On August 10, 1945, under pressure to produce a document as quickly as possible, two exhausted United States army colonels who were military planners in the Policy Section of the Strategy and Policy Group in United States War Department Operations Division, lacking adequate maps and working deep into the night, began to outline surrender procedures in General Order Nº 1, which General Douglas Mac Arthur (1880-1964) would transmit to the Japanese Government after its surrender. The first paragraph of the order specified the nations and commands that were to accept the surrender of Japanese forces throughout the Far East. The order outlined the terms of the Japanese surrender in World War II, terms that would shape the future of the Far East and set the stage for the Korean War and the Taiwan crisis. 

The two colonels, Colonel Charles Hartwele Bonesteel (1909-1977), chief of the policy section, and Colonel David Dean Rusk (1909-1994), Oxford educated and later Secretary of State under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson during the early Vietnam war years, had thirty minutes in which to dictate Paragraph 1 to a secretary as the Joint Staff Planners and the State War Navy Coordinating Committee were impatiently awaiting the result of their work. Bonesteel and Rusk thus somewhat hastily decided who would accept the Japanese surrender. Their thoughts, with very slight revision, were incorporated into the final directive. Bonesteel's prime consideration was to establish a surrender line as far north as he thought the Soviets would accept. He knew that Soviet troops could reach the Southern tip of Korea before American troops could arrive. He knew also that the Soviets were on the verge of moving into Korea, or were already there.

The nearest American troops to Korea were in Okinawa, 600 miles away. Bonesteel's problem therefore was to compose a surrender arrangement, which, while acceptable to the Soviets, would at the same time prevent them from seizing all of Korea. If they refused to confine their advance to North Korea, the United States would be unable to stop them. Thus the subsequent existence of South Korea was essentially the result of Soviet good will.

At first, Bonesteel had thought of surrender zones conforming the provincial boundary lines. However, the only map he had in his office was hardly adequate for this sort of distinction. The 38th Parallel, he noted, cut Korea approximately through the middle. If this line was agreeable to President Truman and to Soviet leader generalissimo Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), it would place Seoul and a nearby prisoner of war camp in American hands. It would also leave enough land to be apportioned to the Chinese and the British if some sort of quadripartite administration became necessary.

They discussed possible surrender zones, the allocation of American, British, Chinese, and Soviet occupation troops to accept the surrender in the zone most convenient to them, the means of actually taking the surrender of the widely scattered Japanese military forces, and the position of the USSR in the Far East. They quickly decided to include both provisions for splitting up the entire Far East for the surrender and definitions of the geographical limits of those zones. They decided to use the 38th parallel as a hypothetical line dividing the zones within which Japanese forces in Korea would surrender to appointed American and Russian authorities. The 38th Parallel was not a good division. In fact, the colonels knew it was quite undesirable, but it did bisect the peninsula and it could keep the Soviets at bay—so they drew the line that would have devastating consequences.

Go to top