It was a foreign finger, as they say in my country. A story of foolishness, something unnecessary which could have been prevented. A sad story, almost as sad as the Indian Partition.
The division of Korea between North and South Korea occurred after World War II, ending the Empire of Japan's 35-year rule over Korea in 1945. The United States and the Soviet Union occupied two parts of the country, with the boundary between their zones of control along the 38th parallel.
This story begins with the Japanese conquest of Korea at the end of the nineteenth century.
The Empire of Japan had actually run the country through puppet emperors since its 1895 victory in the First Sino-Japanese War and it formally annexed the Korean Peninsula in 1910. Thus, from 1910 until 1945, Korea was a Japanese colony. We saw that in Chicago Typewriter.
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, and agreed that Japan should lose all the territories it had conquered by force. In the declaration after this conference, Korea was mentioned for the first time. The three powers declared that they were, "mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, ... determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.
The end of WW2
As World War II drew to a close in 1945, it became clear to the Allied Powers that they would have to take over administration of Japan's occupied territories, including Korea, until elections could be organized and local governments set up.
The United States government knew that it would administer the Philippines as well as Japan itself, so it was reluctant to also take trusteeship of Korea. Unfortunately, Korea just wasn't a very high priority for the US.
The Soviets, on the other hand, were more than willing to step in and take control of lands that the Tsar's government had relinquished its claim to after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05).
On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
Two days later, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and invaded Manchuria. Soviet amphibious troops also landed at three points along the coast of northern Korea.
On August 15, after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender, ending World War II.
On August 8, 1945, three months to the day after the end of hostilities in Europe, and two days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Soviet troops advanced rapidly, and the US government became anxious that they would occupy the whole of Korea.
The division plans
On August 10, 1945 (just five days before Japan surrendered), two young officers – Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel – were assigned the task of delineating the US occupation zone in East Asia. Working on extremely short notice and completely unprepared, they used a National Geographic map to decide on the 38th parallel.
Without consulting any Koreans, they arbitrarily decided to cut Korea roughly in half along the 38th parallel of latitude, ensuring that the capital city of Seoul would be in the American section.
The division placed sixteen million Koreans in the American zone and nine million in the Soviet zone.
To the surprise of the Americans, the Soviet Union immediately accepted the division. The agreement was incorporated into General Order No. 1 (approved on 17 August 1945) America's guidelines for administering Japan in the aftermath of the war.
Japanese forces in northern Korea surrendered to the Soviets, while those in southern Korea surrendered to the Americans.
With the onset of the Cold War, negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union failed to lead to an independent, unified Korea.
Although South Korean political parties quickly formed and put forward their own candidates and plans for forming a government in Seoul, the US Military Administration feared the leftist tendencies of many of the nominees. The trust administrators from the US and the USSR were supposed to arrange for nation-wide elections to reunify Korea in 1948, but neither side trusted the other. The US wanted the entire peninsula to be democratic and capitalist; the Soviets wanted it all to be communist.
In December 1945, at the Moscow Conference, the Allies agreed that the Soviet Union, the US, the Republic of China, and Britain would take part in a trusteeship over Korea for up to five years in the lead-up to independence. Many Koreans demanded independence immediately; however, the Korean Communist Party, which was closely aligned with the Soviet Communist party, supported the trusteeship.
In the end, the US essentially appointed the anti-communist leader Syngman Rhee to rule South Korea. The South declared itself a nation in May of 1948. Rhee was formally installed as the first president in August, and immediately began waging a low-level war against communists and other leftists south of the 38th parallel.
In 1948, UN-supervised elections were held in the US-occupied south only. The anti-communist Syngman Rhee won the election.
Meanwhile, in North Korea, the Soviets and Joseph Stalin appointed Kim Il-sung, who had served during the war as a major in the Soviet Red Army, as the new leader of their occupation zone. He officially took office on September 9, 1948. Kim began to squash political opposition, particularly from capitalists, and also began to construct his cult of personality. By 1949, statues of Kim Il-sung were springing up all over North Korea, and he had dubbed himself the "Great Leader."
Thus two nations were created: the Republic of Korea in South Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in North Korea.
The United States supported the South, the Soviet Union supported the North, and each government claimed sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula.
So the division existed before the Korean war (1950 to 1953).
What happened in those 5 years before the Korean War
The occupation government in South Korea conducted a number of military campaigns against left-wing insurgents. Over the course of the next few years, between 30,000 and 100,000 people were killed.
In March 1946 the provisional government instituted a sweeping land-reform program: land belonging to Japanese and collaborator landowners was divided and redistributed to poor farmers without resort to bloodshed. Many former landowners fled to the south, where some of them obtained positions in the new South Korean government. According to the U.S. military government, 400,000 northern Koreans went south as refugees.
Key industries were nationalized. The economic situation was nearly as difficult in the north as it was in the south, as the Japanese had concentrated agriculture in the south and heavy industry in the north.
he UN passed a resolution on November 14, 1947, declaring that free elections should be held, foreign troops should be withdrawn, and a UN commission for Korea, the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK), should be created. The Soviet Union boycotted the voting and did not consider the resolution to be binding, arguing that the UN could not guarantee fair elections.
The decision to proceed with separate elections was unpopular among many Koreans, who rightly saw it as a prelude to a permanent division of the country. General strikes in protest against the decision began in February 1948. In April, Jeju islanders rose up against the looming division of the country. South Korean troops were sent to repress the rebellion. Tens of thousands of islanders were killed and by one estimate, 70% of the villages were burned by the South Korean troops.
On May 10, 1948 the south held a general election. On August 15, the "Republic of Korea" formally took over power from the U.S. military, with Syngman Rhee as the first president. In the North, the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" was declared on September 9, with Kim Il-sung as prime minister. Soviet forces departed from North Korea in 1948.
In 1949, the Syngman Rhee government in South Korea established the Bodo League in order to keep an eye on its political opponents. The majority of the Bodo League's members were innocent farmers and civilians who were forced into membership. The registered members or their families were executed at the beginning of the Korean War. On December 24, 1949, South Korean Army massacred Mungyeong citizens who were suspected communist sympathizers or their family and affixed blame to communists.
This division of Korea, after more than a millennium of being unified, was seen as controversial and temporary by both regimes. From 1948 until the start of the civil war on June 25, 1950, the armed forces of each side engaged in a series of bloody conflicts along the border.
TO BE CONTINUED