With the threat of war (or the crazy rantings about war) with North Korea, I thought I should learn more about the history of the conflict. I realized that most of what I knew about Korea and the Korean War I had learned from MASH. In browsing through books to read on the issue, I came across Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea by Sheila Miyoshi Jager in a review in The Economist.
The book starts with the end of World War II. Japan had invaded the Korean peninsula in 1910. With Japan’s loss of the WWII, the Soviet Union and US divided the spoils and each took half of Korea, with the 38th parallel as a dividing line. Japanese troops to the North of this line were to surrender to the Soviet Union and troops to the South of this line would surrender to the United States.
The division was not intended originally to be a partition. But the Cold War between the US and the USSR made negotiations difficult. The separate administration quickly led to two separate governments arising. In the North, the Soviets were happy to allow a communist government to take control. The US was not wiling to let the South turn to communism and kept control.
In June 1950, troops from North Korea invaded South Korea to free it from American imperialism. China encouraged the confrontation with the United States. The Soviet Union also supported the invasion, but less enthusiastically. It was this triad of communism that continued in the North for decades.
After three years of fighting, the war ended with an armistice agreement. The cease fire line was back to the 38th parallel. No peace treaty was signed, nor has one been signed.
For a decade after the war, the North was more prosperous than the South. It was not until the 1980s that the countries’ prosperities turned sharply in different directions. North Korea had devoted too much of its production to the military, causing stagnation. Then the Soviet Union, its financial benefactor, collapsed. The South was under autocratic leadership until a democracy movement resulted in an elected president in 1987.
The South continued on a path of democracy and capitalism.
Meanwhile, the North turned into a dynastic communist state. When Kim Il-sung died in 1994, his son, Kim Jong-il, continued the dynasty. When he died in 2011, his son, Kim Jong-un, took control. That dynasty became focused on developing nuclear weapons to ward off the perceived threat from the United States to attack the North and once again occupy the South.
That leaves us 67 years later still dealing with a poorly thought out post-war division of the Korean peninsula, where the threat of war has persisted over those decades.
If you are interested in learning more about the Korean War and how that legacy of that war has continued to toady, this is an excellent book to add to your reading pile.