Readers, I know that heretofore I’ve been a source of insight into the Korean life through comic relief, but now I feel it is time to educate ourselves as to how this Neon Republic has emerged from the dust of over a century of war and strife.
I could stretch right back to the earliest days of Korean history and detail every nuance of the emergence of the country, but I fear that I may bore you by kicking up more dust than could settle in just one post.
Therefore, I shall instead begin with the Japanese rule of Korea which was ushered in following the Korean Empire (which lasted only 10 short years).
The Japanese annexed Korea in the years following the Russo-Japanese war. This, however, was not a move favored by Korea and many claim that this annexation was forced through under duress.
Now this is where things get interesting, as the Japanese colonial Governor-General was not satisfied with mere annexation of Korea but wanted complete subjugation. Thus, the study of Korean language and culture was outlawed and Koreans were forced to use Japanese names and face conscription to the Japanese army.
The above sweeping us swiftly (and altogether too briefly) through the early part of the 20th century, we now move into the middle of the century and as we go we move deeper into wartime all across the globe. As Japan waged war along with the rest of the superpowers of the day, they plundered Korea not only of food and other resources but also of its people who were enlisted into wartime service both in the armed forces and labor force of Imperialist Japan.
Needless to say this raised quite the storm as WWII drew to its rather timely demise in 1943 when the UK, the US and The Republic of China declared that Korea was to become a free and independent state. However, the Japanese Empire did not relinquish those already absorbed into the Japanese workforce (which was, by this time, 32% Korean).
The tide began to turn though, when The Soviet Union, the only remaining superpower, declared war on Japan after the end of the war with Europe. As The Soviet Union moved troops to the northern half of the peninsula the US also began to mobilize troops in the southern half to retain a foothold in the war on Japan.
Now folks I think we can all see where this one is headed, even through the clouds of desolation which billowed in every direction at the time. Let’s take a moment to re-cap: Japan has millions of Koreans in its labor force; China, the US and the UK, and now The Soviet Union have declared that Korea should become independent once again; Russia and the US have occupied the North and South of the peninsula respectively.
But how was the line drawn between the Soviets and the Americans? You see, the task fell to American Colonels Rusk and Bonesteel III, and it was decided that the divide between Soviet and US occupation should fall on the 38th Parallel as the capital of Korea should be within the occupation zone of the US (despite that US troops could not, at that point, extend their troops to this extent). Surprisingly the Soviets agreed to this border as they would later use it to garner better barter power while negotiating borders in Eastern Europe.
It is here that I must interject with news of our erstwhile villains Japan, who ended the war through surrender on September 5th (or 8th, the day Lt. Gen. Hodge accepted the surrender in Korea) 1945.
Now, it would seem that we are finally nearing some form of peace for this war-torn country, alas, that was not to be as the joint Soviet-US trusteeship was an ill-fitting yolk for the Korean people and resulted in many riots, uprisings and strikes. Thus, the US decided to hold a general election recognized by the UN for the South of the peninsula in order to create an independent Korea. However, the election was subject to terrorist attacks and sabotage which resulted in still more bloodshed for the fledgling Republic.
This did not sit well with the Soviets and the North Korea communists (and many to-be South Koreans) who refused to recognize this election as fair or official and so a North Korean election was held, resulting in Kim-Il Sung’s ascension to power in North Korea.
Following still more unrest in both North and South alike, the Soviet and US troops withdrew their forces from each country (1948 and 1949 respectively) as had been agreed upon Soviet-US occupation. Leaving behind two diametrically opposed nations both striving to occupy the same area and divided only by an arbitrary border regarded largely as “temporary”.
In a belated attempt at brevity I shall leave the history here for now, with our two opposing nations headed toward the beginning of a brutal and bloody war.
This post is definitely not the last word on the Korean War, nor even the first word. I can barely express how much I have omitted or glossed over in terms of politics, war and culture and as such please read it as a layman’s understanding of a few sparse hours of research.