What made North & South Korea go their separate ways?

Its great to hear these two countries are going to do “talks” before the Olympics. Is that a bad or good thing?

I am sure the ww2 and Korean war had something to do with it.

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.

Japanese occupation

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.[8] 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.

After WW2
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.

Two nations

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.

Division solidified

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.


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The Korean War

Kim Il-sung decided to try to reunify Korea under communist rule. In 1949, Kim Il Sung persuaded Stalin and Mao Tse Tung to support an invasion of South Korea. In 1950, Syngman Rhee threatened to attack North Korea. It was an excuse – the trigger for war: the NKPA invaded South Korea.
On June 25, 1950, some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army poured across the 38th parallel, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south. By July, American troops had entered the war on South Korea’s behalf.


The Korean War was an episode in the Cold War. It seemed to be a war between South and North Korea, but in reality America and Russia were using it to fight without having a ‘hot war’ which – as both had the atomic bomb – would have been MAD (mutually assured destruction).

Russia went to war because Stalin wanted Communism to grow. But what did the USA have to gain?
The USA went to war in Korea for three reasons.
The first reason was the ‘Domino theory’ – China turned Communist in 1949 and Truman feared that the next ‘domino’ would be Japan.
The second was to undermine Communism and protect the American way of life – in 1950 the American National Security Council recommended that America start ‘rolling back’ Communism.
Thirdly, Truman realised the USA was in a competition for world domination with the USSR.

What happened during the Korean war

After some early back-and-forth across the 38th parallel, the fighting stalled and casualties mounted with nothing to show for them.
As it occupied the south, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea attempted to unify Korea under its regime, initiating the nationalisation of industry, land reform, and the restoration of the People’s Committees.
As it occupied the North, the Republic of Korea, in turn, attempted to unify the country under its regime, with the Korean National Police enforcing political indoctrination.As US-led forces pushed into north, China unleashed a counter-attack which drove them back into the south.
In 1951, the front line stabilized near the 38th parallel, and both sides began to consider an armistice. Rhee, however, demanded the war continue until Korea was unified under his leadership.
The Communist side supported an armistice line being based on the 38th parallel, but the United Nations supported a line based on the territory held by each side, which was defensible, and this position prevailed.
The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed after three years of war. The two sides agreed to create a four-kilometer-wide buffer zone between the states, known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). This new border, reflecting the territory held by each side at the end of the war, crossed the 38th parallel diagonally. Rhee refused to accept the armistice and continued to urge the reunification of the country by force.
Despite attempts by both sides to reunify the country, the war perpetuated the division of Korea and led to a permanent alliance between South Korea and the U.S., and a permanent U.S. garrison in the South.

Meanwhile, American officials worked anxiously to fashion some sort of armistice with the North Koreans. The alternative, they feared, would be a wider war with Russia and China–or even, as some warned, World War III.

End of the Korean War and the Geneva Conference

Finally, in July 1953, the Korean War came to an end. It ended with a stalemate and has left the two Koreas separated by the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) up to the present day.
In all, some 5 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives during the war.
As dictated by the terms of the Korean Armistice, a Geneva Conference was held in 1954 on the Korean question. Despite efforts by many of the nations involved, the conference ended without a declaration for a unified Korea.
The Armistice established a Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) which was tasked to monitor the Armistice. Since 1953, members of the Swiss and Swedish Armed Forces have been members of the NNSC stationed near the DMZ.

And so, a rushed decision made by junior US government officials in the heat and confusion of World War II’s final days has resulted in the seemingly permanent creation of two warring neighbors.


so all these big countries had a hand in it. wow my goodness! pawns? hmm. we just don’t know what happens ,huh?domino effect, I have heard of that. so maybe these talks might do some good? lets hope!!

thank you for a detailed history lesson. and y’ know some of this happened before & after I was born. 71 years ago,more or less.

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I was watching a drama on Netflix and depicted a lot of spys and all, got me to thinking, don’t recall the whole title, jits a movie. anyway, thought I would watch. and yes both Korean, Japanese, Chinese and I think some American, spys and all! Just something different for me

Sadly, a bit similar scenario occurred at the end of WWII, it was the division between the East- and Westblock, even Berlin. As Soviets arrived and fought from the east and US from west, they also decided the fate of these countries, in fact US was supposed to help Czechoslovakia but due to communist party in CZ and the Red Army it became communist and like other surrounding countries, they were milking cows for the USSR. It’s a shame somehow. Practice has confirmed that communist theory to live by does not work, just as total Capitalism has its drawback. Our society is kinda walking towards old history where we had Kings and peasants, the division between rich and poor will come again or is halfway already here.
@irmar, thanks for the long elaboration of history, was a nice write up :+1::+1:

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Very nice write-up, Irmar! One thing to add - the 400,000 North Korean refugees who crossed to South Korea prior to the Korean War had grown to nearly 1,000,000 by war’s end, according to many estimates.


thank yopu for the “history” lesson! I don’t recall all that iin my history classes in school even if it was 50-60 years ago! but that was really interesting to me, again thank you Irmar

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So you changed your username? This one is sweet! (and a bit racy, ha ha!)

Oh, impressive! I never thought I would see such a detailed history lesson posted here. I think it’s important to know their history, as it’s useful when watching certain dramas.
Quite frankly, I detest war. “Make Love, Not War” is my mantra, after all.
I like it when people fall in love, not fall in battle. :slight_smile:
My biggest wish is for Korea to become a peaceful place, so they can continue making Kdrama. It’s a selfish wish. :slight_smile:

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I was recently reading about Taiwan and the history and the division isn’t rosy as well, till today China won’t accept them, they cannot call their island Republic of China ROC as it was once before commies changed it to People’s Republic of China PRC. It is very sad, Taiwan became democratic and is in no way in sync with China mainland yet China forbids them to participate as ROC they can only under “Chinese Taipei” how weird is that? As we know communist ideology isn’t the best for the people to live by and will collapse. - It is very sad how there is North and South Korea living in such contrast although they were once one nation under one roof and exploited from so many, if surrounding countries of the north wouldn’t supply them it would collapse naturally. Why there was never an intervention later is not clear to me.

It’s called divide and conquer, it’s called spheres of influence…
If you read about the Indian Partition it’s so tragic and so futile and so stupid that you will want to cry. Incredible misery. But you know, there they had an excuse of the different religion. North Korea and South Korea didn’t even have this pretext. It was completely done from outside. And because of this, brothers killed brothers. Yes, in my opinion the Korean war was also a civil war. At least East and West Germans didn’t kill each other. And after the wall collapsing, they were able to reunite.

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@irmar the commies did an internal cleansing, took privately held properties like farms and factories… only not long ago the government paid in Czech Republic reconstitutions… but guess the owners were long dead. They did spy and prosecute innocent own people if they weren’t siding with the commies… in every country where the commies were and they still do… I bet East Germans were prosecuted if they had relatives in West Germany or were denied equal rights in work, studies or sports. The Germans were able to reunite because the communism collapsed, as long it’s not happening in N.Korea there will be no reunification because S.Korea is too democratic and advanced and wouldn’t go to the old ways.

It’s an interesting thing. Lets say the regime collapses. Would South Korea even want re-unification with the North?

East-West Germany has significant problems even to this day. The richer West resents supporting the poorer East while the poorer East feels the West doesn’t really care about them and improving their situation so West & East are equal. They will work it out but it’s approaching 30 years since reunification and you can still see the differences between West & East.

And that’s after ~45 years of separation. North & South Korea are approaching 70 years of separation. And when you think about all the technological advancement in the last ~30 years related to technology and science… it gets more bleak.

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Well, this is natural. Still, I think they prefer being united than separated. The East will eventually catch up, even if it takes a century. After all, it contributes with lots of natural resources.
In Italy, we have a similar thing with North and South. Italy was a mosaic of a great many small states. They were unified in 1851. Still today the North is richer and industrialized and the South is agricultural and poor, and there is internal migration, the snobbish Milanese call the Sicilians and Neapolitans “terroni” and sometimes harrass them, and of course they resent that the government is trying to enhance the south in order to bring them to the same level - and who knows when it will happen. Most of the Italian immigrants to America come from around Naples, Calabria and Sicily, just because of the poverty of that region.
About Korea… who knows, I haven’t studied the question deeply so I cannot say. As it is today, it seems that South Koreans view northerners with great suspicion rather than welcoming any defectors. I’ve seen this in series like Blow Breeze (I couldn’t complete it because the main actress gets on my nerves), films like “Ballerino” and others. They immediately marginalize them, suspect them as spies etc.
There was a film lately about a poor fisherman who, because of the currents, unwittingly crossed the sea border and went to the South. How badly they treated him. I haven’t watched it because they told me it was heartbreaking.

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should _I
put my 3 cents worth in about the USA and the conflict they had, and still we see ,put it nicely, discrimination.

I am from the midwest, moved here to NC in 1960, and the taunts I got were something else! the people just dont want to give up fighting be it north & south.
Well, I sure didn’t mean to open up a " can of worms" here, a lot of you have made some good points here. I didn’t realize Germany still had problems! course its never mentioned in the media.

hey what about Ireland?? their conflict and all. boy we could go on and on, couldn’t we?_

Well the American Indians and the USA, a nation within a nation. “divided” we fall yeah about. I didn’t realize Italy had a problem either. so much stuff going on and don’t even realize it!! all

of you thank you, I’d like to know about Ireland now, wow history lessons on the go!!

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awww thank you!! Irmar.

I saw this video of the world map how countries were established during all the years from BC and AC… it might not be 100 % accurate but quite interesting, how empires grew and shrank or even disappeared. It is hard to argue what country has more land entitlement because of past history or different borderlines. Any change has to do with human sacrifice meaning people always get and got killed during this process, why is this in human nature, one can only wonder.

I can only think of a visual example that is seen at the beginning in “Tribes and Empires: Storm of Prophecy”, is it hope, survival or revenge… - I hope human race will learn to live in peace… but perhaps we are destined not to…

simi11 not now but later to live in peace. when we get the selfishness, greadyness and all maybe,just maybe

Norh and South Korea are discussing about getting closer.
Today’s talks in DMZ about North Korea participation for Winter Olympic Games.

And last week before these talks (2017 tension, suspiciousness, etc.)