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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Korean War Origins, June 25, 1950

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Today in 1950, a force of 135,000 North Korean troops crossed the border into South Korea with the intention of unifying the peninsula under one flag. Thus began the Korean War. We discussed the war itself on June 27th of last year; tonight, we will discuss its origins.

The roots of the Korean War date back to the last quarter of the 19th century, when Japan began to have more and more influence on Korea, whereas China had been the dominate influence before that time. The Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars established Japan as the dominant power in the area at the beginning of the 20th century, while Chinese power faded.

In 1910, ministers of the Korean government signed the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty, although the head of the Korean government, the emperor, never signed the document. Although the legality of the treaty is still disputed, it essentially allowed the Korean peninsula to be ruled by the Japanese government. The nation became, for all intents and purposes, a colony.

Pro-independence movements came and went over the next 35 years. The Japanese dealt with protests harshly, considering any discussion of Korean sovereignty to be sedition. A rebel force of Korean patriots existed during this time, but any villagers suspected of hiding them were put to death, often by being locked into burning buildings. Koreans living in China during the Japanese occupation of their homeland formed the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, a sort of government in exile.

The Second World War came and went with the Japanese still firmly in control of the country. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Powers in September, 1945, their rule of Korea ended as well. Soon after the cessation of hostilities, the peninsula was divided along the 38th parallel. The northern half of the nation was administered by the Soviet Union, the southern half by the United States. The southern half of the nation held elections in which Syngman Rhee, a staunch anti-communist, was elected. In the north, the Soviets installed Kim Il-Sung, a communist of Korean birth who had spent most of the war years training with the Soviet Army, not fighting the Japanese as a freedom fighter as he would later claim.

Once these two governments were formed, it became unlikely that either side was going to be willing to accept any sort of compromise government to rule the entire Korean peninsula. Each half of the country was soon declared a separate nation. For the first time in a thousand years, Korea was a divided land. Each side saw this situation as temporary, for skirmishes along the 38th parallel (later called the DMZ or Demilitarized Zone) between 1948 and 1950 told observers that a war was inevitable.

Kim Il-Sung, hand-picked by the Soviets to rule North Korea, sought permission from his masters in Moscow to invade the south in early 1949, but Josef Stalin refused because he worried about American involvement if an invasion were to take place. But Kim planned and trained his forces for an invasion anyway; by 1950, the North Korean Army was larger and better equipped than South Korea’s. What’s more, US Secretary of State Dean Acheson had omitted South Korea as being a part of the US defense perimeter in a speech in early 1950. Whether he meant to or not, Acheson’s speech led the Soviets and the North Koreans to believe that the United States would probably not fight over control of Korea. In the spring of 1950, Stalin approved an invasion.

By the time the Korean War cease-fire was agreed to in July, 1953, hundreds of thousands, and perhaps more than a million, soldiers and civilians on both sides had died. No agreements were reached; no more land was given to either side than they had possessed before the war. Today, a state of war still exists between North and South Korea and the demilitarized zone between the two nations is the most heavily fortified strip of land on Earth. South Korea is a thriving First World nation leading the world in many areas of technology. North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship with no hope for the future and a population that is in a constant state of starvation. Never have one people been so divided.

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