Aug 19, 2013
On July 7, 1953, a simple signature on the armistice agreement ended the Korean war. It established a peninsula cut into two territories. The war had begun three years earlier, when both North Korea and South Korea tried to impose the reunification of the country by force. In reality, this North-South conflict was dominated by other issues, the conflict between the U.S. and the USSR that threatened to turn the Korean War into a world conflict.
In 1916, the U.S. guaranteed its hold over the Philippines by abandoning Korea to Japan, which turned it into a colony. Japanese imperialism pillaged Korea for raw materials, but it also developed industry there, so that by 1945 the Korean peninsula had become the second most developed economy in Asia.
The Korean people, like other people coming out of World War II, hoped for independence. But at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, President Roosevelt forced on Korea “joint administration” by the U.S. and the USSR, which were then allies. Six months later, to limit the influence of the USSR, Washington imposed the partition of the peninsula into two zones, separated by a line, the 38th Parallel.
With Japan’s defeat, a “popular republic” was proclaimed in Seoul, the capital of the southern part. The U.S. took control of the South, where it reestablished the administration and police used by the Japanese. It prohibited popular committees, communist organizations and unions, and carried out mass arrests of their militants. It installed the Syngman Rhee dictatorship, in agreement with the big landowners. In 1946, the U.S. army brutally repressed an uprising of workers and farmers.
In the North, the Kim Il-Sung regime, supported by the USSR and then by China starting in 1949, launched agrarian reform and nationalized the industry Japan had controlled.
There were endless border conflicts between the dictatorships of the North and South. War broke out on June 25, 1950 with northern troops invading South Korea. The North Koreans justified their moves by citing an attack by South Korea a few days before and Syngman Rhee’s warmongering speeches.
The U.S. blew hot and cold. The Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR was beginning, so U.S. policy was containment, aiming to prevent any advance of so-called “communism.”
From June to August 1950, the North’s offensive swept away the South Korean and U.S. forces, pushing them to Pusan, a port in the southeast of the peninsula. The U.S. then got the endorsement of the United Nations to continue war on the Korean peninsula. On September 15th, at the head of a coalition of 16 countries, General MacArthur launched a counter-offensive. With the support of the U.S. air force and navy, he landed troops at Inchon, not far from Seoul. On September 28th, Seoul was taken back from North Korea’s troops, and on September 30th, the North Koreans retreated north of the 38th Parallel, pushed back to the Yalu River, the border between China and North Korea.
MacArthur saw in this easy conquest the occasion to inflict a total defeat on “communism.” He pleaded with the administration of President Truman for the right to cross the Chinese border and drop atomic bombs on China. At that time, people feared a new world war.
China and Mao Tse-tung reacted and mobilized hundreds of thousands of soldiers, pushing southward to Seoul. On January 4th, 1951, South Korean forces retook Seoul for a time. In March and April 1951, they were back to where they started. MacArthur was forced out. Negotiations that would last for two years began, while military operations were carried out by both sides. Finally, the armistice of July 27, 1953 confirmed the existence of two Koreas separated by a demilitarized zone at the 38th Parallel.
At least one million Koreans, and probably many more, died during this war. The peninsula was devastated, particularly the North, which suffered the incessant bombing of U.S. planes. Almost 9,000 factories, more than 600,000 homes, 6,000 schools and hospitals, as well as bridges and roads, were destroyed. It was estimated that 40% of the industrial potential of North Korea was destroyed, at a time when it was more industrialized than the South, which was more agricultural.
From that time, South Korea began to outdistance the North with massive financial support from the U.S. North Korea suffered from an embargo isolating it from the world market. It survived with the aid of China and the Eastern European countries. But the reestablishment of relations between China and the U.S., then the end of the Stalinist regimes in Europe, made the situation of the North Korean population tragic. A shortage of energy hindered the country’s functioning. Bad harvests led to serious food shortages.
To this day, Washington claims that North Korea, a country bled dry, is a threat to the entire world!