Glimpses of Korea Under American Occupation

This lecture will explore how Korea was seen and represented in US military newspapers and magazines during the period of American Military Government (1945-1948)

Thanks to Prof. Kathryn Weathersby’s recent presentation, we all know how Korea came to be divided. This lecture is a kind of follow-up. The bulk of US forces – specifically, the XXIV Corps of the US Army – arrived in Incheon on September 8th, 1945. From then until 15th August, 1948, when the Republic of Korea was proclaimed, the area of Korea south of the 38th parallel was under US military occupation. The arms and agencies of government were officially taken over from the Japanese colonial administration and administered by the US Army Military Government, under Lt General John R Hodge.

Very quickly after its arrival in Korea, the Troop Information and Education (TI&E) section of the XXIV Corps began printing a weekly newspaper for troops stationed in the US zone of occupation. This was called Korea Graphic. It came out very Sunday, and featured humorous anecdotes, cultural and historical information about Korea, news from home – especially sports, and also pin-up girls. Both American and Korean ladies were featured. For the average young soldier who had never before heard of Korea, and was often discouraged from getting too close to the country – for example, there were occasionally directives given to avoid eating the local cuisine – Korea Graphic and other publications from TI&E were the main source of information on what was going on in the country around them.

Bearing in mind that Korea had been a part of Japan for longer than most enlisted men had been alive at the time, these publications did a lot of early work to create a separate image in US soldiers’ minds of a nation that was now very much not a part of Japan, and with people who were very different from the Japanese.

Although no complete archive of Korea Graphic is known to exist anywhere, Jacco Zwetsloot has amassed a partial collection, mostly from the first year of occupation. He will share with us some of the insights that he has gained from poring over these fascinating and almost forgotten old documents.

Jacco Zwetsloot completed his Master’s Degree in Korean Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, with a thesis on North Korean comic books as a form of cultural production. His previous degree was a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Korean Studies at Monash University in Australia, with a thesis called “The DMZ in the Head” on North Korean refugees in South Korea and future Korean unification. He has lived in Korea for 14 of the last 19 years, and has worked in education, training, government, tourism, translation and broadcasting.

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