By Oh Hyun Woo and Kim Young Shin
Korea’s Gwangbokjeol Liberation Day (광복절) on Aug. 15 can be literally translated as “the day we won back the light.” It is a very meaningful day for Koreans everywhere, as it’s the day that the country had its sovereign power restored, which imperial Japan had taken away in 1910.
Until Korea had its independence on Aug. 15, 1945, there were countless sacrifices of anti-imperialism fighters. Among them were many non-Koreans, too, like Frank William Schofield, Fred A. Dolph and Selden P. Spencer who all put their effort into Korea’s freedom.
There are many more non-Korean independence fighters, but these three are highlighted because they contributed greatly to delivering to the world news about people in Korea suffering under Japanese colonialism after the March first resistance movement of 1919. Thanks to these three, Korea was able to let the world learn about the unjust situation here, even though it was isolated from the global community as it was under colonial rule.
Schofield, a British-born Canadian veterinarian, moved to Korea with his wife as missionaries in November 1916 and taught bacteriology at the Severance Medical School. At the request of Lee Gab-seong, one of the 33 signatories to the actual March 1st Declaration, he started to take photos of the protestors oppressed by the Imperial Japanese government. His photographic records, including those of the March 1st Movement and the Suchonri and Jeamri massacres, publicized the brutality of Imperial Japan across the world.
Whereas Schofield helped the independence fighters inside Korea, Dolph and Spencer, the legal advisors to the Korean provisional government, supported the movement overseas. According to senior researcher Hong Sunpyo of the Independence Hall of Korea, Dolph helped the provisional government of Korea show people in the U.S. about the state of affairs in Korea under colonial rule, and delivered news about the independence movement overseas to people in Korea.
Spencer, a U.S. Senator, submitted Resolution No. 101 on June 30, 1919. It asks the U.S. government, “Whether the situation in Korea at the present time is such, in connection with its relation to other nations, as to indicate the necessity and wisdom of the United States exerting its offices on behalf of Korea under the provision of the treaty between the United States and Korea of date May 22, 1882, providing, inter alla, ‘If other powers deal unjustly or oppressively with either Government, the other will exert their good offices, on being informed of the case, to bring about an amicable arrangement.'”
The resolution did not get the approval of the Committee on Foreign Relations, but it became an opportunity to kindle interest among members of the U.S. Congress in the state of affairs on the Korean Peninsula.
It is not common to actively take action against problems outside one’s own country. Why, then, did these generous people support Korea’s independence? The reason must be the sympathy toward the victims of imperialism, their love for humanity, and their willingness to protect human rights and to bring about world peace by protesting the unlawfulness of colonial rule. This is why their heroic actions must be brought back into the spotlight again.