Why Korea Is Divided Into North and South

Published: 2021-06-30
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Vanderbilt University
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Historical studies show that the division between North and Korea started from the 1945 allied victory that marked the end of Japans 35-year rule of Korea (Don 7; Chong 4; Hart-Landsberg 17). This was after the United States and the Soviet Union occupied Korea as it was by then one country and gained its control over the Korean Peninsula the 38th parallel. However, the question that is now asked is, if the country did not divide under the Japans rule in over 35 years what could lead to its split even after receiving help from the Allied forces of the United States and the Soviet Union. The answer to this question is going to be the discussion of this paper as we examine the factors that contributed to the split of Korean Peninsula into the rival North and South.

As Millet, Adam, Cathcart, and Allen argue in their article The War for Korea, 19451950: A House Burning, after the United States and the Soviet Union soldiers conquered the Korean Peninsula and took its control, a division emerged from the negotiations for independence. The negotiations did not bear any fruit. As a result of this failure, the unified Korea split into two. However, it is not easy to understand the split or division from the above-summarized concepts. Therefore, it is important to consider the events that led to the split now that we have the basics of what caused the division that led to two rival countries today.

Historical studies show that before even the Japanese took over control of the Korean Peninsula (Don 7), the country was intact as it was unified under the great leaders like Josean who established his dynasty between 1392 and 1910 (Don 5). It is reported that initially, the now referred North and South Korea shared a common language and the essential culture. However, as Oberdorfer and Robert report, decades later the world witness one of the largest divisions between two sister countries that shared everything together because of the fortified DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). Therefore, how this division did came about if the North and the South were like twin sisters from the same mother is something that people need to understand clearly.

It is impossible to tell the story of North and South Korea without involving the story about the Japanese conquest at the end of 19th Century. Halliday and Bruce assert that, before the Japanese conquest, the North and South Korea were one home; however, after the conquest troubles started. Japanese controlled Korean Peninsula for over three decades after which the Allied forces considered the option of taking control over the region from the Japanese emperor. As the World War II drew near, tension started as it became very clear that the Allied forces had an interest in taking control of the Korean Peninsula as it was earlier referred to (Millet et al. 94). Indeed, the intention was clear and pure that the Allied forces wanted a credible and democratic election to be held so that Korea could also establish a proper government that would see it through the development. However, this was not the case as many people especially the residents did not take the assistance with warm hearts. The victory of the Allied forces did not contribute to the anticipated peace but brought a permanent division that continues to build rift up to date. As the World War II was coming to an end, the United States government and the Soviet Union agreed that they were going to accept Japans surrender (Millet et al. 95). However, attempts to bring order into the Korean Peninsula turned into a division that saw United States gaining control over the South and the USSR occupying the North region. However, some people have claimed that this was the intention of the United States and the USSR government to ensure that they divided the country into two until the Korean Peninsula come in terms and agree to form a local government as proposed by the Allied forces (MacCormack & Mark 9). Immediately after the division, the two forces in charge started negotiations and communication between the North and the South with the aim of bringing the two in terms so that a credible election could be held to ensure the independence of Korean Peninsula. As a result, the United States and USSR governments made agreements to lead the negotiations. However, the negotiations did not last long as the beginning of 1947 when cold war emerged (Gorbachev & Joseph 178), the already established communications were disbanded and ideological conflicts emerge between the north and south that further increased the rift between them. The political differences that emerged with the emergence of cold war further separated the citizens of the two countries (McCormack & Mark 13). With other issues including the politician interests further expanded the division.

Sources indicate that the 38th parallel divided further created the tension and rifts that never saw the North and South Korea united as planned before (Gorbachev & Joseph 174). After the Soviet Union and the United States took control over the North and South respectively, some people developed interests and started claiming legitimate representation of government in Korea. As a result, the citizens of the two countries saw this as another way of colonization that they could not understand again after the 35 years of Japanese rule. Consequently, tension emerged between the 38th parallel where the North and the South separated. The now North Korea supported by the USSR attempted in 1950 to invade the South forcefully with the aim of unifying the country (Gorbachev & Joseph 176); however, it did not work as the United States received assistance from the United Nations that also came to South Koreas aid. This was the beginning of a new division that saw North and South Korea split into two rival and distinct countries.

McCormack and Mark note in their article Korea, North and South: the deepening crisis that, the rift or tension between the North and South was further enhanced by the coming of USSR and the Peoples Republic of China to provide military assistance to the North Korea while the United States and other United Nation countries providing assistance to the South Koreans military. This led to the Korean War that was fought for over three years and ended in 1953 (Gorbachev & Joseph 171). Thousands of lives were lost in the process despite no significant changes were made to bring the two divided nations on terms with each other. Since this time, North and South Korea have become two distinct countries that one cannot see that they once shared common language and culture. The two countries developed different political ideologies that have ensured everything different in the two countries. The societal differences created by the so-called negotiators have not translated into a permanent scar in once a unified country. The North Koreans are influenced by the style of government and culture of the USSR while the South Koreans are influenced greatly by the United States (Gorbachev & Joseph 178).

The two negotiators have been greatly blamed for the predicaments that now befall the North and South Koreans because even under the administration of Japanese emperor, Korean Peninsula was a unified country (Oberderfer & Robert 11). However, after the two emerged with the idea of establishing a local government for the people of Korean, it turned into chaos and later permanent division. Scholars argue that the external forces contributed significantly to the division of North and South Korea than the internal factors (Kim& Chong-won 4). This can be seen through the culture of the two countries that are distinctively identified with the negotiators. The dictatorial and centralized administration of the North Korea government can be identified with the Soviet Unions forceful attacks. On the other hand, the democratic government established in the South Korea where the people are given a choice to be part of the government is greatly identified with the United States democratic and decentralized government system (Hart-Landsberg 9). Therefore, the concept of the imposition of the split is evidently depicted in the government systems in the two countries.

In summary, in a conflict situation, someone must be willing to make some compromises for the greater good of the people of that country or society. Where someone cannot make compromise division emerges. The situation of North and South Korea is an exemplary scenario where politicians could not make certain compromises for the greater good of the once unified Korea Peninsula. Despite the attempts to reunify the two rival countries, no significant impact has been made. Even though attempts are made to reunify the two countries, currently it is possibly the most divided country in the world with the political, cultural, and economic ideological differences between the South and the North Korea governments.

Works Cited

Chong, Chae-ho. Between ally and partner: Korea-China relations and the United States. Columbia University Press, 2007.

Don, Oberdorfer. "The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History." Reading, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1997).

Gorbachev, Mikhail, and Joseph Stalin. "Korean War." The Cold War, 1945-1991: Resources: chronology, history, concepts, events, organizations, bibliography, archives (1992): 178.

Halliday, Jon, and Bruce Cumings. Korea: the unknown war. Penguin, 1990.Hart-Landsberg, Martin. Korea: division, reunification, and US foreign policy. Monthly Review Press, 1998.

Kim, Joungwon, and Chong-won Kim. Divided Korea: the politics of development, 1945-1972. Vol. 59. Hollym International, 1976.

MacCormack, Gavan, and Mark Selden, eds. Korea, North and South: the deepening crisis. Monthly Review Pr, 1978.Millett, Allan R., Adam J. Cathcart, and Allen R. Millet. "The War for Korea, 19451950: A House Burning." (2007): 93-97.

Oberdorfer, Don, and Robert Carlin. The two Koreas: A contemporary history. Basic Books, 2013.

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