1871, An America War in Korea, part III

The U.S. attempted to send enquiries after the fate of the General Sherman and its men several times. The Koreans were disinclined to discuss the General Sherman, possibly because they thought compensation would be demanded and they didn’t feel they should have to compensate a nation over dispensing with a ship of thieves. Or perhaps they resented a foreign government’s demands that they explain themselves for the treatment of trespassing criminals on their own borders.  They were even less interested in establishing trade with foreign western governments.  Not for nothing were they known as The Hermit Kingdom.  China had established trade, and Koreans watched the resulting Opium Wars and the disruption of China’s ruling class and social structure and the introduction of western practices and values which seemed incompatible with the strict Confucianism which was the basis for social and political structure of Korea.  They saw no need for it in their country.


The U.S. sent another ship to inquire after it, led by Captain Shufeldt.

“According to Welles, the US Secretary of Navy at the time, Shufeldt’s inquiry went something like this:

Commander Shufeldt: Have you heard or do you know anything about the ship that was wrecked?

Corean official: I know nothing about it whatever. I only hope you will immediately leave and return to your native land.

Commander Shufeldt: What objection can there be to our waiting? If I am obliged to leave without an answer to my dispatch, many more armed vessels will return to your country.

Corean official: To return with many armed vessels would be exceedingly unjust. To return to your country would be praiseworthy.

Commander Shufeldt: To allow your country to murder our men without cause or provocation cannot be passed over uninvestigated.

Corean official: I do not know anything about this business.

Commander Shufeldt: If you know nothing, I have nothing more to say to you. (Welles, 1867)

The Corean official’s account of this meeting differs. He told Shufeldt that he had no authority to talk to foreigners and that he had sent a messenger to Seoul for the official permission and instructions, and that the messenger would be back in a few days. He told the Americans to wait but the Americans left without waiting.”

It’s impossible to know how much of this failed communication was a result of poor translations and interpreters, how much was a result of a lack of cultural intelligence on both sides, how much was garden variety arrogance, and how much was fudging on the part of officials involved for reasons of their own.  That does not stop me from speculating, though.

To be continued
Series of Posts:

How a cultural misunderstanding started a war, part 1

Korean war of 1871, Part 2

1871, An America War in Korea, part III

1871, American War in Korea, part IV

The 1871 War with Korea, part V

War with Korea in 1871, Part VI

War With Korea, 1871, Part VII


(from an archived article titled The early US-Korea relations
Excerpt from “A Brief History of the US-Korea Relations Prior to 1945”
Kim Young-Sik, Ph.D.)

Thomas Duvernay (he has an unrelated udemy class here: https://www.udemy.com/user/thomasduvernay/)




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