a thick file on Rhee. The Rhee file includes his hand-written letters to the University, his grades, his doctoral thesis, a letter of reprimand for falsely stating that he had the Harvard MS in 1908, and newspaper clippings on Rhee.)
In mid-1910, Rhee Syngman returned to Korea as a teacher at the Seoul YMCA and as a Christian missionary (Methodist). In 1912, Rhee gave up his evangelic work in Korea and immigrated to Hawaii as headmaster of the Korean Christian Institute in Honolulu. There, he founded and edited the Korean Pacific Magazine in 1913.
On April 8, 1919, the Korean Provisional Government (KPG) was established in the French Concession of Shanghai, and Rhee in absentia was elected president. On December 8, 1920, Rhee arrived in Shanghai to preside over the KPG. In 1925, Kim Gu and other leaders expelled Rhee for embezzlements, and he returned to Hawaii in disgrace.
From 1925 to 1945, Rhee passed himself off as the sole representative of Korea in the United States even though the Korean Provisional Government disowned him in 1925. The US State Dept. officials wrote him off as “an old man out of touch and representing no one but himself in Korea.” The US government turned down his frequent requests for grants. Rhee could not, or would not, find a gainful employment and relied on donations, which came in dribbles. In desperation, he decided to journey to Moscow for money.
Rhee’s request for money was turned down by the Soviets and he returned home empty-handed and angry with the Communists.
Kim Young Sik is editor of Korea WebWeekly.
|© Copyright 2002-2007 AFAR|