On August 10 1945 there was a meeting of commissions of the ministry of the exterior, the ministry of war and the ministry of marines. As part of this meeting, the two young officers Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel were given the task to come up with a plan on how to divide the Korean peninsula. The time allocated for this undertaking was half an hour, the officers had little knowledge of the area and used a National Geographic map to divide the peninsula along the 38th parallel, thus splitting it exactly in half.
The division of Korea along the 38th parallel was decided in America before the Korean people even knew about the capitulation of the Japanese empire. Japan officially surrendered to the Allies on 14 August, 1945.
The fact that Korea is still divided can be explained when looking at the historical background. Japan's imperialism plays an important role. Western countries recognized Japan as an equal partner or even rival. After the war between Russia and Japan in 1905 American president Theodore Roosevelt "left" Korea to Japan and in return was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At first Korea was a protectorate, in 1910 it was absorbed by Japan. When the Pacific war turned to its end, many Koreans had great hope that they could become independent. It was thought that America could help achieving this goal.
In November 1943 Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek met at the Cairo Conference to discuss what should happen to Japan's colonies. They agreed that Japan should lose all the territories it conquered by force. In the declaration after this conference Korea was mentioned for the first time. The three powers declared that they intended to end Korea's subjugation and that the country should be free in due course. While many Koreans were happy to be mentioned, which was seen as an achievement of Korea's Shanghai-based government in exile, the three words "in due course" caused uproar. Many Koreans could not understand why Korea should not gain independence at once.
Roosevelt believed that Asian countries needed to be educated before they could be led into independence. As a consequence Korea should be administered by the great powers until they reached "maturity." In December 1943 Roosevelt suggested to Stalin that 40 years might be enough to educate the countries.
On 8 August 1945 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, in accordance with the clause in the Yalta Conference Agreement stating that "in two or three months after Germany has surrendered and the war in Europe is terminated, the Soviet Union shall enter into war against Japan on the side of the Allies." Soviet armies quickly over-ran Manchuria but then ran out of gas well short of the Yalu river. After two atomic attacks, the Emperor belatedly announced on 15 August that Japan would "endure the unendurable" (capitulation was never directly mentioned), and the hostilities officially ended on 2 September with Japan's surrender aboard the battleship Missouri. At war's end, there was no consensus framework regarding Korea's fate. The USA suggested that Korea be divided along the 38th parallel, and the Soviet Union accepted. When Japan surrendered, the division came into effect. All the Japanese forces north of the 38th parallel had to capitulate to Soviet troops, those in the south to American ones.
As part of Japan, Korean people were excluded from important posts in the administration of Korea. As a result, after the surrender of Japan, there was a power vacuum and the economy came to a standstill. Korea's economy was built to serve Japanese needs. The Koreans were not however completely unprepared. The general Abe Nobuyuki, Japan's last governor to Korea, was in contact with a number of influential Koreans since the beginning of August 1945 to prepare the hand-over of power. On 15 August, Yo Un Hyong, a moderate left-wing politician agreed to take over. He was in charge of preparing the creation of a new country and worked hard to build governmental structures. On 6 September 1945 a congress of representatives took place in the capital Seoul, which by then was no longer called Keijo. The foundation of a modern Korean state took place just three weeks after Japan's capitulation. The government was clearly predominantly left wing, caused in part by the many resistance fighters oriented towards communism.
In the South
By 7 September 1945 the Korean people realized that the USA had another vision. On that day general MacArthur announced that he was in charge and disposed of all the governmental power south of the 38th parallel. For this reason English was declared as the official language for all military matters. On 8 September lieutenant general John R. Hodge landed in Incheon with his troops. The "Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea " sent a delegation with three interpreters, but Hodge refused to meet with them.
The American military authorities in the Far East did not prioritize Korean affairs. The main focus was on the former enemies Germany and Japan. Whilst in Japan 2000 specially trained civil affairs officers took over government, Korea was placed under the direct administration of military units. Little changed in the administration of the country; officials then serving under the Japanese authorities remained in their positions. The Japanese governor was not dismissed until the middle of September and many Japanese officials stayed in office until 1946.
The US occupation authorities in southern Korea viewed the self-proclaimed government as a communist insurgency and refused to recognize the "Provisional Government". However, a virulent anti-communist named Rhee Syngman who moved to Korea from the United States was considered an acceptable candidate to rule the country by the US government. Meanwhile the economic situation deteriorated. On 31 August 1946 an editorial in a leading Korean newspaper Choson Ilbo wrote in an open letter to Hodge that at that time the Korean people suffered more than at any time under Japanese rule. In August 1948 Rhee Syngman became the first president of South Korea.
In the North
Historical details of events after the invasion by Soviet troops on 8 August 1945 are incomplete outside North Korea. The Soviets took their position of power before their American counterparts. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, they arrived a month earlier. Secondly there were a great number of Soviet troops that were of Korean descent. These people had fled from Japanese colonization and became citizens in the Soviet Union. There were a few thousand of them operating in the North, many officials and political operatives with experience. Thirdly, the Soviet Union chose to operate in the background. This was probably the case because there were a large number of followers. As a consequence there was by far less resistance than in the south.
In August 1945 the Soviet Red Army established the Soviet Civil Authority to rule the country until a domestic regime, friendly to the USSR, could be established. They set up provisional committees across the country putting communists into key positions. In March 1946 land reform was instituted as the land from Japanese land owners was divided and handed over to poor farmers. This was very popular with the farmers, but most prior landowners fled to the south. Quickly key industries were nationalized. The economic situation was as difficult in the north as it was in the south. One reason was that Japan concentrated agriculture in the south and heavy industries in the north. As a result, there was a deficit in both halves.
In February 1946 a provisional government called the North Korean Provisional People's Committee was formed under Kim Il-sung. In November 1946 there were votes where the provisional government was elected under the Soviet control. Conflicts and power struggles were mostly hidden in the north, in stark contrast to the south where this all happened in public. As a consequence many unfavourable people were disappeared or killed in assassinations. A Stalinist order was soon established, meaning that there were no open riots in the north.
Division of Korea
Whilst in the north and in the south of Korea completely different processes were under way, the allied forces still attempted to solve the Korea problem in 1945. The foreign ministers of the Soviet Union, the United States and United Kingdom met in December 1945 in Moscow to discuss the matter. It was decided that a common government for the whole of the peninsula should be established. The USA and the Soviet Union agreed to administer the country together. The USA wanted 10 years, but the Soviet Union insisted on 5 years.
The Americans hoped to prevent a completely communist Korea. The Korean people were outraged, not at the prospect of total communist rule, but at the prospect of partition. In the north the protest soon waned and the government depicted the result as a victory of the Soviet Union. In the south people could not understand how such an agreement could be reached without consulting the Korean people first. Eventually the left-wing parties decided to support the agreement, whilst right-wing politicians in the south opposed this, appealing to Korean patriotism.
This was a difficult situation for the USA. Exactly the right-wing politicians they sought opposed their decision. The Americans arrested hundreds of communists after they banned demonstrations in favour of the agreement.
The first two meetings of the joint commission in 1946 and 1947 ended without result. Both sides started to accuse each other. Mistrust grew between the allied administrators of Korea. The USA saw their south endangered and brought the Korea problem before the United Nations in autumns 1947. The Soviet Union opposed this undertaking because they previously agreed that the joint commission was in charge in Korea.
The USA achieved a UN resolution on 14 November 1947. This resolution foresaw free elections the part of Korea controlled by the UN, the withdrawal of foreign troops and the creation of a UN commission for Korea. At the time the UN was favouring the USA in order to stem the spread of communism. The Soviet Union boycotted the voting and did not consider the resolutions binding.
In April 1948 there was a conference of organizations from the north and the south in Pyongyang concerned with the unification of Korea. This conference failed to produce any result. On 10 May 1948 the elections took place in the south. Rhee Syngman, who called for partial elections in the south to consolidate his power as early as 1947, was voted as the first president, this after left-wing parties boycotted the election. On 13 August 1948 he formally took over power from the US military. As a response, in the north the People's Democratic Republic of Korea was declared on 9 September 1948. Kim Il-sung became prime minister.
Many historians agree that the involvement of the United Nations accelerated the division of Korea, because it allowed two separate votes to take place. Only three years after the liberation from Japan there were two completely different political systems established in Korea. This division led to the Korean War which cemented the division.
Supporters of the "Sunshine Policy" argue that sanctions and threats from the governments of the United States and South Korea have harmed, rather than improved prospects for reunification. They argue that if the North Korean government does not feel threatened by South Korea or the United States, it will have nothing to lose and everything to gain from dialogue and engagement with the outside world, and will have no reason to build weapons of mass destruction. Many argue that the only alternative to dialogue is the unthinkable resumption of hostilities, therefore they see no other option. Many supporters of the "Sunshine Policy" are motivated by prospects of reunification, a desire to avoid conflict on the Korean peninsula, and a desire to pursue an policy towards North Korea independent of the United States. The "Sunshine Policy" was introduced by the Millennium Democratic Party, and is continued by the Our Party government. A major player in North Korea trade is Hyundai Asan.
Proponents of a hard-line policy
Opponents of the "Sunshine Policy" argue that dialogue and trade with North Korea has done nothing to improve prospects for peaceful reunification, and have helped bolster the North Korean government, which many see as corrupt, undemocratic, and totalitarian. Many feel that the North Korean government has no real interest in efforts to reunify the peninsula, and is only trying to ensure its own survival. Some argue that trading with a government which they believe is "starving its own people" is morally corrupt. Some even fear that North Korea may still ultimately be planning to reunify Korea by force. It is also argued that South Korea has seen little benefit from engagement with North Korea. Some believe that the entire engagement process is a fraud, as suspicion still lingers that the former Korean President Kim Dae-jung gave government money to Hyundai, which in turn paid the money to the North Korean government (presumably for such purposes as opening up the Kŭmgang-san Tourist Region). Many also believe that an "overly-generous" policy towards the North Korean government will leave South Korea less prepared in the event of a North Korean attack. The Grand National Party is in favour of a hard-line position on North Korea.
Many South Koreans, while desirous of reunification in theory, having seen the results of sudden reunification between West Germany and East Germany, want to delay the process of reunification until the Northern economy can be developed separately. Sudden reunification could bring a flood of refugees into South Korea, causing a social and economic crisis.
The Chinese government has shown a desire to mantain the status quo on the Korean peninsula; any potential sudden moves that would destabilize the Korean peninsula and threaten a mass exodus of North Koreans into Chinese territory are a major cause of concern for the Chinese government.
The attitude of the South Korean government towards North Korea has changed dramatically in the last few decades; during the Park Cheung-hee administration, hatred towards the North Korean government was fostered in the civilian population (for example, a poster with two Korean characters (반공; 反共) meaning "Fight Communism" was posted on every schoolhouse wall to encourage fear and hatred of the Northern government). In contrast, a recent comic book published by a South Korean author detailing a less-than-flattering portrait of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was banned because the South Korean government feared that its publication could hurt reunification efforts.
North Korea faces many challenges: Since the 1970`s, South Korea has emerged as the more powerful of the two Koreas; recent famines have made North Korea incapable of feeding itself and has placed the government, as well as the Juche ideology in a difficult position. It is not known how much support the government commands among North Korea`s common people; it has been suggested that few North Koreans are loyal to Kim Jong-il himself; he is allowed to remain in power partly due to the respect many in North Korea have for his father, Kim Il-sung. North Korea`s government is reliant on the foreign aid which feeds most of North Korea`s people; at the same time, potential social and political instability caused by the influx of outside influence remains a constant worry for North Korea`s government.
Still at War
It should be noted that, technically, North and South Korea exist without a formal peace treaty and thus are still officially at war despite the 1953 ceasefire that ended the Korean War. Both governments still maintain that they are the sole government of Korea, and no official recognition has been made by either side of the opposing government. This lack of official recognition extends to many maps published in Korea which do not show North and South Korea as separate entities . Millions of Koreans still yearn for unification, but find it challenging to overcome the division of the last century's main ideologic global powers. Where the future of Korea lies remains a mystery. The debate in South Korea and elsewhere continues as to in what way (if any) Korea should be reunited.
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46