The United States' Involvement with Dokdo Island (Liancourt Rocks):
A Timeline of the Occupation and Korean War Era

The majority of information provided on this webpage was obtained from File 322: "Liancourt Rocks", from the Seoul Embassy Records, Record Group 84, the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.   Other sources include research by Cheong Sung-hwa, and the United States Air Force Historical Research Agency.

This webpage has been on the internet since 2004, and has since been the source of many scholarly articles and books on the Dokdo issue.   In fact, Korean professor Jung Byeong-joon 정병준 took much of the information and analysis that is written here to publish his book, 독도 1947.

Research ©2004 by Mark S. Lovmo

마크 로브모

For this website author's views on the Dokdo dispute, see this article at The Korea Times


The occupation boundaries as written up in this map published by SCAP in September 1945.

This map of the initial occupation boundaries was found among a collection of the first Instructions (SCAPINs) issued by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) in September 1945.
September 1945:   A map generated by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) in September 1945 shows the initial setup of the occupation boundaries of different US military commands.   Dokdo is shown within the US Sixth Army's occupation zone, and outside of the Korea-based US XXIV Corps' zone.   The process by which SCAP determined these zones is unknown.

9/27/45:   In an early instruction to the Government of Japan, SCAP states that Japanese should not be allowed to approach within 12 miles of Dokdo.


A map that accompanies SCAPIN 677.
This map accompanied SCAPIN 677, which delimited the Japanese territorial sphere to the exclusion of Dokdo, and thereby creating the ´MacArthur Line´.
1/29/46:   SCAPIN 677 is issued.   This instruction defined the territorial boundaries of Japan, explicitly excluding Dokdo, cited as "Liancourt Rocks (Take Island)".   The occupation boundaries were therefore replaced by a new boundary, the so-called ´MacArthur Line´, which placed Dokdo within the Korea-based XXIV Corps´s area of responsibility.   This policy of excluding Dokdo from Japanese fishing areas and administrative control was sustained throughout the occupation of Japan.   Again, why and by what process the General Headquarters of SCAP decided to exclude Japanese involvement with Dokdo throughout the occupation is not known for certain.   It is thought that perhaps SCAP GHQ used Japanese maps published by the Imperial Army to determine that Dokdo was outside Japan´s control.

6/22/46:   SCAPIN 1033 is issued.   This instruction extended the allowable areas for Japanese fishing, but again explicitly stated that Japanese were not to approach within 12 miles of Dokdo.


4/16/47:   According to Korean eyewitnesses, aircraft used the Dokdo islets as a bombing target on this date.   This is the earliest known account of the island used as an aerial target range.

9/16/47:   SCAP issues Instruction #1778.   Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) is designated as a bombing range in this instruction to the Japanese government.   It mentions that inhabitants of "all ports on the west coast of the island of Honshu north to the 38th parallel" in addition to Oki Island were to be notified prior to each use of the range.  

It is still not clear why Japanese were warned of the use of the island when they were not allowed to be anywhere near the island, as per SCAPIN 1033.   It is also not known if the occupation authorities in Korea knew about this order from SCAP, or if they had similarly warned Koreans.

The American use of Dokdo as a bombing range was part of a larger, world-wide US strategic initiative that came about with the formation of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) under the newly-minted United States Air Force in 1947.   The new "Strategic Air Command Rotation Program" called for SAC bomber Groups to rotate through the Far East airbase on Okinawa on extended temporary duty deployments in an effort to keep aircrews "trained up" in operations involving forward deployments in case of war.   The rotation program began at this time, and continued for decades.   Dokdo was one of many islands throughout the Pacific that the US Air Force used in the late 1940s as bombing target in order to keep their pilots trained in bombing and strafing.   SCAP General Headquarters evidently obliged the Air Force´s needs by officially designating the island as a bombing range.

9/23/47:   A monograph entitled, Part IV of "Minor Islands Adjacent to Japan Proper; Minor Islands in the Sea of Japan", a treatise drafted by the Japanese Foreign Ministry, is sent from the Diplomatic Section of SCAP to the US State Department in Washington.   This monograph was the Japanese argument for sovereignty over both Ullungdo and Dokdo.   Copies of the monograph were distributed to occupation authorities when the Japanese Foreign Ministry petitioned to SCAP over Japanese sovereignty concerns in June of this year.   Upon receipt of this document, the State Department noted that it would be useful for future reference in case the disposition of the islands became an issue in a peace treaty with Japan.  

In fact, the opinions stated in the Japanese monograph seem to have had a major influence on U.S. officials in the State Department´s Office of Northeast Asian Affairs.   In particular, Directors Robert A. Feary and Kenneth T. Young Jr, and the head of the Diplomatic Section of SCAP, William J. Sebald, would later offer opinions that were very similar to statements in this 1947 document.   As it turned out, the State Department gave a memorandum to the Korean Ambassador in Washington on August 10, 1951 which was based on soley on the information in "Minor Islands in the Sea of Japan".   The San Francisco Peace Treay was signed between Japan and the former Allied Powers in order to formally end the Pacific War and was to be pertinent to the sovereignty of Dokdo, as the treaty would deal with the territorial definitions of Japan and Korea.   Another interesting fact about "Minor Islands in the Sea of Japan" is that the Korean government seemed not to have even known of the existence of this Japanese petition until decades later.


3/25/48:   In a bombing exercise that forshadows the events of the June 8, 1948 bombing incident, fourteen B-29s of the 22nd Bombardment Group flying out of Kadena Air Base on Okinawa use Dokdo as a bombing target.   The bombing mission was reported in US Air Force documents as a high altitude, formation-bombing mission that achieved "excellent results".   The 22nd Bombardment Group soon left Okinawa for the continental United States, being replaced by the 93d Bombardment Group, which started arriving in May 1948 for a three-month deployment to the Far East.   The 93d was the first Bombardment Group to do so under the SAC Rotation Program.   Although the exact bomb-load used by the fourteen B-29s in this exercise is unknown, Air Force documents show that for the month of March 1948, the 22nd Bombardment Group expended hundreds of 100-pound and 500-pound General Purpose bombs, sixty 1,000-pound bombs, and 13,900 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition.   No deaths or injuries are known to have resulted from this bombing, nor is it evident that the media or public were aware of this exercise at the time.

6/8/48:   Twenty-one B-29s of the US Air Force´s 93d Bombardment Group flying out of Kadena Air Base on Okinawa use Dokdo as a bombing target, dropping seventy-six 1,000-pound AN-M-65 bombs, killing a number of Korean fishermen who were at the islets.   U.S. occupation forces in Korea issued a press release on June 17 stating that the B-29 crews could not see the Korean fishing boats at Dokdo, and that boats were discovered only after examining photographs taken 30 minutes after the bombing.   (In an
interview in 2002, a former bombardier of the 93d BG stated that he had seen fishing boats through his bomb-sight while flying over the target area during a bombing run on a small island on which he dropped bombs in the summer of 1948).  

The government of the Republic of Korea stated in 1955 that around 30 Korean fishermen were killed in this incident, while survivors have said that many more, perhaps hundreds, died.   Surviving fishermen and other residents of neighboring Ullung Island reported that they had been unaware that the island was a designated a bombing range.

6/15/48:   In a radioed message, the Commanding General of USAFIK (United States Army Forces in Korea) witholds approval for any bombing practice in the area of Dokdo until further notice.   This message is sent to the Commanding Generals of the Fifth Air Force, the Far East Air Force (FEAF), and the Commander-in-Chief of the Far East (CINCFE).   View document

This radio message seems to suggest that authorities in Korea (not Japan) exercised operational authority over Dokdo.

6/16/48:   The U.S. Fifth Air Force replies to authorities in Korea, stating that their Headquarters is closing Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) to all bombing practice.

6/23/48:   The Korean daily, Choson Ilbo reports that US authorities have issued a statement declaring that Dokdo would no longer be used as a bombing range.

6/24/48:   The Commanding General of USAFIK, Major General William F. Dean writes to CINCFE asking for a complete halt to all bombing off the East Coast of Korea, including Dokdo.   He argues that Dokdo is a vital fishing ground for the Korean nation, and that it is the "principal source of livelihood for 16,000 fishermen and their families living on Ullung Do and nearby islands who own or operate 456 boats in this area."   He adds that Dokdo is essential in producing enough seafood to meet the nutritional requirements of Korea.   View document

6/29/48: Lieutenanat General John R. Hodge of USAFIK writes to CINCFE, concurring with General Dean´s decision, stating: "It is highly desirable that this area be available to Korean fishermen.   Favorable action will do much to counteract the unfavorable conditions created by the recent bombing."

8/5/48:   The Office of the Political Advisor of SCAP receives a document, the subject being a "Request for Arrangement of Lands Between Korea and Japan" from the "Patriotic Old Men´s Association" of Seoul, Korea.   The petition was an attempt at explaining Korea´s sovereignty over Ullungdo, Dokdo (cited as "Docksum"), the fictitious island of "Parangdo", and Tsushima Island.   Although supposedly from a private organization, the petition followed ROK President Syngman Rhee (Yi Seung-man)´s thinking regarding disputes with Japan.  

The petition was the only explanation of Korea´s claim to sovereignty over Dokdo that was available to U.S authorities until the beginning of the negotiations for the San Francisco Peace Treaty.   While it did attempt to explain the irregularities of Japan´s supposed incorporation of Dokdo in 1905, the argument for Dokdo was included with an angry demand for Korean sovereignty over Tsushima and concerns over (what turned out to be) an imaginary island named "Parangdo".   The petition´s seeming lack of seriousness and its vengeful tone (harking back to the punitive reparations of the Versailles Treaty of 1919), in addition to the fact that it had come from a private organization and was not a direct policy statement from the ROK Government, had most likely jaundiced American views towards the Korean argument for sovereignty over Dokdo.   It is at least quite clear that this Korean petition (view document) was not at all as influential to U.S. decision-makers as was the Japanese Foreign Ministry´s 1947 monograph.

9/13/48: The Fifth Air Force writes its monthly update on bombing and gunnery ranges, noting that "Liancourt Rocks Bombing and Gunnery Range" (Dokdo) has been closed permanently by the Commanding General, Far East Air Forces.   View document


Dulles, Sebald, Yoshida.
The Head of the Diplomatic Section of SCAP, William J. Sebald (center) enjoys some conversation with Consultant to the U.S. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida at a reception in Tokyo on January 31, 1951. Sebald made statements supporting Japan´s claim to Dokdo, but played down any American stance on the issue by 1954.
11/14/49:   The Acting Political Advisor in Japan, William J. Sebald sends a note to Consultant to the U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles about American security concerns in regards to the territorial provisions of the San Francisco Peace Treaty.   In it, he states that Japan´s claim to Dokdo is "old and appears valid", adding that "security considerations might render the provision of weather and radar stations on these islands a matter of interest to the United States".  

Sebald´s views on Dokdo´s sovereignty influenced the U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles´ opinions in his negotiations with the Koreans over Dokdo in 1951.   As the San Francisco Peace Treaty was largely a creation of John Foster Dulles, his views shaped the final draft of the Peace Treaty.   (However, as we will see, Sebald would later [in 1954] deny any U.S. recognition of Japanese ownership of Dokdo).   It is interesting to note that American interests with regard to Dokdo in 1949 mirrored Japan´s interest in Dokdo in 1905, in that both nations wanted to use the islets in a military capacity.   This might also help explain Sebald´s view that Dokdo was a Japanese island, as he might have thought that Japan was willing to turn the islets into a military facility for use by U.S. forces.   See early U.S. State Department views concerning Dokdo.


British Commonwealth map of the exact delimitation of Japan.
During the peace treaty negotiations, the British Commonwealth proposed the exact delimitation of Japan´s territorial sphere by latitude and longitude in order to avoid territorial disputes, as depicted in this April 7, 1951 map that the British sent to the U.S. State Department.   Dokdo was placed outside of Japan´s territorial sphere.   However, the American opinion that Japan should not be "fenced in" prevailed, resulting in decades of conflict over Dokdo between Korea and Japan.
3/12/51:   The British Foreign Ministry informs the United States of its views on the peace treaty with Japan.   The British, after consulting with the Commonwealth nations (Australia, Canada, New Zealand), proposed that Japanese territory be defined as the four main Japanese islands and a few adjacent minor islands, as suggested in the Potsdam Declaration.   The British proposal (as suggested by New Zealand) was to have Japanese territory and territorial waters be defined by an exact delimitation in latitude and longitude.   The British Commonwealth nations were concerned about territorial disputes with Japan, and insisted on this item.   The U.S. State Department later dissuaded the British of this idea.

If the British proposal had actually been adopted in the final draft of the peace treaty, it could very well have prevented the territorial dispute over Dokdo between Korea and Japan.   It is quite certain, considering the placement of Dokdo in a map drawn up by the British team and sent to the Americans on April 7, that this proposal would have placed Dokdo outside of Japan´s territorial sphere.

5/3/51:   After meeting in conference, British and U.S. negotiators arrive at a joint draft of the peace treaty.   In regards to territorial definitions of Japan, the U.S. team succeeded in persuading the British to drop their idea of delimiting Japanese territory by latitude and longitude, as such a plan would have "psychological disadvantages of seeming to fence Japan in by a continuous line around Japan."   Instead, the U.S. got the joint draft to define Korean territory in the East Sea/Sea of Japan as Chejudo (Quelpart), Kommundo (Port Hamilton), and Ullungdo (Dagelet).   Thus, the 1947 Japanese petition for ownership of Ullungdo was denied by the Americans; however, Dokdo was not included in (or excluded from) any territorial definition of Korea or Japan in the final draft of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (signed on September 8, 1951, and went into effect in April 1952).   The U.S. State Department thus effectively obviated the previous five years of American policy set by the SCAP Government Section that explicitly excluded Dokdo from the Japanese territorial sphere.

Although the British Foreign Ministry did not know that both Korea and Japan claimed Dokdo, the American State Department did know of the competing claims, after having received petitions for the ownership of Dokdo by both countries (in 1947 and 1948).   The eventual result of the wording of Article 2(a) in the peace treaty was that Japan would later claim that all islands in the East Sea/Sea of Japan that were not specifically mentioned in the definition of Korean territory (such as Dokdo) could be considered Japanese.   The Koreans would later make a rather pertinent and obvious objection to this interpretation by pointing out that this meant that numerous other Korean islands in the same area (Maemuldo, Hongdo, Yokjido, Kojedo, etc) would also belong to Japan, as these islands were also not mentioned in Article 2(a).   The U.S. State Department´s reasoning for eventually leaving Dokdo out of the final draft of the peace treaty was probably influenced by the fact that the Department could not get its view of the issue rectified with the British Commonwealth nations´ opinions, and most certainly because of a growing understanding of the intractability of the situation in regards to Korea and Japan.   The Americans might have intentionally left Dokdo´s territorial status obscure, hoping that the Koreans and Japanese could later settle the issue on bilateral terms, thereby leaving the U.S. out of any potential dispute.   However, by not accepting the British proposal, and by shying away from defining Dokdo´s ownership, the Americans helped create further discord in the relations between Korea and Japan for decades to come.

6/20/51:   In a letter to the Korean Prime Minister Chang Myun, Deputy Army Commander Lieutenant General John B. Coulter requested the use of "the Liancourt Rocks Bombing Range" on behalf of the U.S. Air Force.   The letter promises that the military authorities will provide a "15 days advance notice and to clear the area of any personnel or boats." On July 1st, the Korean Prime Minister´s office approved the request, after disclosing it to the ROK Ministries of Defense and Home Affairs.

In January 1953, the Counselor of the U.S. Embassy in Korea, E. Allan Lightner Jr, was surprised when he found this letter in the embassy´s files; especially after just learning that the State Department had supposedly revealed an understanding of Japan´s sovereignty to Dokdo in August 1951.   He noted in a letter to Major General Thomas W. Herren, that "we in the Embassy were unaware of the fact that our military authorities had ever requested and obtained authorization from the Koreans for the use of this island as a bombing range." View document

7/6/51:   SCAP reasserts Dokdo´s status as a bombing range in SCAP Instruction #2160.   This new order for the Japanese government provided for warnings to be given to essentially the same populations on the Japanese west coast as had the earlier SCAPIN, #1778.   There is no provision in this instruction for warnings to be given to Korean populations.

It is possible that although Koreans were not mentioned in this SCAPIN, the assurances given to the Korean government in General Coulter´s letter just weeks before seemingly provided the same warnings to Koreans.   However, a bombing incident that took place a year later in September 1952 seemes to bring General Coulter´s assurances into question.   With the issuance of this SCAP instruction to the Japanese following so closely after General Coulter´s letter to the Koreans, it seems the U.S military, by appealing to both countries, was hedging its bets as to which country would have eventual control over Dokdo..

John Foster Dulles.
John Foster Dulles, Consultant to the U.S. Secretary of State (1951-1952) and later Secretary of State (1953-1959).
7/9/51:   Consultant to the Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, and special assistant to the Director of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs, Robert A. Fearey, meet with ROK Ambassador to the U.S., Yang Yu-chan.   Dulles hands Yang the latest draft of the peace treaty.   After reviewing it, the Korean government noticed that the draft did not include certain Korean demands (such as the preservation of the ´MacArthur Line´, war reparations from Japan, and Korean sovereignty over Tshushima).   In addition, the draft failed to include Dokdo and "Parangdo" in the definition of Korean territory.   According to author Chung Sung-hwa, Dulles "thundered at Yang" that Korea was not a signatory to the Peace Treaty with the Empire of Japan because "only those nations in a state of war with Japan and which were signatories to the United Nations Declaration of January 1942 will sign the treaty."   On July 17, the ROK Foreign Minister, Pyun Yung-tai, withdrew the Korean demand for Tsushima.

7/13/51:   A State Department geographer at the Office of Intelligence and Research, S.W. Boggs, replies to a inquiry from Robert A. Fearey about territories that might be in contention between Japan and other countries after the signing of the peace treaty.   In regards to the islands in the East Sea/Sea of Japan, Boggs suggests that "Liancourt Rocks"(Dokdo) could be included in the peace treaty, and that it might be "advisable to name the territories specifically in the draft treaty, in some such form as the following (Article 2): (a) Japan, recognizing the independence of Korea, renounces all right, title and claim to Korea, including the islands of Quelpart, Port Hamilton, Dagelet, and Liancourt Rocks".   A few days later on July 16, Boggs writes to Fearey on the same subject, stating that "[i]t should be noted that while there is a Korean name for Dagelet, none exists for the Liancourt Rocks and they are not shown in maps made in Korea".

This correspondence shows evidence that the U.S. State Department was looking into (and was aware of) potential future disputes arising from the wording of the then current draft of the peace treaty.   More interestingly, it shows just how influential the Japanese Foreign Ministry´s 1947 monograph "Minor Islands in the Sea of Japan" was to American planners, for the very wording of S.W. Boggs´ July 16 letter to Fearey matches almost verbatim the wording of the Japanese monograph.

7/19/51:   Ambassador Yang again meets with John Foster Dulles and asks that the treaty be written to include Dokdo and "Parangdo", asserting that both islands were Korean territory before the Japanese Annexation of Korea.   Dulles tells Yang that if his assertion is true, it would be no problem to include these islands in the treaty´s definition of Korea.

8/7/51:   The State Department cables the American Ambassador to Korea, John Muccio, to inform him that the Department could not locate Dokdo or "Parangdo" on any maps.

8/8/51:   The U.S. Embassy in Korea replies to the State Department with the exact location of Dokdo (37 Degrees 15 Minutes North, 131 Degrees 53 Minutes East), and includes in the cable a request from the ROK Foreign Minister to withdraw the Korean demand for the ficticious "Parangdo".

The Korean government evidently withdrew its demand for "Parangdo" after realizing, at long last, that the island did not exist(!)   The "Parangdo" fiasco is an example of how ineffectively ROK President Syngman Rhee (Yi Seung-man) presented his country´s demands in the negotiations for the peace treaty.   The Rhee administration´s unrealistic demands for Tsushima and "Parangdo" and its failure to prepare a well-documented study on the Korean case for sovereignty over Dokdo (one sufficient to counter the claims in the Japanese Foreign Ministry´s 1947 monograph) had most likely influenced the American decision to not include Dokdo in the definition of Korea in Article 2(a) of the peace treaty.

Dean Rusk.
As Assistant Secretary of State in 1951, Dean Rusk wrote the memorandum of August 10, 1951 to the Korean Ambassador in Washington.   Rusk later became Secretary of State from 1961-1969.
8/10/51:   In response to their request for inclusion of Dokdo in the definition of Korea, Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk sends a memorandum to the Korean government which states that the United States would not recognize the Korean ownership of Dokdo in the peace treaty.   It is interesting to note that the wording of Rusk´s explanation in this memo matches almost exactly the wording of the Japanese Foreign Ministry´s 1947 monograph, "Minor Islands in the Sea of Japan":

    As regards the island of Tokdo...this normally uninhabited rock formation was according to our information never treated as part of Korea and, since about 1905, has been under the jurisdiction of the Oki islands Branch Office of Shimane Prefecture of Japan.   The island does not appear to ever have been claimed by Korea.

This statement again reiterates the failure of the ROK Government to provide a well-researched and complete history of Korea´s ownership of Dokdo to the U.S. State Department during these negotiations.   It is also a testament to the influence that the Japanese treatise, "Minor Islands in the Sea of Japan" had on American planners.   Although the now infamous August 10, 1951 memorandum may be seen by some as the U.S. recognition of Japan´s claim to Dokdo, the final draft of the peace treaty still did not reflect any U.S. position regarding Dokdo, as the islets were not mentioned at all in the treaty.   In fact, evidence suggests that the Americans never informed the Japanese Government of the existence of this memorandum and the position stated in it.   The reasoning for all of this has never been explained.   It seems that the Americans were attempting to (quickly) remove themselves from the territorial dispute over Dokdo by stopping the Korean demand dead in its tracks via the August 10 statement, but at the same time not telling the Japanese about it, and by avoiding mention of the islets in the final draft of the peace treaty.   Therefore, the real purpose of the U.S. State Department´s August 10, 1951 memorandum is open to interpretation.   Was the memorandum to serve more of an instrumental purpose in helping the U.S. get out of the dispute, or was it really a straightforward policy decision (and if it was, why weren't the Japanese told about it)?   Later statements from American officials seem to support both interpretations, with the Americans tending to increasingly distance themselves from support for Japan´s claim as the signing of the 1954 US-ROK Security Treaty came closer.

9/8/51:   The San Francisco Peace Treaty between the former Allied Powers and Japan is signed by forty-eight nations.   The treaty´s article concerning Korean territory states: "Japan renounces all rights, titles and claims to Korea (including Quelpart, Port Hamilton and Dagelet)", with no mention of Dokdo.   Probably because many of the demands that his government had made during the negotiations were not adopted in the treaty, Syngman Rhee did not send a representative to observe the proceedings.   The treaty would not be ratified by the United States Senate until April 1952.

It is important to note that Korea was not a signatory to the peace treaty, due to British concerns about the Soviet Union´s non-recognition of the Republic of Korea (the Soviets eventually declined to sign the treaty), and to the poor relations between the governments of Britain (under Prime Minister Clement Atlee) and the ROK (under Syngman Rhee).   There were also other reasons Korea was not a signatory:   In the July 9 meeting during the negotiations, Secretary of State Dulles had told Ambassador Yang that only those nations that were at war with Japan and had signed the UN Declaration of January 1942 would be able to sign the peace treaty.   In addition, Syngman Rhee´s Korean Provisional Government had never been formally recognized by the Allied Powers during the war.   In the end, it is important to note that the peace treaty can be viewed as a document that was a product of the then emerging Cold War.   This treaty, which was meant to settle the Pacific War with Japan and end the American occupation, had instead become a treaty to tie Japan to the U.S. sphere of influence and control in order to counteract the Soviet Union and Communist China.   The Americans also wanted to maintain relations with the ROK.   This need by the U.S., and the Korean Government´s failure during the negotiations, are the very likely reasons why the treaty avoided mention of Dokdo.

Pyun Yung-tai.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea (1951- 1953), Pyun Yung-tai.
He is shown here appearing on a US television-interview program in December 1952.
10/3/51:   The U.S. Embassy in Korea cables a copy of a letter to the State Department from ROK Foreign Minister, Pyun Yung -tai, concerning the Korean claim to Dokdo.   In the letter, Pyun based Korea´s claim largely on the basis of SCAPIN #677 of January 29, 1946.   He also stated that Korea has "substantial documented evidence" of its claim.   In the memo that accompanied Pyun´s letter, the Embassy told the Department that they believed that the Koreans "did not possess a compilation of such ´evidence´ at this time" and that "it appears doubtful that such information will be forthcoming".

The Embassy´s open disregard for the Korean Government´s claims are quite evident in this letter, as is the Korean Government´s failure to secure and produce the existing evidence that could properly exhibit Korea´s claim to Dokdo.


5/4/52:   The U.S. Fifth Air Force replies to a request that the ROK Government sent through its air force liason for information on Dokdo´s status as a bombing range.   The request was sent on April 25, at the behest of residents of Ullung Island, who were concerned about the safety of fishing at the islets in the wake of the bombing incident that had taken place almost four years previously on June 8, 1948.   The reply from Fifth Air Force Headquarters, essentially stated that there had been no prohibition on fishing around Dokdo, and that the island was not a Far East Air Force bombing range.

This reply from the Fifth Air Force is at odds with the fact that the U.S. military had requested and received permission from the Korean Government to use Dokdo as a bombing range in June 1951.   Additionally, there is no known evidence to prove that either the Korean Government or the U.S. military had rescinded the use of the islets as a bombing range up to May 1952.

7/26/52:   The "United States-Japan Joint Committee", comprised of U.S. and Japanese officials responsible for implementing Japanese-American security arrangements, selects Dokdo as a "military facility" for use by American forces in Japan.   This was done in accordance with the "Administrative Agreement under Article III of the Security Treaty between the United States of America and Japan".   The Japanese Foreign Ministry also issues Resolution Number 34, which designated Dokdo as a bombing range.   According to a dispatch from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the area around Dokdo was declared a danger area and posted out-of-bounds on a 24-hour, 7-day a week basis, with this information then disseminated throughout the Far East Command and to its subordinate commands.   There are no records or evidence to suggest that Korean military or civillian authorities were made aware of this danger area around Dokdo.

Now that the occupation of Japan was over, it seems the U.S. military sought the Japanese out to take governmental action (like SCAP had done during the occupation) to make Dokdo an ´official´ bombing range for American and United Nations forces during the Korean War.   Again, it is fairly evident from the available documentation that neither the Korean government nor the American Embassy in Korea were made aware of the Joint Committee´s decision at the time.   It seems that American decision-makers were trying to get what they wanted (a bombing range) from the Japanese, and did not want to rattle the Koreans over it.

9/15/52:   The leader of an exploration group at Dokdo, Hong Chong-in, and his crew see an "unmistakably American" mono-propellor aircraft make a circuit around Dokdo and drop four bombs on the islets, which sends the party scurrying for shelter but causes no injuries.   Five days later, Mr. Hong cables the ROK Minister of Commerce and Industry and the Naval Chief of Staff, from whom he had received permission to travel to Dokdo by boat, after the request was given the go-ahead by the United Nations Naval Commander in Pusan on September 7.   In the cable, he demands that the naval leaders "establish an effective liasion with the Air Force authorities" regarding this safety issue.

It is clear in this incident, which took place less than two months after the announcement of the Japanese Foreign Ministry´s resolution Number 34, that the United Nations Naval Commander in Pusan (an American), was not aware that the island was a designated bombing range and had been placed off-limits. Such an occurrence would seem to prove that authorities in Korea (whether Korean or American) were neither involved in, nor even informed of the decision made by the Joint Committee.  

Steeves' despatch 'Koreans on Liancourt Rocks'.  This document proves that at least some Americans in the US State Department's Foreign Service did have an understanding of some prior Korean sovereignty over Dokdo.
Steeves' despatch to Washington entitled, 'Koreans on Liancourt Rocks'. This document proves that at least some Americans in the US State Department's Foreign Service did have an understanding of some prior Korean sovereignty over Dokdo. See the original document here
Although not causing any deaths or injuries like the 1948 bombing had, this 1952 bombing incident at Dokdo had caused great concern in Korea over the territorial sovereignty of the island, and really established the Dokdo issue in the Korean public consciousness.   The Korean press gave it a good deal of coverage, and the incident set events in motion that would result in the end of the island´s use as a bombing range six months later.

10/3/52:   Writing on behalf of Ambassador to Japan, Robert Murphy, the First Secretary of the American Embassy in Tokyo, John M. Steeves, writes Despatch No. 659 entitled, "Koreans on Liancourt Rocks", concerning the September 15 bombing incident, which he calls "a minor incident which may achieve larger proportions in the near future".   In it he states that while the reassertion of the danger area around Dokdo should "suffice to prevent the complicity of any American or UN Commanders in any further expeditions to the rocks which might result in injury or death to Koreans", the Korean government would not be able to dissuade its fishermen from sailing there.   He further suggests that, as such, any other incidents caused by the U.S. might "bring the Korean efforts to recapture these islands into more prominent play, and may involve the United States unhappily in the implications of that effort."

This informational despatch explains some of the concerns that American Embassy staff in Tokyo had regarding the U.S. military´s continued use of Dokdo as a bombing range.   What is also interesting about this letter is that Steeves provides a short history on the sovereignty of Dokdo as follows:

    The history of these rocks has been reviewed more than once by the Department, and does not need extensive recounting here.   The rocks, which are fertile seal breeding grounds, were at one time part of the Kingdom of Korea.   They were, of course, annexed together with the remaining territory of Korea when Japan extended its Empire over the former Korean State.

The statement, which says that the State Department has reviewed the history of Dokdo and that the islets were once a part of Korea, is a direct contradiction to the statement made in Dean Rusk´s August 10 memorandum to the Korean Ambassador in Washington.   The history of Dokdo related in this October 3 despatch really begs the question(s):   From where did the American Embassy in Tokyo get their information, and what can account for the differences in the statements made in this despatch and those made in the August 10 memorandum?   The implication here is that if the State Department had reviewed the history of Dokdo more than once, and that the conclusion of those reviews was that the islets had once been a part of the Kingdom of Korea, then the Americans had an understanding of Dokdo that was quite divergent from their policy of not recognizing the Korean claim.

E. Allan Lightner, Jr, Charge d´Affaires of the American Embassy, Pusan.
E. Allan Lightner, Jr.   Lightner was the Charge d´Affaires (ad interim) of the American Embassy in Korea in 1952-1953.
10/16/52:   The ad interim Charge d´Affaires of the American Embassy in Korea, E. Allan Lightner, Jr., writes a letter entitled, "Use of Disputed Territory (Tokto Island) as a Live Bombing Area",to the American Ambassador to Japan, Robert Murphy, and sends copies of this letter to the Director of Northeast Asian Affairs, Kenneth T. Young, and General Herren, Commanding General of the Korean Communications Zone. In the letter, Lightner recognizes that "the decision to use this isolated pile of rocks as a bombing target was made in Tokyo" and that there are "potentially explosive political implications".   Therefore, he suggests that the military might want to "lay off this particular island".

Like the October 3 letter from the Embassy in Tokyo, this letter shows just how disconcerting the bombing incident had become for the American Embassy staffs.   Their urgency in retracting the U.S. from any involvement in Dokdo, and the potential consequences, is palpable here.   It is also important to note that the governments of Japan and Korea were, at the time, in the preliminary stages of talks over the resumption of diplomatic relations, and that the Americans were afraid that this incident might shatter the already difficult Korean-Japanese relationship.

September 1952:   In an undated letter, the Commanding General of the Far East Command, General Mark W. Clark, sends a reply to E. Allan Lightner, Jr´s letter of October 16.   In it, the General relates that he has initiated an investigation of the bombing incident and will provide information that is suitable to be given to the ROK Foreign Ministry.

This letter marks the beginning of the American effort at damage control over this incident, which had resulted in a great deal of press coverage in Korea at the time.   This letter also raises the question:   If the military thought that Dokdo was a ´facility of the Japanese Government´ (as agreed to by the United States-Japan Joint Committee on July 26 in Tokyo), then why would the commander of the Far East Command feel it necessary to provide information on this incident to the Korean Government?   It seems that the Americans did not want the Koreans to know about the decision that was made by the Joint Committee in Japan.   Interestingly, a note was attached to the front of this letter to Lightner. The hand-written note was by the Director of the Political Section, Mr. R.H. Bushner, who wrote:

    "Let´s not get in an uproar over this -B"
Bushner was either alluding to the potential political problems involved, or perhaps he was suggesting to the diplomats that they avoid blaming the military too harshly.

10/20/52:   The Air Attache of the American Embassy in Taegu sends a report to R.H. Bushner of the Political Section.   In this report, the Air Attache states that he had just visited 5th Air Force headquarters, and although they would not admit that it was a 5th Air Force plane that bombed Dokdo on September 15, they did make assurances that orders had been given to the effect that "further bombing of the island would not be conducted."

This is the first known statement on the discontinuance of Dokdo´s use as a bombing range.

11/10/52:   The ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends a formal note verbale to the American Embassy in Pusan. In this Note, the Ministry asks for "any detailed information" that the Embassy might have on the September 15 bombing incident at Dokdo, an island that they state "is a part of the territory of the Republic of Korea."   They further request that the Embassy "take necessary steps in order to prevent recurrence of such incident."

Kenneth T. Young (right).
Kenneth T. Young, Jr. was the Director of Northeast Asian Affairs in 1951.   He is pictured here as U.S. Ambassador to Thailand in 1962.
11/14/52:   The State Department´s Director of Northeast Asian Affairs, Kenneth T. Young, Jr., writes a letter to Charge d'Affaires, E. Allan Lightner Jr., of the American Embassy in Korea.   In this letter, Young tells Lightner that he has read Tokyo´s despatch of October 3, and Lightner´s letter of October 16.   Referring to the August 10 memorandum, he tells Lightner that "[i]t appears that the Department has taken the position that these rocks belong to Japan and has so informed the Korean Ambassador in Washington".   Young explains that during the peace treaty negotiations, the Secretary of State told the Korean Ambassador that the "United States could not concur" to the Korean request to include Dokdo in Article 2 (a) of the treaty, since "according to [the Secretary of State´s] information" the islets were never a part of Korea, or claimed by Korea, but were under the jurisdiction of Shimane Prefecture, Japan.   Young then goes on to say that it is "therefore justified" that the Joint Committee designated Dokdo as a facility of the Japanese Government.   He also plays down the Korean claim based on SCAPIN 677 of January 1946, stating that this was an instruction "which suspended Japanese administration of various island areas, including Takeshima (Liancourt Rocks), [but] did not preclude Japan from exercising sovereignty over this area permanently."   To further back up his statements, Young adds that SCAPIN 1778 afforded notification of the use of the bombing range to only Japanese residents of Oki Island and Western Honshu.

This letter is the strongest case yet made for the view that the August 10 memorandum was a policy statement of the State Department.   However, what cannot be made clear is why, at the very time that this letter was written, the Americans were reacting to Korean Government concerns and had ceased the bombing of Dokdo because of those concerns.   If the U.S. policy towards Dokdo was that the islets were not Korean territory (according to the August 10 memorandum and the peace treaty) and were considered a facility of the Japanese Government by the Joint Committee, then why didn´t the Americans stand by their policy and inform (or re-inform) the Koreans of U.S. decisions?   It seems the Americans were less inclined to support the Japanese claim to sovereignty to Dokdo if it meant that doing so would cause problems in the Korean-Japanese (or Korean-U.S.) relationship.   Essentially, the American policy was that the U.S. would maintain their ostensible (and rather weak) view of Japanese sovereignty over Dokdo in order to use the area as bombing range, but only until the Koreans found out about it, and then quickly pull out of the dispute by discontinuing the bombing of the islets.   As we will see later, the Japanese were not very happy about the American retraction from the Joint Committee´s decision.

Another observation that can be made from this letter is that Young did not counter the assertion made in the October 3 despatch that stated that the Department reviewed the issue many times before and had concluded that Dokdo was once a part of the Kingdom of Korea.   He only repeated statements made by Dean Rusk on August 10.   This again begs the question:   Why there were two radically different understandings of the sovereignty of Dokdo in State Department documents?   One possible reason is that the State Department eventually came to know of Korea´s historical connection to Dokdo, but the Department made the deliberate choice to view the Japanese claim more favorably, placing more credence in Imperial Japan´s ´formal incorporation´ of the islets in 1905.   Other, possibly more important factors, may have been the warmer relations the Americans had with the Japanese vis-a-vis the Koreans in this period, the efforts made by the Japanese Foreign Ministry combined with the failures of the ROK Foreign Ministry during the peace treaty negotiations, and of course, the military´s need for a bombing range in the East Sea/Sea of Japan.   Any of these might have influenced the Americans to give a more favorable view to the Japanese claim at this time.   As was stated earlier, the Americans were to pull back from supporting Japan´s claim by 1954, probably because it no longer served American interests.

11/26/52:   The Office of the Secretary of State sends a telegram to the American Embassy in Korea.   The Department writes that they agree with Lightner´s assertion that the U.S. "should not become involved in any territorial dispute arising from [a] Korean claim to Dok-do Island."   In this telegram, the Department gives the Embassy instructions on the wording of their response to the ROK Foreign Ministry´s letter of November 10.   The letter goes on to tell the Embassy to include the following statement in the final paragraph: "The U.S. Government´s understanding of [the] territorial status [of] this island was stated in Assistant Secretary Dean Rusk´s Note to Ambassador Yang dated August 10, 1951."   The Department also tells Lightner the reasoning for this:

    "Such a statement would merely reiterate previous U.S. views, would withdraw U.S. from [the] dispute, and might have [the] desirable result in discouraging [the] ROK from intruding [this] gratuitous issue in [the] already difficult Jap[anese]-Korean Negotiations".

This telegram highlights the pragmatic funtion that the August 10 memorandum served in American dealings with the Koreans on the Dokdo issue.   Here again, it is clear that the Americans were trying to stop the Korean demand for Dokdo dead in its tracks, fearing the Koreans would introduce the Dokdo issue in the on-going negotiations on the normalization of relations between Korea and Japan.

11/27/52:   Writing on behalf of General Clark, Lt. General Doyle O. Hickey of the Headquarters of the Far East Command (FEC) writes to E. Allan Lightner of the American Embassy in Korea with information on the status of the investigation of the September 15 bombing incident.   Hickey states that as more than two months have passed, it is impossible to determine if the incident was caused by a plane under their command, and that there are no records of any air units having requested the use of Dokdo as a bombing target at that time.   The letter adds that "our staff is making preparations to dispense with the use of Liancourt Rocks as a bombing range and upon suspension, the Republic of Korea as well as other interested agencies will be notified."

12/4/52:   The Charge d'Affaires of the American Embassy in Korea, E. Allan Lightner, replies to the letter of November 14 from Kenneth T. Young, Director of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs of the State Department.   Lightner writes that the American Embassy staff in Korea were not aware of the August 10 memorandum.   He also states that the Embassy staff in Korea knew that Article 2(a) of the peace treaty did not address Dokdo.   However, Lightner goes on to say that they "had no inkling that [the] decision constituted a rejection of the Korean claim.   Well, now we know and we are glad to have the information as we have been operating on the basis of a wrong assumption for a long time."

This letter shows that not only were the Japanese Government not informed of the existence of the August 10 memorandum, neither was the American Embassy in Korea.   If the August 10 memorandum were truly a policy statement, it seems quite strange that the State Department did not want to share this policy with practically any of the interested parties other than the ROK Foreign Ministry.   Again, Dean Rusk´s August 10 statement seems to have been made only to get the Koreans to back off from their claim, thereby keeping the issue out of Korean-Japanese relations.


1/5/53:   Counselor of American Embassy in Tokyo, William T. Turner, writes to E. Allan Lightner of the American Embassy in Korea.   Turner relates that effective December 18, 1952, the use of Dokdo as a bombing range had been discontinued.   He states that a new bombing range has been substituted for Dokdo by the Commander in Chief of the Far East (CINCFE).   The new coordinates are given as 37°15´ North, 131°52´ East (empty sea space directy East of Ullungdo).   Turner asks Lightner to request General Herren to communicate this information to the Korean Government.

General Thomas W. Herren.
General Thomas W. Herren, Commanding General of the Korean Communications Zone.
1/20/53:   The Commanding General of the Korean Communications Zone, Major General Thomas W. Herren, informs the Korean Government of the decision to discontinue the use of Dokdo as a bombing range, and of the new area that has been substituted for Dokdo.

3/3/53:   The American Ambassador to Korea, Ellis O. Briggs, sends a telegram to the State Department about a statement made on February 27 by the ROK Defense Minister.   The Defense Minister was quoted in the Korean press as saying that the Commander of the Far East Air Force (FEAF), General Otto Paul Weyland, sent the ROK Defense Ministry a letter promising that no further bombing of Dokdo would take place; with the Minister implying that this letter was essentially a U.S. Government recognition of Korean sovereignty over Dokdo.   The Embassy reports that the Japanese have read this and consider the ROK Defense Minister´s statement very significant, and that Japanese Foreign Ministry sources say that they will introduce this topic in the agenda during upcoming talks between the Korean and Japanese Governments.   The Embassy also relays to the Department their hope that "any future communications to ROK Govt relating to Dokdo...would be transmitted through [the] Embassy so that there can be no possible misconception as to [the] US position, which as we understand it is that this Island [is] not...subject [to] Korean jurisdiction."   The Embassy also tells that it fears that this new dispute will deteriorate the relations between Korea and Japan, and that they believe the ROK Government has probably distorted the meaning of any such note from General Weyland to suit its own purposes.

The State Department would later look into the allegation that Weyland wrote such a letter and would conclude (by March 12) that he did not do so, nor was any such letter sent to the ROK Defense Ministry.   A notable fact here was that it seems the Embassy in Tokyo was upset by the confusing way in which the U.S. Government was handling the Dokdo issue.   On the one hand, the Americans cut a (secret) deal with the Japanese for a bombing range at the islets and then, when the Koreans found out, the Americans sent assurances to the ROK Government that they would immediately discontinue the bombing.   The report on the alleged "Weyland letter" only heightened their concern about this confusing policy.

General Otto Paul Weyland.
The ROK Defense Ministry alleged that General Otto Paul Weyland sent their office a letter that promised that Dokdo would no longer be used as a bombing range.
3/5/53:   American Ambassador to Japan, Robert Murphy, cables the State Department with new information on the Japanese reaction to the news that Dokdo would no longer be used as a bombing range.   That day, the Japanese Foreign Office contacted the Embassy to confirm Weyland´s reported statement on Dokdo and wanted to know "why [the] Japanese Government [was] not formally notified through [the] joint committee if [the] Islands [were] no longer used as [a] military facility."   They also told the Embassy that the Governor of Shimane Prefecture was now in Tokyo looking for answers to this question, as fishermen from his prefecture would have taken advantage of the rescission of the islets´ status as a bombing range.   The Japanese Foreign Office also related their belief that the U.S recognized Japanese sovereignty over Dokdo, and stated that they "might find it necessary to ask that [the] United States clarify its views on the subject."   Murphy also tells the Department that FEAF Headquarters can find no record of any letter from Weyland to the ROK Government on the subject, and that they would consider issuing a public denial of the letter.   He also admits, that while the Japanese have now been informed orally, the Far East Command (FEC) indeed did not notify the Japanese Government through the Joint Committee that the islets would no longer be used as a military facility.   Murphy ends the telegram by relating the following concern:

    "Once Weyland denial and formal notification through [the] joint committee [is] obtained [the] Japanese presumably will use these to back up [a] firm new assertion of sovereignty over [the] Islands, [and have] probably authorized dispatch [of] fishing and other vessels to [the] Area.   ROK reaction can be anticipated.".

Again, it is clear that the U.S. did not relate the opinion that was stated in the August 10, 1951 memorandum to the Japanese Government, since the Japanese felt the need for a clarification of the American stance on the Dokdo issue.   What also can be seen here is the fact that the FEC did not even take the time to formally notify Japan of the rescission through the Joint Committee.   This is a good indicator that the Americans were keenly aware of the repercussions of the September 15, 1952 bombing, and were trying to distance themselves as quickly as possible from any potential trouble resulting from the incident.

3/17/53:   The American Ambassador to Japan, Robert Murphy, sends a telegram to the State Department to notify the Department that the Japanese Government were notified orally (not formally) in a meeting of the Joint Committee that Dokdo would no longer be used as a bombing range.   He also states that the American Embassy told the Japanese in a similar fashion that there was no evidence of General Weyland´s letter, and that there was no official American statement recognizing the Korean claim to Dokdo.   Murphy also felt confident that the Japanese were "satisfied with [the] oral statements" so far, and that no formal written notification would be probably be necessary for either the denial of Weyland´s letter or for the discontinuance of Dokdo as a military facility.

It seems the Americans were interested in making sure that they made no formal written statements on these issues, which could be used as justifications by either the Koreans or the Japanese for their respective arguments for sovereignty over Dokdo.   The State Department seems to have issued a full retreat here.

7/14/53:   The new American Ambassador to Japan, John M. Allison, cables the State Department notifying them of a new incident that took place at Dokdo on July 12.   Allison relates the particulars of the incident that he received from Japanese sources.   On the morning of July 12, a 450-ton Japanese MSB patrol vessel, the ´Hekura´ approached within close proximity of the Dokdo islets and encountered Korean fishing vessels and police armed with automatic weapons.   The Japanese reported that 3 Koreans and their police chief came aboard the Hekura and told the Japanese that the islets were Korean territory and that the Japanese vessel should proceed to Ullungdo and report to Korean authorities there.   After the Koreans went ashore, the evidently frightened crew of the Hekura proceeded to steer their ship out of the area by going around the islets before returning to their base at ´Maizuru´, when "[s]uddenly [the] vessel was subjected to fire from shore by carbines and/or light machine guns; of 40-odd shots, 2 hit [the Hekura]."

Allison goes on to say that the Japanese Foreign Office delivered two notes verbale to the Korean Mission in Tokyo on July 13; one protesting the incident and demanding that the Koreans withdraw from Dokdo immediately, the other, a previously-prepared explanation to the Koreans on Japan´s sovereignty to the islets.   Allison also reports that the incident had become a major news story in Japan, with the Jiji Shimpo suggesting that the Government of Japan should mobilize the Japanese ´Self-Defense Forces´, while the Yomiuri quoted a source that said that the Government was going to request American assistance or submit the case to the Hague Tribunal.   Despite his observation that "Diet members of all parties [are] extremely sensitive to ´acts of aggression´ against Japan by Korea", Allison states that Foreign Office desk officers told him that the Japanese Government is not contemplating any of the actions reported in the media, but that they were only studying the possibility of taking the issue to the Hague.

Korean volunteer forces, led by Korean War hero Hong Soon-chil, had been stationed at Dokdo since April 20.   This endeavor was sponsored by the Rhee regime, who armed the volunteer guards with various automatic and crew-served weapons, including mortars.   The Japanese Government had already complained about this Korean deployment to Dokdo prior to the July 12 incident, asserting the supposed "solemn fact that Take-shima has always been a part of Japanese territory throughout its long history."   In their July 13 note verbale to the Korean Mission in Tokyo, the Japanese Government cited various ancient precedents for Japanese sovereignty over Dokdo, including responses to assertions the Korean Mission made in notes verbale to the Japanese on February 12, 1952 and June 26, 1953, that cited recent developments within the previous eight years.   The Japanese respond, stating that the limitations placed on Japan in SCAPINs 677 and 1033 were removed by a memorandum to the Japanese Government on April 25, 1952 (three days before the San Francisco Peace Treaty went into effect).   They also mention Article 2(a) of the peace treaty, which did not mention Dokdo as a Korean territory, and include the exclusion of Dokdo from the designated manouver grounds for U.S. forces in March, which they state was "doubtlessly...based upon the fact that the island is a part of the Japanese territory." It is interesting to note that in their vigorous objection to the Korean claim to Dokdo, the Japanese did not mention any clearly-worded American opinion on Dokdo, such as the one stated in the August 10, 1951 memorandum to the Korean Ambassador to the U.S.   Again, it is very clear that the Americans did not provide the Japanese with any such formal statement regarding the U.S. view towards the sovereignty of Dokdo.

7/21/53:   The American Embassy in Tokyo sends translations of the Japanese notes verbale to the American Embassy in Korea.   The Tokyo Embassy relates their belief that "there is every reason to believe that as in the past the Japanese protests will be summarily rejected [by the Koreans]", and includes the following summary of comments that Korean Mission Couselor Yu Tae-ha made on July 15 to an officer of the Japanese Foreign Office:

    "[Yu] told the drafting officer that the incident was clearly the fault of the Japanese, that the Japanese historical arguments was ´ridiculous´, and that the island was unquestionalby Korean territory; he believed that the ´fuss´ over the incident was largely the result of agitation by Diet members from Shimane Prefecture who are after [Japanese Foreign Minister] OKAZAKI´s scalp, and indicated that the [Japanese] Foreign office protest, which was designed primarily to stave off Opposition criticism at home, would not be taken very seriously by the Republic of Korea."

9/28/53:   The American Ambassador in Seoul, Ellis O. Briggs, sends the State Department copies of "The Korean Government´s Refutation of the Japanese Government´s Views Concerning Dokdo (´Takeshima´) Dated July 13, 1953" which the Korean Mission released in Tokyo on September 9. The Korean publication was a response to the Japanese note of July 13.   The Embassy writes that the publication "may be of some use as a summary of the Korean evidence for their sovereignty [over Dokdo]."

The Korean statement that was released on September 9 advanced ancient historical claims to Dokdo and referred to SCAPIN 677 and General Weyland´s note to the ROK Government on February 27, 1953 to further explain the Korean claim.   The statement also asserted that the omission of Dokdo from Article 2(a) of the peace treaty does not affect Korea´s claim to sovereignty.   The Korean publication makes a rather interesting observation about Article 2(a):

    "[T]he Japanese Government says that the article does not specify that Dokdo is a part of the Korean territory like Chejudo (Quelpart), Kumundo (Port Hamilton) and Ulneungdo (Dagelet).   However, the enumeration of these three islands is by no means intended to exclude other hundreds of islands on the Korean coasts from Korea´s possession.   If Japan´s interpretation on this matter were followed, hundreds of islets off the western and southern coasts of Korea besides those three islands would not belong to Korea, but to Japan.   If Japan, with such arguments, really asserts that ´Takeshima constitutes a part of Japanese territory´, is the Japanese Government going to claim territorial ownership over all the islands off the coasts of Korea except the three islands of Cheju, Kumun and Ulneung?"

12/9/53:   Secretary of State John Foster Dulles cables the American Embassy in Tokyo with views on how to handle the growing Japanese concerns regarding Dokdo (See Document).
This cable by Secretary of State Dulles shows that the USA had absolutely NO desire to support the Japanese claim to Dokdo.  He clears the air by saying that the USA´s opinion, as expressed in the Rusk Letter, simply does not matter much.  According to <i>current US policy</i>, it is as if the Rusk Letter did not even exist in the first place(!)  This goes even further to support the idea that the Rusk Letter was simply a tool to get the Korean government to stop "stirring up the mud" by bringing up the Dokdo issue, and thereby harming future Korea-Japan relationships.
This cable by Secretary of State Dulles shows that the USA had absolutely NO desire to support the Japanese claim to Dokdo. He clears the air by saying that the USA´s opinion, as expressed in the Rusk Letter, simply does not matter much. This goes even further to support the idea that the Rusk Letter was simply a tool to get the Korean government to stop "stirring up the mud" by bringing up the Dokdo issue, and thereby harming future Korea-Japan relationships. In regard to current US policy, it is as if the Rusk Letter did not even exist in the first place(!)
  He opens the telegram with the following paragraph:

    "[The] Department [is] aware of peace treaty determinations and US administrative decisions which would lead [the] Japanese [to] expect us to act in their [favor] in any dispute with [the] ROK over [the] sovereignty [of] Takeshima.   However to [the] best of our knowledge [a] formal statement [of the] US position to [the] ROK in [the] Rusk note [of] August 10, 1951 has not...been communicated [to the] Japanese.   [The] Department believes [that it] may be advisable or necessary at sometime [to] inform [the] Japanese Government [regarding the] US position on Takeshima.   [The] Difficulty [at] this point is [the] question of timing as we do not...wish to add another issue to [the] already difficult ROK-Japan negotiations or involve ourselves further than necessary in their controversies, especialy in light [of] many current issues [that are] pending with [the] ROK."

Dulles goes on to state that despite the U.S. view of the peace treaty and the actions of the Joint Committee, "it does not...necessarily follow [that the] US [is] automatically responsible for settling or intervening in Japan´s international disputes, territorial or otherwise, arising from the peace treaty.   [The] US view re Takeshima [is] simply that of one of many signatories to [the] treaty."   He says that the U.S. is not obligated to "protect Japan" from Korean "pretensions" to Dokdo, and that such an idea " considered as [a] legitimate claim for US action under [the U.S.-Japan] security treaty."   Dulles then draws a parallel to the Soviet occupation of the Habomais (islands off the coast of Hokkaido) which the U.S. publicly declared are Japanese territory.   Here, this "far more serious threat to both [the] U.S. and Japan" does not obligate the U.S. to take action against the Russians, and the Japanese themselves would not expect this to be the American obligation under the security agreement.   Dulles also shares his fear that the Japanese would learn that, actually, "[The] security treaty represents commitment on [the] part [of the] US."   He also notes that "Japan should understand [that the] benefits [of the] security treaty should dissipated on issues susceptible [to] judicial settlement."   Dulles then closes the message with the instruction that the U.S. should not get involved in the dispute over Dokdo, and that "no action on our part [is] required", but if the issue is brought up to the U.S. again, the American line should be that the Koreans and the Japanese should take the issue before the ICJ [International Court of Justice].

The statements made in this telegram show just how weak U.S. support for the Japanese claim to Dokdo really was.   The Americans were just as worried about Japanese "pretensions" to Dokdo as they were about Korean ones.   It is clear that the State Department was not so willing to explicitly support the Japanese claim at any time, but particularly in late 1953 when doing so could get in the way of the "many current issues" underway between the U.S. and the ROK, namely the U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty that was to be signed the following year.   While just short of a complete abandonment of the Japanese claim, this telegram definitely shows the Americans to be washing their hands of the Dokdo issue.


6/5/54:   The American Embassy in Korea cables the State Department to report on an incident that took place at Dokdo on May 23 and 24.   According to Korean news accounts, an armed patrol boat flying the Japanese flag sailed past the islets.   The next day, around 200 Korean fishermen witnessed an aircraft machine-gun strafe Dokdo and fly away in the direction of Shimonoseki.   The aircraft was "determined to be Japanese after intensive investigation by ROK authorities", and at least one witness was reported to have seen "Japanese markings on [the] plane."

6/26/54:   John M. Allison cables the American Embassy in Korea to report on a United Press story from June 17 that quoted an announcement by the ROK Home Minister that a ROK Coast Guard unit is to be stationed at Dokdo and permanent installations are to be built.   The Ambassador relates that the Japanese Foreign Office approached the Embassy asking if the story was true, and that the Japanese felt that "permanent ROK occupation would ´Alter [the] whole situation´."

6/29/54:   The American Ambassador in Korea, Ellis O. Briggs, asks the U.S. Naval Attache in Pusan for "any information you can obtain discreetly" to confirm the recent press stories about Korean Coast Guard deployment and permanent installations at Dokdo.

8/11/54:   The Naval Attache in Pusan reports to the Embassy in Seoul:

    "Naval Advisory Group advises ROK CNO [Chief of Naval Operations] visit 8 July Ullungdo Island (Utsuryoto) 37 degrees 27 minutes north 130 degrees 50 minutes east.   Second time underway ROK ship as CNO.   Stated purpose in connection hydro-electric generator station there.   Believe could be connection Tokto Island trouble.   Will advise."

8/20/54:   The ROK Foreign Office delivers a note to the American Embassy in Seoul stating that the ROK has established and commenced the lighting of a lighthouse on the northeast point of Dokdo, "its territory in the eastern sea of Korea", on August 10.   The Ministry asks that this information be transmitted to U.S. Government authorities so that the new lighthouse may be noted on American charts.

It is interesting to note that the lighthouse became operable on the third anniversary of the issuance of Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk´s memorandum to the Korean Ambassador in Washington on August 10, 1951.   Perhaps the Koreans had deliberately chosen this date as a sort of message to the Americans?

8/24/54:   The American Ambassador in Tokyo, John M. Allison, cables the State Department on some issues raised by the Korean´s establishment of a lighthouse on Dokdo.   Allison relates to the Department that the Japanese are "apparently not...yet aware" that the Koreans have built a lighthouse on Dokdo, but that when they do find out, the Japanese Government, media, and citizenry "would regard [the] establishment [of] permanent ROK installations [on] Takeshima as [an] extremely serious matter."

Allison perceives two major problems for the U.S:
"(a) What to say to the Japanese when they ´bring the matter to our attention´; (b) what action if any we take on [the] ROK Foreign Office note."

In regards to (a), he states that the Japanese Foreign Office has approached the Embassy on a number of occasions asking for information on ROK activities at Dokdo, and that they at the Embassy have always stated that the Embassy "´has no information´ on the matter", despite the fact that they indeed did know about it.   Allison believes that it is not wise to "affect ignorance any further [as the] Japanese will hardly believe [that the] lighthouse could have been built without US knowledge" and that keeping up this stance will surely make the Japanese think that the U.S. was somehow involved.   He believes that the only course is to tell the Japanese that the U.S. had indeed been informed of the lighthouse, but not that the U.S. had any prior knowledge of it.

In regards to (b), Allison thinks that the U.S. should re-inform the Koreans of "our interpretation of [the] JPT [Japanese Peace Treaty]...or else ignore [the] note altogether and assume [the] risk that [the] ROKs will interpret silence as consent."   He believes that the Koreans should at least be told that the U.S. does not recognize or acquiesce to the ROK claim to Dokdo.

Allison goes on to wonder whether the "time has not...come to make US position on Takeshima clear."   While acknowleging that it would not be wise to get involved in the dispute while the islets were an "unoccupied no-man´s land", he states that he believes that the "ROK fait accompli changes [the] picture" and that U.S. silence on the issue may make the Koreans think that the U.S. is "acquiescing in [the] ROKs forceful assumption of sovereignty over [the] island--which as both [the] ROK and Japan know (even though [the] latter [were] never officially informed) constitutes [a] violation [of the] terms [of the] JPT as interpreted by [the] US."   Despite this, Allison recognizes that this probably is not an option that the State Department would consider (due to the ongoing Yang-Iguchi talks), and suggests that alternatively, the Japanese could be told to simply add their concern about Dokdo to other concerns at the next ROK-Japan conference.   He also thinks that the U.S. could suggest to the Japanese to take the issue to the ICJ.

In the end, the Ambassador´s suggestion that the U.S. formally inform both parties of the official American view never materialized.   The ROK´s stationing of the Coast Guards at Dokdo did not force the U.S. hand in any backing of the Japanese claim.   As we will see, the Americans settled instead on suggesting to the Japanese that they take the territorial dispute to the ICJ; a suggestion that they later downplayed as hurtful to Korean-Japanese relations.

8/24/54:   On the same day as the message above, John Allison cables the State Department with news that the Japanese Foreign office has made an inquiry at the Embassy about a press story that already came out about the lighthouse.   He states that the Embassy did receive notice of the lighthouse from the ROK, and that the Embassy was, at this time, "seeking confirmation and further details." Allison also reports that the Japanese told him that the day before, on August 23, a Japanese MSA patrol boat was "subjected to heavy fire from Takeshima shore." The Japanese told him that they would file a protest, but that they would keep the protest confidential, unless the Koreans announced it.

8/25/54:   The American Embassy in Korea cables the State Department about the Embassy´s views regarding the ramifications of the recent Korean actions at Dokdo.   The Embassy states that a public announcement of the official U.S. position on Dokdo would be unwise at a time when the Yang-Iguchi talks are underway and a possible reopening of the ROK-Japan negotiations could take place.   Like Allison, the Korean Embassy also believes that an oral statement be made to the Koreans to the effect that the U.S. "deplore[s] their taking unilateral action while status [of the] island [is] under dispute" so that the Koreans will not "interpret silence as consent."   They also believe that adding this issue to the negotiation agenda between Korea and Japan would reduce the chances that the talks succeed, but that it is probably unavoidable.   Again, they suggest that the U.S. make oral statements to both sides that the issue "be discussed in bilateral talks and that in [the] meantime no action of [a] provocative nature be taken by either side", although the Embassy admits that bilateral talks are unlikely to resolve the issue.   They also suggest caution on this issue as the Korean Government has not been very successful in its dealings with Washington:

    "In considering possible courses of action on this question we should recognize that Pres RHEE and ROK Govt are [a] receptive mood for further public setbacks.   [The] General impression in Korea [is] of relative lack of concrete success by RHEE in his U.S. visit coupled with [the] effects of recent redeployment announcements [and] are not [a] happy framework in which to take up [the] issue of Tokto. is important therefore that we seek to avoid publicity on [this] question and merely set record straight in factual terms as regards U.S. Govt position in manner suggested above."

8/26/54:   The State Department cables the Embassies in Seoul and Tokyo with instructions on how to handle the current situation regarding Dokdo.   The Department tells the Embassies that a statement of the official U.S. position is "innapropriate at this time", and that the Department is planning to "inform [the] ROK that [the] U.S. cannot consider ROK action as affecting US position [on the] issue [of] sovereignty over Liancourt, which [is] now [the] subject of controversy between ROK and Japan, but that [the] US will inform appropriate US authorities [that the] lighthouse [has been] constructed on [the] island by [the] ROK."   The Department also instructs the Embassies to notify the Governments of Korea and Japan that the U.S. will issue a formal reply to the ROK regarding their announcement of the lighthouse, and tells the Embassy in Seoul to tell the ROK Foreign Office that the "US deplores [the] reported ROK use of force [in] connection [with] Liancourt..."

9/27/54:   The American Embassy in Tokyo informs the State Department about a visit from an official of the Japanese Foreign Office.   The Embassy reports that on this day, the Japanese official came by to inquire about possible reactions to a Japanese proposal to submit the Dokdo dispute to the ICJ.   The Embassy notes that the official "wondered also if [the] US couldn´t try to ´persuade´ [the] ROK to accept [the] proposal."   The Embassy relates the fact that the Japanese Foreign Office has issued the ICJ proposal to all of the foreign missions in Tokyo in an effort to appeal to world opinion, while they do not place much hope in the ROK accepting the idea.   The Japanese also report that they have entertained the idea of submitting their problem to the United Nations (Security Council), although it is not yet being seriously considered.

9/29/54:   The State Department cables the American Embassies in Taipei and Seoul with its ideas on persuading the Koreans to negotiate with the Japanese on the Dokdo issue.   He mentions ROK president Rhee´ recent visit to Washington, and that "US efforts to modify RHEE´s general attitude toward Japan during his Washington visit were unavailing."   This being the case, the Department states that Taiwan may play a role:

    "In view [of] RHEE´s emotional conviction [that the] US [is] discriminating against Korea in favor [of] Japan and [the] generally unfavorable Korean attitude toward US-Japan cooperation, [the] Department believes [that a] US attempt [to] exert influence on Korea would do more harm than good.   [The] Department continues [to] consider Chinese intercession most effective as China [is] in [the] position of [an] objective third party which while sharing Korean feeling of greivious injury at [the] hands of [the] former enemy has nevertheless adopted Governmental policy of reason and realism."

11/16/54:   The First and Third Secretaries, Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Matsuoka of the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C. meet with State Department Officials at the U.S. State Department on the evening of November 16 to discuss the Japanese proposal to refer the Dokdo issue to the Security Council.   Mr. Tanaka begins by explaining that the Government of Japan is considering taking their problem with the Koreans before the United Nations Security Council in order to gain a recommendation from the Council that the issue be taken to the ICJ.   Tanaka states that Japan felt this necessary as the Koreans refused the September 25 Japanese suggestion of ICJ arbitration in a note verbale on October 28.   He says that his government feels the need to take this further step due to domestic pressures in Japan and that a recommendation by the Security Council would garner world opinion in Japan´s favor, by showing that Japan was willing to submit to the third-party arbitration and the ROK was not.   Mr. Tanaka then asks "whether the United States would vote in the SC in favor of referral of the issue to the ICJ."

Eric Stein of the State Department replies that it would be possible for Japan to take the issue before the Security Council under Article 35, paragraph 2 of the UN Charter, citing the Corfu Channel case between Britain and Albania, in which Albania had done so, but that Britain still would not go before the ICJ.   William Jones of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs then states that while the U.S. officials present at this meeting are not able to offer any official views, he feels that the Japanese proposition would "serve little practical purpose and that any small satisfaction which Japan might gain on moral grounds would be far outweighed by the increased agitiation in ROK-Japan relations", especially considering that the chances for improved relations are better now than at any time in the past.   Mr. Jones believes that Security Council action might result in an overall loss for Japan.   He also states "on a confidential basis" that he is hopeful that ROK-Japan relations would get better due to agreements the U.S. had recently obtained from the Koreans, one of which regards the Korean rehabilitation program, from which Japan could benefit from "increased purchases in Japan."   He goes on to say that this might open the door for more relaxation of ROK policies towards Japan and result in "a better atmosphere for future negotiations on outstanding issues, including Liancourt."

11/17/54:   Japanese Embassy Minister Shigenobu Shima meets with William J. Sebald, the new Deputy Assistant Secretary of Far Eastern Affairs, and Mr. R. B. Finn, Officer in Charge of Japanese Affairs at the State Department in Washington D.C.   Shima called for this meeting to inquire informally about U.S. views on the Japanese proposal to submit their dispute with the ROK over Dokdo to the United Nations Security Council.   He says that Japan probably will not take the issue before the Security Council if it not guaranteed that the U.S. will support Japan in the Security Council and help Japan refer the issue to the ICJ.   Shima also explained the recent exchange of notes in which Japan proposed on September 25 that Korea and Japan go before the ICJ over Dokdo, to which the Koreans rejected the idea on October 28.   He states that the issue is "a long standing one" between the two countries.   William Sebald responds, saying that "of course Japan was free to do as it thought best in presenting its case and commented that he had personally followed this controversy over a long period of time."   He also informs Mr. Shima that the Security Council would probably want to see that all bilateral efforts have been exhausted before hearing the case, and that it seems that the ROK will not submit to ICJ arbitration regardless of Security Council action.   However, "Mr. Sebald expressed the view that is is important for Japan to keep its claim alive and not to permit its rights to be prejudiced by default.   He suggested that a note to the ROK or other periodic formal statements would serve this purpose."

Mr. Shima then goes on to state that Japan has a strong case and "desires an early solution".   Shima then brings up the issue of the Japanese claim, mentioning the Joint Committee´s action under the Administrative Agreement.   "Mr. Shima said this appeared to constitute US recognition of the validity of Japan´s claim."   Sebald´s response to this statement was:

    "US relations with the ROK had recently improved and he noted that the US-ROK Mututal Defense Treaty was being brought into force on November 17 and that the general understanding had been agreed to in Seoul.   He expressed confidence that relations between Japan and the ROK would improve in the future although this of course would take time."

Mr. Shima states that he wonders how this could result in better relations between Korea and Japan.   He then asks whether the U.S. would consider mediating the issue.   To this, Sebald responds that he "would personally prefer to see the two Governments iron out their difficulties by themselves" but that the U.S. would try to assist and facilitate negotiations.   The meeting ends with Sebald stating that the U.S. has an "interest in the development of a sense of interdependence on the part of the nations in Northeast Asia."

With regional cooperation being a far greater interest to the U.S. than Japan´s claim to Dokdo, Sebald dodges Shima´s assertion that the U.S. recognized Japan´s claim, instead pointing out the importance of the US-ROK defense treaty.   There is no mistake here that the Americans have withdrawn themselves from support for Japan´s claim to Dokdo and from any other involvement with the islets.   The only suggestion that Sebald can give the Japanese is that Japan should continue to pester the Koreans over the issue with occasional notes or formal statements.   The Japanese Government has been following Sebald´s advice ever since.

Looking back at the Occupation and Korean War period (1945-1954), the available evidence suggests that many of the key decisions related to Dokdo were made by the United States, and not Korea or Japan.   As a result of the decisions made by the United States in 1951, a basic framework for Korea-Japan relations, including the Dokdo issue, was established.   The Japanese government worked very hard in getting the U.S. government to recognize Dokdo as Japanese territory during the process leading up to the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty.   On the basis of this effort Japan began to publicly lay claim to Dokdo.   American diplomats supported the Japanese position on Dokdo until the mid-1950s, and ONLY because the United States State Department believed that a Japanese sovereignty over Dokdo would be beneficial to its use as a weather and radar facility in the context of the Korean War and future security concerns.   However, upon the denouement of the Korean War, and realizing that the Dokdo issue was a potential tinderbox that was capable of disrupting Korea-Japan, Korea-U.S., and Japan-U.S. relations, Washington began to feign a neutral position on this issue.